When it came time for college, acclaimed prep prospect Chase Gasper, like many before him, traveled as far from home as possible. He left his family in suburban Washington, D.C., for Los Angeles and UCLA in 2014.
Three years later, after his father was stricken by a painful nerve condition, Gasper returned as near to home as possible. He transferred to play his two final seasons at Maryland, just a 40-minute drive away.
Now, after playing in an NCAA championship game on both coasts and winning a national title last fall, Gasper finds himself happily in the middle after Minnesota United acquired a second first-round pick on MLS SuperDraft day and selected him 15th overall.
United coach Adrian Heath calls him a “grown man” and probably the most MLS-ready left back available in the draft.
That description might owe to his age — he turns 23 on Friday — after a medical redshirt season at UCLA. It might be his experience playing for two NCAA power programs and two U.S. under-18 teams.
Or maybe it’s from lives turned upside down after his father, Courtney, a former Ohio State backup quarterback, was diagnosed with small-fiber neuropathy that endangered his heart. He has improved significantly since his son came home in 2017. Gasper celebrated SuperDraft day with his father and mother, Christine, in Chicago.
“It has meant the world to me,” Gasper said. “My dad was struggling, quite honestly he shouldn’t still be here on Earth with us. To see him on weekends, to see him at my games, cheering me on, I thank God every single day for it. He’s doing a lot better. I’m so happy he was with me [at the draft].”
The Loons reunited Gasper not only with seventh overall pick Dayne St. Clair, his Maryland teammate and roommate, but also Loons prospects Abu Danladi and Carter Manley. Gasper and Danladi played two seasons together at UCLA. Gasper and Manley played in the same youth academy.
“I know all those guys,” Gasper said. “When I heard Minnesota had another pick, I was praying on the inside.”
His prayers delivered him to a state he had never visited. Players reported Monday and began training Monday before they leave Saturday for nearly two weeks in Tucson, Ariz.
United Sporting Director Manny Lagos praised Gasper’s physique, speed with the ball and intellect both defending attackers and working well with his own center backs. Gasper and St. Clair helped anchor a Maryland defense that didn’t allow a goal in five tournament games while winning the 2018 NCAA title.
“He has a lot more maturity than a lot of players coming out of college at that position,” Lagos said.
Gasper impressed Heath with his pre-draft interview, his competitive attitude and what Heath calls a “lovely left foot.” Gasper’s development would give Heath flexibility to play veteran Francisco Calvo inside at a center-back spot.
“Whether he’s going to start, I don’t know,’’ Heath said. “He’s another one we’ll see in the preseason where he is. I know he’s going to try every day to be your starting left back. He never coasts.”
Calvo is with his Costa Rica national team until after a Feb. 2 friendly against the United States. Midfielder Kevin Molino is in Florida rehabilitating a knee surgically repaired early last season and is expected to join the team in Tucson. Defender Brent Kallman is expected to be ready to train after a recent appendicitis.