Going into Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, the Houston Dynamo were confident that they were going to get a quality player with the 13th pick. What they ended up with was a player that offers something all teams covet: speed up top.
With several highly touted players dropping out of the top 10, Houston found themselves with several options – including Generation adidas midfielder Mikey Lopez and several well-regarded defensive prospects – when it came time to make their selection.
In the end, the Dynamo went with the player that offers something that is hard to come by: elite speed in Virginia Commonwealth University forward Jason Johnson.
“We looked at it as having pace up top is always a good thing,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “Going into the draft, from what people were talking about, I didn’t know if Johnson would fall out of the top 10, but luckily for us he was [still there].”
Coming into the draft, Johnson was considered one of the top forwards available after scoring 13 goals for the Rams during his junior season. But he had what some considered a subpar combine and other forwards such as Erik Hurtado (No. 5) and 18-year-old Kekuta Manneh (No. 4) shot up the ranks.
The slide pushed Johnson to the Dynamo, who focused on his combine positives rather than his negatives. Specifically, Kinnear pointed to times at the combine where Johnson put his shoulder down and beat some quality defenders with speed and created for himself.
It should come as no surprise that those skills would catch Kinnear’s eye. The Dynamo boss has routinely looked to speedy forwards to help stretch defenses – just look at his acquisitions of Calen Carr, who is out with an ACL injury, the out-of-contract Mac Kandji and Omar Cummings – in the past two years.
With a proclivity for using speed up top, the theory that Johnson will be stashed as depth could be a bit presumptive.
“It’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen, but when you look at this year with qualifiers and Gold Cups and we have a lot of games ourselves, so I think there’ll be minutes for Jason Johnson,” Kinnear said. “He’ll obviously have to work for those, but I think he’s been put in a situation where he’ll be given a fair chance.”
The same can be said for left back Jimmy Nealis, whose selection was about picking the player with the highest likelihood of helping the team. The Georgetown product was the second-to-last pick in the draft.
“A lot of people talked about him before the draft as a possible first-rounder,” Kinnear said. “We looked at wide midfield but we didn’t think there was anyone there who we thought would be a better fit for our team than Jimmy Nealis.”
Both Johnson and Nealis are slated to join the club Monday when Houston kicks off their preseason camp.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.