Two more Vancouver Whitecaps’ draft picks –Notre Dame outside midfielder Adam Mena and New Mexico defensive midfielder Michael Kafari — are on their way to Charleston tonight, with a third Whitecap likely to join them before the start of next week.
Mena, 24, was a fifth-year senior on a star-studded 2012 Notre Dame roster that included MLS Superdraft first-rounders Ryan Finley and Dillon Powers, but he tore his right ACL in the team’s first match and missed the rest of the season. Despite that disappointment and uncertainty, Vancouver still picked him No. 10 in the first round of the 2013 Supplemental Draft (equivalent to the third round of this season’s expanded MLS Superdraft). Then, while trying to make the team last March, he fractured his right kneecap.
Kafari, 22, helped lead New Mexico to the NCAA Final Four in 2013, and came out of college with good credentials as a ball-winning midfielder. His MLS scouting report paints the picture of a high-quality young man who possesses “freak athlete” abilities, but lacks polish.
Both were selected in a draft round that often produces quality USL PRO and NASL players (think Alex Caskey and Jarad van Schaik), and occasionally MLS stars (Geoff Cameron). But seldom do third-round rookies vault to directly to significant roles on MLS teams.
Both Mena and Kafari stuck around late enough in Whitecaps camp to indicate that the club saw promise in each, with local media noticing, too. Here’s a profile of Kafari by Away From The Numbers editor Mike McColl, and a newspaper feature on Mena from The Province written by reporter Marc Webber. Reporter Dan D’Addona of Mena’s hometown paper in Michigan wrote this January story about the player’s second attempt to make the Whitecaps.
Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser said Kafari will arrive in Charleston tonight, with Mena due to arrive on Friday. The Battery play the NAIA All-Stars Friday, and travel to Cary, N.C., on Saturday to play the Carolina Railhawks of NASL.
They will join young Whitecaps prospects Jackson Farmer, a Canadian centerback, and Marlon Ramirez, a forward from Honduras, plus 2014 Whitecaps second-round pick Mamadou Diouf. Diouf, a forward from the University of Connecticut, was considered a preseason contender for top honors in the NCAA, but — like Mena in 2012 — suffered an injury in the first match of the season. He managed to return for some late action, but his draft stock plummeted.
That’s a good resume, but here in Charleston, Anheuser is just beginning to get a sense of where the Senegalese footballer fits in.
“He’s been here one day,” Anhaeuser said after Wednesday’s practice. “Big boy. We’ll see how he does this weekend. But it’s good to get him in. At least now we can see what they can do and where they might fit in.”
In other Whitecaps news, Ben Fisk — the first player Vancouver sent on loan to Charleston in 2013 — failed in his bid to make the team’s MLS roster Wednesday. Fisk is now on trial with Deportivo la Coruña in the Spanish second division. His friend and fellow 2013 Battery loanee Bryce Alderson, who is a virtual lock to make the first team roster, declared himself “gutted” by Fisk’s departure this afternoon on Twitter.
This year’s Whitecaps’ camp has been difficult to handicap, with a new coaching staff, an ample cupboard of Residency and U-23s prospects, lots of draft picks and some late trades and signings. In the past week the Whitecaps traded for Toronto Designated Player Matias Laba and then signed Chilean midfielder Pedro Morales as their newest DP. Those signings took up slots that might have been occupied by a younger player.
Anhaeuser said the sixth Whitecap will likely arrive on Sunday. He said there were two or three players from the MLS roster who might be headed our way, including Vancouver’s second pick in the first round of the 2014 Superdraft, Andre Lewis. Lewis is not only a highly regarded attacking midfielder and the seventh pick overall, he’s also the player who got the biggest headlines after the draft, when it was revealed that he’d already signed with the New York Cosmos of NASL. The Cosmos soon loaned Lewis to Vancouver, which means that if he winds up being Charleston’s sixth player, he’ll be on loan from a loan.
Here in Charleston, the additions put more numbers pressure on an already crowded Battery midfield. Although the team lost Mike Azira to Seattle after losing Nicki Paterson to Ottawa and Jose Cuevas to a declined contract option, midfield has been a well-stocked cupboard since early February. Starters Amadou Sanyang, Jarad van Schaik, Zach Prince and Quintin Griffith aren’t going anywhere, but the numbers are likely to catch up with someone from the group that includes veterans Maikel Chang and Austin Savage and rookies Dante Marini, Justin Portillo and Miguel Teos (Savage and Teos also play forward, a position with much less depth).
The additional Whitecaps will push the Battery up to 23 outfield players in camp, with Odisnel Cooper coming back from injury and prospects Andy Ramos and Eric Shannon competing to be his backup in goal. Anhaeuser kept just 22 players for most of 2013, but has indicated he could keep 24 to 26 in 2014.
Friday and Saturday’s games will go a long way toward determining who will survive the coming cuts. Only Cooper (sprained thumb) and forward Dane Kelly (strained hamstring) were held out of practice today, and the prognosis on both is good. Trainer Bobby Weisenberger said Cooper has been cleared to begin doing limited goalkeeping drills with his injured hand, and Anhaeuser said Kelly could return to training as early as next week. Both are expected back before the season opener.
The regular season begins on March 22 against 2013 USL PRO Champions Orlando City Lions.
TOP IMAGE: Michael Kafari (via Mike McCoy of AFTN), Adam Mena (via The Province).