After using the No. 1 overall 2018 MLS SuperDraft selection on Akron defender Joao Moutinho, Los Angeles FC shocked those in attendance in Philadelphia, PA by trading up to take Burlingame Dragons alum and Pacific defender Tristan Blackmon with the No. 3 overall selection.
With D.C. United holding the pick, LAFC sent $100,000 in targeted allocation money and $100,000 in general allocation money their way in order to move up and take their second defender in the first three selections. As a result, Blackmon became the first of 66 PDL alums to be taken in the 2018 SuperDraft. The meaning of LAFC’s move up to grab him wasn’t lost on Blackmon.
“It gives you a good feeling to know the staff believe in you,” Blackmon told USLPDL.com. “To hear my name called, I knew what kind of opportunity it was to be here and I’m very thankful that they did that for me. From the first day I’m here to my last day, I’m going to work as hard as I can for them.”
Blackmon wasted no time in beginning that work, as he found himself in Los Angeles getting ready for his first professional preseason. Meeting new teammates, also brand new to Los Angeles as they gathered for the club’s inaugural season, Blackmon began the process of preparing for his rookie campaign. So far, it’s been a like a dream.
“It’s amazing, the guys here are world class,” Blackmon said. “Being with them in training and learning from them, getting feedback and stuff, it’s great. They’ve been playing so long, it’s a great experience and opportunity for me as a player to learn from them.”
“The past four days we’ve already started to develop a picture of what the team is going to look like, our style of play and building relationships with everybody beginning to come together.”
Working alongside players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, Blackmon will try to supplement LAFC’s dangerous-looking attack with solid defense alongside his fellow rookie partner. Preparing him for the duty is a legendary American coach in former U.S. Men’s National Team manager Bob Bradley. While they didn’t get much time to talk at the draft, Bradley has become a valuable resource for Blackmon’s development.
“He told me to be ready to go. It wasn’t a huge in-depth conversation, but he said he was excited to have us and he looked forward to seeing us in LA,” Blackmon said. “He talked to us more once we got here about what we’d be doing with respect to training and things like that. He continued to build that relationship with us this first week and hopefully that continues to grow as we go further into the season. I go to him for advice, little details and things like that and so far it’s been really good.”
Blackmon has done a lot of learning in his pre-professional career. A four-year starter with Pacific, Blackmon has plenty of experience at the amateur level, quickly becoming a leader for the Tigers and battling through the team’s early struggles to make the NCAA Tournament later in his collegiate career.
“It was hard at Pacific, just because it was smaller,” said Blackmon. “The first few years were especially difficult just because we didn’t win very much and so weren’t getting noticed by a lot of pro teams. But investing in that process and focusing on the details helped tremendously. I can’t thank my coaching staff enough for developing me into the player I am and luckily I got the opportunity to get into the NCAA Tournament and get seen by a few coaches. I really can’t thank them enough.”
During his collegiate career, Blackmon also spent time with the PDL’s Burlingame Dragons, which he says contributed positively to his development. Citing his work with head coach Joe Cannon and the quality of the league as a whole, Blackmon believes the exposure he received was crucial to his ending up in Los Angeles.
“The Burlingame Dragons presented me with a fantastic opportunity to go out and play with the great players we had,” Blackmon said. “Joe Cannon, the head coach, brought MLS exposure having had a great career with the San Jose Earthquakes. So being a part of that team was great, especially because summer teams aren’t necessarily as good as college teams, but we had a really good backbone of our team with strong, technical players. So overall, it was a great summer with Burlingame.”
At the end of a whirlwind process far more abrupt than his prolific four years in college, Blackmon wound up impressing at the MLS Player Combine and raising his stock to a top five selection. Now, he’s prepared for his next challenge, beginning his career as a professional player.
“I’m looking forward to just being with the team, growing with them and developing relationships,” Blackmon said. “I’m excited to be a part of the beginning of this team and whatever they need me to do, I’ll be there for them. I’m excited to grow as a player and I’m excited to see what we can do as a team this season.”