Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft turned out to be a super day for UCSB senior defender Noah Billingsley on Thursday.
The New Zealand native, who was watching the SuperDraft online from his home country, heard his name called by Minnesota United FC in the first round. Billingsley, who played left and right back for a Gaucho defense that produced an 0.87 goals against average this season, was selected 18th overall.
He became the 18th UCSB player to be selected in an MLS SuperDraft, and the seventh to go in the first round.
“It was just amazing,” Billingsley told the News-Press by phone from his home in New Zealand. “My mom and I watched, and when I heard my name called, it was just amazing. Unfortunately, my mom had to go to work right after the draft, but we’ll celebrate tonight,” he added with a laugh.
Billingsley was a converted forward at UCSB.
After struggling to score goals during his first two-plus seasons with the Gauchos, coach Tim Vom Steeg moved Billingsley to the backline. It didn’t take long for the Kiwi to flourish. This season, Billingsley was considered one of the top lockdown defenders in the country on the collegiate level.
He was a big reason why the Gauchos allowed only 22 goals in 24 games, and why they advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Thursday was a Gaucho reunion of sorts, as Billingsley, whose agent is former UCSB star and MLS player Chris Pontius, was selected by a side that has former Gaucho centerback Michael Boxall, who is also a New Zealand native. Boxall played at UCSB from 2007-2010.
“We’ve got a strong Gaucho connection working here,” Billingsley said with a chuckle. “My agent, Chris Pontius, told me that Minnesota was looking at me, but I had no idea it would be in the first round. I was just over the moon when I heard my name called.”
Along with his success on the field for the Gauchos, Billingsley also represented his home country in Fiji this season as a member of the U23 New Zealand national side trying to qualify for the Olympics.
After qualifying with fellow Gaucho defender Hunter Ashworth, Billingsley returned to UCSB, where he earned All-American recognition from three national outlets, as well as being named the Big West Conference Defender of the Year.
“Athletically, he’s incredible,” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. “He can play left fullback. He can play right fullback. We feel he’s got a really good upside.
“We’re really pleased. We’ve got really big aspirations for this kid.”
Billingsley said being able to watch the MLS SuperDraft with his mom made it that much more special.
“It was amazing to watch it with mom,” he said. “She’s been there for me through everything. We’re in this together, and it was great to have her with me to watch it.”
Billingsley said he will return to Santa Barbara in the next few days, then head to Minnesota to begin training with Minnesota United in the next two weeks.
He also said he wants to finish his degree at UCSB.
“I’m not that far away from finishing my degree, and I plan on finishing,” he said.
As for his time in a Gaucho uniform, Billingsley said it was terrific in every way.
“I think it was a huge learning experience for me,” he said. “I was really young when I came here, and I didn’t know much about the world before I came to UCSB. It’s tough to leave here, but it’s time. I can’t say enough about the soccer program and about Tim. It really was an incredible experience.”