It was a bit of a winding road, but, ultimately, the Rapids got their man.
Heading into the day, Colorado held the 11th selection in the MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas, and Jeremy Kelly was the target. When the Montreal Impact selected Kelly with the ninth overall pick, the Rapids exchanged the rights to the 11th draft slot with Nashville SC in exchange for $75K in 2020 General Allocation Money.
Just minutes later, the Rapids secured the rights to Kelly, a right back from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, for that same $75K.
“I didn’t expect anything else to happen once I was picked by Montreal, but then my agent told me I had been traded to the Rapids,” said Kelly. “I’m excited to be with the Rapids.”
The Rapids were in search of a right back and were familiar with Kelly because of the club’s presence in North Carolina with Charlotte Independence. Development Academy product Milo Garvanian was also a teammate of Kelly’s with the Tar Heels, providing extra incentive for the Rapids to keep an eye on UNC matches in recent seasons.
When Kelly shined at the MLS Combine, the Rapids knew the 22-year-old would move up draft boards in the first round, making it difficult to select him outside of the top 10.
“(Kelly) is a tenacious defender,” executive vice president and general manager Pádraig Smith said. “He is very smart and intelligent, plays with a lot of urgency and looks to play out of the back. That is very important to us. He also played in the midfield as well, so that showed his versatility.”
Smith and head coach Robin Fraser see Kelly as a right back at the MLS level and were intrigued by his athleticism in defending and the ability to get forward. Both are attributes that should help him adapt to the pro game in preseason, where Kelly will be invited to join the Rapids in hopes of earning a deal with MLS.
“It feels great to a part of a young group. We’re going to be hungry to win because that’s what you get when you have a young group of players that are looking to prove themselves,” said Kelly. “It’s exciting to be a part of.”
Kelly, born in Prague, Czech Republic, lived in France until he was 10. He featured in 80 games at the collegiate level, grabbing six goals and adding 12 assists.
In the second round, the Rapids held the 37th pick and were able to add even more depth to the defense by selecting left back Robin Afamefuna from the University of Virginia.
A native of Wuerselen, Germany and a four-year player with the Cavaliers at the college level, Afamefuna will also be invited to preseason camp with the Rapids in hopes of securing a pro contract.
“Our scouting department were very high on Robin from the beginning, and we had him ranked much higher than the 37th position,” Smith said. “He’s a good one-on-one defender and an athletic player who has a ton of potential. In the end, the draft is a great spot for us to continue to add young, hungry players to the core that we already have in place and we feel like we’ve done that today.”