Heading into the MLS SuperDraft Combine last month, former UCSB men’s soccer star Nick DePuy was turning heads after finishing his incredible college career, according to Paul-Michael Ochoa, the MLS’s communications coordinator, indicating he could climb up the board to become a top-10 pick. On draft day, DePuy dropped to the 19th pick, but couldn’t have landed in a better MLS setup than the Montreal Impact’s.
The two parties have the potential to be a perfect fit, with style of play and current squad being the two leading factors in DePuy’s chance to make an immediate contribution to an already title-contending roster. Montreal is a well-organized team that loves to break forward quickly through the wings, much like UCSB, and despite his professional inexperience, the Irvine native will enter the league as one of the premier physical forces.
In a Florida training camp friendly last week, the former Gaucho scored both goals in the Impact’s 2-0 win over University of Southern Florida, with his strikes assisted by first team regulars Dominic Oduro and Patrice Bernier. Within weeks, the striker has impressed alongside Montreal’s best players — a good sign signs this far into his infant career.
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Towering at 6’5” with a sturdy frame and a decent leap in him, DePuy has always been able to establish him as a presence around the goal: able to sniff out chances with both feet, and more notably, his head. The frontman was always able to find chances for himself in college, averaging 30 goals in 55 appearances after Gaucho Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg permanently switched the then-midfielder to the team’s lone striker midway through DePuy’s sophomore year.
The Impact’s first-round pick joins a team that lost in extra time in the playoff semifinals against rivals Toronto FC; the former two-time all-American and three-time Big West offensive Player of the Year is lucky enough to ply his trade up top with the service of some of the best international stars in the league.
Midfielder Ignacio Piatti of Argentina was tied for fourth in the MLS with 17 goals, to go with a team-high six assists, establishing himself as Montreal’s most creative attacking player in a forward-minded midfield role. Ghanaian right winger Oduro is the team’s biggest wide threat, scoring six goals while tying Piatti with six assists, and assisted on DePuy’s first goal against USF with a nice cutback pass. On the left, wingback Ambroise Oyongo returns to the Impact fresh off winning an African Cup of Nations title with Cameroon, playing every minute of the tournament and establishing himself as one of his nation’s very best defensive options.
If DePuy is able to earn himself chances in the first team, there won’t be a shortage of delivery from Montreal’s best servicemen, and by looking at the team’s apparent lack of squad depth at striker, the chances could very well be there for the rookie hitman. With Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba’s departure (and most likely retirement) at the end of his 10-goal, six-assist season last year, the team lost in him its most reliable forward and only has a combined 14 league goals last year from forwards still on the roster.
DePuy’s direct competition for playing time will be Matteo Mancosu, who led returning forwards with seven goals after joining the team in July last year on a year-long loan from Italian side Bologna. Although the Italian will most likely be the first-choice striker at the start of the MLS season next month, it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to expect a similar goal return from a player of DePuy’s poaching prowess.
The Santa Barbara legend proved himself in Vom Steeg’s system as a superb holdup play outlet in the middle of the park, distributing to the team’s skillful attacking players, much like Drogba’s role in last year’s Montreal side; the former Gaucho’s work rate in the press is noticeable as well, often times nicking the ball away from defenders in advanced positions. DePuy also scores around half of his goals from headers, and with height and athleticism to match up against the MLS’s biggest defenders, his skill set seems like it could translate seamlessly into Head Coach Mauro Biello’s attack.
The Impact’s season begins March 4 on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes, and although it’s highly unlikely to see DePuy play significant minutes, he could end up being picked for the bench as a second-choice striker. Depending on how Biello feels about his bright prospect after the last month of the offseason, who knows — maybe some substitute appearances aren’t too far on the horizon.
A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the Thursday, February 9, 2017 print edition of the Daily Nexus.