New York City FC lands speedy striker Khiry Shelton

By Mike Woitalla
(@MikeWoitalla)

In fifth grade, Khiry Shelton wrote a letter to his parents, Mike and Jennifer.

“He thanked us for all we’re doing for him and promised that he’d take care of us when he becomes a professional soccer player,” said Mike, before chuckling along with Jennifer (“We’re doing fine”) at the notion that they need taking care of.

On Thursday, the MLS SuperDraft started as predicted with Orlando picking Canadian international Cyle Larin. Shelton’s name was called when New York City FC made him the second pick -- the club’s first ever draftee.

“It was always more ‘when’ he would become a ‘pro,’ not ‘if,’” said Mike, whose U.S. Army service had taken the family to Germany, where Khiry first became enchanted with soccer.

“My mom played high school soccer [in New Mexico],” said Khiry. “She started kicking the ball with me when I was 3.”

They signed him up for recreational soccer at age 4 on the Army base but were soon told by the coach that he should join a team in the local German community. He played German soccer for three years before they returned home.

Shelton continued playing and following soccer in Colorado. The players he admired: Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

When he wasn’t with his team, he practiced on his own.

“I’d go in the street and kick the ball against the curb, and control it when it bounced back high,” he said.

At 14, the family moved to south Texas, where Mike works for the U.S. Postal Service and Jennifer as a H.R. professional for selective cooperatives. Khiry hooked up with Lonestar SC’s U.S. Development Academy, thrived under coaches Sean Bubb, Bruce Talbot and Bobby Murphy, and was spotted by Oregon State coach Steve Simmons during his junior year of high school.

"He hadn’t really filled out physically, but he was on his way.” said Simmons. "There was stuff there I just can’t coach. He’s the only player I ever coached who’s slow-twitch and fast-twitch. He can run at high speed for a long time. His soccer sense is fantastic. Technique is excellent.”

Now 6-foot-3, 185-pound, Shelton struggled with injuries, which Simmons attributes to his late growth spurts, during his first three season with the Beavers, limiting him to 31 games.

“I give him credit for sticking with it,” Simmons said. “He worked like a dog this offseason and this year he took over. I think he was the only NCAA Division 1 double-double player [10 goals, 12 assists]. He put the program on his back.”

The 21-year-old Shelton, Player of the Year in the powerful Pac-12, had the fastest time in the 30-meter dash (3.81 seconds) at the combine. He follows fellow Oregon State products Ryan Johnson, Robbie Findley and Danny Mwanga -- all also forwards -- into MLS.

“What the guys who moved on to MLS tell me is the big challenge is adjusting to the higher speed of play and from a three-month season to the marathon 10-month season," said Simmons. “For as good as he is, Khiry is incredibly humble, which is why I believe he’s going to make it.”

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