Benefield: Rancho Cotate grad Roy Boateng eager to tackle soccer's next level
Roy Boateng knew it was coming. He was certain. Still, hearing his name called from the podium at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 11 was such a heady experience, he lost his bearings momentarily.
“It was definitely overwhelming,” said Boateng, who was the 16th pick overall. “I didn’t even know what side of the podium to walk up to.”
Forgive him. It’s a moment two decades in the making. The 2014 Rancho Cotate graduate who played four standout years for UC Davis was a first-round draft pick, selected by the New York Red Bulls, and he is now a professional soccer player.
What’s more, the Red Bulls, the team with the best defense in the league, moved heaven and earth — or at least draft picks — to get Boateng.
“Center backs are something key for us,” Red Bulls assistant coach C.J. Brown said. “He was one of the guys who was on the list and in the combine, watching him, he showed a lot of the qualities we were looking for.”
The Red Bulls originally had the 22nd pick. But after his showing at the combine, Boateng was the Red Bulls’ top prize on Day 1 of the draft and they were worried another team might snatch him up.
Cincinnati, San Jose and Orlando, the teams with the first, second and third picks, didn’t want to deal, Brown said, so negotiations began from the team with the No. 4 pick, Dallas, and beyond.
“Basically four on down, we were trying to make trades to get our pick and that was Roy,” Brown said. “We actually spent money to get him.”
It was an amazing experience for a kid born in Ghana and who came to Rohnert Park when he was 8.
“Growing up in Ghana, (soccer) is ingrained. It’s part of the culture, the lifestyle, everything,” Boateng said. “As soon as I could cognitively recognize what was soccer was, that was what I wanted to do.
“I knew I wanted to be playing in front of people as soon as I could kick,” he said.
So what is it about Boateng that New York coveted? He’s a defender who matches their aggressive, forward-first style of play that can leave the back line exposed at times, Brown said.
“Athleticism, physical ability to defend (one-on-one), and speed to chase guys down. We love that,” Brown said.
Over and over again, in head-to-head battles, Brown and the Red Bulls staff saw Boateng win.
“Nine times out of 10, he’s going to come out of that, win the ball, and put it back in to play for us,” he said. “He’s strong and fast, he can be physical.”
But what makes this really great — beyond the top 20 pick, beyond going in the first round to the best defense in the MLS — is that Boateng has only been a defender for five years. Back in high school and with club soccer, he was a striker.
But when UC Davis men’s coach Dwayne Shaffer saw Boateng play in high school, he saw something different.
“He was extremely quick and fast,” he said.
And yet, there was a “but” in there.
“Roy has the ability to be a Division I soccer player and (play) as a pro, but not as a striker. He was better suited to defend,” he said.