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Real Salt Lake’s No. 1 pick makes appearance in Utah

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Nikolas Besagno

Nikolas Besagno

WEST VALLEY CITY — One day after Real Salt Lake made him its first-ever MLS Super Draft selection, Nikolas Besagno made his debut appearance in Utah.

Real unveiled Besagno, the 2005, No. 1 overall selection, on Saturday in West Valley at the grand opening of Zions Bank's "Su Banco," a branch dedicated to the Hispanic community.

"It's definitely starting to sink in," said Besagno about being picked first by RSL.

Besagno, who is a defensive midfielder, was an important fixture on the U.S. Under-17 National Team during 2004. He arrived with his parents in West Valley City toward the end of a grand opening that included Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the Jazz Bear and several community leaders.

The Washington native said he was happy with what he has seen during his first-ever visit to Salt Lake City.

"It's just beautiful with the mountains," he said.

Real general manager Steve Pastorino said the team had been considering drafting Besagno since the beginnings of the franchise.

"(RSL head coach) John (Ellinger) told me about Nik in the beginning of our relationship," said Pastorino.

Ellinger, who coached the U-17 National Team until taking the RSL job, brought Besagno into his U-17 residency program.

Pastorino added that he played "devil's advocate" with Ellinger regarding several potential draft scenarios.

"Every time, he had a valid reason why we should draft Nik," said Pastorino, who hailed Besagno as the best U.S. defensive midfield prospect in the past decade.

At just 16-years-old, the 6-foot, 175-pound holding midfielder will spend most of this spring finishing his high school degree at the Edison Academic Center in Florida. Then he will spend time helping the U.S. U-17 National Team attempt to qualify for the World Championships next September.

Because of that, Besagno probably won't figure for Real during much of the season, if at all.

"He's a pick for the future," said Pastorino. "Anything we can get out of him this year is a bonus."

There was some concern about Besagno's performance at the Adidas MLS Player Combine, but Pastorino noted that RSL's top pick was competing against players who were several years older and that Besagno still held his own.

"(Ellinger) told me going into the combine that there wasn't any pressure," said Besagno. "He told me to just have fun and not worry about it."

Besagno added that he was excited to play for Ellinger again.

"I really liked playing for him," he said.

Down the road, Pastorino hopes that Ellinger will develop the talented 16-year-old into a dominating holding midfielder in MLS.

"It would take big trades and massive amounts of salary to sign (a player in his same position)," said Pastorino. "It's one of the key points on the field."

RSL's first-choice goalkeeper, DJ Countess, who was on hand for Saturday's festivities, added that having such a talented holding midfielder at the MLS level would be a significant boost to the franchise.

"It would be a good thing, not only for Real Salt Lake but for the MLS as well," said Countess.

E-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com