It’s a rarity in Major League Soccer these days when true talent is discovered in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft. In the past two years alone, just 13 out of the 42 players that were selected in the second round appeared in a single MLS game, with just three of those players having made more than 10 appearances for their teams. In the 2016 SuperDraft, 11 out of the 21 players selected in the second round were not signed to a contract at all after the pre-season.
The odds of making an MLS roster out of camp for players not chosen in the first round are slim but Minnesota United appear to have found a building block for their future in French defender/midfielder Thomas de Villardi who was selected in the second round, No. 42 overall out of the University of Delaware.
Di Villardi spent his last two seasons playing for the University of Delaware, a team that has been on the rise over the past five years. While not thought of as a traditional collegiate soccer powerhouse, Coach Ian Hennessy has steered the Blue Hens to three NCAA tournament berths since 2011. This is quite an achievement seeing that the team had qualified for the Tournament just twice in the 80 years prior to Hennessy’s arrival.
During the two seasons that de Villardi played in Delaware, the team went 22-14-5, making it to the CAA Conference Championship match in both seasons while playing their way into the NCAA tournament in 2016. De Villiardi is the third player in the last five years to be drafted by an MLS team from the University of Delaware alongside Guillermo Delgado (the 27th overall pick this season) and Evans Frimpong who has enjoyed a fruitful career in the USL after being drafted in the 2012 Supplemental Draft by the Chicago Fire.
Prior to his collegiate soccer career, the 22-year-old spent four years as a member of the youth setup at French side En Avant de Guingamp, a side that helped launch the careers of Laurent Koscielny, Florent Malouda, and Didier Drogba. The French defender spent his time in the youth team as a left-back and learned the game in an environment that stressed technical proficiency over physical development. He eventually left France after making four appearances for Guingamp’s reserve squad and attended Duquesne University through a French Football Federation program that allows young French players to join American Universities to play football.
The Frenchman started every game for the Dukes of Duquesne in his freshman year and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team. Upon the conclusion of his sophomore season, he transferred to the University of Delaware in order to help his chances of being drafted by an MLS team. Altogether, he enjoyed a fruitful college career where he started 65 games in four seasons, scoring six goals and tallying 20 assists.
What makes him such an appealing prospect for Minnesota United is his technical skill. At 6’1” and 175 pounds, he’s not the most physically dominating player on the pitch but his extensive training in France has helped him develop a cultured approach to the game. When he was a part of the EAG setup in France, coaches stressed that it was important to hone in your technique as they preached that physicality is not always what makes a great player.
De Villardi is primarily left-footed and has demonstrated the ability to play killer passes out of the backline. He was also tasked with taking corner kicks in his senior season for Delaware, taking 48 corners in his 20 games played. An easy comparison to make for de Villardi is New England Revolution left-back Chris Tierney, whose left-footed passes, long balls, crosses, and free-kicks have been a huge asset for New England for years.
Similarly to Tierney, it’s likely that de Villardi will need some time to develop into the type of player that Minnesota United are looking for. He’s played as a wide midfielder and a left-back in the past but stressed in an interview last year that he doesn’t think that he’s necessarily suited to play left-back as he likes to think of himself as an offensive player. If Minnesota United’s coaching staff are able to work with him on his positioning and tactical awareness as a defender, he could be a huge asset pushing up from the back as he has the ability to pick out a killer pass from far away.
De Villardi has most of the technical tools that you look for in a young player, he has the ability to make crafty passes and get balls into space, shows the ability to displace players off the ball, and is solid with the ball at his feet. He demonstrated a decent scoring touch as well in his two seasons at Delaware, by scoring four goals in his 39 games played.
The only uncertain thing is where and when he will play for Minnesota, as he’d likely struggle to find playing time out wide and he will need time to adapt to marking MLS-level talent as a left-back. With that being said, having the ability to be versatile and play multiple different positions is always a positive for young players looking to break into the side.
At any rate, the Loons brass seems very excited that he fell to them in the second round, as coach Adrian Heath said that they thought he was going to be taken before their pick at No. 42. Heath also added that Director of Player Personnel, Amos Magee, had scouted de Villardi this offseason and liked what he saw quite a bit.
Despite where he was picked in the 2017 SuperDraft, there’s plenty to get excited for when you dive deeper into de Villardi’s accomplishments and skill set. We should be able to see what he’s all about when the team’s pre-season games get underway starting February 9th.