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Zarek Valentin lands in Chivas' lap

1/13/2011

Zarek Valentin left his Major League Soccer combine sitdown with Chivas USA officials knowing where he wanted to be. On Thursday, he learned the feeling was mutual.

The 19-year-old defender, one of the big names in the MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore, went to the Goats with the fourth pick overall. A center back at NCAA champion Akron, he figures to play right back for Chivas -- and could be the starter from the beginning.

Valentin said hearing his name called at the draft was “an absolutely amazing feeling I don't think will ever be replicated.”

“After we had our individual meetings [with teams], I left that meeting [with Chivas] saying this is the team I want to be part of,” Valentin told ESPN Los Angeles. “They've got a great vision of what they want to do with the team and what my role would be. It's a very good situation for me. It's the best thing that could possibly happen for me. I couldn't be happier.”

Valentin, who signed a Generation adidas contract after two sterling seasons at Akron, figures to receive first-class instruction. New Chivas coach Robin Fraser and assistants Greg Vanney and Carlos Llamosa were U.S. national team backs. So was Jimmy Conrad, who was acquired in last month's re-entry draft.

He's also looking forward to reuniting with former Akron teammates Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski. “Blair is the reason I went to Akron,” Valentin said. “I really wanted to play with Blair. He was my roommate [at the U.S. U-17 residency] in Florida, and I followed him to Akron.”

Now he's headed to L.A. -- carrying some advice from his brother Julian, a former Galaxy defender who plays for FC Tampa Bay in the second-tier North American Soccer League.

“It was pretty simple. He said to go in as a rookie, prove yourself on the field to gain the respect of your teammates, do everything right, keep your locker clean. Prove yourself to the veterans.”

  • THE ADDITIONS

ZAREK VALENTIN

Hometown: Lancaster, Pa. College: Akron

Position: D Height: 5-11 Weight: 150

Drafted: First round, fourth overall

Who is he: U.S. under-20 national-teamer -- and veteran of the U-18, U-17 and U-15 teams -- was a two-year starting center back for Akron (which lost just one game while reaching two NCAA title games and winning the championship last month) who will be primarily a right back for the Goats.

Fraser says: “Watching him over the last month or so, from the [NCAA College Cup] final four to the national team camps, you can see first of all what a solid player he is, with a lot of leadership ability, a lot of character -- a lot of things that are important as we build this team. You add the physical and intangibles together, and we feel like he's our guy.”

Fun fact: His brother Julian -- captain of second-tier FC Tampa Bay -- also won an NCAA title (with Wake Forest in 2007) and played in MLS (with the Galaxy in 2008-09).

VICTOR ESTUPI√ĎAN

Hometown: Quininde, Ecuador College: None

Position: F Height: 5-10 Weight: 148

Drafted: First round, 14th overall

Who is he: Forward from LDU Quito's youth system led Ecuador's reserve league in scoring. He made his first-team debut in 2006 and played a key role in LDU's Copa Sudamericana title run in 2009.

Fraser says: “We really liked what we saw at the combine out of him. He's probably different from American forwards in terms of movement and his timing. … He had a little bit different approach to the game than most of the college forwards. He has a good sense where pressure is around him and where space is available to him.”

Fun fact: He was the first of four foreign players -- and the first of two Ecuadoran forwards -- taken in MLS's draft.

JON OKAFOR

Hometown: Verona, N.J. College: Brown

Position: M/D Height: 6-1 Weight: 172

Drafted: Third round, 40th overall

Who is he: Versatile midfielder with tremendous athleticism and workable skill. Scored 14 goals with 12 assists in 64 career games at Brown.

Fraser says: “Traditionally, he's a wide midfielder. But he's a big strong boy, very athletic. He could play some outside back here, as well. He has the ability to bounce back and forth between the two, and we believe that versatility can help us.”

Fun fact: The guy's a math major. Really. Won the BC Calculus Award in high school.