Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney (L-R) represent the Union's new blood.
MLS

Union presence felt at SuperDraft

Just by picking first overall, Philadelphia Union could easily have made a statement in the MLS SuperDraft.

They went several steps beyond that. They made an even larger statement in big bold letters.

Try three draft choices among the first seven. Try six picks overall, more than any other team.

The club sure made its presence known in its inaugural draft.

With the rowdy Sons of Ben roaring with approval in the ballroom, the 16th Major League Soccer club chose three players almost immediately in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft at the Convention Center.

Philadelphia Union selected forward Danny Mwanga from Oregon State with the first pick and then added UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo with the sixth pick and Jack McInerney at No. 7. McInerney appeared in all four games for the U.S. in the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

The club then plucked Connecticut midfielder Toni Stahl with the 17th overall pick followed by UCLA midfielder Kyle Nakazawa with the 33rd overall selection. Finally, the club got UCLA goalkeeper Brian Perk with the No. 49 selection.

By adding these players along with the expansion draft picks the day before Thanksgiving, the club is really starting to come together.

"Spectacular, that's one word I'll use about today," said Union president Tom Veit. "Just like everything else we've done, we've gone above and beyond and exceeded expectations."

It would have been a tremendous day with just the No. 1 overall draft choice. That wasn't nearly enough.

The club first acquired allocation money, D.C. United's No. 7 overall pick and Brazilian midfielder Fred. In exchange, Philadelphia Union sent their No. 1 allocation ranking to D.C., which United used to obtain 2006 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Troy Perkins.

Philadelphia then sent allocation money to FC Dallas in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick.

In the process, the club set a record by picking three of the first seven players in the draft. In 2001, D.C. United had three of the first eight selections.

"Conditions were not ideal at the combine in Florida last week, but Peter (Nowak) and his technical staff saw some things and some people that they targeted," said Philadelphia Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz. "From that point on, we listened to others and have now made a couple deals that will give us a running start in establishing the kind of team and organization that gives maximum effort every time out on the pitch. That's what our supporters want and deserve."

Mwanga, Okugo and McInerney all had one common theme upon being selected by Philadelphia Union -- excitement.

"I can't wait," Mwanga said. "I've heard stories about the fans here. I'm ready to play.

Added Okugo: "When my agent told me about Philadelphia a couple of picks before I was taken, I was very happy. They have a great organization."

"Being in the city with the draft and knowing I'll be playing here is awesome," said McInerney said. "I had never been to Philly. To play for this organization is exciting. To be part of these three picks in the top seven is something I couldn't have imagined."

Union's inaugural First Kick will take place March 25 against Seattle Sounders FC at Seattle's Qwest Field. The club's home opener will be April 10 against D.C. United at Lincoln Financial Field.

The stadium in Chester is expected to be ready soon after.

The players will come running out in front of a passionate crowd. They'll look back to Jan. 14 as a huge day in the club.

"I was blown away with the excitement of the fans and the Sons of Ben," Mwanga said. "When you see their excitement, it makes you want to play as great as possible. I'll never forget their reaction to me drafted first on this day. It'll be in my memory forever. Now, I want to help the franchise win as many games as possible."

Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLSnet.com.

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