For at least a few hours, the Vancouver Whitecaps could put the Camilo Sanvezzo saga aside.
As their best player continued to orchestrate his dramatic exit from the club, the Whitecaps added size and creativity at Thursday’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
Vancouver had two picks in the first seven, taking defender Christian Dean at No. 3 before adding midfielder Andre Lewis at No. 7.
“Being selected is a dream come true,” said Dean. “Especially a team on the West Coast, growing up in California ... (Vancouver is) close to home.”
Hearing a player actually wanting to be with the club should come as welcome news for fans of the Whitecaps, who are now resigned to the fact that Sanvezzo — the flashy Brazilian striker who won the 2013 MLS Golden Boot — will be sold to a Mexican team after forcing Vancouver’s hand.
And it’s not only Dean who is happy about his new team.
“My mom is ecstatic,” he added. “I think she’s happier than I am.”
The 20-year-old from East Palo Alto was selected using the pick Vancouver acquired in the July 2012 trade that sent striker Eric Hassli to Toronto FC. Dean spent the last three seasons with the NCAA’s California Golden Bears, starting all 55 games he played.
“I bring energy. Big, athletic, on the larger side,” said Dean, who stands six foot three and weighs 198 pounds. “Good feet — especially at centre back, I kind of pride myself a little bit on that. It’s something that I like to use to my advantage.”
The Philadelphia Union, who hosted the draft, traded up to take Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake with the first pick before D.C. United used the second selection to take defender Steve Birnbaum, who was Dean’s college teammate at Cal.
“I don’t know much about Philly,” said Blake, who originally hails from Jamaica. “I heard something yesterday about how it’s the place for a cheesesteak or something. That’s as much as I know. But I’m pretty sure I’ll get adjusted and learn everything I need to know.”
Meanwhile, the Montreal Impact took Creighton defender Eric Miller with the fifth pick, FC Dallas took Calgary-born striker Tesho Akindele from the Colorado School of Mines at No. 6, and Toronto FC traded up to draft Xavier defender Nick Hagglund at No. 10.
Left-footed with the ability to play either in the centre or left of defence, Dean said he will have to increase the physical side of his game against MLS competition.
“I think I will have to adapt. College was a physical game, especially stepping up from the youth level to college, it got more physical,” he said on a conference call. “I think playing against bigger and stronger people, I’ll have to become a lot more physical and to do that I’ll just have to make a little mental jump.”
Dean might just get that chance as Vancouver’s backline has at least one hole heading into training camp next month with the retirement of Y.P. Lee. Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit doesn’t have a contract for 2014, but new head coach Carl Robinson has said he wants to bring the veteran back into the fold.
“I think I’m ready to come in and play, wherever I would have ended up,” said Dean, who suited up as a centre back in college this season after two years on the left. “Especially with Vancouver, coming in the defence will be something that will be a possibility for me.”
Robinson said the Whitecaps had Dean rated high on their draft board and were delighted to see him available when it was Vancouver’s turn to pick at No. 3.
“Christian is a fantastic athlete. I think it was clear for everyone to see at the combine, as well as throughout the college season, that he was a fantastic prospect,” said Robinson. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
Dean has never been to Vancouver and said that he wasn’t tipped off during pre-draft discussions with the club that the Whitecaps would be his destination.
“I talked to the coaching staff while I was at the combine during one of the player meetings and hit it off,” he said. “Other than that there was no real talk of ‘Hey, we’ll select you’ or stuff like that.
“It was kind of a bit of a surprise, but in the end I’m happy that I got picked by Vancouver.”
Lewis was also pleased to be joining the Whitecaps, but for different reasons.
“I’m a fan of Vancouver because of Darren Mattocks,” the 19-year-old said of the Whitecaps striker and fellow Jamaican. “I love the support that the fans give to Vancouver. I’m looking forward to starting my professional career with the Whitecaps and to just go there and work hard and do my best.”
Lewis said he and Mattocks live about 10 minutes apart but that pair didn’t speak about the possibility of being teammates in MLS.
The five-foot-nine, 145-pound midfielder, who will join the Whitecaps from Jamaican club Portmore United F.C. when pre-season training begins next week, represented his country at the under-17 and under-20 levels before earning his first senior call up in 2012.
“On the pitch, I always want to be a top player,” said Lewis. “Win or lose, I want to be on top of my game at all times.”
Robinson said that like Whitecaps striker Kekuta Manneh — a player that Vancouver selected fourth overall at last year’s draft — Lewis has “something special.”
“I think he’s got a fantastic football brain,” said Robinson. “He’s got a fantastic understanding of the game for someone so young and he was a prospect that we wanted to make sure we got on board.”
Notes: As a Generation Adidas player, Dean’s salary will not count against the MLS salary cap. ... Dean said he is friends with Whitecaps striker Omar Salgado from their time with the U.S. under-20 team. ... In the second round, Toronto selected Elon midfielder Daniel Lovitz at No. 24, Vancouver took Connecticut striker Mamadou Diouf at No. 30 and Montreal went with Cal Poly midfielder George Malki at No. 37. ... The third and fourth rounds of the draft take place on Tuesday.
(With files from The Associated Press)