MLS Draft Over But College Underclassmen Going Pro
Alex Ramos, Emil Ekblom, and Stefanos Stamoulacatos are among a group of underclassmen who aren't waiting around to finish their college eligibility to begin their professional careers.
THE 2015 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
January 28, 2015
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SuperDraft has come and gone but college underclassmen continue to turn pro.
Several players are leaving college soccer to begin their pro careers, including a pair with ties to some of the better-known names in American soccer.
Alex Ramos, the son of U.S. icon and U-20 national team coach Tab, who was a sophomore midfielder at Iona last fall, has signed with Mexican club Pachuca.
Emil Ekblom, A Sweden-born Norway-raised forward who was All-ACC forward as sophomore last fall at Syracuse, has left school and is negotiating a deal in his home country with Stabaek, whose head coach is American Bob Bradley.
Ben McKendry, a Canadian midfielder who helped New Mexico to the 2013 College Cup and was an All-Conference USA player last fall as junior, has signed a homegrown contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Midfielder Stefanos Stamoulacatos, a teammate of Ekblom’s at Syracuse, is giving up his final season of eligibility to sign with FC Iraklis, a club in the second division of his parents’ home country of Greece.
And several sources confirmed that the Seattle Sounders have signed former academy player Duncan McCormick to a professional deal with its new entry in the USL Pro league, Seattle Sounders 2.
The younger Ramos started 27 of 35 games in two seasons at Iona but had the itch to test himself at a higher level. “He wanted to try this after his freshman year but we decided he should do another year of college,” said Tab Ramos, who is also U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director and in that capacity has advocated younger players turning pro when they have professional opportunities.
“We talked about all the plusses and minuses of turning pro and he felt it was a decision he wanted to make and I respect and support his decision.”
Between the 1994 World Cup and the start of MLS in 1996, the elder Ramos played professionally in Mexico for Tigres, a club that has had several Mexican-Americans come through its academy. Alex Ramos considered going there but ultimately chose Pachuca because “it has one of the best academy programs in the world, probably the best in North or South America, and as good as anything anywhere," the elder Ramos said. "It’s world class. He went down there in November and showed well and they invited him back for preseason and they came to terms last week. He signed his contract (Monday) morning.”
Tab said Alex would begin playing with Pachuca’s U-20 team.
After his first season in Norway, Bradley told American Soccer Now that Stabaek, which exceeded expectations with a 9th place finishand is always on the lookout for bargains, would cast an eye toward college soccer.
The club appears to have lured in Ekblom, who played for the club’s academy before leaving for Syracuse, where he scored 18 goals and six assists in two seasons in the toughest conference in college soccer. He made several national All-Freshman teams in 2013 and was an All-South (seriously, Syracuse is in the South!) Region player.
Ekblom has been training with Stabaek during its preseason and has scored several goals in friendlies. “He hasn’t signed yet but they’re in talks,” a source close to the situation told ASN. “It’s very close.”
With players like Ekblom, Stamoulactos, as well as Alex Bono and Skylar Thomas—both taken in the first round of the MLS draft by Toronto two weeks ago—Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre has turned the Orange from an afterthought in college soccer to a national power and a destination for future pros. However, as any top college coach knows, that comes with a catch as often those players don’t stay for four years.
Bono and Stamoulacatos left after their junior years and Ekblom had two seasons remaining. McIntyre said he supports his players' desire to compete at a higher level and in Ekblom’s case had this to say: “Emil's goals have been an integral part of our success these past two years. Emil has been very good for our SU program and I think we have been very good for Emil. We wish him every success with the next step of his young career.”
Stamoulactos, a former U.S. U-18 national team player who started 44 games in three seasons and scored five goals to go with seven assists, trained in Greece over Syracuse’s winter break and ultimately received a pro offer. He will join the club this summer.
“He’s a player that, had MLS allowed him to declare for draft, probably would have done so,” said agent Peter Philipakos.
With few exceptions, MLS does not currently let underclassmen declare for the draft unless they have signed a Generation Adidas contract—and those are limited to a small handful of players each year. This year Bono was one of five such players to sign a GA deal, the smallest such class in the program’s history.
One reason for the smaller GA size is because MLS wants to emphasize signing products of its clubs’ academy programs to homegrown contracts and McKendry is the latest example.
"It's a funny feeling," McKendry, a Vancouver native, said in a release put out by the University of New Mexico. "I feel like I have unfinished business here at UNM. I wanted to come back and experience my senior season. But when an opportunity like this comes up, and it's something I've been dreaming of since I was a kid, you can't turn it down. I'll miss my teammates, and I'll always be a Lobo."
In three seasons the All-Conference USA midfielder scored 14 goals and registered seven assists.
Also signing in the Pacific Northwest is McCormick, the son of Sounders academy coach Dick McCormick, a longtime pro in the lower divisions of American soccer. The younger McCormick originally signed a letter of intent to Wake Forest to play as a freshman last fall but never matriculated.
“He called us in July and said he’d been offered a contract with Seattle 2, the new USL Pro team that’s starting now,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Martin. “We asked him if he wanted to come for the semester and just play as a freshman but he said they wanted him to train with the first team so he never came.”
McCormick is one of the first examples of one of the eight MLS team that has a USL Pro entry signing a former academy player to a second-team-deal in lieu of college soccer.
Additionally, talks remain between Real Salt Lake and former Louisville star Ricardo Velazco for a homegrown contract. Velazco, who scored 13 goals and logged 10 assists in two seasons with the Cardinals after spending his freshman year at Division II Cal State San Bernadino, is training with RSL's first-team during preseason, according to several league sources.
Velazco has signed with an agent and will not be returning for his senior year.
Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.