Evan Panken signed a letter of intent with Notre Dame in February 2012 after a successful high school career with Edina High School. In addition to playing for the Hornets, Panken trained with the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA). While playing with Edina, Panken earned all-state honors his junior and senior seasons. He also traveled to Brazil in the summer of 2009 with Minneapolis United to train with ABC FC.
At Notre Dame, head coach Bobby Clark described Panken as a “really hard-working, no-nonsense type of player who has a terrific attitude. We really like him. He has a great work ethic.”
Clark went on to say that Panken reminded the staff of former Notre Dame captain Greg Klazura, who was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012.
Panken’s college career got off to a difficult start when he was redshirted his freshman year. The midfielder started his college playing career as a sophomore by starting all 24 matches and helping Notre Dame to its first national championship in school history. Panken describes that championship as an early summit of a career that had just gotten off the ground. He reflected, saying, “Lifting the trophy with my teammates was an incredible feeling.” Notre Dame defeated Maryland 2-1 and Panken scored two key goals in the tournament to get them there. He scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 NCAA Round of 16 victory against conference rival Wake Forest, and the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Michigan State in the NCAA quarterfinals.
After the championship, Panken remained a mainstay in the starting eleven, starting every game for Notre Dame for the next three seasons. During his senior year, Panken tallied a career-high nine assists.
In addition to his proficiency on the pitch, Panken also excelled in the classroom, earning All-ACC Academic team honors his sophomore, junior, and senior years. He was also named to the ACC Honor Roll his Senior year.
As a fifth year student, the Edina native was named a tri-captain for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish started off the 2016 campaign strong, but then went winless in their final five games of the regular season, losing four and drawing one. However, the team did make it to the third round of the NCAA Championship, ultimately losing to Louisville.
Panken will attend the combine along with Notre Dame teammate defender Brandon Aubrey. “There are a lot of ACC guys attending. It’ll be nice to see some familiar faces there,” offered Panken.
In a recent mock draft, Panken was slotted to be taken near the end of the 3rd round. “It’s not MLS or bust for me,” said Panken, who sees this as an opportunity to kickstart his professional career, whether that be MLS or a lower division. ”If I don’t make it on an MLS roster, I’d be willing to move to USL to get more first-team football and develop my game. Hopefully, that would be for an MLS-affiliated USL team.” And Panken has other options. As a pre-med major, he sees medical school in his future after his playing days.
To prepare mentally, the Edina native has been picking the brains of former teammates who have attended the combine. Notre Dame alumni Dillon Powers, Nick Besler, Patrick Hodan, Connor Klekota, and Max Lachowecki have previously attended the combine. To prepare physically, he has been training non-stop. Recently, he trained with 2016 Minnesota United player Ismaila Jome, a player he met during high school. Both hope to see themselves on an MLS roster come March.
Assessing himself, Panken believes he’s a versatile player, effective in a number of positions. Notre Dame played a system with inverted wingers. A right-footed player, Panken usually played on the left so he could cut in and have the freedom to attack. He also sees himself not being limited to one wing. “I can play all over the midfield. I see myself playing best as a natural eight, a box-to-box midfielder,” he said with confidence.
The Minnesota midfielder also takes a lot of pride in his technical ability: he has a good first touch and boasts solid passing accuracy. He also as a good engine – Notre Dame would wear GPS devices to track movements during games and Panken would usually travel the furthest.
Panken will join 52 other NCAA Division I players at the MLS combine from Jan. 8-12 in Los Angeles. The MLS SuperDraft will take place in Los Angeles on Jan. 13th.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report stated Panken had traveled to Brazil with the MTA. This has been corrected to Minneapolis United.