Tsubasa Endoh entered the 2016 Major League Soccer SuperDraft with an extra spring in his step.
Endoh, a 22-year-old native of Tokyo, was named the Most Valuable Player of the MLS Player Combine earlier this week in Fort Lauderdale. This after a successful four-year stint at the University of Maryland where the midfielder earned a number of honours, including Big Ten Championship Most Valuable Offensive Player for 2015.
No doubt Endoh’s performance at the combine helped raise his stock ahead of the college draft. But even the young Japanese prospect was surprised when Toronto FC used the ninth overall selection to pick him during Thursday’s event in Baltimore.
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“I didn’t expect to get drafted quite that high in the first round. I wasn’t ready for it at all. I was expecting second or third round, or maybe I was pretty worried about not getting drafted in the SuperDraft… so I’m pretty happy that I got drafted in the first round,” Endoh admitted during a conference call with reporters moments after hearing his name called.
In four seasons at Maryland, Endoh appeared in 85 matches, scoring 12 goals and tallying 16 assists for the Terrapins. At five-foot-seven and 141 lb., he doesn’t have great size. But he describes himself as a technical player with a good touch on the ball, and he likens himself to TFC captain Michael Bradley.
“He can run the whole game and I’m that type of player, too. I’m not going to run out of gas,” Endoh promised.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney affirmed: “He’s got a big engine. He covers a lot of ground over the course of the game.”
Vanney added he feels Endoh is capable of making the team’s roster for the upcoming MLS season, rather than signing him to TFC 2, the team’s USL feeder club.
Most media critics and mock draft pundits didn’t see Endoh going in the first round. That didn’t stop TFC from picking him, though, as the Maryland midfielder was on the team’s radar even before the combine.
“Quite simply, to me he was the best all around soccer player in the draft,” Vanney boldly stated. “His knowledge of the game, his field awareness, his technical proficiency—he showed it at the combine, we had him highly rated even before we went to the combine.”
Vanney heralded Endoh as a two-footed player who is sharp when in possession and is known for his quick thinking on the field. Vanney also believes Endoh can provide TFC’s attack some much-needed width.
“He’s very quick and shifty. He beats people on the dribble, he creates opportunities and he can find people because of his technical abilities," Vanney said. “He’s more known as winger than central player, and for us we’re looking for guys who can play on the outside.”
The Maryland star’s character and personal history are two more reasons why TFC is so high on him.
Endoh left home when he was 12 and moved to Fukushima, where he was a member of the inaugural class of players at the Japanese Football Association Academy, an elite residential program that was launched to develop top youth soccer players in Japan.
In March 2011, Endoh was training at the academy facility in Fukushima when the ground began to shake. The ensuing earthquake and the tsunami devastated Japan. According to the Japanese National Police Agency, over 15,000 people died in the disaster and nearly a quarter million people were displaced from their homes.
Even before the earthquake, Endoh was looking to make a move to play in the NCAA. He traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2010 and caught the eye of noted college coach Sasho Cirovski.
Cirovski told Endoh he was interested in him, but that he’d have to improve his English. A few months after he started to work on the language, Cirovski offered him a scholarship at Maryland.
“I’m proud of myself because what I went through in Japan was petty dramatic. All the experiences helped me to get me to where I am now,” Endoh said.
Vanney was impressed with Endoh's ability to adapt to a new life and culture, attributes he feels will help the Japanese make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the pro game.
“When you get to a new team and you get to a new level of play the [question is] how quickly you can make that adjustment. He’s been highly tested in that regard as a young man, so his confidence in that way was definitely one of the things we took into consideration,” Vanney said.
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