After trading its second- and third-round selections in the 2005 draft to the Kansas City Wizards for their third-round selection in this year’s draft, United chose Ara. With its initial pick, the first one of the draft, United took 14-year old sensation Freddy Adu, who is now both the league’s youngest player and highest paid with a reported $500,000-a-year contract.
“We have a very good core of players here, and we feel that Kevin has some qualities that we think will fit well into the way we play,” said United’s technical director Dave Kasper, who was also in charge of the team’s draft selections.
“I’m very lucky to have been drafted by them,” Ara said. “They are a good team and they have a good history. They have a lot of great players and I look forward to the experience.”
Ara was the first of five Ivy League players chosen, the most ever taken in the MLS draft since its debut in 1996. The previous high had been three in 1997, 2001 and 2002. The Ancient Eight was also the only conference to have at least one player taken from at least half of its member schools.
“It just shows how far the Ivy League has come and that we do actually have good players,” Ara said. “[MLS scouts] should just maybe some spend some more time looking at the Ivy League.”
The drafting of Ara at such a high position came as a surprise to many, considering that he had dropped off many scouts’ radars by the end of the year. Though a third-team All-American in 2002 and a preseason finalist this year for the Herman trophy-—soccer’s version of the Heisman—Ara was not named as one of the 15 finalists for the same award at the end of the year and was unable to garner an All-American selection after this season. United scouts did not even come to watch him play during the year.
His teammates, Kasper and Harvard coach John Kerr all point to Ara’s impressive display at the player’s combine, held earlier this month, as projecting Ara squarely into the national picture.
“It was just a chance for me to show off my stuff,” Ara said. “Playing in the Ivy League you don’t often get seen as much as the UCLAs, the Marylands, and the Virginias, so it was just a chance for me to go play against those kids. I trained pretty hard coming into the combine.”
“He obviously did have a very good combine because you can’t go over there, play badly and get picked as high as he did,” captain Andrew Old said.
Kerr mentioned that he had explained to Ara going into the combine not to focus too hard on making a lasting impression on MLS coaches and scouts on the very first day at the risk of draining himself out for the rest of the combine. Instead, Kerr advised Ara to hold himself back a little bit, because the coaches would start to notice true talent amongst the guys who were still playing their best on the third day.
“He told me that he thought about that on his third day because he felt he was playing well and that he was playing stronger on the third day than he was on the first, and that makes some impressions on people,” Kerr said.
The impressive display put on at the combine helped Ara launch himself past Ivy players like Brown’s Adom Crew—the conference player of the year and a first-team All-American who was selected in the fifth round and 51st overall by the Columbus Crew—and Yale’s Jay Alberts, who is only the fifth player in conference history to garner first-team All-Ivy honors all four years and was taken in the fourth round and 47th overall by the Kansas City Wizards.
“We’ve seen Kevin a bunch of times, and he has punished us a bunch of times,” said Cornell coach Bryan Scales. “He was probably the top center midfielder in our league.”
The Big Red’s Ian Pilarski was also taken in the fifth round and 59th overall by the Chicago Fire and Penn’s Matt Haefner was drafted in the sixth and 62nd overall by the Crew.
“It is very impressive,” Kerr said. “And when I say we weren’t highly ranked as a league I say that in terms of how people are thinking of us as a league.”