It was the morning of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC brain trust were huddled in a nearby hotel going over their final draft list.
Two names kept coming up.
One was in the draft, one wasn’t.
The player in the draft was centre back Tim Parker. Carl Robinson and his staff had identified Parker before the combine and his performance there – both on the pitch and in their interview – only reaffirmed their existing beliefs.
Huddled around a computer in that hotel boardroom, the ‘Caps brass went through different scenarios. They discussed potentially trading down from 13th overall for allocation money. One team offered them $75,000 for the pick.
“That would be a bad trade in my books,” said one member of the Whitecaps FC brass.
Everyone agreed. They kept coming back to Parker. He was a player they wanted.
And he wasn’t the only one.
The other name that kept popping up was Whitecaps FC Residency graduate Ben McKendry.
McKendry, who just finished a successful junior season with the University of New Mexico Lobos, wasn’t available for selection in the draft. But the group knew that they didn’t need to go through the lottery of the SuperDraft to bring back McKendry – rated as one of the top central midfielders in the NCAA over the past two seasons. As a product of the ‘Caps youth system, the club could sign him straight away as a Homegrown player.
So Robinson and company weighed the idea of signing McKendry, a central midfielder, over drafting a central midfielder, which they had identified as a position of need coming into the day along with centre back.
In the end, the ‘Caps got both guys they wanted.
Watch as McKendry signs his first professional contract
They selected Parker at 13th overall and on Monday announced the signing of McKendry as the club’s eighth current Homegrown player – the most of any team in MLS.
“When we evaluate any young players, especially at the draft, they have to better than what you have,” Robinson told whitecapsfc.com. “You don’t want them to create ceilings for any young players that you already have. So the thought process of it was that the players in the draft aren’t head and shoulders above Ben or actually aren’t better than Ben. We actually thought taking one of those players would block his pathway into the first team. So it was a no-brainer for us.”
McKendry, 21, joins Whitecaps FC after spending three seasons with the University of New Mexico Lobos of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Prior to that, the Vancouver native was a standout with the Whitecaps FC youth program, where he developed for five years.
“The draft is a very important platform for young players to get the opportunity to play MLS, but as important are the Residency and academy programs,” Robinson said. “We’re fortunate enough that the ownership have put a lot of money into our Residency program for the growth and development of it. And now we’re seeing the rewards continuously.”
Robinson described McKendry as a “midfield player who’s got everything.” The former Canadian U-18 and U-20 international finished with 14 goals, including five game-winners, and five assists in 61 total appearances at New Mexico. He also helped guide the Lobos to the 2013 Conference USA regular season championship and two NCAA Tournaments.
“He’s very good on the ball, he gets around the pitch very well, tactically he’s aware, and he can pass the ball,” Robinson said. “If he can add five to 10 goals to his game, then he can step up and be a top midfielder. But he’s certainly got the potential.”
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