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Real Salt Lake mindful of future in draft

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Nikolas Besagno

Nikolas Besagno

Real Salt Lake said it wanted to build for the future in Friday's MLS SuperDraft, and the expansion club did just that.

By selecting 16-year-old Nikolas Besagno with the No. 1 overall pick and 18-year-old Jamie Watson with the No. 13 pick — two Generation adidas players — the team injected youth into a fairly veteran roster.

"It sends a message that we're building this organization for years to come," said RSL general manager Steve Pastorino. "We have acquired a number of veteran players in the past months, but the draft is one of the only ways to bring players in that you're thinking about for tomorrow."

Salt Lake acquired two more players in the four-round draft. After trading one of its remaining two expansion allocations to Los Angeles for the 22nd pick, RSL grabbed University of Indiana goalie Jay Nolly — a player it thought might go in the first round.

Real then concluded its inaugural draft by picking Bradley University midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer at No. 37.

Besagno is the second-youngest player ever drafted in the MLS at 16 years and 60 days. When teenage phenom Freddy Adu was picked No. 1 by D.C. United last year, Adu was 14 years and 228 days.

"It's an amazing feeling being the No. 1 pick," said Besagno. "It's truly an honor."

Fans will get a chance to meet Besagno today at 11:30 a.m. at the grand opening of Zions Bank's newest location at 1635 S. Redwood Road in West Valley City.

Realistically, that will be the last time fans get a glimpse of Besagno until September. With his commitments to U.S. youth national teams this summer, Salt Lake's newest holding midfielder won't join RSL until the final two months of the season.

By then, he's hopeful he'll have matured enough to play in a handful of games as a starter.

RSL coach John Ellinger is confident he can, and if anyone would know it's Besagno's former under-17 U.S. National team coach.

"After watching Nik perform during the last eight months at the U.S. under-17 residency program, I saw on a daily basis that he is a great young talent," said Ellinger. "As an organization we feel confident that he possesses the ability to be a star in this league."

That's a particular bonus given his position. Attacking and holding midfielders are two of the toughest positions to fill in the MLS, and Salt Lake couldn't pass on a potential dominant holding midfielder, even if his impact isn't felt for a year or two.

Salt Lake's second pick is also no stranger to Ellinger.

Watson also played for Ellinger with the youth national team, and he's ecstatic about a reunion in Salt Lake.

"Coach Ellinger is almost like a second father," said Watson, a Dallas native who just finished his freshman season at the University of North Carolina.

Entering Friday's draft, Watson figured he'd probably either be drafted by Dallas or Salt Lake, but it was still "the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done. It was the longest hour of my life," he said.

It was worth the wait as the striker suddenly finds himself on a team with MLS all-time leading goal scorer Jason Kreis and U.S. National Team regular Clint Mathis.

"Who wouldn't be excited about Clint and Jason," said Watson. "It's going to be an honor. Those two guys are proven MLS superstars."

For the most part, Pastorino was pleased with his inaugural draft as a general manager.

"There were numerous trades we turned down, and a few things we pursued we couldn't work. We were open to the idea of getting three Generation adidas players, but could only get two," said Pastorino. "We felt we were pretty decisive as an organization, and I wouldn't say that about all the teams there."

RSL's training camp begins in Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 1, with its first game taking place April 2 at the NY/NJ MetroStars.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com