To close out the first round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, Orlando City selected defender Rio Hope-Gund from Georgetown with the 19th pick and defender Brandon Hackenberg from Penn State with the 22nd pick. The 19th selection was acquired via a trade with the Philadelphia Union for the Homegrown Player rights to Nathan Harriel, while the 22nd pick was the club’s natural selection.
“With the two center backs, we have a need for the position. We need depth,” Orlando City Executive Vice President Luiz Muzzi said. “We lost Kamal (Miller), a left-footed center back/left back. In Hackenberg we got another guy who can play the position. Hope-Gund was a guy that we rated high and we thought there was a chance he was going to get there to 19, but we thought it was a small chance. So, when we saw that he was available we were really happy with that. It’s a need that we tried to fill and we’re really happy with those two picks.”
Hope-Gund, a 6-foot-1 center back, was a two-year starter for the Hoyas. He played a total of 36 games with 24 starts, recording two goals and two assists. He was a part of a defense that recorded 13 clean sheets last season.
Welcome to Orlando, Rio! #SuperDraft | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/jmnm0bE5HO— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) January 21, 2021
After redshirting his first season and playing in nine games during his second, Hackenberg was a regular starter during his final two seasons at Penn State. The left-footed center back played in all 17 games in 2018, starting 15, and started all but one game in 2019. The defender was involved in 12 clean sheets during his final two years, with six being in Big Ten Conference games.
Adding more youth in defense. Welcome to Orlando, Brandon!#SuperDraft | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/VouN1tuQz6— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) January 21, 2021
During his redshirt junior season in 2019, Hackenberg was named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-North Region by the United Soccer Coaches. Additionally, he won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award on Sep. 24.
What It Means for Orlando City
It was expected that Orlando City might take a left back or center back in this draft after losing the versatile Kamal Miller in the 2020 Expansion Draft and declining the option on Alex De John. After taking a forward with the eighth overall selection, the Lions took players that can fill both positions late in the first round.
While Hope-Gund is a center back, Hackenberg provides the versatility that Miller arrived with. Standing an inch taller than the former Syracuse defender, Hackenberg is left-footed and, while he played mostly center back at Penn State, can be converted into a left back if needed.
Neither of these players will necessarily be expected to start in 2021 as the Orlando City back line is already in place. However, the Lions needed to add some depth in the back after losing multiple players following the 2020 MLS season and left back will be an issue at the start of the season due to Joao Moutinho’s hip surgery.
Here is some more information on Hope-Gund:
Orlando City holds one more selection in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, the 22nd pick in the second round (49th overall).