Charlotte FC picks Maryland's Ben Bender as top MLS draft selection

Major League Soccer expansion club Charlotte FC has selected Maryland midfielder Ben Bender as the top draft pick in the MLS SuperDraft on Tuesday.

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An All-Big Ten selection in his first two campaigns, Bender was the unanimous Big Ten Midfielder of the Year in 2021 for the Terrapins. As a two-way midfield presence, Bender will provide depth for a Charlotte side that also boasts Spanish playmaker Sergio Ruiz among its attacking options.

Charlotte will begin play as the 28th club in MLS in the upcoming 2022 season, with the North Carolina club's inaugural match on Feb. 26 at D.C. United before it hosts the LA Galaxy in its home opener on March 5.

"It's amazing," said Bender during the draft's livestream. "I just can't wait to get started, and I know that the football down there is going to be a good brand and ... I just want to be a part of that."

FC Cincinnati took Indiana University goalkeeper Roman Celentano with the second overall pick. The first two-time Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, Celentano had a career record of 37-10-5 with the Hoosiers, allowing just 33 goals in 52 matches.

When asked why he selected Celentano, Cincinnati manager Pat Noonan told MLSSoccer.com, "It's an area of need. He provides good depth. He's going to come in with good character, good upside. We've seen and heard a lot about him in the previous months, and he's going to be a nice piece to this team."

FC Dallas then selected Saint Louis University attacker Isaiah Parker with the third selection. In his lone collegiate season, the left winger scored three goals and added seven assists. Parker's speed is such that he could end up playing any number of positions for FCD.

Houston Dynamo FC selected Duke forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson with the fourth pick and Austin FC selected Saint Louis defender Kipp Keller to round out the top-five selections.

A total of 78 picks were made across three rounds Tuesday, with 11 picks being voluntarily passed over by clubs. The results of the first round:

Round 1

1. Charlotte FC -- Ben Bender, M, Maryland

2. FC Cincinnati -- Roman Celentano, GK, Indiana

3. FC Dallas -- Isaiah Parker, F, Saint Louis

4. Houston Dynamo -- Thorleifur Ulfarsson, F, Duke

5. Austin FC -- Kipp Keller, D, Saint Louis

6. FC Dallas -- Lucas Bartlett, D, St. John's

7. New York Red Bulls -- Matthew Nocita, D, Navy

8. San Jose Earthquakes -- Ousseni Bouda, F, Stanford

9. Inter Miami CF -- Ryan Sailor, D, Washington

10. Nashville SC -- Ahmed Longmire, D, UCLA

11. Chicago Fire FC -- Kendall Burks, D, Washington

12. Columbus Crew -- Patrick Schulte, GK, Saint Louis

13. San Jose Earthquakes -- Oskar Agren, D, Clemson

14. FC Cincinnati -- Ian Murphy, D, Duke

15. CF Montreal -- Jojea Kwizera, F, Utah Valley

16. Vancouver Whitecaps -- Simon Becher, F, Saint Louis

17. Minnesota United FC -- Tani Oluwaseyi, F, St. John's

18. Orlando City SC -- Jack Lynn, F, Notre Dame

19. Atlanta United FC -- Erik Centeno, F, Pacific

20. New York Red Bulls -- O'Vonte Mullings, F, Florida Gulf Coast

21. LA Galaxy -- Farai Mutatu, F, Michigan State

22. Sporting Kansas City -- Esai Easley, D, Grand Canyon

23. Colorado Rapids -- Mohamed Omar, M, Notre Dame

24. New England Revolution -- Jacob Jackson, GK, Loyola Marymount

25. Columbus Crew -- Philip Quinton, D, Notre Dame

26. Colorado Rapids -- Anthony Markanich, D, Northern Illinois

27. Portland Timbers -- Justin Rasmussen, D, Grand Canyon

28. FC Dallas -- Tsiki Ntsabeleng, F, Oregon State