By Ryan Makuch/NPSL.com
The MLS SuperDraft is unique in American professional sports in that in many instances, even top selected players deal with difficulties in trying to establish themselves in preseason camp for the team that selected them. Avionne Flanagan is one of just four players (out of 56 selections) in the 2021 iteration of the draft that were selected in the second round or later that would ultimately earn a spot on the MLS roster of the team that drafted them.
“It was honestly a blessing, man, a dream come true,” said Flanagan about the opportunity to play with FC Cincinnati out of training camp. Flanagan noted how since he was a young player, this has been his goal. Even dropping some sports to focus on soccer as a youngster, this has been his lifelong passion. And now, it is paying off.
At just 22 years old, Flanagan is coming off of a successful career with the South Florida Bulls. A three-year starter, Flanagan earned First Team All-Conference honors as a junior in 2019, and established himself as a solid defensive left back with the ability to get forward, as evidenced by his six assists in his junior season.
Being based in Tampa for collegiate ball meant that Flanagan was almost 1,000 miles away from home for the vast majority of the year. So when it came time to think about summer ball, the Baltimore native wanted to head back home for the summer term. Enter FC Baltimore Christos.
“When they were established, the head coach was one of my old club coaches,” said Flanagan. “I was in communications with Brandon Quaranta [then head coach of FCB Christos] and I knew a lot of players I used to play with in the club days were coming back.”
The comfort level of knowing plenty of old faces was very appealing for Flanagan.
“I knew this was a perfect situation for me with a team back home where I can stay in shape and continue getting touches in, and it doesn’t hurt to be playing with some of my old teammates and lifelong friends,” Flanagan said.
The hometown team experience helped bring about plenty of memories for Flanagan of playing with these old faces as a summer interlude from the collegiate season’s demands. FC Baltimore Christos remains just as proud of him now as they did when he was representing them on the pitch.
“We are proud of the progress Avionne has made in his career,” FC Baltimore Christos Associate GM Joe Shargorodsky said. “Being signed to the first team at FC Cincinnati is a dream come true — and completely deserved. FCB Christos is honored to have been part of Avionne’s journey to the MLS.”
Flanagan noted that the NPSL was another vitally important step in the developmental process en route to his current MLS landing spot. Citing the change of scenery, the different teammates from the collegiate season, and the new league and new opponents, Flanagan would highlight how his work with FCB Christos helped ready him for the next step of his career.
Entering preseason, Flanagan, FC Cincinnati’s second round pick, was a trialist.
“Going into preseason, you can’t really grasp what it’s going to be like,” said Flanagan, who noted how he went in ready for anything to be thrown at him. Not everything was immediately easy, as Flanagan noted that the speed of play was something that needed adjusting to, but overall, he enjoyed the process and enjoyed going to Florida, his old stomping grounds
“It was a good time with a good group of guys,” Flanagan said of the experience.
That hard work paid off for Flanagan and, on April 7th, FC Cincinnati announced that Flanagan had earned himself a contract and would be making the full team out of preseason. Signed primarily to serve as a backup left back for the time being, the club also sees potential in him as a potential left wing option in attack. Flanagan’s versatility makes him a really exciting piece to the puzzle for the MLS team that is still young in their existence.
As for expectations for the season, Flanagan is worrying about what he can control. Noting that he desires to go into every day of training with intent to show his skills, his focus is on his training and improving while showing his coaches and teammates that he is in Cincinnati to work hard and improve his game.
Flanagan’s mindset and ability make him a model professional, and still just 22 years of age, the future is bright and exciting for him.
Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati and Christopher Fincham