With their first pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, D.C. United selected Maryland Terrapins defender Chris Odoi-Atsem. Described by Terps coach Sasho Cirovski as “the strongest one-on-one defender [he’d] ever coached,” Odoi-Atsem has deep local roots. A Maryland native who spent his NCAA career just a few miles away from RFK Stadium, Odoi-Atsem is a player United has no doubt scouted thoroughly.
Odoi-Atsem made news just before the draft, opting to sign a contract with MLS rather than having to negotiate one with whatever club ended up picking him:
Chris Odoi-Atsem of @MarylandMSoccer signed an MLS contract last night. One less issue for the club that drafts him today. #terps— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 13, 2017
At 5’10” and 150 lbs, Odoi-Atsem has played multiple defensive positions over the years. In 2013, he and United academy product Suliaman Dainkeh paired up at center back, and he’s also played some left back from time to time. However, the four-year starter from Mitchellville, MD is a natural right back who has a real zeal for shutting down opposing wingers. During his time with the Terps, Odoi-Atsem made one trip to College Cup, another to the NCAA quarterfinals, and two more tournament appearances.
With United, Odoi-Atsem figures to be the long-term successor for Sean Franklin. Franklin has been solid since arriving in D.C., but in both of the past two seasons he’s had an injury during the stretch run. This year, United appeared to find one possible solution with Nick DeLeon there, but most likely he will remain a utility option who also gets starts in central midfield. Odoi-Atsem could easily step in as United’s second option at right back immediately.
Per Steve Goff of the Washington Post, United opted to reject a trade offer from the New York Red Bulls to pick Odoi-Atsem:
D.C. United turned down trade offer from Red Bulls to keep No. 12 pick and select Chris Odoi-Atsem from Maryland. #MLSSuperDraft #terps— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 13, 2017
Unlike United’s other fullback who matriculated in College Park, Odoi-Atsem is not really a big attacking threat. While Taylor Kemp is known for bombing forward, serving in crosses, and (more recently) his long-distance shooting, Odoi-Atsem is more of a defense-first defender. That’s not to say that he doesn’t overlap - Cirovski sends his fullbacks up field aggressively, and Odoi-Atsem was comfortable with that - but rather that he’s not going to be a major threat as a crosser (at least as a rookie).
Odoi-Atsem’s speed will certainly help, though, and playing opposite an attacking left back, he will be comfortable if United gets caught on a counter and has to defend with a temporary back three. While he may not quite end up drawing the hype of a player like Keegan Rosenberry (a right back from a DMV school who went in the first round in 2016), he does have the potential to be as solid as he is defensively.