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2021 MLS SuperDraft recap: Four Sounders Academy products selected

Sounders missed out on their academy players but took a goalkeeper with their only pick.

UPDATE: The Seattle Sounders have traded a 2022 second round draft pick to Inter Miami in exchange for Joseph Hafferty. Although Hafferty played all over for Oregon State the team sees him as an option at right back, along with Alex Roldan.

The Seattle Sounders didn’t have a pick until late in Thursday’s 2021 Superdraft — their lone pick was the 26th pick of the third round, 80th overall — but the draft still had plenty in store for those watching with an eye towards the Puget Sound. As Dave Clark noted, with a pair of centerbacks from the University of Washington and a handful of players with connections to the Sounders Academy eligible, Sounders fans and Seattle soccer lovers had plenty of reason to get excited as the draft unfolded.

Ethan Bartlow, one of five Generation adidas players in the draft and one of the two CBs from UW, was the first of the Washington kids off the board, with the Houston Dynamo selecting the Woodinville native and Crossfire alum with the sixth pick of the draft. Five picks later, Bartlow’s college teammate and CB partner Freddy Kleemann was selected by Austin FC. Kleemann joins an expansion side where he’ll likely be fighting for the third CB spot behind veterans Matt Besler and Julio Cascante.

With the two UW players off the board early in the first round, Sounders Academy products started to have their names called toward the start of the second round. First, with the sixth pick of the second round, Chicago Fire selected Jackson Ragen from the University of Michigan. The 6’5” CB will likely have a fight ahead of him to make Chicago’s roster, as the club already has a six-man CB group. A few picks later Joseph Hafferty had his name called. Chris Henderson and Inter Miami selected the defender/utility man out of Oregon State University with the 37th overall pick, 10th of the second round, and he’ll have a chance to prove himself as the team rebuilds under Henderson’s and owner David Beckham’s guidance.

The third round saw two more players with Academy ties chosen, in addition to the Sounders’ lone pick. Georgetown Hoya Paul Rothrock, a midfielder, was selected by Toronto FC with the 10th pick of the third round, 64th pick overall. Rothrock was followed by former Academy and S2 goalkeeper Tor Saunders, who played college soccer for the University of Akron. Saunders heads to Nashville SC, who took him with the 20th pick of the third round.

Seattle used their lone pick of the day to select goalkeeper TJ Bush with the 26th pick of the third round, 80th overall. Bush played collegiately at James Madison University, where he earned back-to-back First Team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors in 2018 and ‘19, as well as being named to the CAA All-Rookie team in 2017. Bush will likely enter preseason with the Sounders trying to earn a depth spot behind Stefan Frei. His competition for the role and playing time will come from homegrown player Trey Muse and Tacoma Defiance ‘keeper Christian Herrera, and potentially others.

It’s easy to look at four Sounders Academy products being selected in the draft and feel frustration or exasperation at the fact that they weren’t signed to HGP contracts by the team. The reality is that the situation is undoubtedly more complicated. The team likely didn’t see immediate futures for the players with the first team, meaning they would have spent at least 2021 with Tacoma Defiance in the USL Championship. Additionally, due to their ages, the onramp to needing to be ready for MLS competition, at least within the Sounders organization, would have been pretty short. Ultimately, by letting the players go through the MLS draft the team gives them the best chance at getting first-team playing opportunities, and the Sounders Academy adds a few more professional players to the alumni list. It’s not the ideal result, but it’s positive for everyone involved.

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