Former Coastal Carolina soccer star Ashton Bennett might have a future in Major League Soccer after all.
Bennett, a two-time semifinalist for the prestigious Hermann Trophy, was not selected last week in the MLS SuperDraft, but he was taken Tuesday in the second round of the league’s supplemental draft with the 20th overall pick by Toronto FC.
CCU soccer coach Shaun Docking had suggested last week that teams might have shied away from Bennett in the draft if he stated a preference to play overseas, but the 5-foot-9 forward from Clarendon, Jamaica, said Tuesday evening he was hoping to hear his name called from the start and is ready to try to prove himself stateside.
“To be honest, I’m honored to get the opportunity to play in the MLS, and I’m just going to make the most of it,” Bennett said. “I’m going to go in and work as hard as I can to get an opportunity to play in the MLS.”
He led all NCAA Division I players in goals as a junior in 2011 with 23 and followed up with 16 goals and nine assists this fall to lead the Chanticleers to the third round of the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history.
After just two seasons with the program, following his transfer from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Bennett ranks sixth on Coastal’s career goals list with his 39. All of the players ahead of him spent more than two years in the program. He is one of just two Chants to ever be named a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy – college soccer’s top individual honor – and one of just three players to win the Big South’s Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons.
He was hopeful that coupled with his performance at the MLS Player Combine earlier this month would be enough to make him a high pick in the SuperDraft last week.
“Yeah, I was a bit surprised because I performed over the years and performed at the combine,” Bennett said. “I went to the combine and did my best, and they always say that performance can elevate your stock, so I was a bit surprised I didn’t get drafted [last week], but at the same time the teams know what they’re looking for. Maybe at that time I wasn’t [the best fit]. I’m just really pumped to get the chance to even get picked in the supplemental draft.”
Bennett said he watched the supplemental draft with Docking and that helped ease his nerves.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry. When you get the opportunity, just make the most of it,’ ” Bennett said.
Docking expressed his confidence that Bennett will quickly prove himself in Toronto and at the professional level, and he said that his former player faces no disadvantage having been drafted Tuesday rather than last week.
“We chatted with a few MLS teams over the last couple of days, and I think in thinking about things Ashton felt that going to Toronto would be a very good move for him because in a sense it is an international franchise because they’re so closely affiliated with big clubs in Europe,” Docking said. “We felt Toronto would probably be a good fit for him in terms of trying to play there initially and then maybe that’s a gateway for him to get into Europe, which ultimately is I think what he wants to do.”
Although he is from Jamaica, Bennett has ties to Canada as his father lives in Toronto. He has made numerous visits there and expressed that having family support nearby can only help. But ultimately now it’s up to him to prove he deserves a roster spot. He expects to report to the team later this week, and there are no guarantees beyond the opportunity to try out and show the coaches what he can do.
“I’m pretty confident. I’m just hoping to go out and do what I do best, and that’s scoring goals and enjoying the moment,” Bennett said. “Right now, I’m just working on getting 100 percent fit and getting my mindset right. There’s going to be a lot of people competing for spots. I know it’s not going to be easy, so I have to [have] the mindset to go in there confident and do my best.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.