ANALYSIS- On Wednesday, the MLS 2023 SuperDraft took place in St. Louis, where all 29 teams from the league set their sights on the NCAA’s most promising players of the last year. Across three rounds, the Vancouver Whitecaps selected four players across various positions to try to potentially reinforce the squad.
With three of the four picks ranked in the top 10 Men’s National College Players according to TopDrawerTalent.com, it seems like Vancouver’s recruitment, while going mostly under the radar, has been solid this time around. Let’s dive deeper into each player, their profile, and how they might be able to fit into the ‘Caps plan starting in 2023.
The Vancouver Whitecaps 2023 SuperDraft Overview
J.C. Ngando – Midfielder – UNC Greensboro
An athletic, creative midfielder who looks to breeze past players in a Koné-esque manner, it is little surprise that the ‘Caps forked out $225k in GAM to get that fifth pick for Ngando from the Houston Dynamo.
While being a fantastic ball progressor, perhaps his best feature is his keen vision. He registered 16 G/A in 19 matches for Greenboro this past season, with 13 of them being assists, making him the top assister in Division I, and fifth in the Men’s National ranking. That brings his total tally with Greensboro to nine goals and 22 assists across two years.
Born in Cameroon, the young Jean-Claude Ngando moved to France at the age of seven and began to play for Amiens B in 2017 before joining Paris FC B in 2020. His dream of signing a professional contract didn’t materialize afterward, however, but the determined Generation Adidas player kept his head down and continued to work. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he re-evaluated his options and opted to move to the US, a move that he exclaims was one of “the best decisions [of my life]”.
He is coming to a team that is not short on midfielders. With the likes of Andrés Cubas, Alessandro Schöpf, Russell Teibert, and, of course, Whitecaps MVP Ryan Gauld, Ngando may find it difficult to fit into the team.
Considering that Head Coach Vanni Sartini wasn’t able to find a set formation or stable play style, Ngando might be forced to adapt to different positions and roles if he is to get some minutes. Thankfully, his technical and physical abilities make him able to play either as a 10, a box-to-box, or even just behind the striker, so he might be a perfect fit for this still-developing Whitecaps side after all.
With the No. 5 overall pick in the 2023 MLS #SuperDraft, @WhitecapsFC select midfielder J.C. Ngando. pic.twitter.com/pnnFqpbO3Y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 21, 2022
Levonte Johnson – Forward – Syracuse
The first of two Canadians on this list, Levonte Johnson was selected 29th in the first round, the last pick of the round. Hailing from Brampton, Ontario, he joins an elite list of Canadian talents coming not only out of the Flower City but out of Syracuse college itself.
The 5’10” striker had 11 goals and six assists in 23 games last season, helping the Orange win their second-ever College Cup. Ranked sixth in the Men’s National ranking, he is also a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the best college soccer player of that year.
He is an adaptive player, having not only jumped around the US, transferring schools across the country, but also internationally, with spells in England.
What should be exciting to fans about Johnson is that he is a big-moment player: of the 11 goals that he scored last season, eight were game-winners. Most notable was his game-winner in the 3-2 semi-final win over Creighton, which secured their spot in the final. He also put away his penalty in the decisive penalty shootout in the final, once again signifying his collectiveness in the face of pressure.
A versatile forward who works hard and is not shy to turn up when needed, the Brampton native might be quite useful for a Whitecaps side that is lacking a true number nine, but he needs to first impress his coaches before he can be properly signed up to the team. He can look to the trajectory of last year’s VWFC top pick, Simon Becher, who has just moved up to the first team after doing well with WFC 2, as a path toward achieving his dream of becoming a professional.
Nothing like a Draft Day moment 🧡
Best of luck to Levonte Johnson and the rest of our draftees and as the embark on their professional journeys 👏#DareToDream pic.twitter.com/fdsOAM4QFl
— Syracuse Men's Soccer (@CuseMSOC) December 23, 2022
Daniel Nimick – Defender – Western Michigan
The last on the list to be in the Top 10 of the Men’s National Ranking, Daniel Nimick was selected 42nd in the second round. A dual-national with Canada and England, he was particularly impressive last season for the Broncos by scoring eight goals and providing one assist from the back line.
Ever-physical, he is a nuisance to defenders when in the box for set-pieces, but also is known to be a taker of set-pieces himself. Strong and intelligent a the back, he was named MAC’s Player of the Year and got himself included in the All-American second team as well.
Hailing from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland, he spent his youth in England with academies for Harrogate Town and even Leeds United before coming to Western Michigan.
With his talent for both defending and scoring goals, he may prove to be useful for the Whitecaps in the future, especially as a domestic player. In a side that is always looking to shore up their defence, time will tell if Nimick will be able to break through and become a part of the long-term plan for the ‘Caps.
⚽️ Player of the Year ⚽️
Congrats to Western Michigan's Daniel Nimick on being named the MAC Player of the Year!
🗒: https://t.co/SH1svwKjhM | #MACtion pic.twitter.com/3PBzDhJela
— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 10, 2022
Buster Sjoberg – Defender – Syracuse
The second Syracuse prospect to be signed, Sjoberg was selected 71st in the third round. The Swedish international from Uppsala started in 17 of the 19 matches and was an integral part of the Orange’s charge to the championship before getting limited playing time due to a lower-body injury.
At a towering 6’5”, he can be a handful in the box for set pieces, but often sticks to what he knows at the back. Well-rounded and no-nonsense, he may prove to be an underrated pick having come so late in the draft.
But with his international status a potential stop-block for him being signed up to the first team, Sjoberg will have to rouse excitement through solid performances to possibly make the jump to professional status in the coming years.
Vancouver snags another Orange 🍊
Senior defender Buster Sjoberg is selected by Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the third round!#DareToDream pic.twitter.com/TJP0KcQoeC
— Syracuse Men's Soccer (@CuseMSOC) December 22, 2022
Overall Grade: B
READ MORE: The 2023 MLS SuperDraft Storylines and Overview
While claiming three of the top ten players in the Men’s National Ranking is a great coup, the fact that the Whitecaps passed on various talented Canadians like Moïse Bambito, Stephen Afrifa, and Malcolm Johnston for a couple of internationals that will take up those international spots, might leave many feeling a bit confused. This is especially true when considering that Axel Schuster once proclaimed wanting Whitecaps to be the “Athletic Bilbao of Canada,” this selection tactic might seem a bit wayward toward that goal.
Nevertheless, with the talent that they have drafted in, alongside the talent they already have in the team, the Whitecaps might go on to prove to have had one of the most underrated SuperDrafts of the year.
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