Heading into the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday, Jan. 13, in Los Angeles, Calif., SoundersFC.com caught up with former Seattle Sounders selections.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOST ABOUT DRAFT DAY?
ZAKUANI: How quickly everything went. Because I was picked first by Seattle, I wasn’t in there very long. I didn’t have the whole suspense of hanging out. I was in and I was out. It was a whirlwind. Before I knew it, I was back in Akron, Ohio, that night.
ROLDAN: I remember walking to the convention center in Philadelphia and being nervous because you have no idea what’s going to happen. Things went well for me and I got chosen by the team I wanted to be chosen by, but you just never know. That’s what makes it so exciting, but also nerve-wracking.
ALFARO: The moment that my name was called. I can’t forget it, the feeling that I had, the emotions. That was the best, hearing my name.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS DURING THE DRAFT?
ZAKUANI: I was calm. I was there with my college coach, Caleb Porter. He was more nervous for me than I was. I knew that I was going to be picked somewhere. I had a feeling I was going to be a high pick, but I didn’t know if I’d be No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3. I was happy to go wherever I was going to go and have a chance to start my professional career.
ROLDAN: I was super excited for an opportunity. It wasn’t about getting drafted top five, it was getting drafted by a team that wanted me and wanted to give me a chance. That was definitely number one. It is a dream come true. I was anxious to get things going. It’s probably the biggest, most nerve-wracking thing you can go through.
ALFARO: I was nervous because I’ve heard in the past that many things change at the last minute, so I didn’t know if everything was going to go as planned. I was super anxious. I was told I was going to go in the first round but that didn’t happen, and obviously that got me a little worried and extra nervous.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING SURROUNDED BY SO MANY OTHER TOP COLLEGE PLAYERS?
ZAKUANI: It was a really good experience. It was my first time getting to meet some the other top players from around the country. [They were] people I had been reading about and hearing about and [it was great] being in the same room and seeing the other players. Some have gone on to have great careers.
ROLDAN: It’s pretty exciting. You get to see everybody grow as a player and as a person. Once you come to the league and see everybody and you travel, there’s something about being a rookie the same year as everyone else [in your draft class] and getting to know each other and saying hello to each other, on away trips especially. Now that I get to see a lot of other players do well, that’s even better for me and exciting because I get to know those players.
ALFARO: It was great, I got a chance to meet a lot of them at the combine. To be around those good, quality players, I got this sense of, “We’re all chasing this big dream.” Being around them, I was excited and happy to be a part of it.
WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD YOUR NAME CALLED?
ZAKUANI: I didn’t even hear my name called, that’s the thing. The Commissioner said “from the University of Akron” and from there, I remember turning around and hugging the people around me and started to make my walk across the stage. They told us, when your name is called, this is the walk you’re going to take, and they’ll hand you a scarf and you’ll pose for a photo. I had that in my mind, so I didn’t even wait because I knew that I was the only one who could be picked from that school. Before I knew it, I was on the stage shaking hands with the Commissioner and then talking for a couple minutes with everyone in the room.
ROLDAN: I thought I was the luckiest guy alive when that happened. I turned to my brother and those were the exact same words that I told him. I said, “This can’t be happening, I’m the luckiest guy alive.” I didn’t even have to move out of my apartment [in Seattle because I went to the University of Washington], and that’s the crazy part. I never thought I had a shot with Seattle, but fortunately, it went my way. Things have worked out in a good way, and Seattle has treated me very nicely.
ALFARO: I was ecstatic. I didn’t know if I was still nervous or happy, I had so many things going through my head. In a way, it was a sense of relief. For me, it was “OK, I’m taking another step. I’m in the right direction of following my dream,” and for me that was huge.
HOW DID YOU FEEL BEING SELECTED BY THE SOUNDERS?
ZAKUANI: I did want to go to Seattle more than other teams because they had sold a crazy amount of season tickets, and Sigi [Schmid] was the only coach that I had met when I played in college because he was in Columbus [as head coach of the Crew] and I was in Akron, Ohio. Seattle had Freddie Ljungberg and Kasey Keller, two guys that I knew, and it was an expansion team so I knew I would come in and from day one have a chance to fight for my spot. Those things pushed me toward Seattle, but honestly I was happy to go anywhere.
ROLDAN: Seattle’s a good team first and foremost. They had quality players and a great coaching staff. I would say the biggest thing is playing in front of our fans. That’s always been a dream of mine, to have so many people root for your team and to be able to play with them supporting us. It’s something you dream about as a kid. Obviously I wanted to play for the best team in the league, and it’s worked out. I’m just proud to be part of the first [Sounders] team to win MLS Cup.
ALFARO: I had talked to Sigi prior to the draft, a couple days into the combine. We talked and I got the feeling that I was going to Seattle, and not only that, but my agent had been talking to them for a while…I was ecstatic and super happy.
WHEN DID THE REALITY OF BEING DRAFTED FINALLY SINK IN?
ZAKUANI: It didn’t sink in until the first day of preseason. We trained at the Seahawks training ground at VMAC. It was a cold day, I remember that. It was the first training ever for this team as an MLS club obviously. I just remember the level being much higher than it had been in college. It was much, much faster and I was playing with some great players back then. That’s when it hit me that the hard work starts now. You’ve got college where you’re the top dog or whatever, but no one here cares about you being a No. 1 pick or what you did in college.
I remember it being, “OK, this is the real deal, this is the professional level, I’ve been drafted, that’s good, I’m a pro, but the hard work starts now.” I knew I’d be drafted and back then it was uncommon for underclassmen to go to [MLS], but I had been prepared mentally for at least six to eight weeks that I’d be going [to the draft]. That part I was comfortable with, but the actual experience of being out on the pitch, putting my boots on and playing with these guys [that I realized] that I have to raise my level.
ROLDAN: When I first walked into the locker room and saw guys like Gonzalo [Pineda], Ozzie [Alonso], Chad Marshall, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey — seeing all the top players in the league. I had to take a step back and say, “Wow. This is it. I had been dreaming for a long time to be in this position.” I never thought it would happen and hopefully things keep going the way I hope they go.
ALFARO: It wasn’t even the next day, it probably took a couple of weeks. It probably sunk in by the time that I got to preseason with Seattle because I just couldn’t believe it that a couple months ago I was still in college playing college soccer and all of a sudden I got drafted. So for me, it definitely took a while for it to sink in. It didn’t hit until I was in the atmosphere and training with Clint [Dempsey] and all the good players that they had there.