Josh Heard knows being drafted is only the beginning of the pro journey, not the end destination in itself.
Yet, it was still the fulfilment of a life-long aspiration when the midfielder from Victoria was selected in the Major League Soccer Super Draft on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Heard was taken 71st overall in the fourth round by the home-province Vancouver Whitecaps. The Islander was one of only three Canadians selected in the 2016 MLS draft.
“I am super excited about being drafted. This is a great opportunity to take my game to the next level,” said Heard.
“As a young kid, I’ve always aspired to become a pro, and it feels really good to actually see this dream become a reality.”
Heard was selected despite missing the MLS scouting combine earlier this month due to an injury.
“It was just a minor patch up of a hernia,” he explained.
“I was cleared by the doctor [Monday] to start fully training again, so I’m excited to get back at it.”
The product of the Reynolds Secondary soccer academy and Victoria Highlanders youth program started in 50 of his 74 career games during four years in the NCAA Pac-12 with the University of Washington Huskies, scoring 13 goals and setting up eight goals. His best season with the Huskies was as a junior, when he recorded seven goals.
The five-foot-nine, 165-pound native of Cardiff, Wales, had three goals and one set-up in 18 games over two seasons with the Highlanders of the USL Premier Development League.
“My path to where I am now has been incredible and I have so many people back home in Victoria to be grateful for,” said Heard.
“The coaches in both the Reynolds Secondary CSE program and Victoria Highlanders had a huge impact on who I am today. And, of course, I am incredibly grateful for my family and friends who have supported me the whole way. I also have a lot of gratitude for the University of Washington for helping me achieve these goals.”
The one attribute that is crucial across any team sport is speed, and Heard has it.
“Josh Heard is lightning quick,” said Highlanders PDL coach Dave Dew, who was also a coach with the Highlanders youth academy when Heard was in that program.
“Players can be fast over 100 metres. But it’s those players like Josh, who are fast over the first five to 10 steps, like shot from a gun, who really separate themselves.”
Heard’s quickness was even commented on by coaches during a youth trial in England with Scunthorpe.
“Also, Josh is not big but he is tenacious,” added Dew.
“It is that physicality that got him through the Pac-12.”
The Whitecaps also selected fellow UW Huskies midfielder James Moberg, a Californian, 50th overall in the third round. Vancouver closed out by taking midfielder/defender Tyler David from Lakefield, Minnesota, 77th overall in the fourth round out of the University of St. Louis Billikens.
The first day of the draft was last Thursday when the Whitecaps took former United States U-17 centre-back Cole Seiler 16th overall out of the NCAA Georgetown Hoyas in the first round, German striker Christopher Hellmann 29th overall in the second round out of NCAA Lynn University and American striker Thomas Sanner 36th in the second round out of Princeton of the Ivy League.
Seiler, Hellmann and Sanner will report to the Whitecaps’ main camp beginning Friday. Heard, Moberg and David are due to report to the Whitecaps FC 2 camp on Feb. 1.
The two other Canadians taken in the 2016 MLS draft, alongside Heard, were touted-midfielder Richie Laryea of Toronto, who went seventh overall in the first round to Orlando City out of NCAA Akron, and midfielder Ryan James of Mississauga, Ont., who was selected 52nd overall in the third round by Sporting Kansas City out of NCAA Bowling Green.