MLS SuperDraft: Union take a shot on NAIA star Okai
In previous SuperDrafts, the Philadelphia Union have gone after players from highly touted college programs such as Maryland and UCLA.
In this year’s draft they decided on a different approach, snagging two under-the-radar players from non-powerhouses: Don Anding out of Northeastern and Stephen Okai out of the University of Mobile (an NAIA school).
Philly head coach John Hackworth believes both could be steals, dishing especially high praise for Okai, who showcased his skills while playing three summers with Union affiliate Reading United AC.
“It’s rare you get a player out of NAIA but I think some people will argue he’s probably the best player in college soccer,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “And Don Anding was so important to the Northeastern program. His athletic ability alone is enough to turn heads but it’s his character that we all really admire.”
Because the Union did not possess a first-round pick, Hackworth said he didn’t approach the draft looking to fill immediate needs.
The Union boss believes the left-footed Anding – who they snatched with the 26th overall pick – could be used as a versatile bench option at left wing or left fullback, a position in which the Union don’t have much depth. The speedster was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year this past season and scored the sudden-death game-winner to send Northeastern to the NCAA tournament.
As for Okai – the 31st overall pick – he could provide a more immediate boost to Philly’s central midfield. The Ghanaian was a three-time All-American and the National Player of the Year in the NAIA.
“In our humble opinion,” Hackworth said, “he’s probably one of the players most ready to have an immediate impact in MLS.”
The Union also assured themselves the chance to sign more rookies by trading the 29th overall selection to Real Salt Lake for the 31st pick (where they took Okai) and two extra slots (No. 12 and No. 17) in next Tuesday’s Supplemental Draft.
“We didn’t have a pick in the third round, so when Real Salt Lake came to us and we discussed it, we realized they weren’t going for the guy we wanted in Stephen,” Hackworth explained. “That put us in a good position to get two picks in the third round. There are some guys out there we believe can still be important.”
The Union don’t have to look far to realize how important the supplemental draft could be. Last year, with the 51st pick, they took Antoine Hoppenot – who went on to become their most important offensive reserve in 2012.
“Hopefully there’s another Antoine out there,” Hackworth said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.