Chivas USA draft selection Zarek Valentin of Akron and Indiana forward… (Paul Tople / Associated…)
With his first draft pick as a professional head coach, Chivas USA's Robin Fraser resisted the urge to spring a surprise Thursday.
The former U.S. national team defender made a defender his first choice for Chivas, selecting NCAA champion Zarek Valentin from the University of Akron as the fourth overall pick in Major League Soccer's 2011 SuperDraft in Baltimore.
Valentin, the third of seven Akron players drafted, was the first defender chosen, and Fraser quickly explained why.
"Zarek is a proven winner, he's a leader, he's very vocal, and he has a very good understanding of the game," Fraser said. "So I feel like he's an important part of what we're trying to do."
Valentin, whose brother Julian was drafted by the Galaxy in 2008 and now plays for FC Tampa Bay of the U.S. Soccer Federation's Division-2 Professional League, will be challenging for a starting spot in Chivas' lineup in a veteran defensive core that includes Mexico's Mariano Trujillo, 33, Costa Rica's Dario Delgado, 25, and Michael Umana, 28, and Canada's Ante Jazic, 34.
Throw into the mix recently acquired former U.S. international Jimmy Conrad, 33, and Valentin, 19, along with Colombia's Yamith Cuesta, 21, could be two youngsters who see significant playing time.
"Chivas is everything I could ask for in a team," Valentin told MLSSoccer.com. "That's one place I really wanted to go."
Fraser did raise an eyebrow or two with his second pick, sending allocation money to his former team, Real Salt Lake, in order to acquire the No. 14 pick, which he used to snap up forward Victor Estupinan, 22, the top goal-scorer last season for the reserve team of LDU Quito in Ecuador.
"He's a little different than some of the other forwards we've seen," Fraser said. "He does a lot of things that make us think he has a lot of promise and a bright future."
Estupinan was the first of four international players selected Thursday, and the Galaxy quickly followed suit when it used its first pick, at No. 16, to select Uruguayan midfielder Paolo Cardozo, 21, who has been playing for Quilmes in the Argentine second division.
In a move earlier in the day and unrelated to the draft, Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena acquired former UCLA forward Chad Barrett, 25, from Toronto FC for "future considerations."
Barrett was the third player selected in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft and has scored 34 goals in 147 regular-season games with the Chicago Fire and Toronto.
The Galaxy chose another college midfielder with its only other pick, taking California's Hector Jimenez at No. 34, while Chivas USA drafted midfielder Jon Okafor from Brown at No. 40.
In all, 54 players were selected Thursday, with the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps surprising everyone by ignoring two consensus No.1 picks in Akron forward Darlington Nagbe and Akron midfielder Perry Kitchen and instead making 17-year-old forward Omar Salgado, a former Chivas de Guadalajara youth player, the top pick in the draft.
That left the door open for another expansion team, the Portland Timbers, to snare their first choice by selecting Nagbe, and gave D.C. United, the league's worst team in 2010, the chance to take Kitchen at No. 3 before Chivas USA grabbed Valentin.