Daniel Pereira grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. In July 2015, just a few weeks after his 15th birthday, he left with his parents for the Roanoke area.
On Thursday, the Virginia Tech soccer star and Northside High School graduate was chosen by Austin FC with the No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“It’s just a huge honor,” Pereira said on a video conference.
“It’s just crazy how we got here and what we have now and what we have accomplished as a family, … believing the American dream.”
The sophomore midfielder was expected to be taken in the first round of the draft. But was he surprised that he was chosen with the very first pick?
“Very surprised,” Pereira said with a laugh. “A minute before, … on the [draft] show they were talking about [Clemson’s Philip] Mayaka and my mom was like, ‘Oh my God, Mayaka’s going to get it.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s OK.’
“But then they said my name. … It was a crazy, unbelievable moment that I’ll never forget.”
Pereira was not the only graduate of a Timesland high school to be drafted in the first round Thursday.
Patrick Henry High School graduate and University of Virginia senior forward Irakoze Donasiyano was chosen by Nashville with the 20th overall pick.
Nashville general manager Mike Jacobs said he liked Donasyiano’s versatility.
“Koze … has the ability to play centrally and wide as a winger/right midfielder or [on defense] as a right back,” Jacobs said on a video conference. “He’s got a tremendous opportunity for himself.”
The draft was conducted virtually and was broadcast on Major League Soccer’s website. Pereira and his parents watched the draft from a suite at Lane Stadium, along with his Tech teammates and coaches and his former high school and club soccer coaches.
The draft broadcast showed Pereira hugging his parents after being picked.
“It was really emotional,” Pereira said. “My dad was already crying before the show even started.”
Virginia Tech having the No. 1 pick in the MLS draft is “unbelievable,” said Hokies coach Mike Brizendine.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Brizendine said in a phone interview. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment for Danny.
“I thought he would go high. I never thought he would go No. 1.”
Pereira turned pro last month when he signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS and entered the draft. He was one of five college players in the nation to sign a Generation Adidas contract this winter, making him eligible for the draft as an underclassman.
Generation Adidas is a joint program between MLS and Adidas in which a handful of college underclassmen are signed by MLS to Generation Adidas contracts each winter.
UVa defender Bret Halsey, who also signed a Generation Adidas contract, was taken by Real Salt Lake with the seventh overall pick Thursday.
Austin FC is a Major League Soccer expansion team in Austin, Texas.
“I like experiencing new things, and that’s what Austin is about. They’re about to experience MLS for the first time,” Pereira said. “It’s a challenge for both of us. It’s good to know that we kind of match in a certain way, that we’re both coming in to something new.”
“Danny’s … a very hungry, humble player,” Austin coach Josh Wolff said in a video on his team’s website. “We like his soccer IQ, his soccer acumen.”
Being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft comes with pressure, though.
“Usually the No. 1 pick means you’re the best,’” Pereira said. “But it doesn’t mean anything like that to me. I think that every single player in that draft is talented.
“But yeah, it’s a big responsibility that I have on my back now. I’ve got to represent being the No. 1 pick.”
Pereira joined Patrick Nyarko as the only Hokies to ever be chosen among the top 10 picks in the MLS draft. Nyarko was chosen by Chicago with the seventh pick in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft in 2008.
Pereira made the All-Timesland first team as a Northside junior, when he had 12 goals and 11 assists. He was named the Timesland player of the year as a senior, when he scored 44 goals and broke his school’s career points record. Pereira led the Vikings to the 2019 Class 3 state title game.
He also played club soccer for the Roanoke-based Virginia Blue Ridge Star before moving on to Virginia Tech.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you’re talented, you’re talented. It’s up to you to put the work in,” Pereira said. “That’s what VBR and Northside and Tech is about. It’s about putting the work in, which I did. … I’m a very committed guy to the game. I think that’s what got me here, that I’m always training.”
“He worked hard every day,” Brizendine said.
Pereira made the ACC all-freshman team in 2019, when he had five goals and five assists. He helped the Hokies make the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“When I got to college, I thought the [MLS] opportunity … might be there in the future, so that’s when I really started dreaming with MLS,” he said.
He helped the nationally ranked Hokies go 3-2-2 overall and 3-1-2 in the ACC last fall, when he had one goal and one assist. The Hokies played an abbreviated fall schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic but are set to return to action in the spring semester.
Donasiayno came to America from Tanzania in 2007. He became a U.S. citizen last year.
Donasiyano was the 2016 Timesland boys soccer player of the year as a Patrick Henry junior and earned the honor again the following year as a senior.
He scored 66 goals in his high school career and has scored five goals in his UVa career.
Like Pereira, Donasiyano played club soccer for Virginia Blue Ridge Star.
Donasiyano made the All-ACC third team in 2019, when he helped UVa make the NCAA championship game.
Former UVa midfielder Daniel Steedman was taken by Austin with the first pick of the second round. He spent last year playing minor league soccer.
Virginia Tech senior forward Kristo Strickler was picked by Houston with the third pick of the second round. Strickler, who has scored 27 goals in his Tech career, was the 30th overall pick.
UVa senior forward Nathaniel Crofts was taken by Toronto with the 18th pick of the second round, while UVa senior goalkeeper Colin Shutler was chosen by Dallas three picks later.