Sitting in his house in State College, Penn State defender John Gallagher watched an online stream of the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft on his laptop Tuesday afternoon.
After eagerly witnessing 29 picks go by, Gallagher heard his name called as the Chicago Fire drafted him with their first pick at 30th overall.
The Supplemental Draft, which is operated via conference call with all 19 clubs and the league, is a virtual continuation of last week’s MLS SuperDraft as the four rounds builds off of the SuperDraft’s televised two rounds.
Moments after finding out his selection, the left back received a call from Leo Percovich, an assistant coach for the Fire, informing him of his plans for the near future. Gallagher will fly out of State College at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“The assistant coach called me, congratulated me and stuff and tried to work out flight information to get me to preseason workouts as quickly as possible,” Gallagher said with a laugh.
While at preseason camp with the Fire, Gallagher will compete with the full Chicago roster for a spot on the team and a contract.
Despite this opportunity, Gallagher didn’t think himself to be on the Fire’s draft day radar.
The defender, who captained the Nittany Lions to their first regular season Big Ten title since 2005, said he previously spoke with a few teams that expressed interest in him, including the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake.
However, Gallagher had zero contact with the Fire leading up to the draft, but he noted that draft day is notorious for its spontaneity.
“Everyone [I talked to] told me that the draft is crazy, unpredictable and you never know who’s going to go where,” the 5-foot-10 left back said. “I actually didn’t have any contact with Chicago at all, but they picked me so I’m just happy to finally find out where I’m going.”
While he may not have expected the selection, Gallagher said a big reason why he believed he’d be drafted was his performance at the combine, which took place from Jan. 11-15.
The 160-pound former midfielder pointed out that the draft is known to make or break a player’s chances of receiving looks from MLS clubs.
And in Gallagher’s case, the showcase did the former.
“I showed really well, I thought I was definitely one of the top outside backs there and when you look at the mock drafts and those things, that’s what the MLS analysts were saying as well,” Gallagher said. “…I think it helped me solidify my chance of landing a spot on an MLS team.”
Penn State assistant coach Chad Duernberger, who received Gallagher’s report card from the combine, said his attacking style made the defender stand out.
“He’s certainly deserving of this chance. He’s a left back who has the ability to push the ball forward, score and get the ball high up, and I think that’s something Chicago really liked in him,” Duernberger said.
With the Fire’s selection of Gallagher, he became the sixth player to be drafted into the MLS in Penn State program history.
And while it’s Gallagher’s moment, the selection is something for Lions’ head coach Bob Warming to hang his hat on.
Since the league’s inception in 1996, Warming has had at least one of his players selected in each MLS draft — the only college coach to do so.
“Coach Warming, when it comes down to it, is a phenomenal developer,” Duernberger said. “I mean, what player that wants to go pro wouldn’t want to be coached by him?”
Gallagher agreed, pointing out that his maturity from raw athleticism to soccer specific skills and the successful switch to defense from the midfield can be credited to Warming.
“He brings the best out of a player, and I probably wouldn’t have been drafted if it weren’t for coach Warming,” Gallagher said. “So I’m happy that he became my head coach my sophomore year and I got to work with him because he helped me tailor my game into an MLS ready player.”