AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific’s NAIA All-American first team left back Jared Karkas was selected by the MLS expansion franchise Seattle Sounders FC with the 31st overall selection in today’s MLS SuperDraft in St. Louis, Mo. Karkas was the only NAIA player selected and was the first of 3 players selected from collegiate soccer programs in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
“I was in awe,” Karkas said. “This has been my dream since I can remember playing soccer. I knew I was being looked at but I didn’t actually think I would be drafted. I thought I’d maybe come in to a tryout after the draft, and if teams still needed players then I would get picked up that way, but I never thought I’d be drafted.”
Karkas is the third Azusa Pacific player selected in the MLS draft. His teammate of 3 seasons, Steven Lenhart, was selected in the fourth round (48th overall) of last year’s MLS draft and scored 4 goals in his rookie season for head coach Sigi Schmid and MLS Cup champion Columbus. Schmid now coaches the expansion Seattle Sounders FC franchise.
“I was fortunate to have success with another player from Azusa Pacific in Steven Lenhart, and I feel the same about Jared,” Schmid said. “Sometimes you take that gamble and you take a sleeper, and that’s how I’ve always been. I like my outside backs to attack. If you have outside backs who can delver crosses and get forward at an appropriate time, it makes you more dangerous. Jared’s got good size and can get up and down the line, so he offers that versatility.”
Karkas, a 2004 graduate of Upland High who played 4 seasons at Azusa Pacific after redshirting his freshman season, started 77 of the 80 games he played during his 4-year career, anchoring some of the best defenses in program history. In 2008, Karkas held down the back for a defense that ranked fifth in the NAIA in goals against average (0.60), and he ranked third on the team in points (11) and goals (4). His leadership was instrumental to a 4-game stretch that turned the season around for Azusa Pacific, the 2007 NAIA champion. The Cougars got off to a rough start in their bid to defend the NAIA crown, beginning the season with just 1 victory in 5 games. However, Karkas registered 3 goals and 2 assists in a 4-game stretch, sparking Azusa Pacific to a 15-1 scoring margin over the next 4 games.
“Azusa Pacific is one of the top NAIA soccer programs,” Karkas said. “I think we’ve proven that the last couple of years. Since we won the national championship (in 2007), we’ve had a target on our back no matter what we do. People are keeping track of us, and they know we’re a good program. We come to play the game, and we know how to win games. For our future guys, I think it’s really important not only to uphold the level of how we play, but also the character.”
The Cougars tied a program-record with 6 straight shutouts to open Golden State Athletic Conference play, and the 2-time All-GSAC defender helped lead Azusa Pacific to 12 wins in its final 15 games to go with the program’s second straight conference title. The Cougars were denied a national tournament bid after Westmont posted a 2-0 upset in the GSAC Postseason Tournament championship, less than a week after Westmont’s Montecito campus suffered damage from Southern California wildfires.
“(Azusa Pacific head coach) Phil Wolf is a very good coach,” Schmid said. “To be honest, if (Azusa Pacific) had made the national tournament, Jared Karkas would have been on a lot more people’s radar. They are a competitive program year in and year out in the NAIA, where many teams are competitive with foreign players, but Wolf does it with American players.”
Karkas and NAIA Player of the Year Eric Winblad became the first Cougar teammates to earn NAIA All-American first team recognition in the same season. Winblad will receive his award at the NSCAA/adidas All-America Luncheon in St. Louis in conjunction with the annual National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention this Saturday.
“I could go on and on about the Azusa Pacific soccer program,” Karkas said. “Looking back to when I was first a freshman, I don’t think there was a better school I could have chosen. I think God just put it into my path, and Azusa Pacific was the right school for me. It showed me how much more there is to life than just playing the sport of soccer. Coach Wolf not only grew me into a better soccer player, but he also molded me into a better man. I’ll never forget the Azusa Pacific program and what it did for me.”
Seattle selected forward Steve Zakuani out of the University of Akron with the first overall pick of the draft and also selected Wake Forest defender Evan Brown (second round) prior to taking Karkas with the third-round pick.
“I feel like we strengthened our team,” said Sounders FC General Manager Adrian Hanauer. “In terms of characteristics of speed, a good engine, players that attack – we feel we did extremely well. We tried to pick the best players we thought were out there on the board, and we got players we were interested in. It was a good day for Seattle Sounders FC.”
Karkas played in 3 straight NAIA title games for Azusa Pacific, including the 2006 championship, when he didn’t miss a start in the Cougars’ 4-game run to the title game despite suffering a broken nose earlier in the tournament. He started the final 56 games of his career, and he shares the program’s single-game assists record with 3 in 2007’s season-opening 6-0 win over Northwestern (Iowa). Karkas was also the only Azusa Pacific player to start all 22 contests during the Cougars’ 2007 NAIA title run, and he notched a team-high 11 assists during his junior season to help secure the first national championship in program history.