KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Three products of local universities are contenders to be selected in this year’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Penn’s Christian Barreiro, Princeton’s Antoine Hoppenot and Delaware’s Evans Frimpong will all be hoping to hear their names called when the draft begins at noon Thursday in Kansas City.
Frimpong is the best pro prospect of the three. The forward from Accra, Ghana was named a semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann trophy, college soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman, in 2011. He also won CAA Player of the Year honors, becoming the first ever Blue Hen to do so.
Thanks in large part to Frimpong’s 12 goals and five assists, Delaware made the NCAA College Cup for the first time since 1970, and scored a 1-0 upset of perennial power Virginia in the first round.
"I consider [Frimpong] a creative, artistic player who can score goals," Blue Hens coach Ian Hennessy said. "I knew [when recruiting him] that he had that over and above your average American player."
Frimpong - who is not related to Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong, if you’re wondering - only came to Newark in 2010. He started his college career at the University of Texas-Brownsville.
Hennessy brought him to Delaware thanks to an old contact in Ghana developed during a previous stint as an assistant at Boston College.
"I didn’t realize [Frimpong] was going to have such a strong senior year - that’s been a bit of a surprise," Hennessy said. "There was a mental switch that went on this year."
Barreiro and Hoppenot are more likely to be picked in the Supplemental Draft, a four-round process which will take place on Tuesday, January 17.
Penn coach Rudy Fuller has high hopes for Barreiro. The Baltimore native is one of the most creative midfielders Fuller has coached in his 14 years in charge of the Quakers.
Barreiro led the Ivy League in assists in his junior and senior seasons. He can score goals as well, including an overtime game-winner in a 2010 College Cup first round game against Bucknell.
"You don’t have to watch the game much more than five or ten minutes to know he’s got some special talents," Fuller said.
Barreiro said he doesn’t care too much which team he ends up with, but he admitted to being "really fond of the Union, obviously, living in Philadelphia."
"It’s a dream to play in MLS," he added. "I just hope I can have the opportunity to do that."
If Barreiro makes it to MLS, he would be the fourth Quaker to do so. The previous three were goalkeepers Matt Haefner (2005) and Danny Cepero (2009), and midfielder Alex Grend (2009).
Born in Paris, France and raised in Princeton, N.J., Hoppenot tallied 26 goals and 15 assists in his four-year Tigers career. Princeton made the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and 2010, including a perfect 7-0 record in Ivy League play in 2010. Hoppenot was the conference player of the year in 2010.
"He's really good at running at people," Tigers coach Jim Barlow said. "He gets in and looks to take people on, he looks to go to goal."
Hoppenot said he is excited for the chance to make it to MLS, especially given Princeton’s strong history with the league. If drafted, he would be the eighth Tiger to play in MLS.
"It's everything I've been working toward since I started playing soccer," he said.
One of those alumni, Jesse Marsch, is now the head coach of the expansion Montreal Impact. Hoppenot said it would be "awesome" to play under Marsch if the opportunity came.
All three players have spent the last few days participating in the MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They also played last summer for Premier Development League amateur teams across the Philadelphia region.
The PDL is at the fourth level of the American soccer hierarchy, with MLS at the top.
Frimpong and Barreiro played together for Reading United A.C., a club which has an official affiliation with the Philadelphia Union.
Reading United has a history of developing MLS talent. Recent products include Sporting Kansas City midfielder C.J. Sapong, the 2011 rookie of the year; and Montreal Impact defender Zarek Valentin, a Lancaster, Pa., native who is likely to be on the U.S. Olympic team this summer.
Reading coach Brendan Burke also serves as the Union’s reserve team coach, so he is uniquely positioned to help college players begin to make the move toward the professional level.
"I’m able to give [Union coaches] Diego [Gutierrez] and Peter [Nowak] a long look at these guys well before the combine," Burke said. "We give them a peer group that you can’t replicate outside the professional level."
Coach Brendan Burke praised both Barreiro and Frimpong.
Although Burke warned that Barreiro is "going to have to get forward more consistently" in MLS, Burke added that "his mentality and approach, you can’t get enough of that."
Burke called Frimpong "kind of an unpolished diamond... I think in MLS he’s going to be very valuable off the bat, because he’s got explosive speed over five and 10 yards."
Hoppenot's time in the PDL was spent with the Hillsborough, N.J.-based Central Jersey Spartans. Burke saw plenty of him in games that the clubs played against each other.
Burke described Hoppenot as "a little bit undersized, but at the same time he has that game-changing quickness and pace."
He said that Hoppenot will probably be a supplemental draft pick, but added that he has the traits to make a good impression at a preseason camp.
"There are some guys in the draft with the same physical attributes rated higher than [Hoppenot]," Burke admitted.
For all three players, all they can do now is wait.
Which of them do you think will make it to MLS?