Real Salt Lake used the MLS Draft on Friday to strengthen the depth of the defense within the organization.
RSL nabbed University of Denver outside back Reagan Dunk with the 13th pick in the first round, and then followed it up with Washington center back Justin Schmidt with the 35th overall pick in the second round.
Whether they end up with the first team or the RSL Monarchs will play out over six weeks of training camp beginning on Jan. 23, but RSL general manager Craig Waibel said there’s no pressure on either to make an immediate splash.
“We have progression plans built for both of them. We don’t really expect either player to be on the field on day one and thankfully that’s the evolution of our club, and our league, and with USL and really with where the roster is and the development of our other guys. There’s no pressure for these guys to come in and have to do it on day one,” said Waibel.
Real Salt Lake didn’t specifically target defenders in the draft, but Waibel acknowledged that a lot of the young talent within the club is in the attacking half.
Waibel was thrilled that Dunk fell to the 13th pick in the draft, as he was someone the coaching staff had ranked very high in the pre-draft rankings.
“I love his ability to work up and down the sideline. He’s an end line to end line player, confident on the ball, great attitude. At the end of the day talented enough to make things happen. He’s an athletic kid,” said Waibel.
One of Dunk’s strengths according to Waibel is his 1v1 defending, and that’s something that with development could become a strength professionally as well.
Dunk participated in the MLS Combine this past week in Southern California, and he said RSL was one of eight or nine teams that reached out to interview before the draft.
“A lot of the meetings were get-to-know-you type of questions as well as soccer. (RSL) asked good questions and seemed really interested in the way I played and they thought I could fit in well,” said Dunk.
Dunk was named a 2016 first team All-American and led Denver to an undefeated regular season. During his senior year last fall, Denver ranked third in the NCAA in goals against average (0.52) and third in shutout percentage (0.58).
Dunk believes the mentality that Denver coach Jamie Franks instills in his players should help with his transition to MLS.
“My head coach always said mentality, work rate and positioning are three things you can control. I think especially in the past two or three years I’ve really gotten better at that and done well with that,” said Dunk, who’s a native of Dallas.
Schmidt is a player that Waibel is very familiar with.
Prior to joining RSL as an assistant coach in 2014, Waibel was an assistant coach at the University of Washington in 2012 and 2013, and Schmidt was a player who always stood out.Comment on this story
“His personality is amazing, his work ethic. He’s a straightforward kid,” said Waibel. “Coached him at Washington. I know exactly what you get from him every day. There’s always darts to be thrown when you draft kids you don’t know, but this is a young man that’s really well put together. Understands his attributes, very good at self-evaluation and understands his shortcomings.”
Schmidt primarily played center back in college, but he can also play left back, versatility that should help him in MLS.
With the 35th pick, RSL selects center back Justin Schmidt! pic.twitter.com/Wziss2Twl0— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) January 13, 2017
The third and fourth rounds of the MLS draft will take place next Tuesday via a conference call, and RSL has three picks in those two rounds.