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Jan 11, 2013

Johnson to become VCU’s first MLS draft pick

By Quinn Casteel

When Virginia Commonwealth junior forward Jason Johnson signed a Generation adidas contract on Dec. 20, guaranteeing himself a multi-year deal in Major League Soccer, he became the first Ram to do so in program history.

Johnson was among the first four Generation adidas signees of the 2013 draft class, and has spent the last month working on improving his draft stock for the 2013 MLS Superdraft on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis.

That work comes to a culmination this weekend at the MLS Combine in Florida over the weekend, where Johnson competed against a field of more than 50 of the top MLS prospects from around the U.S. and the world.

“We’re excited about launching him as a professional player,” VCU head coach Dave Giffard said on Thursday, while on his way to Florida to watch Johnson compete at the combine. “It gives you such a good way to start out your career in Major League Soccer.

“You get a guaranteed multi-year contract and you get the opportunity for one of the more lucrative deals that the top picks receive.”

In his first competitive match at the combine on Friday afternoon, Johnson did not disappoint. He notched an assist on a first half goal and played most of the match at the left and center forward positions.

The VCU men’s soccer program has had players go pro in various international leagues, but Johnson is set to become the first Ram to enter MLS, and he is doing so as one of the top prospects in his draft class.

Although Giffard and the VCU coaching staff are not ready to see the Rams’ leading scorer leave Richmond with a year of NCAA eligibility left, they know that the rewards of his high-profile ascendance will grace the program for years to come.

“When we got here three years ago, we thought what do we need to do to compete for a national championship,” said Giffard. “We were a long way away, but we’re beginning to get close.”

“People outside of our region will start to see VCU as an avenue and a path to move on to Major League Soccer, and they see that we have great team goals.”

Giffard added that balancing team goals with helping players achieve their individual goals, such as playing Major League Soccer, will make VCU and the college soccer in general more attractive for young players.

With Johnson as a first-hand example of that, coupled with the Rams’ NCAA Tournament and Atlantic 10 Championship appearances this season, Giffard will have more leverage in the recruiting game than ever this offseason.

“We’re focusing our efforts on recruiting, on guys heading out now or even in a year or two,” said Giffard. “We feel very confident in our system and now that we’ve had guys on to the professional game.”

“We’ve had guys go overseas, but J is our first guy to go MLS. The name recognition is a little more high profile with MLS- it’s a little more in their face and easily accessible.”

For Johnson, the potential for a professional career equally brilliant as his college career is high. He has the size, strength and natural scoring ability that pro scouts dream about. He finishes his VCU career as the program’s sixth all-time goal scorer and fifth in total points.

Given his impressive performance at the combine and exponential statistical improvement over the past three years, he could find himself being drafted solidly within the first round.

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