The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Trio of Cavaliers selected in 2024 MLS SuperDraft

O’Connor, Gyamfi and Afonso headline a historic draft class for the Cavaliers

<p>Afonso has been a stalwart of Coach George Gelnovatch’s team since his arrival in 2020, appearing in 59 games and racking up 52 points during his four seasons with the program.</p>

Afonso has been a stalwart of Coach George Gelnovatch’s team since his arrival in 2020, appearing in 59 games and racking up 52 points during his four seasons with the program.

Just over three weeks since the conclusion of Virginia men’s soccer’s 2023 season, three Cavaliers players were selected in the 2024 Major League Soccer SuperDraft Tuesday night. Senior defender Aidan O’Connor, freshman forward Stephen Annor Gyamfi and senior forward Leo Afonso all heard their names called, marking the fourth time in program history that three Virginia players were picked in the MLS SuperDraft since it was inaugurated in 2000.

O’Connor was selected 12th overall by the New York Red Bulls, becoming just the fourth defender in Virginia program history to be picked in the first round. New York traded up from the 14th pick in the draft to get their hands on O’Connor, suggesting they view the defender as an important piece down the line. 

Only four MLS teams conceded fewer goals than the Red Bulls last season, meaning O’Connor may have trouble finding significant minutes right away in a defensively sound team. Regardless, his combination of size, athleticism, defensive ability and passing range make him a tantalizing backline prospect for the future.

O’Connor started 27 games for the Cavaliers across two seasons, tallying four points and keeping 11 clean sheets for a Virginia defensive unit that looked its strongest when he was at the forefront. The Cavaliers managed only three shutouts in the 11 games O’Connor did not start during his time with the program.

O’Connor’s selection means the Cavaliers have now had a defender drafted in each of the past two years, as former Virginia player Andreas Ueland was selected by the New England Revolution in the third round of the SuperDraft in 2023.

14 picks after O’Connor went off the board, the Houston Dynamo selected Gyamfi 26th overall in the first round. Gyamfi’s selection is a rarity, as freshmen typically are not eligible for the MLS SuperDraft. However, Gyamfi made headlines Tuesday morning after signing a contract with Generation adidas, a program that allows collegiate underclassmen to be made available in the SuperDraft. Gyamfi was one of only two players in the country to receive the honor, highlighting just how prolific Virginia’s star forward proved to be in 2023.

Due to the setup of Generation adidas, Gyamfi will not be on a senior player contract during his initial years with Houston, but he will be eligible to play in games. As the forward develops, it is expected that he will eventually graduate to a senior player contract and begin to make more appearances for the first team. 

Gyamfi scored 10 goals in his lone season for the Cavaliers, earning ACC Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-ACC honors for his efforts. The freshman looks like he is just getting started, so Virginia fans can expect the goals to keep coming as he continues to develop in Houston.

Gyamfi and O’Connor became just the fourth pair of Cavaliers to be selected in the first round, and the first since former players Bret Halsey and Irakoze Donasiyano in 2021.

But Virginia was not yet done for the night after Gyamfi’s selection. As the first round gave way to the second, Inter Miami drafted Afonso with the 32nd overall pick. Afonso has been a stalwart of Coach George Gelnovatch’s team since his arrival in 2020, appearing in 59 games and racking up 52 points during his four seasons with the program. The forward led the Cavaliers in points in consecutive seasons in 2021 and 2022, and may have done it a third time in 2023 if not for injury. 

Afonso’s unrelenting effort and knack for a clutch goal will be sorely missed inside Klöckner Stadium next season, but those are the exact qualities that will help catapult the forward to success in Miami. Virginia’s three-time captain endured four years of Atlantic Coast Conference soccer and went toe-to-toe with the best of them each time. Major League Soccer will undoubtedly be a steeper challenge for Afonso, but there is not a better conference than the ACC to prepare players for the next level.

For all Virginia lost Tuesday night, it was an overwhelmingly proud day for the program. The Cavaliers had only seen one player drafted in the past two seasons, but Coach George Gelnovatch and Virginia showed yet again they can produce top-level talent. 

Most importantly, the night marked the start of professional careers for three of the Cavaliers’ own. O’Connor, Gyamfi and Afonso are leaving Charlottesville, but there is little doubt they will continue to make Virginia fans proud in the coming years.


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.