Charlotte FC adds Maryland midfielder Bender with top pick in MLS draft

CHARLOTTE — As the first game of its inaugural season draws closer, the Charlotte Football Club has been steadily putting together its roster.

The team added more players to its growing roster in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft, which aired on WSOC-TV, WAXN, and Telemundo Charlotte. The athletes will play under the leadership of head coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez and their home opener will be March 5, 2022, at Bank of America Stadium against the LA Galaxy.

Charlotte FC selected more players Tuesday in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft (presented by Adidas).

Midfielder Ben Bender out of Maryland was the first pick in Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft on Tuesday by expansion club Charlotte FC.

Bender was named the 2021 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year after scoring seven goals with five assists over 18 games with the Terrapins as a sophomore.


He is one of eight young players who were part of the MLS Generation Adidas class this year, so he won’t count against Charlotte’s salary budget.

“I think I’m ready for this next step,” said Bender, who is leaving school early to go pro. “I think my game will take some time to develop into an impact player, but I think that my vision and spatial awareness and work rate will take me to the next level and will help me to be an impact for Charlotte.”

Bender, a Baltimore native, comes from a soccer family. His brother Jacob played for Messiah University and was the national NCAA Division III Player of the Year in 2016. His brother Josh was also a standout for Messiah.

Jacob Bender went on to play for the USL’s Charlotte Independence in 2017. The younger Bender said the two brothers are similar players.

“We did have a lot of duels, between Jacob and I,” Ben Bender said. “We do this one passing drill for like 20 minutes each training session and I think it’s really allowed me to develop in my technique and my understanding of the game.”

Bender was a first-team All-American for Maryland, as well as a Hermann Trophy finalist. The Terps finished last season 12-4-2 and earned an NCAA Tournament berth.

“Charlotte FC is getting a player and person of tremendous quality in Ben Bender,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Ben brings all the attributes necessary to succeed at the MLS level and fans in Charlotte will fall in love with his creativity, flair and love for soccer.”

Charlotte, the league’s 28th team, will open its inaugural season on Feb. 26 at D.C. United.

All five of the top draft picks Tuesday were Generation Adidas players. Cincinnati selected goalkeeper Roman Celentano out of Indiana with the second overall pick, Dallas took forward Isaiah Parker out of Saint Louis with No. 3, Houston got forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson from Duke at No. 4 and Austin chose defender Kipp Keller, also out of Saint Louis, with the fifth overall pick.

The San Jose Earthquakes selected highly touted forward Ousseni Bouda from nearby Stanford with the eighth overall pick.

Charlotte FC selected forward Kyle Holcomb, of Wake Forest, with the second round pick.

In the third round, the team selected goalkeeper George Marks.

Along with the newest additions, here is the current Charlotte FC roster:

McKinze Gaines (Forward) -- In 2021 for Austin FC, McKinze Gaines appeared in nine games with one start and one goal. Before arriving in Austin, the young forward spent the 2020-2021 season with German 2. Bundesliga side Hannover 96 and Regionalliga’s Hannover 96 II, where he made nine starts and scored one goal.

(WATCH: MLS Expansion Draft Pick 1: McKinze Gaines)

Anton Walkes (Defender) -- Atlanta United. In 2021, Walkes had a career year with Atlanta United, starting 32 games with two goals and two assists. The versatile defender came through the Tottenham Hotspur academy, originally going on loan to Atlanta in 2017 before joining Portsmouth in 2018. In 2020, Atlanta acquired the center back permanently and in in three total season with the club, he compiled 71 appearances with 65 starts, four goals, and three assists.

(WATCH: MLS Expansion Draft Pick 2: Anton Walkes)

Joseph Mora (Defender) -- DC United. Mora spent four years with D.C. United, registering four assists in 99 appearances and 83 starts for the Black-and-Red. The left back also played extensively for Costa Rican youth national teams, featuring at the 2009 FIFA U17 World Cup and 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup, and now has four caps for the senior national team.

(WATCH: MLS Expansion Draft Pick 3: Joseph Mora)

Tristan Blackmon (Defender) -- TRADED -- Los Angeles FC. Charlotte FC have traded Tristan Blackmon to the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for $350,000 General Allocation Money (GAM) for the 2022 season, with an additional $125,000 GAM in 2023.

(WATCH: MLS Expansion Draft Pick 4: Tristan Blackmon)

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Forward) -- TRADED -- New York City FC. Charlotte FC have traded Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to Los Angeles FC in exchange for $400,000 GAM.

(WATCH: MLS Expansion Draft Pick 5: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi)

>>Read more about those selected in the expansion draft here.

Cristian “Titi” Ortiz (Attacking Midfielder) -- Charlotte FC bolstered its offense with the addition of the 29-year-old Argentine midfielder. Ortiz was signed on a 12-month loan from Mexican side Club Tijuana for the 2022 season. Charlotte FC will have the option to purchase Ortiz’s contract permanently. The acquisition is pending receipt of a P-1 visa and ITC meaning Ortiz will occupy one of Charlotte’s international roster spots. Ortiz, who goes by “Titi,” played 31 games for CLTFC head coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez and the club Independiente del Valle in the past two years. He scored 19 goals and contributed six assists for the Ecuadorian club before earning a move to Club Tijuana. Over his career, Ortiz has played in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico.

Harrison Afful (Defender) -- The 35-year-old right back is an MLS veteran who was with Columbus Crew for seven years, starting at least 20 matches in each of the last six seasons. Afful played 164 regular season matches with six goals and 18 assists. The Ghanaian has appeared in 17 playoff appearances, including an MLS Cup title with Columbus in 2020 where he played 90 minutes in a 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders.

Afful has earned 83 caps for Ghana and started two of Ghana’s three group stage games at the 2014 World Cup. He has played in three World Cup qualifying cycles and five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

Jordy Alcívar (Midfielder) -- The 22-year-old central midfielder will occupy an international roster slot on the Club’s inaugural roster. Alcívar has played 83 times for his boyhood club LDU Quito, scoring five goals and contributing six assists. He started all six matches in LDU’s Copa Libertadores campaign this season and scored a brace during second leg of the club’s Round of 16 Copa Sudamericana fixture against Gremio to put his side through on aggregate against the Brazilians. Alcívar was key to Ecuador’s youth national team success over the course of the 2019 season. The midfielder made four appearances for the title winning U-20s at the South American Championships which qualified Ecuador to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup later that summer. A third-place finish was on the cards for Ecuador in that competition, the country’s best finish at a U-20 World Cup. Alcívar played six matches and put in a 112 minute shift in the third-place playoff against Italy, a 1-0 win for Ecuador.

Adam Armour (Defender) -- Armour played with the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team roster for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil and the 2019 Concacaf U-17 Championship. The 18-year-old played a total of 19 games with the national soccer team. Charlotte FC have tracked Armour’s development closely since the club announced its new franchise.

Born to parents from Dominica and Jamaica, the U.S. youth international signed with the German second division FC Nürnberg in the fall of 2020.

Brandt Bronico (Midielder) -- A veteran MLS midfielder, Bronico joined Charlotte FC following four seasons with the Chicago Fire FC (2017-20). While with the Fire, Bronico played in 66 matches with 40 starts and recorded two goals and eight assists. Bronico originally entered MLS in 2017 as a third-round selection (47th overall) by Chicago in the 2017 SuperDraft. Bronico played collegiately for the Charlotte 49ers from 2013-16, scoring 25 goals and adding 23 assists. As a senior in 2016, Bronico was named the Conference USA Player of the Year and second-team All-America after scoring nine goals, including four game-winners.

Guzmán Corujo (defender) -- The 25-year-old center back has played over 100 matches for Nacional since debuting as a professional for the Uruguayan club in 2017. A two-time champion of Uruguay’s Primera División in 2019 and 2020, Corujo featured 22 times for Nacional in the Copa Libertadores, the top continental club competition in South America. Corujo, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season, signed a pre-contract with Charlotte FC. Players are eligible to sign pre-contracts with clubs within six months of their current contracts expiring. Upon Corujo signing the pre-contract agreement, Nacional terminated the defender’s contract that was set to expire later this year. Corujo will join Charlotte FC in January for preseason.

Alan Franco (Midfielder) -- The 23-year-old central midfielder will occupy an international roster slot. Franco signed from the Brazilian champions, Atlético Mineiro, on a year-long loan deal with an option for Charlotte FC to purchase his contract. The addition reunites Franco and head coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez. The pair were together during on Ramírez’s Independiente del Valle squad that triumphed in the 2019 Copa Sudamericana. Franco started all 11 matches and adding two goals in the tournament. The Ecuadorian debuted for Independiente del Valle as a 17-year-old in 2016. He tallied 75 appearances with the club, including five goals and six assists. Franco has 18 caps and one goal for the Ecuadorian National Team, including appearances in nine out of 14 games during the current CONMEBOL World Cup Qualification cycle. Franco moved to Atlético Mineiro in Brazil’s first division in 2020 where he Across he accumulated 47 appearances and scored three goals in two seasons.

Christian Fuchs (Defender) -- The former Austrian national team captain won the 2015-16 Premier League title and the 2020-21 English FA Cup. Fuchs played for Bundesliga’s Bochum, Mainz and Schalke before joining Leicester City in 2015. Throughout his six years at City, the 35-year-old made 152 appearances and excelled in the UEFA Champions League as the team reached the last-eight during their campaign at Europe’s highest level.

Christian Makoun (Defender) -- Makoun, a 21-year-old Venezuelan international, was acquired from Inter Miami FC on Jan. 10 in exchange for Charlotte FC’s no. 1 spot on the MLS Allocation Rankings. In the transaction, Charlotte FC also received Inter Miami’s no. 9 spot on the allocation list. Makoun was signed as Miami’s third ever-player ahead of their debut season in 2020. In 2021, he had a breakout season, playing in 26 games including 23 starts and two goals. The center back made a name for himself with the Venezuelan national team and has been called up to the senior squad for several World Cup qualifying games, although he has yet to make his debut. He has extensive experience with the country’s U-20s team, including captaining the squad for all nine games of its run in the 2019 U-20 South American Championship. Makoun developed with the Zamora FC academy in Venezuela and also spent time on loan with Juventus in Italy. Makoun holds a U.S. Green Card and will count as a domestic player during the club’s campaign in 2022.

Riley McGree (Midfielder) -- In McGree’s professional club career, the left-footed attacking midfielder has scored 26 goals in 89 matches (71 starts). Famous for his scorpion kick goal scored while on loan with the Newcastle Jets, McGree was nominated for the 2018 FIFA Puskas Award, recognizing the “most beautiful” goal on the calendar year across all divisions and leagues. McGree began his professional career with Adelaide United in 2016, after originally joining the team’s youth academy in 2014. Following two successful seasons with the club’s first team, McGree gained international experience by signing with Club Brugge of the Belgian Pro League. McGree returned to Adelaide United for a highly successful campaign in 2019/20, where he was named the Hyundai A-League Young Footballer of the Year. He finished the season as the team’s top goal scorer and was named the club’s most valuable player. As an Australian national player, McGree captained the country’s U23 side and in 2017, was called up to the full international squad for the first time leading up to a pair of 2018 World Cup qualifying matches. He is expected to be a key contributor for the Socceroos as the national team competes for a place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Yordy Reyna (Forward) -- The 28-year-old has spent the last six seasons in the MLS between the Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United. He played 100 regular season matches where he added 24 goals and 19 assists.

The Peruvian has earned 28 caps for his country and was featured in two World Cup qualifying cycles. He also played in the 2015 Copa America, where he started for Peru in a 2-0 victory over Paraguay. Reyna has also played in Austria in the UEFA Champions League qualifying stages and the Europa League for RB Salzburg. He also spent time on-loan at RB-Leipzig when they were in the Bundesliga.


Sergio Ruiz (Midfielder) -- The 25-year-old midfielder arrived via transfer from Spanish side Racing Santander during MLS’ two-day transfer window in July 2020. The Spaniard represented Racing in the past three seasons, after graduating from its reserve team in 2016. His six goals and seven assists in the 2018-19 campaign helped earn Racing promotion to the Spanish Second Division.

Jan Sobociński (Defender) -- Sobociński, a left-footed central defender, has represented Poland at U21 level and played in the 2019 U-20 World Cup. He joined the youth ranks at hometown club ŁKS Łódź in 2015, and was loaned to Polish third-division side Gryf Wejherowo for first-team experience in 2017-18. Upon returning to Łódź the following season, he became a first-team regular. Sobociński has recorded a total of 88 domestic appearances, and has registered six goals. He has represented Poland at youth level 16 times.

Jaylin Lindsey (Defender) -- Charlotte FC acquired Lindsey from Sporting Kansas City in exchange for $100,000 in General Allocation Money. The Club will also acquire Lindsey’s Homegrown rights in the trade. The Charlotte native signed a Homegrown deal with SKC in 2017 as a 17-year-old and while playing with Swope Park Rangers in the United Soccer League (USL), he became the first American player born in 2000 or after to make his professional debut. The now 21-year-old outside back has gone on to make a combined 34 MLS appearances with 27 starts for Sporting KC over four years. In 2017, defender was named to the CONCACAF U-17 Championship Best XI as the U.S. qualified for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. There, Lindsey started and played 90 minutes in all three group stages games before an injury ruled him out of the knockout rounds as the U.S. eventually fell in the Quarterfinals. Before joining the Sporting Kansas City academy in 2015, Lindsey played for local youth club Charlotte Soccer Academy.

Pablo Sisniega (Goalkeeper) -- Charlotte FC acquired Sisniega from LAFC for $50,000 General Allocation Money. The 26-year-old Real Sociedad product joined LAFC in 2019 and made 32 appearances for the club over three seasons, including eight starts with one shutout in 2021. After coming through the La Liga side’s academy, Sisniega made his debut for Real Sociedad B in 2014 as a 19-year-old. He would go on to make 38 starts and keep 14 clean sheets in the Segunda Division B. The Mexico City native holds U.S. Citizenship, so he will not occupy an international roster slot.

Vinicius Mello (Forward) -- Charlotte FC today signed Vinicius Mello from Brazilian side Sport Club Internacional to a contract until 2025 with a Club option for 2026. The 19-year-old forward will occupy an international roster slot on the Club’s inaugural roster. Mello becomes the Club’s first U-22 initiative player. The Internacional academy product debuted for the senior team in February 2021 by starting and playing 72 minutes in a 1-0 victory against Juventude in the Campeonato Gaúcho. Shortly after making his senior debut, Mello began working under the leadership of current CLTFC head coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez. Mello played 13 times for Internacional in 2021, including 8 matches in Serie A and 3 in the prestigious Copa Libertadores. Since 2020, the young Brazilian has played in 28 games for the Internacional U20 side, scoring 15 goals. He first played for the U20s as a 16-year-old in 2019.

Kristijan Kahlina (Goalkeeper) -- Charlotte FC signed goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina from Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad to a contract until 2024 with an option for 2025. Kahlina made 36 appearances across all competitions keeping 13 clean sheets over his year-and-a-half spell with Ludogorets. He joined at the end of the 2020-2021 season, starting the club’s final five league matches and helped wrap up Ludogorets’ tenth consecutive Bulgarian title. Prior to his move to Charlotte, the Croatian started 10 league matches this season and featured in Champions League qualifying rounds and the Europa League group stage. Prior to joining the Bulgarian champions, the Croatian broke through at HNK Gorica, entrenching himself as the starter for five years. Kahlina led them to promotion to the Croatian first division in his second year and was named captain starting in 2019. Across 157 matches at Gorica, Kahlina kept 53 clean sheets. Kahlina came through the academy at Croatian powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb before joining NK Vinogradar in the Croatian second division. The goalkeeper started every league match as a 19- and 20-year-old for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, narrowly missing out on promotion with fourth and fifth place finishes, respectively. The goalkeeper also spent time at fellow Croatian second division side NK Lucko and Slovenian side FC Koper. Kahlina made one appearance for the Croatian U19 national team.

Adrián Zendejas - The 26-year-old goalkeeper joins Kristijan Kahlina, Pablo Sisniega, and unsigned SuperDraft pick George Marks on the Charlotte FC preseason roster. Zendejas made 54 appearances for Swope Park Rangers, Sporting KC’s USL Championship affiliate, after joining the club in 2016. Zendejas made his Sporting KC debut in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup, starting in wins over Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas. The Californian native also spent time on MLS rosters at Nashville SC and Minnesota United FC. Minnesota United FC loaned Zendejas to El Paso Locomotive FC of the USL Championship in 2021 where he started three games.

(WATCH: ‘It feels way more real now’: Charlotte FC unveils inaugural kits)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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