Ryan Neil had a feeling he’d hear his named called Thursday and had a pretty good feeling by which team.
Real Salt Lake chose the 22-year-old University of California-Berkeley player with the No. 18 pick in the first round of the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft on Thursday morning in Philadelphia. Neil, a four-year contributor with the Golden Bears, hit it off with the RSL technical staff during the interview process at the MLS Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., last weekend.
Ryan Neil file
Position » Defender
Height » 6 foot 1
Weight » 165 pounds
Birthdate » Jan. 2, 1992
Hometown » Mission Viejo, Calif.
College » University of California-Berkeley
Drafted » 18th overall in the first round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft
But it didn’t make the sitting on the couch or pacing around his home in Mission Viejo, Calif., any less anxious. But when MLS Commissioner Don Garber called his name, the weight of draft day slipped off Neil’s shoulders.
"[RSL] had a good plan for me and how I would fit into the franchise," Neil said. "As the draft went on today, I thought Real Salt Lake might even pick me."
Neil earned All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 and 2013 at Cal and started 20 games his senior year. Neil, an outside midfielder his whole life, is expected to utilize his speed and attacking ability to contend at right or left back for RSL.
"Every time I’m getting the ball, I’m willing to run at the defense of the other team and set up scoring opportunities for my teammates," Neil said. "I’ll bring good pace down the wings."
Neil is the first draft pick in the Jeff Cassar era. The former RSL assistant turned coach in December said Neil was very high on RSL’s draft board, adding the club was fortunate Neil still was available at 18. Cassar said the staff took 12 hours over the course of two days to interview every athlete at the Combine in Florida.
Neil stood out.
"Ryan just blew us away with his demeanor," Cassar said. "During the interview, we came to learn that he’s a winner and he’s a competitor."
But Neil knows the mountain he must climb in his first few weeks as a pro.
After attending his Cal men’s soccer banquet in Berkeley on Monday, he’ll trek to Salt Lake City for entrance physicals Jan. 24, a day before the club leaves for training camp in Arizona. The club already has 26 players signed to the roster, more than any other previous offseasons in franchise history. He’ll slot in behind staples Tony Beltran, Chris Wingert as well as Abdoulie Mansally and Rich Balchan.
"I know I have to go prove myself again," Neil said. "I’m starting at the bottom and have to earn the respect of the team, coaches and fans."
The former Cal Golden Bear is familiar with Utah. His older sister attended BYU and was a frequent RSL attendee. She always joked that if her baby brother decided to go pro, he’d be drafted by RSL. Now with the club he saw "have an unbelievable year" in 2013, the rookie must try to assert himself as yet another key member of the future.
"I’ve been to Salt Lake many times," Neil said, "and I love it."
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