[THIRTEEN FOR '13] Soccer America continues its series on the top college and youth prospects who should turn pro in 2013 with a look at Coastal Carolina's Ashton Bennett, who could be the first striker taken in the MLS SuperDraft. Bennett is latest in a long line of Jamaicans who have been lured to the United States in pursuit of their dreams of kicking football, as Jamaicans say. Like other MLS stars such as Damani Ralph, Dane Richards and Omar Cummings, Bennett's long road to stardom began in the JC ranks.
Bennett started out at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, the same school where Cummings, now with the Colorado Rapids, had played. After two seasons, Bennett transferred to Coastal Carolina, where he led the nation with 23 goals in 2011, drawing lots of interest from MLS clubs.
Bennett was tempted to leave early, but a promise to his late grandmother weighed heavily on him. He hails from the poor parish of Clarendon and had promised his grandmother he would become the first in his family to get a college degree. He discussed his situation with his family last winter, and they all encouraged him to stay for his senior year and get his education.
"I heard I was predicted to be in the top-10, first-round pick," he told the Myrtle Beach Sun-Times. "But at the same time, I wanted to stick to my word and that’s to get my degree.”
Coastal Carolina coach Shaun Docking encouraged Bennett to return -- for soccer reasons. The 5-foot-9 Bennett would benefit from another year in college and stand out more in the 2013 SuperDraft, which is weaker in terms of attacking players than last year's draft was.
As a marked man for a Top 25 team, Bennett says he had to work much harder than in 2011, and it paid off as he became Coastal Carolina's first two-time first-team All-American. With 36 goals in 40 games, Bennett is considered the top striker in this year's senior class.
Wednesday's trade by Toronto FC with Portland means it has the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in next month's draft. The deal that sent forward Ryan Johnson -- another Jamaican international -- to Portland was a signal that Toronto might be prepared to take Bennett, who also benefits from having Canadian residency.
Bennett, who is on track to graduate from Coastal Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in sports and recreation management, works with community programs around the school to help underprivileged kids.
The 2012 Senior Class Winner's goal: use soccer to help kids as it helped him.
THIRTEEN FOR '13:
1. Wil Trapp (University of Akron)