Lakota West grad and Xavier standout drafted by Toronto FC with 10th pick of MLS SuperDraft

CINCINNATI -- "With the No. 10 selection in the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, Toronto FC selects Xavier University senior defender Nick Hagglund from West Chester, Ohio."

The Lakota West grad's dreams came true early Thursday afternoon when he heard those words called from the stage of the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia.

He is the second Musketeer to be drafted since the event was implemented in 2000. The New England Revolution selected Luke Spencer with the 23rd overall pick last season.

"I'm just incredibly excited to be in Toronto. I think the city is going to be incredible," Hagglund said during his first interview after being called to the stage to try on the Toronto FC scarf for the first time.

The star defenseman was one of 267 draft-eligible athletes hoping to hear their name called on Day 1 of the multi-day split draft that continues Jan. 21.

Projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick, Hagglund was selected earlier than some expected after a trade between the Toronto-based football club and the Philadelphia Union. Even the draftee himself admitted to being a little surprised by the move.

"I did not expect to be drafted this high," the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year said in a post-selection interview. "I knew I had the talent to be a contender at the (MLS pre-draft) combine but this ... I'm stunned. I'm so excited."

Nick Hagglund Discusses MLS SuperDraft

The 21-year-old also admitted to being excited about more than just the prospect of playing professional football.

"I love (Toronto). I actually went up there two years ago ... when I was with the Columbus Crew (Youth Academy), loved the city, he said. "And now it's a dream come true, to be able to play soccer in that city with all the excitement that's going on."

If all goes as expected, Hagglund will share the pitch next season with an explosive lineup that includes recent signing Michael Bradley , a standout midfielder on the United States national team and former European footballer. The organization also spent big money this offseason to bring in former Barclays Premier League star Jermain Defoe.

Hagglund will also benefit from playing under coach Ryan Nelsen, 36, a recently retired center back who served as captain for the New Zealand national soccer team known as the "All Whites."

"To have a coach that has been at such a high level, I'm going to absorb so much from him," said Hagglund who only recently transitioned into the central defender position. "I've only been playing center back for three years so I'm going to learn and absorb as much as I can from him."

Even though Toronto FC finished ninth in the Eastern Conference and with the third fewest points last season, getting on the pitch with regularity in the near future could be a challenge for the Lakota West grad. But that doesn’t seem to bother Hagglund who is trying to take things in stride.

"I'm just going to go other there and enjoy being part of the team, part of the squad," he said.

Of course, that could just be modesty coming from Hagglund, whose lack of an ego is so noticeable that some analysts refer to it as a flaw.

One MLS coach was quoted by MLSSoccer.com as saying, "He needs to realize he belongs in MLS," speaking of Hagglund. "I don't think he realizes how good he is."

While there's no such thing as a "lock" when it comes to draft picks, it was assumed Hagglund would be selected during one of the two rounds held Thursday.

Many soccer pundits labeled this a down year in terms of talent, but there was a plethora of highly coveted players at Hagglund’s center back position. He is one of seven athletes in this year's draft viewed as eventual starters in MLS.

"Almost to a man, people in and around MLS have said that this is the year to patch up those holes in the middle of the backline," according to an article on MLSSoccer.com

But even among a pool of could-be superstars the 6-foot-1 defenseman stands out, according to the analysts at MLSSoccer.com, who described him as having one of the best headers in American soccer.

"(He) doesn't have as big a rep as the other guys on the list, but he's wiry strong and always active. (He) gets his head to everything in and around the 18-yard-box, and keeps it simple in his distribution."

Hagglund attributed his perceived rise in draft value to being true to himself and his skills at the combine.

"I think I just tried to be true to myself, keep it simple," he said. "I think sometimes at combines people try to do too much, but I kept it simple. I knew I had the athleticism to muscle people off the ball ... and get in the air to let it show for itself."

While he was waiting to see if general managers across the MLS were able to see for themselves what college soccer scouts had seen for the past four years, Hagglund spent Thursday morning preparing for his name to be called along with the rest of the future pros.

Surrounded by dozens of friends, family, and Xavier soccer coach Andy Fleming at the convention center,

he tweeted out photos and comments about the upcoming draft and expressed his desire to get the day started.

In his final tweet before the start of the event, Hagglund wrote, "Let's goooooooo!" from his Twitter handle "(at)Nickismyname ." While he may have been expressing the nerves in his stomach, the message also served as notice to the Twitterverse that he was ready to move on to the next stage in his athletic career.

Although Hagglund has always had the talent to make it as a pro, molding himself into a top-tier football player took time.

When he enrolled at Xavier in 2010 he was skinny, hungry and full of talent, but he wasn't a great soccer player, at least not the All-Big East performer he was in 2013.

Even though Hagglund had some early successes at Lakota West and high-level traveling teams, some of his early critics believed he had a tendency to rely too heavily on his athletic ability and didn't have either the techniques or aptitude for the game to make it at the sport’s highest level.

Through hard work, dedication and support from the Xavier coaching staff, Hagglund managed to transform himself into a top-10 draft pick.

"I came to Xavier as an athletic defensive back and at Xavier I became a soccer player," he said Thursday before thanking the staff at XU, as well as his mother, father and sister, a former All-America volleyball player at the University of Washington.

During his time at Xavier, Hagglund started in 81 matches, played more than 7,200 minutes and finished with four goals and 11 assists. But his accomplishments extended much beyond his individual accolades.

The Muskies recorded 31 shutouts with Hagglund as the leader of the backline over four years, helping to program to three straight NCAA tournament appearances. In 2012, he also part of the program's first-ever tourney win.

Toronto FC, if nothing else you know you drafted a winner.


 

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