UCLA, Akron lead the way with players who started on MLS opening weekend


UCLA and Akron each had nine former players in the starting XI for Major League Soccer clubs on the opening weekend of the league’s 20th season.

UCLA alumnus Amobi Okugo was the lone player in the Orlando City lineup with college experience, but he had good company across the league with Kelyn Rowe, Nick Rimando, Benny Feilhaber and others. Ditto for Akron alums Scott Caldwell and Teal Bunbury, who started for New England Revolution. Maryland was also well represented with six players (Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers started for LA Galaxy for the curtain raiser Friday night) and North Carolina and California had five each.

All told, there were 111 players who played college soccer in the starting lineups over the weekend, nearly half of the 220 players to get the call. All but five played in Division 1; four played for Division 2 schools (Portland Timbers midfielder George Fochive played for Hawaii Pacific in Division 2 and UConn) and two played for NAIA schools.

Former Marquette center back Axel Sjöberg (pictured above), Boston alum Dominique Badji and former Clemson defender Amadou Dia were the only newcomers in the group of MLS starters with college experience. Sjöberg, a 6-foot-7 Swedish defender drafted 14th overall in the 2015 MLS Superdraft and 67th overall pick Badji both got the call in Colorado’s road game against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park, where Sjöberg helped the Golden Eagles win a Big East tournament championship in 2013. Dia, who was drafted 20th overall, made his debut with Sporting Kansas City.

Clint Dempsey and three fellow Furman alums made it into opening day lineups and Notre Dame and Virginia also had four former players get the call. Indiana, Louisville and Creighton each had three former players in starting XIs.

The breakdown of college players in MLS on opening weekend closely resembles how the rosters in the U.S. top flight shape out. UCLA leads the way with overall players from opening day rosters with 18, followed by Maryland with 17, Akron with 15, North Carolina with 14, California with 12 and Indiana with 11.

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