Until it mined them this time around, the MLS SuperDraft had turned up Minnesotans only in dribs and drabs, with Prior Lake's Teal Bunbury in 2010, Bloomington's Jackson Yueill in 2017 and Maple Grove's Luke Haakenson in 2020 among the relative few.

MLS teams selected four Minnesotans in December's draft, including two first-rounders.

Former Minnesota Mr. Soccer and Blaine's own Herbert Endeley went 24th to FC Dallas and North Oaks' Xavier Zengue 27th to the Columbus Crew.

Hometown Minnesota United chose St. Louis Park's Emmanuel Iwe from its MNUFC2 reserve team in the second round with the 48th overall pick.

Nashville took Minneapolis' Rory O'Driscoll in the third and final round, 78th overall.

All four come from a state that lacked a Division I men's college team until St. Thomas made the leap from Division III in 2021. Now they're training with MLS teams, preparing for a season a month out.

Is it an aberration or a trend?

"I don't think it's a one-year aberration at all," O'Driscoll said. "It has been a long time coming for Minnesota soccer, to be honest. We always had talent, and I always felt that so much of the talent back home goes unnoticed. It was pretty special for other people to recognize that and for me to be part of it."

All four played or trained with or against each other among club teams growing up. Endeley, Zengue and O'Driscoll flew together on a trip to Orlando to attend MLS' rookie symposium, intended to prepare its newest players for life on and off the field.

"It was just crazy, all three of us there together," said Zengue, who played at Dayton in college. "We were all really excited. Getting drafted is huge, but it's just the start of the next step. We all have to prove ourselves."

Where they're found

All four left Minnesota to play Division I soccer because there was no opportunity to do so at home. The University of Minnesota doesn't have a men's soccer program.

"I remember growing up thinking if the University of Minnesota had a Division I men's soccer team, I would have been all over it, right?" said Driscoll, who played four years at New Hampshire. "That's always hindered Minnesota soccer. It's tough when you're going way out of state and going to a completely new environment."

Amos Magee, Loons vice president of player development, predicted St. Thomas' Division I status will be a "massive help for everybody" in finding and developing Minnesota talent because Tommies coach Jon Lowery's recruiting and developing of players will bring more coaches and more scouts to the state.

Magee also said the Loons' MLS presence in the Twin Cities since 2017 and its re-created academy have contributed already.

"It has had an impact," Magee said. "Like every state, soccer keeps growing. There are good soccer players everywhere. We just have to do a better job uncovering them and developing them.

"They don't always come from the traditional youth club market. If we don't look at some of the immigrant communities, some of the inner-city soccer clubs, you're always going to miss out on good players."

The Loons found Iwe — who was developed by St. Paul's Joy of the People soccer program, attended St. Louis Park High and played at Division II St. Cloud State — in an open tryout for their MNUFC2 team. Iwe played for that Loons' reserve team last season, and the club used a second-round draft pick to obtain his MLS draft rights because he already had played a college season. Iwe is recovering from foot surgery.

"We like him a lot," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "He has the tools you can't give people. He has that natural pace that tries defenders."

Zengue, Endeley and O'Driscoll all have played or trained for Minneapolis City SC, a USL League Two club attempting to bridge the gap between MLS and such club teams as Minnesota Thunder Academy, Minneapolis United, St. Croix and Blackhawks, among others.

"I'm a believer more soccer is better for everyone," said Dan Hoedeman, president of a Minneapolis advertising agency and co-founder of Minneapolis City SC in 2016. "More games, more coaches, more players. We have enough players who are here in Minnesota or who are late developers."

Draft day

A highly recruited forward who also was the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year, Endeley chose mighty Indiana, where he won two Big Ten titles and reached the NCAA final twice. He did so by way of his Blaine home and Totino-Grace High School.

"I knew I was going to get drafted first round, I just didn't know what team it was going to be," Endeley said.

Minnesota United had the 19th overall pick but drafted defender Ryen Jiba from USL Championship's Union Omaha instead. Endeley grew up five minutes from the Loons' National Sports Center training facility.

"That wouldn't have been bad to stay home, but I'm also excited to be in Texas because of the warm weather," he said. "I've been in the cold my entire life. Getting to someplace warmer isn't anything to complain about."

The league's MLSSoccer.com website projected the Loons would take Zengue 19th overall.

"That was a really good sign," Zengue said. "It was the only reason I ended up watching the draft."

He had to wait seven more picks to see his name called in a long first round. His mother and stepfather had already left for dinner reservations.

Zengue didn't know his live stream was 30 seconds delayed.

"I got a call from someone saying congratulations before I ever found out," he said.

O'Driscoll, whose senior season in college was interrupted by injury, wasn't sure his name would be called at all.

Thinking the second round would take as long as the first round, O'Driscoll and his brother went to get something to eat in between. It didn't.

"I mistimed a Chipotle run," O'Driscoll said. "I was refreshing and refreshing my screen. My brother saw it first and just screamed my name. We all freaked out. It was a really special moment. I celebrated with a burrito."

Those three players started their careers with that moment and that orientation trip to Orlando together.

Did they look around and wonder what they were doing there?

"I think we're all exactly where we're supposed to be," O'Driscoll said. "I think all three of us can confidently say we've worked hard enough to be here. We've all prepared ourselves to feel like this is where we belong."