When he finally heard his name called, the 18th one in the first round of the 2021 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, Nabi Kibunguchy let out a sigh of relief. He subsequently put on a cap and scarf that indicated the next destination in his soccer journey—Minnesota United FC.
"I was waiting for a while there," the erstwhile SF Glens SC central defender joked, "but it was all worth it. I've been waiting all my life for this moment."
The 6-foot-3 Kibunguchy was all smiles following that temporary angst. After earning USL League Two Western Conference Team of the Year honors with the Glens, he was projected as a surefire first-round pick. While it ended up being a little later in the frame than most experts had expects, it could be a blessing in disguise.
"Minnesota United, they develop their draft picks," said mlssoccer.com's Matt Doyle, "so he's gotta be thrilled right now."
Though the Loons had already traded into the 17th spot to select Wake Forest attacker Justin McMaster, they still coveted Kibunguchy. Ultimately, Minnesota United traded its 25th pick and $50,000 in GAM in 2021 to Toronto FC to bring the Glens defender to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The UC Davis grad became the sixth Glens first-teamer in the last three seasons to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft—a list that includes his former college teammate, Roy Boateng.
"I've definitely asked Roy for advice on how to handle everything when you go the pros, and it's helped," Kibunguchy said from his home in Elk Grove, California. "I haven't been told yet when to head out there to Minnesota, but I'm ready. Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready."
Under the tutelage of coaches Javier Ayala-Hil and Jimmy Conrad, Kibunguchy flourished with the Glens, playing defensive midfielder before making the transition to the back line. Of course, having the 2005 MLS Defender of the Year from which to learn the ropes of central defense was quite beneficial for the 6-foot-3 prospect's growth.
“My development with the Glens was very important for me going forward," Kibunguchy said. "Having Javi and then Jimmy as a coach, who’s played at the highest levels of the national team, just learning from them, was huge. I'll always be thankful for the advice Jimmy gave me day in and day out. Also, just getting more experience in specific game situations, I think the Glens helped me become a better player.”
When asked to elaborate on his time as Conrad's pupil, Kibunguchy was effusive with his praise.
"I’d say the first thing I'll take with me to the pros is to never take a second off in a game," the 23-year-old said. "Anything could happen. It’s 90 minutes. You need to be in-tune with everything around you. Off the field, you have to take care of yourself. Your body is your moneymaker. That’s how you succeed at that level, so I’ve tried to live that way for sure.”
Kibunguchy quickly became a fan favorite with the Glens, especially with the club's youth academy. His soft-spoken but infectious positive attitude was evident after games, honoring every autograph request despite the long lines for them. Now as he heads to the next level, he had some parting words for the next generation of Glens.
“To the Glens Academy players, you can’t take a single day for granted," he said. "You have to work hard to get where you want to be. Just don’t ever give up. There will always be a chance for you going forward in whatever you want to do in life if you keep working at it. That’s my advice to you.
“As for everyone else at the club, I just want to thank the Glens, the whole organization top to bottom, from the coaches to my teammates and the staff. I’ll see you all at the next level. Up the Glens!”
SF GLENS SELECTED IN THE MLS SUPERDRAFT
• Sam Junqua - 2019 - Houston Dynamo (1st round, 8th overall)
• Roy Boateng - 2019 - New York Red Bulls (1st round, 16th overall)
• Shinya Kadono - 2019 - D.C. United (3rd round, 72nd overall)
• Sam Ebstein - 2019 - FC Dallas (4th round, 87th overall)
• Simon Lekressner - 2020 - New England Revolution (2nd round, 30th overall)
• Nabi Kibunguchy - 2021 - Minnesota United FC (1st round, 18th overall)