Welcome back to Dallas Draft History. We’re now 4 installments deep into the inaugural season’s player selections, and today, it’s time to bring it home.
This installment focuses on the last two of the four 1996 drafts: the College Draft and Supplemental Draft.
In this series, I’m taking a look at literally every single player Dallas has ever drafted since 1996. I’ll be going over who each player was, what they did before joining Dallas, and what (if anything) they did after leaving. And for a handful of players, we’ll talk about what they did instead of playing in MLS.
Since today’s piece features the two drafts where picks could be traded, I’ll be adding which pick was used for each round for rounds with more than one player picked.
For the last time for the 1996 season, let’s jump in.
The MLS College Draft, held annually for the league’s first four seasons, was focused on collegiate athletes about to graduate. Any college soccer player in their final semester of school who played NCAA or NAIA soccer was eligible for the draft. Any players who had already graduated were entered into the Supplemental Draft, along with athletes who played in the NJCAA, NCCAA, or Canadian CIS.
These two drafts were merged for 2000, forming a sort of ‘super’ draft made of other drafts, and thus, MLS named it the SuperDraft.
While the draft has generally lost its place to academies as the primary method of bringing in rookie players, in the early years of the league, nearly every player who went on to stardom came through the draft starting from the very beginning.
Round 1 – Pick 3 – Brandon Pollard
- Born: 9 October, 1973, Virginia
- Signed from: Virginia Cavaliers
- Games Played: 106 (1996-2000)
- Goals/Assists: 0/1
- International: United States U20, U23
Brandon Pollard joined Dallas after winning three championships in four years with the University of Virginia, being named Second Team All-American in 1993 and First Team in 1994 and 1995. His stellar collegiate career drew the attention of the USSF, and Pollard was a regular member of both the U20 and U23 national sides.
Despite missing a chunk of the 1996 season while preparing for and playing in the Olympics, Pollard worked his way into the team’s back line during pre-season, and following the conclusion of his international obligations, he spent the bulk of the fall starting for Dallas. He made a name for himself as a reliable and skilled defender who was able to handle much more experienced offenses in MLS.
1997 was a breakout year for Pollard, starting 16 games and coming off the bench in another 5, establishing himself as a regular member of the team’s starting lineup. He was a vital part of Dallas’ run to the 1997 US Open Cup, and played the entirety of the final against DC United.
1998 and 1999 brought on more of the same, as Pollard further locked down his starting position, finishing the 1998 season 3rd in minutes played and 2nd for 1999. Everything was looking set for a long and fruitful career.
That is, until the 1999 playoffs.
It’s time to talk about Dema Kovalenko. Kovalenko was born in Kyiv back when Ukraine was part of the USSR, but emigrated to the United States for high school and college. He was initially allocated to Dallas, but refused to play for the team and was instead traded to Chicago for draft picks.
In the 74th minute of the 2nd leg of the Conference Semifinals in Chicago, Dema Kovalenko went in for a rough, aggressive tackle on Pollard, and shattered his leg. The injury derailed Pollard’s career, and he struggled with the lingering after-effects through the 2000 season before retiring during the preseason in 2001.
Round 1 – Pick 8 – Jeff Cassar
- Born: 2 February, 1974, Michigan
- Signed from: FIU Golden Panthers
- Games Played: 33 (1996, 2003-2006)
- GAA/Save %: 1.78/.707
- Moved to: Miami Fusion (1998)
Jeff Cassar was a solidly reliable goalkeeper for Florida International University and was drafted by Dallas to back up Mark Dodd. For 1996, he did just that, appearing in just 2 games with 1 start, and conceding 3 goals during his 104 minutes.
1997 was set to be more of the same for the young keeper, but Cassar tore his ACL early in 1997 and missed the entire season. Dallas left him unprotected in the 1997 Expansion Draft, and he was selected by the Miami Fusion.
1998 and 1999 brought along more opportunities to start and fight for the team’s #1 spot, and Cassar was holding his own. That is, right up until Nick Rimando joined Miami for the 2000 season. Cassar spent two years backing up Rimando before the Fusion’s contraction at the end of 2001. In the Dispersal Draft, he was selected by Dallas, but elected to try his luck overseas, and signed as a backup goalkeeper with Bolton Wanderers.
After the English season ended, Cassar returned to the United States, joining the Atlanta Silverbacks in the A-League. This helped him re-sign with Dallas in early 2003, and he managed to claim the starting position for the 2004 season. Scott Garlick retook the spot for 2005, and Dario Sala claimed it in 2006, leaving Cassar riding the bench. He retired at the end of the 2006 season and joined the Dallas coaching staff.
He spent just a few months with Dallas before joining Real Salt Lake under former teammate Jason Kreis.
With Kreis and Cassar on staff, RSL won the 2009 MLS Cup, finished 2nd in the Supporter’s Shield in 2010, were Concacaf Champions League runners-up in 2011, and runners-up in both the Open Cup and MLS Cup in 2013.
When Kreis left RSL to join New York City FC in December 2013, Cassar was named his replacement.
RSL regressed somewhat in 2014, but between failing to make the playoffs in 2015, underwhelming results in 2016, and a weak start to the 2017 season, RSL had enough and fired Cassar in March of 2017.
Cassar is the co-owner of Sideways BBQ in Rockwall and still occasionally works with US Soccer as a goalkeeper coach.
Round 3 – Pick 28 – Brandon Cavitt
- Born: 28 March, 1973, California
- Drafted from: Sacramento State University
- Never Signed with Dallas
- Moved to: Sacramento Scorpions, USISL (1996)
Brandon Cavitt had a strong stint with Sacramento State, leading the school in assists by his graduation. During his time at school, he spent his summers with the San Francisco All Blacks in USISL as an amateur player, reaching the playoffs three times.
Dallas selected Cavitt with their final pick of the College Draft, but he was cut during preseason, and elected to return home to northern California. He signed with the USISL’s Sacramento Scorpions for 1996, again reaching the USISL playoffs, and the following year, joined the indoor Sacramento Knights of the CISL.
Cavtt returned to the outdoor game for 1998, playing for the St. Louis Storm in the A-League, and featured in 22 matches without a goal. He returned to the Knights for 1999, and helped them win the 1999 WISL title over the Dallas Sidekicks.
After the Knights folded in 2001, he returned to Dallas and joined the Sidekicks. He played for the team during their final two seasons before folding. Cavitt retired not long thereafter.
The Supplemental Draft was the final roster-building event held by MLS for the 1996 season, and gave teams one last chance to strengthen their rosters before pre-season began.
Round 2 – Pick 14 – Vagner
- Born: ???
- Drafted from: Lousano Paulista, Brazil (reportedly)
- Never Signed with Dallas
- Moved to: ???
And we’re officially in uncharted waters. The identity of Vagner, the first player Dallas selected in the Supplemental Draft, remains unknown to this day other than being a Brazilian defender.
And yet, he’s not the only dude drafted from a Brazilian club in the 1996 Supplemental Draft who remains a mystery. Another player, known only as Tulio, was picked in the next round by the MetroStars. Apparently, it was a lot easier to pass for a famous player in 1996 if you showed up and had some level of talent.
Despite every source only listing him as Vagner from Lousano Paulista, and head coach Dave Dir (thanks Dave!) only remembering a bit of information about him, I might have found him on TransferMarkt. There’s only a single player named Vagner from Brazil known to have played for Paulista, and the timelines match up enough for it to be plausible.
Buzz and Dave Dir aren’t confident it’s him, for what it’s worth, but it’s the closest match I’ve found. What Coach Dir remembers is that he was an outside back from Brazil, he was quite good, and a nice guy, but the team didn’t have an international spot for him.
My candidate for Vagner is Vágner Rogério Nunes, born 19 March, 1973, in Bauru, Brazil. He made his debut for Arapongas before moving to Paulista, then known as Lousano Paulista. After spells with União São João and Santos, he tried out for a spot in MLS but, as described above, there simply weren’t enough international roster spots.
He returned to Brazil before moving to Roma for a brief, unsuccessful spell. From Roma, he returned to Brazil again, playing for Vasco da Gama and São Paulo before getting a second chance at playing in Europe. Vagner signed with Celta in Spain, becoming a frequent feature with their lineup through the 2003/04 season. He then returned to Brazil again, signing with Atletico Mineiro before retiring.
Over the course of his career, he received a single cap for Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup, starting and playing 45 minutes against Cameroon.
If you think you know for sure who Vagner was, please let me know!
Round 2 – Pick 18 – Chad Ashton
- Born: 26 October, 1967, Colorado
- Signed from: Wichita Wings, NPSL (indoor)
- Games Played: 26 (1996)
- Goals/Assists: 2/0
- Moved to: Colorado Foxes, A-League (1997)
Chad Ashton was another one of Dave Dir’s guys, brought to FC Dallas primarily through the reputation he built at the Colorado Foxes.
Ashton played for the North Carolina Tar Heels for four years, putting up impressive numbers, making the Atlantic Coast Conference 2nd team three times, and setting a new record for assists at the school. He joined the Foxes in 1990 and won the 1992 and 1993 championships with the team, taking home MVP honors in the 1993 championship final.
During the winters, Ashton played indoor soccer and put up impressive numbers across seven seasons. He initially was drafted by the Kansas City Comets, moved to the Denver Thunder in 1992, then to Milwaukee the following season, and again to the Wichita Wings, where he would remain through 1998.
Before being drafted by Dallas, Ashton made his debut as head coach, taking the job at the University of Denver for 1995. Despite a respectable performance, he left the job to pursue his MLS dream.
With the Burn, Ashton featured in midfield, coming off the bench quite often, particularly late in games. He made 11 starts among 26 total appearances, scoring his first goal in July in DC, and his second in the Conference Semifinals in Kansas City.
Following the season, Ashton returned to the Wichita Wings for the indoor season and played the summer of 1997 with the Colorado Foxes. After the end of the 1997/98 indoor season, he retired and retook the head coaching job with the Denver Pioneers.
Ashton spent another 10 seasons coaching the Denver Pioneers, winning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and 2006. From Denver, he moved to DC United in 2007 as an assistant and reserves coach, where he’s still working today.
He briefly served as interim head coach for DC United last season. Following Ben Olsen’s firing on October 8, Ashton coached 7 games for the DC United senior team to complete the 2020 campaign before handing over the reins to new hire Hernán Losada.
Round 3 – Pick 28 – Jonny Walker
- Born: 13 September, 1974, California
- Signed from: Memphis Jackals, USISL
- Games Played: 0 (1996)
- Moved to: Jacksonville Cyclones, A-League (1997)
- International: United States, 3 caps
Jonny Walker spent just a single season each in college and amateur soccer before the 1996 draft, playing for the USISL’s Memphis Jackals and the University of Louisville in 1994. He put up records for most saves in a single match and in a season for the Cardinals, earning a place with the United States amateur international side. After participating in the 1995 World University Games and Olympic Festival Games, he was invited to the training camp for the 1996 Olympic team.
Walker signed with Dallas for 1996, but didn’t make an appearance with both Mark Dodd and Jeff Cassar ahead of him on the depth chart, and left the team at season’s end. He spent a season with the A-League’s Jacksonville Cyclones before electing to try his luck in South America.
He signed with Universidad Católica in Chile, and spent time on loan with Huachipato, winning team MVP in 1998. With Católica, he earned the starting spot, and was a regular presence for the team for years. He was the goalkeeper of the year in the Chilean league in 2001, and put up records for saves and stretches without conceding a goal. For 2003, he moved to Colo-Colo, finishing 2nd in the Chilean Apertura and playing again in the Copa Libertadores.
Walker returned to MLS for 2004, signing with the MetroStars as a replacement for Tim Howard. Despite an impressive season, he was traded to Columbus the following year. He was named the Crew’s 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, but suffered a back injury that ultimately led to his retirement the following year.
Post retiring, Walker signed on as goalkeeper coach for the University of Memphis’s women’s team in 2009. He worked his way up to assistant the following year, and was named Associate Head Coach for 2019. He continues to serve in that role to this day.
This concludes the final installment in Dallas Draft History for 1996! I hope you enjoyed the first edition of this series and learned a bit more about the history of the team.
I loved doing this deep dive into so many old names, many of whom never got their moment in the sun in Dallas.
We’ll be back soon with the first part of the next season, 1997, and hopefully continuing through to the 2021 SuperDraft someday.