MLS team drafts Knight in fourth round
For Kene Eze, what started out as a dream is now one step closer to becoming a reality.
Toronto FC selected the senior forward Tuesday in the fourth round of the MLS SuperDraft. The professional club team, which won four consecutive Amway Canadian Championships from 2009-2012, took Eze with the 60th overall pick.
The Sayreville, N.J., native said he wanted to continue his career only four days after the Rutgers men’s soccer team’s elimination from the AAC Tournament.
“I definitely don’t want to be done playing,” Eze said Nov. 19. “I’m definitely going to be working hard, talking to the coaches, because the coaches knew my plan when I came to this program was to make it to the next level. I stressed for them to help me, and I’m definitely going to be working hard to get where I want to be at the next level.”
Eze transferred from Division III school William Paterson in 2011 with hopes of improving his game at a higher level and gaining national recognition.
In his first season for the Scarlet Knights that year, Eze tied for the team lead with six goals in only nine starts as Rutgers made a run to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
He then morphed into a star striker, tallying a team-high 16 goals and 37 points over the last two seasons.
As a junior, Eze netted four game-winning goals and was a Second Team All-Big East selection. He also earned a spot on the College Soccer News National Team of the Week on Oct. 1, 2012.
But Eze’s dream nearly came to an abrupt halt.
He suffered a severe hamstring injury Sept. 20 against Southern Methodist that kept him out of significant action for nearly a month. Rutgers dropped three of the next four games, including SMU.
Eze tried returning Oct. 5 against Cincinnati before exiting after 35 minutes when his hamstring flared up again at halftime. Head coach Dan Donigan stayed conservative with his top scorer, resting Eze for three more games as the Knights continued to slide in the AAC standings.
After rounding back into form in the last three regular season games, Eze redeemed his lost time.
He carried the Knights to an AAC Tournament first-round win Nov. 8 against Cincinnati with four second-half goals. Despite missing six games, the senior finished the campaign with eight goals and four assists.
“It was a frustrating season, but I had the support from my coaches and players telling me that I was going to be able to come back and they still needed me,” Eze said. “So I focused in the training room, trying to get healthy. I knew, in my head, from the time I sat out I had to make up for that. I was working hard to come back and put up some goals and help the team win.”
Eze said at the time he would give his hamstring a few weeks to heal a bit more, but insisted he felt good and did not need any serious procedure.
Now Eze must prove to Toronto FC he is capable of succeeding as a professional.
The forward’s trademark attributes include breakaway speed and beating defenders one-on-one off the dribble. Scouting reports on the Reds’ scouting website cite that while Eze is “capable of single-handedly winning a game,” he must “improve tactically” and “learn to deal with physicality at next level.”
But as the first player drafted in Donigan’s four years at Rutgers, Eze finally has a chance to live out his dream.
“Like most players getting drafted, he now must make the most of this chance,” Donigan said in a statement. “Kene had a significant impact in the college game, but the MLS is a tremendous league with great talent and our staff knows he is up to the challenge. Kene has earned this opportunity, and he realizes it is only an opportunity, so he will go to go to Toronto and prove his value to [head coach] Ryan Nelsen and his staff.”