COLUMBUS, Ohio – Indiana defender/midfielder Rich Balchan was pleasantly surprised to be selected 12th Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, but Columbus Crew technical director Brian Bliss said he shouldn’t have been.
The team had seen an exodus of defensive players in the offseason and needed to plug holes. Balchan was the answer.
“This guy, I’m not lying when I say he can play five spots – left back, right back, both center back positions, and he can play defensive midfield,” Bliss said.
“He’s technically very good,” he added. “He’s not going to wow anybody. He’s just solid, simple. He’s very quick and athletic. He was a four-year starter at IU. You don’t become that unless you’ve got something in your game.”
WATCH: Rich Balchan highlights
Nonetheless, Balchan didn’t figure to be picked so early.
“I went into the whole draft with a level head,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to go first round. I was thinking more second or third round but obviously being from Indiana, Columbus being in proximity, there’s a lot of benefits.”
Columbus is about three hours east of his native Carmel, Ind., and he will be following a familiar path to Ohio from his college in Bloomington.
IU head coach Todd Yeagley and assistant coach Brian Maisonneuve were part of the Crew in 1996 and had long careers with the black and gold. Other Hoosiers followed, including current defender/midfielder Danny O’Rourke.
“I knew all about the IU-Crew connection,” Balchan said. “It’s awesome that I can continue it.”
[inline_node:326472]The Crew’s second selection also was familiar with Columbus although via a different route.
Michigan forward Justin Meram used to travel from his home in Shelby Township, Mich., to visit his brother Irvin, a student at Ohio State a decade ago.
“I was a Buckeye fan growing up,” he said.
Meram had 17 goals for Michigan in 2010.
“He is ready to play (in MLS),” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “He is taking defenders on all the time. He has a lot of speed and a lot of power and is technically strong.”
The Crew used the 28th overall pick on Duke midfielder Cole Grossman to fill gaps in the midfield.
“He was a central defender at the combine,” Warzycha said. “Losing Adam Moffat, we felt like we need to have somebody in the middle. He is good physically and covers a lot of ground and is a good attacker.”
For the final selection (48th) the Crew returned to the University of South Florida for forward and Venezuelan native Bernardo Anor. In the 1998 draft the Crew picked an unknown striker named Jeff Cunningham, now the second leading scorer in MLS history.
Anor had six goals and 15 points last season for the Bulls and trained with the Crew last season.
“He can give us some depth up front,” Warzycha said. “He is left footed and we don’t have many of them.”