Xavier defender Nick Hagglund found something quite unique over the holidays at his family’s home. It was a poster he created in the first grade, one that described what he wanted to do when he grew up. On that list was to play in MLS.
Hagglund is now just days away from making that dream a reality. The athletic center back not only got an invite to the MLS Combine, but he is also likely to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft as a player with tremendous untapped potential.
“To me Nick might not be the best available center back, but without question is the most intriguing prospect with perhaps the best upside in the draft,” Xavier head coach Andy Fleming stated. “He came here as an athletic playmaker and left as an athletic soccer player. His ability to connect the first pass, read the game, and organize have grown leaps and still have room for more growth. His frame, pace and ability to time and win head balls is unlike anything I’ve seen at the college level.”
The Cincinnati native is part of a new breed of defenders that can shut down the opposing attack and start one of their own, connecting with midfielders and forwards. This attacking mentality is valuable as many MLS teams look for an edge or in this case, a European playing style along the lines of a FC Barcelona.
His whole career began in the Cincinnati United Premier system, where he starred as an attacking center midfielder. This program is known for producing talent, talent that moves on to success in college and beyond.
“We are excited that Nick will be at the MLS Combine and has a good potential to be drafted into MLS,” Cincinnati United Soccer Club Executive Director Scott Rodgers added. “This would be our third straight year with a player drafted. Nick had a great youth career at our club and a successful collegiate career at Xavier. We are very proud to call him a CUP alum and wish him the best of luck.”
A successful youth career gave him some options when it came to the collegiate game. Hagglund chose Xavier when it was still a small and struggling program, one that was in desperate need of change. That change came in the form of Fleming and a talented freshman class, a group that included Hagglund.
The new head coach allowed these talented underclassmen to set the tone, creating a new culture of excellence.
Hagglund’s first season as a Musketeer was one of adjustment as he was asked to be literally everywhere as injuries depleted the Xavier squad. He played as a forward, midfielder, and eventually settled in as a defender on the backline.
He was a solid addition to Xavier’s back four and continued there for the next three seasons, excelling at center back and eventually earning a laundry list of honors that included BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year. His exceptional play leaves Xavier’s program in a better place than when he arrived. Hagglund credits the “brotherhood of accountability,” a team-first mentality that allows success without superstars.
“I’m always willing to sacrifice for my teammates on and off the field,” Hagglund remarked. “It not about me. It’s about the team.”
His great attitude and personality would make him an asset for any MLS team. And he already has two seasons with the Columbus Crew Super-20 squad on his résumé.
The fact that he learned so much about the position in so little time is certainly intriguing. Hagglund admits he has a lot to learn as a center back, but he is ready and willing to learn from veteran players and teammates.
But he has some work to do to make all of this happen. A strong performance at the MLS Combine this weekend will push him up the draft charts, giving him a real chance to make an MLS squad.
One thing is for certain. The first-grade version of Nick Hagglund would be proud of the man he has become. And how close his dreams are to reality.
“This has been a dream I have been chasing,” Hagglund concluded. “I just never thought it would happen. ”
Let’s hope for a happy ending for the young defender from the great city of Cincinnati. It seems only right for him to realize his dream as he is doing it for the right reason: for his love of the game.