Five Zips Prepare to Begin MLS Careers

2018 MLS SuperDraft number one pick, Joao Moutinho, heads class of five Akron soccer players heading to the MLS.


Akron Zips Defender #2 Joao Moutinho was the first-overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft by Los Angeles FC. (Photo courtesy of Akron Athletics)

By A.J. Fagerlin, Sports Contributor

After yet another appearance in the final four of the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship Tournament, Akron soccer continued to display its impressiveness as five Zips players have either been drafted or signed to play in Major League Soccer.

For just the second time in the history of the program, a Zip was selected as the top overall pick of the MLS SuperDraft. Akron defender Joao Moutinho received the nod from Los Angeles F.C. as the very first selection in this year’s draft. The Portugal native started all 24 games in his only season as a Zip on his way to being named MAC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-MAC, and a First Team United Soccer Coaches All-America honoree.

“It’s a roller coaster of emotions, to be honest,” Moutinho said. “It’s something I never thought about when I came here. To be the first pick in a great group of players is an honor for me.”

Moutinho was followed in the SuperDraft by fellow defender Niko De Vera, who was selected 31st overall by the New York Red Bulls. The senior started every game in which he appeared in his final season as a Zip, and earned the first All-MAC honors of his career with a Second Team selection. He was also a Second Team All-Ohio honoree. Moutinho and De Vera helped anchor an Akron defense that posted 11 shutouts during the 2017 season. 

“Niko is a very exciting player and we are extremely proud of him,” Akron head coach Jared Embick said. “He has really worked hard to get to this point and the Red Bulls are getting a terrific player.”

The final two Zips that were drafted as part of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft were selected in the third round. Defender Nate Schultz was the second selection of the round (48th overall) by the LA Galaxy and Forward Stuart Holthusen was tabbed 64th overall by the Portland Timbers. Schultz, a senior and Ohio native, started 60 of 83 matches in his career. Schultz helped lead the Zips defense to 41 total shutouts across his four seasons and was a first-time All-MAC honoree this season with a Second Team selection.

“Nate had a tremendous career with the Zips and is a fullback that can attack and defend at a very high level,” Embick said. “He is very intelligent and has the intangibles to go with the talent to make it as a professional. I’m really proud of how hard he has worked to get to this point.”

Holthusen, a four-time All-MAC selection, led the Zips goals (12), points (27), shots (52) and game-winners (5). Starting 52 of his 78 career games as a Zip, Holthusen recorded 31 goals and contributed 14 assists throughout his four seasons.

“It is a fantastic feeling to be drafted by Portland,” Holthusen said. “Even though I realize it is only the beginning for me and nothing is certain, it feels like four years of hard work at a program like Akron gives you these opportunities. It’s great that Portland has put some faith in my abilities and I’m looking forward to a new challenge.”

The four Zips selected in the SuperDraft is the most in program history since 2014, but the buck doesn’t stop there. In the days following the draft, Defender/Midfielder Nick Hinds agreed to a contract to play for the Seattle Sounders. After a Second Team All-MAC selection as a freshman in 2016, Hinds made the jump to First Team this season with the Zips. Hinds was third on the team with 6 goals and 16 points on the 2017 campaign.

The Akron Zips men’s soccer program is no stranger to producing professional players. 36 Zips have gone on to play professionally in the MLS, USL, or overseas since 2016. Moutinho was the first Akron player selected first overall since 2009. Despite losing so many great players to the MLS, the Zips will look to continue their championship level of play next season. The Zips recently announced the addition of three new players to the squad for 2018 and will return prominent players such as Sam Gainford who scored 10 goals (including five game-winners) in just 18 games.