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MLS Combine

UNC left back John Nelson excited to start pro career at MLS SuperDraft

John Nelson (right) and Don Tchilao (left) battle for the ball during the Adidas MLS Soccer Combine at Orlando City SC Stadium. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

University of North Carolina left back John Nelson’s story so far has been about achieving dreams.

He wanted to play soccer at UNC, so he did. The Ohio native started in all 41 games UNC played over his his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Tar Heels.   

“I don’t know why,” Nelson said with a small laugh. “I just always loved the baby blue. The colors, I always wanted to rep it, I always wanted to play for UNC.”

Now, he wants to play professional soccer. He’s a highly-rated prospect who signed a Generation Adidas contract to come out of college early and enter Friday’s MLS SuperDraft in Chicago. He’s participated in the MLS Player Combine, which ends Wednesday.

“It’s always been my dream to play professional soccer, since I was a little kid,” Nelson said. “I think I was ready to start my professional career. I think I’m good enough.”

Someday, the 20-year-old left back wants to play in Europe – preferably for Premier League side Chelsea, which is his favorite team.

One step at a time.

“Growing up, I played multiple sports, but I’ve always loved soccer the most,” Nelson said. “I played golf, baseball, football, soccer, all of them. But soccer I just really had that passion for, and I was the best at it out of the sports, so I stuck with that.”

Nelson said he draws inspiration from George and Louie Nanchoff, two former U.S. men’s national team players who coached him at the youth level.

His father, also John Nelson, has also been a steady source of support. The younger Nelson said his parents, his two sisters and even a few of his friends are going to make the trip to Chicago for the SuperDraft.

His support system at UNC was strong, too. Nelson said his teammates – including former UNC midfielder Cam Lindley, who now plays for Orlando City – guided him through his short, but effective, collegiate career.

“When I was a freshman, the seniors were very helpful, teaching me a lot and giving me a lot of advice, either with soccer or just school,” Nelson said. “Obviously, the education is very good. I value my education a lot, which is very important.”

Nelson said he doesn’t have an ideal team in mind when it comes to the draft. He’s just ready to start his professional career. He is from Ohio, though, and expansion side FC Cincinnati has the No. 1 overall pick.

He said all teams could always use a good left back.

“I’m happy to go to any team and get to work right away,” he said. “It would be great to play somewhat close to home, like an FC Cincinnati or something like that, just to play in front of my friends and family.”

Plus, Nelson has kept a close eye on the needs of the U.S. men’s national team.

“I think they’re in need of a left back as well and they’re calling in young guys, so it’s a good opportunity for me,” he said.

“They’re pulling in a lot of young guys, which I like. I love it. Get the young guys in there.”

He’s already familiar with the style of new U.S. men’s national head coach Gregg Berhalter, who used to coach Columbus Crew SC.

“This past summer, I did a little training stint with them,” Nelson said. “It was just two days, just to kind of get familiar with it, see how a professional environment work. The trainings were very good under Gregg. His trainings are fast. The team moves the ball fast. It’s a very quick pace, but it was fun, it was good.”

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