BALTIMORE — Real Salt Lake had the No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, its highest draft pick since taking UCLA defender Tony Beltran with the No. 3 selection in 2008.
Beltran has been a stalwart on the back line since RSL selected him with such a premium position, featured in 195 matches with 182 starts and notching eight assists in eight seasons in Sandy.
The Salt Lake club hopes this year's pick can have the same longevity.
RSL selected North Carolina midfielder Omar Holness with its first-round pick in the SuperDraft, becoming the second-straight UNC product to go to the club via the draft. As a member of the Generation Adidas Class of 2016, Holness' salary will be subsidized by the league and not count toward RSL's salary cap.
Salt Lake took UNC defender Boyd Okwuonu in the first round of the 2015 SuperDraft last January. Okwounu played in three matches with one start as a rookie for RSL, notching 118 minutes in addition to a substantial load with the third-division affiliate Real Monarchs.
"We're really happy. Any club has a need for young talent and positionally these guys work really well," RSL general manager Craig Waibel said in a statement. "We're really happy with how this worked out. They've been on our board for a long time."
The 6-foot, 174-pound native of Kingston, Jamaica led North Carolina to the third round of the NCAA College Cup tournament, where they fell to fellow ACC side Clemson. The 21-year-old midfielder tallied one goal and one assist on 12 shots on goal in 17 games played, including 16 starts.
"It's an absolutely amazing feeling," Holness told RealSaltLake.com. "Coming into the SuperDraft, I didn't know where I was going to go and I enjoyed meeting with the coaches. It's amazing to know I am going to RSL."
A first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as a sophomore in 2014, Holness started all 22 matches for the Tar Heels and scored two goals with five assists. The traditional box-to-box midfielder was the captain of Jamaica's U-17 World Cup team while prepping at Wolmer's Boys School.
"Physically, he's a bit of a beast already. With his youth and size and structure, we think he fits into the physicality of MLS," Waibel said of Holness. "We'll be working really heavily with him in the preseason to jumpstart his understanding of the program."
Holness joins a growing list of "Reggae Boyz" at RSL, including assistant coach Tyrone Marshall, head scout Andy Williams and defender Demar Phillips — something Holness knows about his new club.
"I can't wait to follow my boy Demar. With coach Williams and coach Marshall, I grew up watching them play for Jamaica," Holness added. "I'm just so excited to play at RSL."
RSL added to its draft haul with the fifth pick in the second round, taking Notre Dame defender Max Lachowecki with the 25th overall pick.
The four-year starter was a captain of the 2015 squad as a graduate student, earning NSCAA All-South region honors before earning an MLS Combine invitation.
"He's a good player and he loves the ball at his feet. He's got a good attacking brain and he's technical," Waibel said of Lachowecki. "I think the biggest thing for us, we're going to transition him into defending at the professional level. That's a transition for everyone, but the quicker we can work with him on some of the things that we think he's a little bit weaker at, they're only going to complement the strengths he already has, so we're really excited about Max."
A 23-year-old native of Evansville, Indiana, Lachowecki scored a career-high three goals and five assists to lead all Notre Dame defenders in scoring in 2015. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound defender also anchored a side that collected 10 shutouts, finishing his career with the Irish with eight goals and nine assists in 25 starts.
Chicago selected Wake Forest midfielder Jack Harrison with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, then traded him to New York City FC. Considered the top attacking player in the draft, Harrison did not play in the MLS Combine — leading many to believe Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro would be the top selection before the trade.
The Philadelphia Union traded with the Colorado Rapids for the No. 2 pick, which they used to take Yaro. They then took Yaro's Georgetown teammate in right back Keegan Rosenberry with their natural pick at No. 3.
New York City FC then traded the No. 4 overall pick to Chicago, and the Fire selected Stanford defender Brandon Vincent, who was recently called into camp with the U.S. men's national team.