The 2023 MLS SuperDraft is officially in the books and Toronto FC has come away from Wednesday night’s festivities with two selections.
It was an evening full of wheeling and dealing from other clubs, as nine of the top 13 picks were part of draft day trades.
Prior to Wednesday night, TFC had already dealt away its 2023 first-rounder to the Colorado Rapids in the trade which brought Mark-Anthony Kaye to Toronto.
Toronto stood pat with their other two picks, choosing one of the 19 draft-eligible Canadians in defender Jalen Watson in the second round (32nd overall), and American striker Charlie Sharp in the third round (61st overall).
Watson has played with the Penn State Nittany Lions for all four years of his college career, amassing 59 appearances for the Big Ten powerhouse.
The Mississauga native spent two seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps academy program before beginning his studies at Penn State in 2019.
The defender got off to a flying start at the Division I school, making 15 starts in his first season stateside, and earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team honours.
2021 was Penn State’s most successful campaign in quite some time, as the Nittany Lions won both the Big Ten Conference regular season and Big Ten Conference tournament.
In his most recent season, Watson started all 16 matches for a Penn State side which finished fifth in the regular season standings, and lost to Indiana University in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament. Despite the quarter-final exit, Watson was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team after an impressive performance against the eventual tournament finalists.
Head coach Jeff Cook has been alongside Watson through his four years in Pennsylvania and has spoken highly of the 22-year-old. Cook gave praise to the youngster in October 2022, highlighting Watson as brave, an excellent competitor and a really important player to his team.
The six-foot-tall Watson will add to TFC’s depth at centre-back. To start the year, he will likely look for playing time in the backline of Toronto FC II.
Defenders Adam Pearlman, Rohan Goulbourne and Antony Curic are all returning to TFCII following a successful 2022 MLS Next Pro season. That trio usually played in a three or five-man defence under reserve team head coach Gianni Cimini.
With no news on a Chris Mavinga contract, Lukas MacNaughton or Shane O’Neill will likely start beside the newly acquired Matt Hedges in the heart of the TFC defence. After conceding the third-most goals in MLS last season, it would be in Bob Bradley’s best interest take a serious look at the young defenders he has at his disposal during the upcoming training camp and preseason.
Sharp has been, well, sharp for Western Michigan University since becoming a Bronco in 2019.
The Brighton, Michigan native stayed in-state after a successful high-school career and has been a constant goal threat during his time in college soccer. Sharp has picked up 23 goals and 14 assists in his 50 starts for WMU.
As a first-year, Sharp was named the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2019. He tallied seven goals and two assists in 13 starts as the Broncos finished second in the MAC regular season standings.
Sharp made it on the All-MAC Second Team in 2021, but has enjoyed his most fruitful season in 2022.
The Broncos won the MAC tournament for just the second time in school history in 2022, with Sharp named Man of the Match in the final, and Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
As conference champions, Sharp and his teammates had the chance to compete for a national title. He scored a crucial extra-time winner in the first round of the competition as the Broncos eventually made it as far as the Sweet 16, the school’s best ever finish at the College Cup.
Sharp was one of three Broncos named to the 2022 All-MAC First Team after finishing the college season with 11 goals and eight assists in 21 starts. In all of Division I, only six players got more points (combined goals and assists) than Sharp. He will now hope to bring this productivity to the professional game with Toronto FC.
Like Watson, Sharp will probably earn his first minutes in the red of TFC with the reserve squad. Bradley already has four strikers in Jesus Jimenez, Ayo Akinola, Jordan Perruzza and Hugo Mbongue.
Mbongue and Paul Rothrock led TFCII forwards in minutes played in 2022. With Mbongue promoted to the senior team and Rothrock now departed from the club, Sharp could see plenty of opportunity to stake his claim in the early parts of the 2023 MLS Next Pro season.