It’s a rare occurrence in Major League Soccer when a player from the MLS SuperDraft earns a starting position at any club, let alone in their first year.
Once a vital piece of roster composition, the SuperDraft has taken a back seat as more and more clubs have established academies, allowing teams to sign players earlier without losing them to the draft. Therefore, the pool of players available for selection has become depleted, and as a result league-level contributors are often selected in the first round.
In the past five years only 14 percent of players chosen after the first round have signed professional contracts with the clubs that selected them. And, of the 61 players selected after the first round in the 2022 SuperDraft only three have made a single Major League Soccer appearance, one of them being Real Salt Lake midfielder Jasper Löffelsend.
In May of this year MLSsoccer.com identified the top selections from the 2022 MLS SuperDraft who could emerge as top contributors for their clubs. The list included nine first round picks, one second round pick and Löffelsend, the lone third round pick. Of the 11 players listed, only two players have played more games than Löffelsend, Ben Bender, the first-overall pick and Thor Ulfarrson, the fourth-overall pick.
Growing up in one of Europe’s greatest soccer countries, Löffelsend never played with the popular German academies, instead, he honed his craft in smaller regional clubs, ultimately electing to move overseas to peruse the American collegiate route.
While at the University of Pittsburgh he recorded two goals and 18 assists in just two seasons. Despite having only played two seasons in the NCAA, he was named the two-time ACC Defender of the Year.
Prior to the draft Löffelsend had a frank and honest conversation with his college coaches about his prospects and the realities of getting selected in the later rounds.
"I knew from my coach that it's not a guaranteed contract or anything, and when we checked the numbers from last year it was like 10-15 people who actually got a contract with the first team,” Löffelsend said. “For me it was about getting a chance to work hard day to day and maybe get a chance and work my way up. I wouldn't say my expectations were low, I was still willing to put in 100%, but the outcome, for me, I was okay if they would've said, 'we're not going to take you,' because that's just how it was the years before."
Ultimately, Real Salt Lake selected Löffelsend 81st overall in the third round of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
Upon his arrival it seemed as if the advice he received from his college coaches may come to fruition, as he was offered a contract with Real Monarchs in the MLS NEXT Pro just two days after landing in Utah, following the Club’s previous path for college draft picks, a slightly disappointing welcome for Löffelsend.
“I was alright with it after a week or so, though,” Löffelsend explained. “I spoke to my family, friends and coaches and all that. They just said, 'take the chance, work hard for a year, and try to do as best as you can and maybe you get the chance to get called up to the first team. It's never too late for that.’”
Despite spending much of the preseason training day in and day out with the first team, Real Monarchs announced his signing just five days before RSL was set to play its first game of the season.
In a shocking turn of events, riddled with injuries on the morning of the season opener, Real Salt Lake made the decision to terminate his Monarchs contract and re-sign him to a Major League Soccer contract, making him eligible to appear on the bench against Houston Dynamo.
Real Salt Lake Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran explained that while originally Jasper was brought in to have older established players on the Real Monarchs who had gone through college, who played week in week out in meaningful matches, come in and be leaders at the MLS Next Pro level.”
“But Jasper's case when he came into preseason, there was an opportunity in front of him, as there is for all the players who take part in the first team preseason,” Beltran explained. “Because of nothing on our end, but because of everything Jasper committed himself to being and doing every day, he was ultimately successful and earned a place on the first team roster."
While the ink was still drying on his first Major League Soccer contract, Löffelsend found himself preparing to suit up on the bench for the team’s season opener, a highly anticipated match for RSL fans who were hoping to see the team continue its impressive run of form which began during the 2021 MLS Cup Playoff run.
In the final minute against the Dynamo Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni called upon Löffelsend to substitute into the game to help lock down the 0-0 road point, giving him his professional debut less than 12 hours after becoming an official member of the Claret-and-Cobalt.
And despite some unfortunate circumstances opening the door to the opportunity, his shot came as a result of his consistent determination, despite his contractual limitations.
“I worked hard day to day and tried to do my best on the pitch. I was a little lucky because Everton was not allowed to play, he had some visa issues. So, a little bit of timing and luck, but my capabilities on the pitch helped me to get a contract down at the end,” Löffelsend said.
Two weeks after making his professional debut Löffelsend recorded his first assist, providing service for Tate Schmitt to net the game-winning goal in snowy conditions against New England Revolution as a late-game substitute. His assist marked the first offensive statistical contribution of any 2022 SuperDraft pick, for any team, across the entire league, besting the 80 other players picked ahead of him.
Then, just two weeks after that, in what seemed to be becoming a pattern of luck and circumstance, Löffelsend made his first start of his career, filling in as a last-minute decision, a result of a pregame injury and a late scratch to Johan Kappeloff.
Moments before the team was set to walk out onto the pitch, the coaches pulled Löffelsend into their office. Giving him no time to think about it they asked him to step in, slotting into a midfield position he had yet to play, while the entire formation around him switched from what they had been training.
Löffelsend explained that he had perhaps “like five minutes, but maybe it helped me, like I couldn’t be too nervous, didn’t have time to think much about it.”
Unfortunately his first start was soured by a 1-0 loss to one of the Club's greatest rivals, Sporting Kansas City, and an injury during training the week after saw him relegated back to the bench.
But after rehabbing and appearing in a trio of matches as a second-half substitute, Mastroeni made a tactical change heading into the team’s match against Austin FC, electing to pair Löffelsend with Pablo Ruiz in the midfield as part of the starting XI.
After only scoring one goal in the previous five games, across all competitions, the injection of Real Salt Lake’s new midfield duo resulted in the team scoring seven goals in its next three matches in what became three-game unbeaten streak.
Now a regular fixture in the Claret-and-Cobalt starting lineup, Löffelsend reflected on the past several weeks.
“It's surprising for sure to be in this spot right now, my initial goal coming in here was getting the contract at the Club, didn’t matter if it was with the first or second team. Then it was to try to get a game in the MLS by the end of the year or get my name in the stats and maybe earn a first team contract the next year. That was my initial goal. Right now, because everything moves so quickly, you set the goals higher,” Löffelsend said. “With the first couple of games, it was like, alright, I got all my subs in now, what's next? Next was, I wanted to start. Then I got to start against Kansas City. It’s always progressing and I think your mind has to progress with it.”
As for Löffelsend's next goal?
"Hopefully, I get another contract here," Löffelsend' shared. "Honestly, I enjoy it here. I like the team. I hope we can end the season on a good note, getting into the playoffs and going as far as we can.