Former Rutgers co-captains get drafted to MLS, earn opportunity to join professional team

<p>Former Rutgers midfielder Mitchell Taintor was selected 59th overall by Toronto FC in third round of the 2016 MLS Superdraft.</p>

Former Rutgers midfielder Mitchell Taintor was selected 59th overall by Toronto FC in third round of the 2016 MLS Superdraft.

Sitting on his kitchen table with his mother constantly refreshing the browser displaying a live stream of the Major League Soccer Superdraft on his laptop, former Rutgers men’s soccer captain Mitchell Taintor patiently awaited for his name to appear on the bright screen.

He hoped his performance at the MLS Player Combine earlier in the month would earn him an opportunity to fight for a spot on a professional roster for the upcoming season.

When Toronto FC’s turn to select came around for the first time since the sixth pick in the first round, it chose the second team all-Big Ten midfielder from Storrs, Connecticut, with the 59th overall pick.

“My mom jumped up and started screaming, and I realized my name was on the screen,” Taintor said. ”It was a pretty awesome feeling. It was really cool to see my name up there.”

Taintor became the second Scarlet Knight to be drafted in the 2016 MLS Superdraft, after his co-captain Mitchell Lurie was taken by the Philadelphia Union with the 44th overall pick.

The third player to be taken on the day of the third and fourth rounds of the draft, Lurie didn’t have to suffer as long as his teammate did, but the feeling of relief and euphoria after seeing his name on the screen was just as good.

“I’m feeling great. I’m blessed to have the opportunity Philadelphia has given me,” Lurie said. “The experiences so far with the Combine, and now waiting to see your name appear on a team is just pretty crazy, and now that it’s happened, it’s a lot of weight off the shoulders and it’s just such a great feeling.”

The very distinct players with the same first name were roommates since Lurie arrived on the Banks after transferring from Louisville in 2013. Seeing a friend he spent so much time with since moving to Piscataway was a feeling that rivaled watching his own name get called 15 picks prior.

“It was awesome when I saw Taintor get drafted,” Lurie said. “We shared a room in Birchwood (apartments in New Brunswick), and we grew really close in the year-and-a-half, two years I was there. Just to see him get called knowing all the hard work he’s put in was awesome.”

Two of the main catalysts for the Knights in a memorable 2015 season that saw them reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 tripled the number of players drafted out of Rutgers since Dan Donigan took the helm. Former Knight Kene Eze paved the way for the Mitchell’s after being selected by Toronto FC with the 60th overall pick in 2014.

The sixth-year head coach was just as excited as his players were to see the hard work and determination he’s witnessed first hand pay off.

“I’m like a little kid today, to be honest with you. I’m so excited, so proud of those guys,” Donigan said of his co-captains. “Today’s a very, very exciting day for them. I’m their coach, but I feel like they’re my sons.”

While he’s beaming with pride over his two pupils taking another step towards reaching their dreams of becoming professional players, Donigan’s relationship with Taintor makes Tuesday’s news a bit more special.

Playing under Taintor’s grandfather, the legendary head coach Joe Morrone at UConn, allowed Donigan to meet the future Knight at a young age and watch him develop as a both person and a player.

Four years after he took his first touches on the field while donning a Rutgers jersey, the day Taintor and Donigan have been working diligently for has finally arrived.

“From day one, I wanted to get this kid to the next level, and today, fortunately for us, that day that he’s been drafted (has arrived) and he’s got that opportunity, he’s got that chance,” Donigan said. “This is a day we’ve been working at since I recruited him as a player. It goes by very, very fast but I’ve always been indebted to his grandfather, who’s been my college coach, so to see him get drafted today is just a tremendous feeling.”

Being drafted is just the first step in the process to becoming a member of a MLS squad. 

All players will report to preseason training camp for their respective club roughly a month before the 2016 season begins on March 6, with some clubs starting as early as Sunday, to plead their cases and prove they have what it takes to play at the highest level of soccer in the United States.

Donigan has a number of jerseys in his office, but he’s looking to add a few more to the collection. 

If either of the Mitchell’s earn the right to have their name printed on the back of their club’s jersey come March, Donigan will be waiting for his players to deliver one to him.

“I reminded those guys again, something I’ve asked from them once they got done with us is they send in their jerseys,” Donigan said. “So hopefully they have the opportunity to make the team and be on the roster, and be in the position to get that jersey and send it to me, because I want nothing more than to get these Rutgers kids up in my office.”

And if one day the former co-captains and roommates face off in an MLS match, their friendship will be put on hold for 90 minutes before returning back to normal outside the four white lines.

“It will be a tough-love type of thing when we beat up on him on the field,” Taintor said. “But other than that, we’ll be friends outside the pitch.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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