Only three NCAA men’s soccer programs have had players drafted among the top 12 picks by Major League Soccer in each of the past two years — eight-time national champion Indiana, rising ACC power Syracuse … and FIU.
After FIU midfielder Paul Marie was drafted by the MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes 12th in 2018, Orlando City SC selected his former teammate, forward Santiago Patino, third overall on Jan. 11.
Patino set the record for the highest draft slot in FIU history, breaking the mark previously held by Jeff Cassar, who was selected eighth in 1996.
In MLS history, there have been nine FIU players drafted, including five in the first round. Prior to this year, FIU had never had first-rounders in consecutive years.
This year’s draft was held in Chicago, and Patino was there with his mother, his stepfather, his agent and FIU coach Kevin Nylen.
After he was selected, Patino went on stage to give a speech.
“He said, ‘Mom, this day is for you and our family,’” Nylen said. “He also thanked Orlando City, MLS, FIU and myself. It was the probably the quickest speech of any of the players. It was short but sweet.”
Patino — a native of Medellin, Colombia, who was raised in Orlando since age 12 — was thrilled to be drafted that high by any team, but it was even more special that it was his hometown team. As a teenager, Patino had played in Orlando City’s youth academy.
Even so, he had no advanced warning from Orlando about his draft status.
“I really didn’t think it was going to be Orlando,” Patino said in a phone interview from Phoenix, where he was attending the MLS Rookie Symposium.
“I don’t really pay attention to mock drafts, but my agent had told me that some of those predictions had me going anywhere from No. 22 to No. 11.”
Patino was correct to not believe those mock drafts. He believed instead in his credentials, which included finishing third in the nation in goals per game as a junior and 11th as a senior.
In 69 career games at FIU — including 51 starts — Patino scored 37 goals and added nine assists.
“I had a good college career,” Patino said in an understatement. “I worked hard at the [MLS Combine in Orlando], and the rest I left in God’s hands.”
Patino, who began Orlando City training camp in Sarasota on Monday, said he realizes that it won’t be easy to make his way as a rookie in MLS.
For example, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year is ex-Stanford forward Corey Baird, who had modest stats last year: eight goals and five assists in 31 games.
“The league has grown,” Patino said. “Better players and coaches keep coming into MLS.
“I have the physicality. If I get the opportunity, I know I will do well. But if things don’t go my way, I will learn from it and move forward.”
Patino said he has watched about 10 MLS games live, and all that did was motivate him even more to be back there in that Orlando stadium … but this time as a player.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Patino said. “I’m happy Orlando City drafted me.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s men’s basketball team came up with a huge road win on Thursday, rallying from 16 points down to beat Western Kentucky 77-76. Point guard Brian Beard won the game on a driving layup with just nine seconds left.
On Saturday, FIU lost a road game at C-USA leader Marshall, 105-97. FIU tied its season-best mark by shooting 53.8 percent but still couldn’t catch Marshall (12-6, 5-0). FIU is 12-7, 3-3.
You can reach Walter Villa at Wvilla07@yahoo.com.