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The college draft for the 19th Major League Soccer (MLS) season, which kicks off on March 8, was completed on Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Philadelphia Convention Center and Jamaican Andre Blake became the first goalkeeper and first Jamaican selected as the number one pick. Blake was chosen by the Philadelphia Union in the first position overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.

Blake was among three Jamaicans selected in the first round as midfielder Andre Lewis was chosen seventh by the Vancouver Whitecaps and defender Damion Lowe was selected eighth by the Seattle Sounders. A fourth Jamaican player, midfielder Romena Bowie from Virginia Commonwealth University, was expected to be drafted in a later round.

The 23-year-old Blake, who stands at 6 ft, 4 inches, was selected by the Union after a stalwart three-year career at the University of Connecticut. “It is my hope to become the best professional I can be, while being an ambassador for Jamaica on an off the field,” said Blake. “I truly feel blessed.”

Blake thanked his youth coaches in Jamaica, the Jamaica Football Federation, his college coach Ray Reid and his agent, “for assisting me along the way.” His agent, Romel Wallen of Pro Goals Sports said that Blake’s success was the result of “hard work and consistent dedication.” The goalkeeper played for the Jamaican under-17 and under-20 teams and was a part of the recent Reggae Boyz unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Lewis, who played for St. George’s College and Portmore United FC, both in Jamaica, was drafted by the Whitecaps after performing well at the college combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. The 19-year-old is considered one of the most talented young players in Jamaica. Born in Spanish Town, he represented Jamaica on the under-17 team that qualified for the 2011 Under-17 World Cup in Mexico and also played for the under-20 squad.

Lowe, 20, the son of former Jamaican international Onandi Lowe, played three seasons at the University of Hartford and was an all-conference performer and led Harford to an America East Conference championship. “Words can’t explain how I feel right now because I’ve made a lot of people proud,” Lowe said. “In my life, I’ve been through ups and downs. I come from a place where not many people become successful or fulfill their dreams.

The tall defender from Kingston, who attended Camperdown High School and played for Jamaican powerhouse Harbour View, represented his country on the under-20 team in the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship and scored in Jamaica’s 4-1 win over Puerto Rico. “I’m just glad for this great opportunity and I’m looking forward to great things in Seattle.”

NEW-LOOK TORONTO FC

As the MLS kicks off in early March, the effort for parity in the league is most evident in Toronto. The franchise in that city, Toronto FC, seems to be an enigma: while it has been one of the worst teams in MLS at least for the past four seasons in terms of on-field performance, it is one of the most successful franchises in the area of fan support and game-day attendance. In 2013, Toronto FC (6-17-11, 29 pts. in 2013) was among the three worst teams in the league.

MLS now seems to have made this Toronto FC enigma its special project this season and has worked with Toronto FC to help it to improve its on-field performance and help it to keep up with its other cousins north of the border, namely the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact, both of which are good performers on and off the field.

This season, Toronto will have in its line-up a stalwart trio. Joining Toronto is one of the U.S. best midfielders, a top English Premier League player and England International and a proven MLS star and Canadian international - Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Dwayne De Rosario.

Bradley, a mainstay in the U.S. squad for the 2014 World Cup, was brought in from AS Roma in Italy for a transfer fee of US$10million; Defoe, a member of the England national team, was transferred from Tottenham Hotspurs in the English Premier League for a fee just a bit less that Bradley’s, while Canadian international De Rosario, a past two-time MLS Cup winner and MVP with Houston Dynamo and the San Jose Earthquakes, was brought back after a few years hiatus. Also brought in to help the trio is a young Brazilian striker, Gilberto.

Toronto also used the MLS SuperDraft to select top defender, Nick Hagglund from Xavier University, with the 10th pick in the first round. So, in an effort to improve on parity in the league, Toronto FC should now be in a position to have parity in its overall operation.

USA U-20 WOMEN WIN TITLE

The United States under-20 women’s team defeated Mexico, 4-0, to win its third straight CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship and its fourth overall on Sunday at the Truman Bodden Stadium in Georgetown, Cayman Islands. Both teams qualified for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada this summer. Costa Rica beat Trinidad and Tobago, 7-3, to finish third and also qualify for the World Cup.

The U.S. was undefeated and un-scored upon in the five games. The Americans scored 29 goals on their way to the championship as they knocked off Costa Rica (6-0), Jamaica (3-0) and Guatemala (10-0) in the group stage and Trinidad and Tobago (6-0) in the semifinals.

Mexico beat the Cayman Islands (6-0), Honduras (10-1) and Trinidad and Tobago (3-0) in the group matches, before topping Costa Rica in the semifinals (3-1). In the third place match, Costa Rica rallied from a two-goal deficit to defeat Trinidad in extra-time, 7-3.

The Americans came away with most of the individual awards: the Golden Ball for the best player in the tournament went to U.S. Rose Lavelle, a midfielder at the University of Wisconsin; the Golden Glove for the best goalkeeper went to Katelyn Roland of the U. S., who also won the 2013 NCAA Div. I soccer championship in November; and the Golden Boot for the top scorer was shared by Mexico’s Tanya Samarzich and American McKenzie Meehan, who both scored six goals.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018:
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