8 things to know about Charlotte FC’s No. 1 overall draft pick

8 things to know about Charlotte FC’s No. 1 overall draft pick

Ben Bender celebrating with Maryland. Photo: courtesy Charlotte FC

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Charlotte FC selected Ben Bender, a sophomore midfielder from the University of Maryland, No. 1 overall in the MLS SuperDraft. Here are eight things to know about him.

1. He’s not the first Bender to play professional soccer in Charlotte.

  • His older brother, Jacob Bender played for the Charlotte Independence in USL Championship, minor league soccer, in 2017. I wrote a feature on Jacob.

2. He’s from Baltimore, and Michael has thoughts on the Maryland connection.

  • Get Bender to Lulu’s for a real Maryland crab cake.

3. Bender enjoys the outdoors, and I think he’ll be right at home at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

  • Ben didn’t have a chance to visit Jacob while he played in Charlotte, but he said his older brother recently gave him a virtual tour around the area.
  • “My family is a big outdoors family and we love hiking, biking and fishing,” Ben told me during his media availability.

4. He’s really close with his brothers.

  • “Most of the time, I’m just hanging out with my brothers if I’m not playing soccer,” Bender told me in an exclusive interview. “We’re really close, and we’re really intentional about our relationships.”
  • He described the trio as “deep thinkers” who “talk a lot.”

5. He plays guitar.

6. He’s a Manchester United fan, largely because of Cristiano Ronaldo.

7. Every team has someone who likes to cook, and Bender is learning.

  • “I’ve been getting into cooking,” Bender told me.
  • He focused on Italian food over the summer, making fresh pesto for his family, with chicken and a lemon zinger sauce and mushrooms on top.
  • But he hopes to find a good restaurant down here. Please refer to No. 2, and Ben, you’ll find more than one good restaurant.

8. The 20-year-old took a risk leaving Maryland, as MLS SuperDraft picks are as likely to be farmed out to minor league teams as they are to see meaningful minutes as a rookie.

  • Bender said Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski told him he was ready for the next step, but it was up to Bender when he wanted to make the jump from the college game to the pros. 
  • He knows the battle ahead of him, and that he needs to be stronger and faster to make it as a professional.

“It’s a challenge I’ve taken on, because I know the pros and gaining a starting spot or even making a game day roster is so tough, because of how many players on each team and how many people in the world want to be on one of those teams,” Bender told me. “I’m going to give everything I have to make the roster and to get on the field to make an impact for the club.”

Charlotte FC kicks off its inaugural season on Feb. 26 at D.C. United, opening at home against LA Galaxy on March 5.

Photo: courtesy Charlotte FC

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