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Despite Going Pro, Brandon Hackenberg Has ‘Unfinished Business’ At Penn State

Penn State men’s soccer defender Brandon Hackenberg was selected in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft last week under unusual circumstances. The redshirt senior heard his name called No. 22 overall by Orlando City SC and holds the distinction of being in the first (and hopefully last) class affected by the coronavirus.

Due to the pandemic, Hackenberg and his Penn State teammates were stripped of a fall season, meaning all MLS draftees were given the opportunity to return to the collegiate level for an unorthodox spring campaign.

“It’s a unique opportunity, something that no one else has had to deal with,” Hackenberg said. “The NCAA has given all the seniors an extra year; it’s not just me, it’s everyone in the draft who has a decision to make. Right now, the best thing for me is to come back this season. I got a little bit of unfinished business that I want to take care of here.”

Hackenberg will head to Florida this summer to train with Orlando City SC. At that point, Oscar Pareja and his staff will decide whether the Virginia native earns a first-team contract, time with the second team, or otherwise.

Due to the NCAA gifting all athletes an additional year of eligibility, there is a chance that Hackenberg could still be a Nittany Lion in the fall and play two more seasons in State College.

Head coach Jeff Cook has been in contact with Orlando’s front office. He said he’s pleased with the way the professional club has handled the situation, especially the club’s patience with Hackenberg.

“I was really encouraged that [Orlando City] seems to want to work with us, and if they see him as someone who can get significant minutes with their first team after seeing him this summer then he may move on,” Cook said. “But that’s a decision for another day.”

As for Hackenberg, his focus is on Penn State.

“I’ve been in contact with them, but we are still trying to figure everything out,” Hackenberg said. “I told them that my plan was to come back to school and we will reevaluate after that.”

So how high exactly is the ceiling for Hackenberg?

History would say that his most likely destination is a year with Orlando City B, the club’s reserve squad. On the opposite side of the country, former Penn State teammate and 2020 firstround pick Aaron Molloy did the same last year with the Portland Timbers.

However, Molloy is a midfielder trying to breakthrough in one of the league’s toughest lineups. When it comes to Orlando, Hackenberg may have a realistic shot at ending up on gameday rosters due to having key MLS attributes.

“Brandon is a very intelligent player, positionally he is really sound,” Cook said. “He’s worked hard at his game on a technical level, and he has improved himself physically.”

Orlando will presumably use Brazilian Antonio Carlos and Swede Robin Jansson as its center-back pairing this season. However, both players are in their upper 20s and have been part of a notoriously leaky defense.

By the time summer rolls around, if Pareja’s team is struggling, there is a solid chance that Hackenberg could be needed for an important stretch run. Even if Orlando finds itself at the top of the Eastern Conference, Hackenberg could be a key asset during a grueling 34-match slate.

“It’s obviously a super exciting moment in my life, definitely a moment I can look back on and be very thankful for the opportunity,” Hackenberg said. “I am super confident that they made the right choice in drafting me. I plan on doing everything I can to prove them right.”

Before the summer training in Florida arrives, Hackenberg still has “unfinished business” to attend to up north. What’s left for a multi-year captain who has qualified for the NCAA Tournament? Trophies.

“I want to come out of Penn State with a championship, whether it be Big Ten or NCAA,” Hackenberg said. “Looking at the team we have this year, I’m super confident that we can get that done.”

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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