Former Maryland soccer star Ben Bender selected No. 1 overall by Charlotte FC in MLS SuperDraft

By Glenn Graham

BALTIMORE — After a standout soccer career at Baltimore's Calvert Hall High School and Maryland, Ben Bender is going pro.

Bender, who was named an All-American and Big Ten Midfielder of the Year as a sophomore this past season for the Terps, was the No. 1 overall pick Tuesday by expansion Charlotte FC in the 2022 Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

Bender, a four-year starter at Calvert Hall, is the third Terp and the first Baltimore-area player to be selected No. 1 overall in the 23 years of the MLS SuperDraft.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bender said surrounded by his friends and family at his Baltimore home during the live broadcast of the draft. “I just can’t wait to get started. I know that the football down there is a good brand, and I just want to be a part of that.”

With seven goals and five assists in his sophomore season, Bender broke through as a major star in helping the Terps finish 12-4-2 and reach their 21st straight NCAA tournament. With his smart positioning and vision, Bender scored and distributed the ball with flair while maintaining discipline defensively.

“I’ve practiced trying to be effective in all levels of the game whether that’s defensively or getting in the attack,” said Bender, who signed a Generation Adidas contract Thursday to become eligible for the draft. “I love making late runs from the midfield to help the guys up front finish plays off and I also like to put the work in on defense. That’s something I learned at Maryland, to hate to not have the ball, so I want to win the ball back as fast as I can.”

Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said Bender fell in line with all his other Baltimore-area players he’s had in the past, bringing grit and passion to the program.

“Ben is just a special soccer talent. He’s a soccer junkie, a great box to box midfielder,” Cirovski said. “He just has an incredible appetite and love for the game and I constantly had to kick him off the field after practice and kind of slow him done from overplaying. But Ben is a special talent. I think he became the best midfielder in the Big Ten and clearly one of the top players in all of college soccer.”

Bender’s Maryland teammate and fellow Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association standout Brett St. Martin, a Mount Saint Joseph graduate, also is expected to be drafted Tuesday.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Bender said. “I’ve had the benefit to play with so many good players over the years and be coached by so many great coaches and to get to this point now it’s just been a blessing. The last two years at Maryland have been great. The coaching staff there — Sasho, Miles [Vaughn] and Jake [Pace] — they’ve been awesome and they’ve really helped me get to the next level and they’ve given me so many good opportunities to play my game on the field. I just couldn’t be more thankful.”

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