Midfielder Ben Bender out of Maryland was the first pick in Major League Soccer's SuperDraft on Tuesday by expansion club Charlotte FC.
Bender was named the 2021 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year after scoring seven goals with five assists over 18 games with the Terrapins as a sophomore.
He is one of eight young players who were part of the MLS Generation Adidas class this year, so he won't count against Charlotte's salary budget.
“I think I’m ready for this next step," said Bender, who is leaving school early to go pro. “I think my game will take some time to develop into an impact player, but I think that my vision and spatial awareness and work rate will take me to the next level and will help me to be an impact for Charlotte.”
Bender, a Baltimore native, comes from a soccer family. His brother Jacob played for Messiah University and was the national NCAA Division III Player of the Year in 2016. His brother Josh was also a standout for Messiah.
Jacob Bender went on to play for the USL's Charlotte Independence in 2017. The younger Bender said the two brothers are similar players.
“We did have a lot of duels, between Jacob and I,” Ben Bender said. “We do this one passing drill for like 20 minutes each training session and I think it’s really allowed me to develop in my technique and my understanding of the game.”
Bender was a first-team All-American for Maryland, as well as a Hermann Trophy finalist. The Terps finished last season 12-4-2 and earned an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Charlotte FC is getting a player and person of tremendous quality in Ben Bender,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Ben brings all the attributes necessary to succeed at the MLS level and fans in Charlotte will fall in love with his creativity, flair and love for soccer."
Charlotte, the league's 28th team, will open its inaugural season on Feb. 26 at D.C. United.
All five of the top draft picks Tuesday were Generation Adidas players. Cincinnati selected goalkeeper Roman Celentano out of Indiana with the second overall pick, Dallas took forward Isaiah Parker out of Saint Louis with No. 3, Houston got forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson from Duke at No. 4 and Austin chose defender Kipp Keller, also out of Saint Louis, with the fifth overall pick.
The San Jose Earthquakes selected highly touted forward Ousseni Bouda from nearby Stanford with the eighth overall pick.
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press