Charlotte FC takes 3 players in MLS SuperDraft

Ben Bender was selected first overall, and the incoming expansion team also drafted a player from Wake Forest and a Raleigh native

Clemson goalkeeper George Marks, a native of Raleigh, was drafted by Charlotte FC in last week's MLS SuperDraft. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

The state’s newest team — MLS expansion club Charlotte FC — continued to take shape last week in the MLS SuperDraft.

Charlotte had three selections, including the top overall pick, which was announced by NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson.

The first draft pick in franchise history resulted in University of Maryland midfielder Ben Bender. A sophomore this past season, Bender had seven goals and five assists and was named a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year. The year before, he was All-Freshman and second-team All-Big Ten, scoring two goals in 11 games.

“It’s amazing,” Bender said. “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.”

Bender gave a self-scout in his first meeting with the Charlotte FC media.

Ben Bender, a midfielder out of Maryland, was the first overall pick by Charlotte FC in last Tuesday’s MLS SuperDraft. (Steve Ruark / The Baltimore Sun via AP)

“My best attributes as a player, and I think what you can expect, is my vision and my passing, putting attacking players into really good positions,” he said. “So putting really dynamic strikers or wingers into goal-scoring positions and getting on the end of those. … I think that I’m best when seeing the whole field and linking the play, linking the backline, midline and the front guys.”

Charlotte already had six other midfielders on the roster, most notably veteran Sergio Ruiz. So Bender can be brought along slowly behind him or Ruiz can move to the right back to allow the two to play together.

“I’ve heard from some of the coaches that the players are really, really good,” Bender said. “I know the midfield is really good, that’s something specific they’ve said. So if I’m not going to play in the beginning, I’m certainly going to be learning and taking it all in from them. So, it’s a really good learning opportunity and development opportunity.”

Charlotte quickly made room for Bender by selling midfielder Riley McGree to Middlesbrough FC.

“We knew Riley was being tracked by a lot of clubs across Europe after his successful spell at Birmingham, and we finally fielded an offer that was too good to turn down. To sell a player for profit that has never played a game for your Club is a testament to our incredible scouting department who identified Riley as a player with a bright future,” Sporting Director Zoran Krneta said. “We will invest this transfer fee back into our inaugural roster as we continue to build towards the start of 2022. Everyone at the Club wishes Riley the best of luck at Middlesbrough and throughout the rest of his career.”

In the second round, Charlotte chose a player from within the state, selecting Wake Forest forward Kyle Holcomb. In four years with the Demon Deacons, Holcomb scored 33 goals, seventh-most in Wake Forest history. He was also ninth in school history with 74 total points for Wake. This past season, he was All-ACC and second-team All-American. His 12 goals in his senior season were the most by a Demon Deacon in three years. Wake was 10-1-0 when he scored.

Holcomb is just the fourth forward on the roster, joining McKinze Gaines, Vinicius Mello and Yordy Reyna.

Charlotte went with another local product in the third round, choosing goalkeeper George Marks. He played collegiately for Clemson, but Marks is a Raleigh native. Marks attended two U-20 U.S. National Team Camps and was a member of the North Carolina FC Youth Academy.

Marks started three years for the Tigers, leading them to the 2021 national title as a senior. He’s third in Clemson history in wins (47), shutouts (21) and minutes played (6,031). He’s also in the school’s all-time top 10 in goals allowed average (seventh at 0.90) and saves (ninth at 174).

Marks was a second-team All-ACC player twice and a third-teamer once. He was selected as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in this year’s College Cup. He was also a leader at Clemson, serving as the vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in 2019 and 2020 and as president of SAAC in his senior year.

Marks joins a pair of goalies already on the roster in Kristijan Kahlina and Pablo Sisniega. Since the draft, the team has added a fourth goalkeeper, signing free agent Adrian Zendejas.

“We wanted to provide goalkeeper coach Andy Quy with a strong, well-rounded group of four goalkeepers,” Krneta said, “and this signing, along with the drafting of George Marks, will help provide that healthy competition as we start preseason this week.”