CHICAGO — D.C. United selected Creighton defender Akeem Ward with the 14th overall pick Friday in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.
A local player, Ward moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Vienna, Va., at 5 years old. He spent the majority of his life growing up in the Washington, D.C., area and played for development academy Bethesda Soccer Club in Maryland. On the weekends, Ward kicked up dirt on the sidelines at RFK Stadium while his new coach — Ben Olsen — played on the field.
“I was a ball boy when coach Olsen was playing,” Ward said of the former D.C. United player who now is entering his 10th season as the MLS team’s head coach. “I remember kicking the dirt at RFK, tossing balls out and just seeing the players come out and be in awe. It is surreal that I could be one of those players that kids are going to be looking up to.”
Ward moved to Minnesota shortly after starting high school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s school to challenge himself in athletics and academics before enrolling in class at Creighton University.
“I was a little too pampered at home,” Ward said. “So my parents thought it would be good to experience, the best of both worlds, which was soccer and school.”
Ward was on United’s list from the beginning. The team is thin at the outside back position, and Ward’s versatile was a huge draw.
“We had him rated as the best right back in the draft, which is a position of need for the club,” general manager Dave Kasper said. “We will continue to look for another right back. We will continue to work for a centerback and possibly another left back.”
If needed, Ward could play in the left back position with his speed on both flanks.
“My biggest strength is my quickness and my grit,” Ward said. “Being comfortable to play on both sides really boosts your ability to get in and play in MLS.”
Ward and the rest of D.C United’s roster will be assessed later this month during preseason camp in Florida to see how players fit best between the MLS team and its United Soccer League affiliate, Loudoun United.
Additionally, D.C. continues to look at Maryland centerback Donovan Pines to help defensively. The D.C. United academy standout announced he would forgo his final year of eligibility to pursue professional opportunities.
“We are still in conversations with Donovan,” Kaspar said. “It is fairly early in the process. He just declared a week ago.”