TFC pleasantly surprised

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

It was like Christmas all over again for Toronto FC manager Mo Johnston yesterday when he got everything on his wish list at the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Baltimore.

The biggest gift was 23-year-old University of Connecticut defender Julius James -- whom ESPN had projected as a first overall selection.

Johnston nabbed the 6-foot, 180-pounder with the ninth pick, then used the 10th selection to grab Pat Phelan, a defender off NCAA Division 1-champion Wake Forest.

But Johnston said what surprised him most was that goalkeeper Brian Edwards, taken by Toronto with the final pick of the second round (28th overall), was still available.

TFC was plagued with problems in goal this past season after starter Greg Sutton suffered a concussion playing for Canada in the Gold Cup tournament in the spring.

"We are very, very happy," Johnston said from Baltimore. "I came in here looking for a goalkeeper, for a couple of defenders and for some depth and we got what we wanted."

Johnston said he was astounded that James was still available when he got to pick.

"I guess some other coaches came here with specific needs and just looked past Julius," he said. "But I tell you, we are really thrilled that he was still around when we picked."

Johnston said he has had his eye on Phelan, 22, for some months and went so far as to spend a week at the U.S. under-23 winter camp to see him up close and personal.

"We were there for the full week," Johnston said. "We felt that he gave a real good account of himself."

Johnston wasn't the only MLS executive surprised that James -- a native of Trinidad and Tobago -- and Phelan were still available in the ninth and 10th spots.

"Many people consider James to be the best player (in the draft)," said Steve Pastorino, former general manager of Real Salt Lake.

ESPN analyst Ives Galarcep had James as his No. 1 pick but said Phelan may prove to be a better pro.

"He doesn't have the hype of a James or (Andy) Iro, but could wind up being as good, if not better, than both of them," Galarcep said. "A polished defender who can also play defensive midfielder, Phelan is good enough to step in and play heavy minutes."

One MLS coach, who didn't want to be identified, said Johnston was "extremely lucky" that James was there when TFC finally got to pick.

"He's just solid, just all-around solid," he said.

For his final two picks -- 30th and 35th, overall -- Johnston chose UCLA defender Mike Zahre and Notre Dame forward Joseph Lapira.

The Kansas City Wizards surprised many by selecting UCLA defender Chance Myers first overall.

Patrick Nyarko of Virginia Tech, who had been tagged as the No. 1 pick by the MLS network. slipped all the way down to seventh.

Picking second -- with a TFC selection obtained in the trade for Richard Mulrooney last spring -- FC Dallas chose 17-year-old Brek Shea off the U.S. under-17 team.

With the third pick overall, Real Salt Lake chose UCLA midfielder Anthony Beltran.


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