Montreal surprises at MLS draft with Wenger

Montreal surprises at MLS draft with Wenger

Published Jan. 12, 2012 4:49 p.m. ET

Almost everyone connected with the MLS SuperDraft knew the first two players selected were going to be dead-solid cinches.

Akron University's speedy, prolific, Jamaican-born striker Darren Mattocks dizzied opponents with 39 goals in 47 games over two seasons – and helped lead the Zips to a national championship in 2010.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wenger of Duke won the Hermann Trophy in 2011, scoring 17 goals as a forward in his third collegiate season -- after wowing scouts with his ability as a defenseman throughout his first two years.

No offense to all the other exciting players on the board, but Mattocks and Wenger were considered in a class by themselves.

With the expansion Montreal Impact choosing first, Mattocks waited just off stage at the Kansas City Convention Center – smiling, ready to hear his name called.

Mattocks had his prepared thank-you remarks at hand, ready to toss the Impact scarf symbolically over his shoulders while shaking hands with MLS commissioner Don Garber.

It seemed a given that an expansion team would snap up a player who provides the toughest commodity to find – a natural gift of scoring goals.

For a little added drama, and in deference to the league's new Quebec-based franchise, Garber announced the No. 1 pick in flawless French before repeating it in English.

Most of the several hundred in attendance couldn't understand Garber's French intro, but they certainly picked two words out of it clear as day…

Andrew Wenger.

There wasn't exactly a roar of disbelief. It was more like a murmur of genuine surprise, but the facility's grand ballroom definitely went into a minor tizzy.

Montreal had, indeed, chosen Duke's all-around star over the explosive Mattocks – who was snapped up just a few moments later by the Vancouver Whitecaps.

"I honestly didn't feel it coming," said the 6-foot, 180-pound Wenger. "I knew from talking to teams and scouts that I probably would be chosen pretty high, but it was a thrill to hear my name called first."

And just like most of the audience, Wenger only understood two words of Garber's initial announcement.

"I've taken Spanish and Italian in school, but not French," Wenger said with a laugh when he met the media amid a flurry of photos and videotape.

"I'm going to start watching the Travel Channel right away, so I can learn all about a new culture."

Wenger suspected that Montreal had selected him for his versatility – having been a dominant player at both ends of pitch – but Impact manager Jesse Marsch described it as something a bit more flattering.

"Andrew was simply the best overall soccer player available in the draft," Marsch said. "There just isn't anything he doesn't do well.

"You can't go wrong taking the best player."

Marsch conceded that the Impact had left the decision late, weighing the pros and cons of selecting Wenger rather than Mattocks.

"Yes, we definitely debated it," he said. "Mattocks is a talented young man. I'm sure he'll probably go on to have a great career in the league.

"But the more we looked at it, the more we felt Andrew had all the characteristics you're looking for in building a team. We think he's a perfect fit."

Yes, but where will Wenger play?

"That's a very good question," Marsch said. "Honestly, we don't really know. We'll see how things work out. He obviously had a great year as a forward, but everyone seems to feel he can be a dominant central defender.

"If that's the way it turns out, OK. But he could wind up playing midfield, or just about anywhere.

"That should tell you just how good we feel Andrew will be as an MLS player."

If Wenger and the Montreal delegation all seemed pleased by the surprise they'd created, Mattocks claimed he wasn't disappointed not to be No. 1.

The tiny striker, who must have worn several layers of heavy clothing when he weighed in at 155, already knew he was headed for Canada.

"That didn't change," Mattocks said, rattling off words in that Jamaican accent. "I started out in a place where it's always 80 or 90 degrees, then went to Akron and learned about the cold.

"Now I'm just going further north."

Mattocks didn't seem bothered by Vancouver's top-heavy roster full of forwards, either.

The Whitecaps' scoring options, along with the perception that Montreal would need a pure scorer to launch a new franchise, had a lot to do with the first two picks causing some surprise.

"Being picked second won't make me any slower than if I were first," Mattocks said. "My pace will speak for itself – here or in Canada or anywhere else.

"That's my calling card. It's why I don't worry so much about bigger players (in MLS) than I faced in college. There won't be many players who have enough pace to get challenges on me."

Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie seemed delighted that Montreal had bypassed the Akron jet.

"The thing with his kind of speed," Rennie said, "is you can't teach it and you rarely find it.

"The next thing, though, is what you do with speed. At the (MLS) combine, we thought he was pressing a little bit – coming very deep to get the ball, drifting out to the wings.

"I think he wanted to put on a real show. But believe me, all Darren needs to do is relax, play his game and he will terrify teams. He's got composure and skill to finish, too.

"The guy is going to score goals. We hope he doesn't take long to get acclimated to playing with pros, and we don't think he will.

"No matter how many forwards you have on the roster, you never pass up a pure goal-scorer."

Interesting choice of words, especially since Montreal had done just that a few minutes earlier.

Meantime, the MLS commissioner seemed to love the whole debate over Wenger and Mattocks.

"We've already got natural rivalries now, with three teams in Canada," Garber said. "The way this draft shook out will only make it more interesting.

"Now we've added two amazing young players to the excitement."