If Joao Moutinho picks up the MLS style of soccer as quickly and seamlessly as he learned English, the Los Angeles Football Club’s first-ever draft pick may prove to be one of the most important acquisitions in the expansion team’s short history.
LAFC, selecting first in Friday’s two-round SuperDraft in Philadelphia, made Moutinho, a 19-year-old Portuguese defender from the University of Akron, the first name called. The team then sent $200,000 in allocation money to D.C. United for the No. 3 overall pick, which LAFC used on University of Pacific defender Tristan Blackmon.
In the second round, where LAFC also picked first, the club took Spanish midfielder Pol Calvet from the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was completely surprised. I really didn’t have an idea if I was going to be first, second, third or fourth,” said Moutinho, whom many draft observers had listed behind Stanford defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce. “I’m just so excited right now I can’t really put into words what I’m feeling.”
Hilliard-Arce wound up going second overall in the draft to the Galaxy.
Moutinho, who spent 10 years in the youth program at Sporting Lisbon, has been in the U.S. only five months but has already mastered the language, which he speaks without an accent. It’s a skill he said he learned by watching American movies and TV shows, including professional wrestling.
“Also at Akron the guys taught me a lot,” said Moutinho, who gained attention at the MLS combine earlier this week. In his only season of college he started 24 games for Akron and was named the Mid-American Conference freshman of the year.
A Generation Adidas player, Moutinho was signed to an MLS contract before the draft. His contract will not count against LAFC’s salary cap.
Blackmon also comes to LAFC with some useful experience. He helped build the University of Portland’s program from scratch and now he’ll have a chance to do the same in MLS under Bob Bradley.
“Going in you just hope that your name’s called,” Blackmon said of the draft. “It’s just a ball of emotions. I’m just excited to be a part of the program.
“Being able to repeat the same type of ordeal is absolutely amazing under Bob Bradley. I’m just very excited for the opportunity.”
Blackmon, who already has his degree, is from Las Vegas, so playing for LAFC will keep him closer to home — although a couple of dozen LAFC supporters made Blackmon feel at home in Philadelphia on Friday, draping a team scarf around his neck when his name was called in the draft.
“For them to welcome me like that is absolutely amazing,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling knowing that they have our backs.”
Calvet, 23, played just one season at Pittsburgh, making 14 appearances. But he’s a veteran of Barcelona’s youth system, which he joined at 14. He had a shaky performance in the combine but Bradley saw enough of him earlier that he felt the midfielder was worth a second-round pick.
Of the 15 players on the LAFC roster, only three are midfielders.
“Things went well,” Bradley said after the draft. “We just focused on trying to build a team. And find[ing] talented players, smart players, guys that we think, when we work with them, are going to grow.
“We saw some opportunity. We’re comfortable with where we are on the money end.”
Bradley is hopeful all three players will be at UCLA when the team opens its first preseason training camp Monday.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11