Sport­ing KC se­lects Florida Gulf Coast de­fender in MLS Su­perDraft

The Kansas City Star - - Sports - BY SAM MCDOW­ELL sm­c­dow­[email protected]­

The Sport­ing Kansas City tech­ni­cal staff vis­ited Orlando for five days last week, watch­ing the top col­lege soc­cer prospects com­pete in the MLS com­bine in prepa­ra­tion for the draft.

And then on Fri­day, they went off script.

Sport­ing KC picked Florida Gulf Coast de­fender Ka­mar Mar­riott with the 21st over­all pick in the 2019 MLS Su­perDraft.

It added to its draft class with Pa­cific de­fen­sive mid­fielder Cam­den Ri­ley in the sec­ond round.

Mar­riott, 22, was not in­vited to the MLS com­bine. Rather, he was iden­ti­fied by Sport­ing KC goal­keeper coach Alec Dufty be­fore­hand as a po­ten­tial fit. Sport­ing KC was im­pressed by Mar­riott’s abil­ity to play with the ball along the back line and in the de­fen­sive mid­field, a top pri­or­ity for a club that ranks among the league’s elite pos­ses­sion teams.

“I wanted a guy that had the abil­ity and the con­fi­dence to play with the ball at his feet,” Sport­ing KC coach Peter Ver­mes said in a tele­con­fer­ence call af­ter the se­lec­tion in Chicago. “For us, it was an im­por­tant as­pect that we can de­velop into that role. He’s also got very, very strong ath­letic qual­i­ties.”

And size. Mar­riott, whose home­town is Tampa, is listed at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds. He scored three goals and as­sisted six oth­ers in 64 ap­pear­ances at Florida Gulf Coast. He missed the 2017 sea­son be­cause of an in­jury, but Ver­mes said he has com­pletely re­cov­ered. Mar­riott is for­merly a mem­ber of the FC Dal­las academy.

Ri­ley, 22, recorded 19 goals and 10 as­sists in 66 games with Pa­cific. He was a sec­ond team All-Amer­i­can and the West Coast Con­fer­ence player of the year in his se­nior sea­son.

He vis­ited Sport­ing KC on a four-day trial last sum­mer, along with other col­lege play­ers.

“I’ve seen them play on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, and I ab­so­lutely fell in love with their style of play,” Ri­ley said. “I see my­self as a hold­ing mid­fielder or a No. 6 that can help dis­trib­ute the ball or move the team for­ward.”

In the im­me­di­ate term, both se­lec­tions fig­ure to fac­tor more into the franchise’s USL team, the Swope Park Rangers, than the se­nior team.

“He won’t get stymied by be­ing on the first team and not get­ting a chance to play,”

Ver­mes said af­ter the first-round se­lec­tion, a re­flec­tion that ap­plies to Ri­ley, as well. “We do have the Swope Park Rangers. That’s a big part of the de­vel­op­ment with play­ers. The struc­ture we have in place lends it­self to re­ally good op­por­tu­ni­ties for play­ers to con­tinue to de­velop and grow.”

With the growth of MLS youth acad­e­mies scoop­ing up home­grown play­ers, the tal­ent pool in the draft has steadily de­clined. It’s be­come an an­ti­quated way to build a ros­ter in the league, and the im­pact of Sport­ing Kansas City’s re­cent classes dis­play that. In the past three years, Sport­ing KC has drafted eight play­ers, in­clud­ing three first-round picks. Only one player has ap­peared in an MLS match. Gra­ham Smith, se­lected in 2018, played two games.

JANET BLACKMON MOR­GAN jblack­[email protected]­sun­

Florida Gulf Coast’s Ka­mar Mar­riott and Coastal Carolina Uni­ver­sity’s Ricky Gar­banzo chase the ball in the 2014 NCAA tour­na­ment.

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