MLS commissioner says NYCFC could have handled Lampard deal better; Larin taken atop draft


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PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after Thursday's Major League Soccer draft began, a "Where's Frank Lampard chant?" echoed through the grand ballroom of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Rivals won't let New York City FC forget the expansion team's drawn-out acquisition of the 36-year-old English midfielder.

NYCFC said in July it had signed Lampard to a two-year contract starting Aug. 1. Lampard then started playing for Manchester City, which like NYCFC is controlled by City Football Group. But Manchester City said on Dec. 31 it was keeping Lampard through the end of the English Premier League season in May. NYCFC said this month Lampard had signed a contract to join it in July.

"It could have been handled better," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday. "And it needs to be handled better going forward. We've learned lessons from this, and those lessons are that transparency is more and more important."

Garber defended NYCFC by saying the club never intended to intentionally "mislead the fans," but added that NYCFC "characterized it improperly" when first announcing Lampard's signing.

The commissioner also addressed the decision last week by Ali Curtis, the new sporting director of the New York Red Bulls, to fire coach Mike Petke, the former player who is a fan favorite. Petke, who led the Red Bulls to the league's best record in 2013 and the Eastern Conference finals last year, was replaced by Jesse Marsch.

Some Red Bulls fans attending the draft could be heard chanting Petke's name, while others derided Curtis.

"Clubs have got to make those decisions on their own," Garber said. "I like Mike. I'd like to find a way that Mike stays involved in the league, either through us or one of the clubs. But clubs need to ultimately decide what's in the best interest for them."

Orlando City, which like NYCFC starts MLS play this year, selected Canadian forward Cyle Larin with the top pick, the second straight season a University of Connecticut player was chosen first overall. Orlando coach Adrian Heath said he had fielded multiple calls from teams interested in trading for the first pick.

Larin, with Canada at qualifying for this year's FIFA Under-20 World Cup, scored 23 goals in two seasons at UConn and has three appearances with Canada's senior national team. Huskies goalkeeper Andre Blake was taken by Philadelphia with the first pick last year.

"Obviously there was a bit of interest from the Canadian teams, as you would expect," Heath said. "I know how highly he's thought of by the Canadian people. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that goal-scorers are a hot commodity around the world. That's why they go for the most money."

NYCFC selected Oregon State forward Khiry Shelton with the second pick. Shelton, who scored 10 goals as a senior, was greeted by loud cheers from NYCFC fans.

"My emotions are everywhere," Shelton said. "I like to score goals. That's what they're getting."

Montreal selected Central Florida forward Romario Williams with the third pick. San Jose picked Michigan State midfielder Fatai Alashe fourth, and Portland selected Notre Dame midfielder Nick Besler, whose older brother Matt plays for Kansas City and started for the U.S. at last year's World Cup.

"It's going to be a little different now," said Nick Besler, a second-team All American in 2014. "I'll be playing against my brother, and it won't be easy."

Syracuse goalkeeper Alex Bono, attending the U.S. national team training camp in California, went sixth to Toronto FC.

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