Prior to the start of their inaugural season, the Philadelphia Union had the first, sixth and seventh picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, selecting rising stars Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney.
The following year, they chose their goalie of the future – Zac MacMath – with the No. 5 pick.
Heading into the franchise’s third draft, on Thursday in Kansas City, things will be a little bit different as the Union don’t make their selection until later in the first round.
But even with the 13th overall pick, Philly coaches are confident they’ll be able to snag a player with just as much upside as some of their previous draftees. The main reason why they believe so is Michael Farfan, who slipped to them with the 23rd pick last year and went on to become one of the best rookies in MLS last season.
“It’s different every year,” Union head of scouting and player development Diego Gutiérrez told MLSsoccer.com. “We never expected Michael Farfan to be available with the 23rd pick, especially after he had been the best player in the country for the majority of the year. A lot of times, you never know what other teams are thinking. You try to do your planning and hopefully you get a nice surprise.”
When it comes to planning, Gutiérrez believes Philly coaches John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian are among the best in the business in scouting the college landscape.
And because they’ve been going to college games throughout much of the season, the Union coaches don’t need to necessarily put much stock in the MLS Combine – which, while a useful tool, is not always a great indicator of a player’s potential. A poor combine performance, after all, is one of the main reasons Farfan fell into the second round in last year’s draft.
“Those guys are invaluable,” Gutiérrez said of Hackworth and Vartughian. “Those guys are not only good coaches, but they take pride in making sure they stay on top of that area of our scouting department.”
Because the Union have already signed a defender (Porfirio López), a midfielder (Gabriel Gómez) and a striker (Josué Martínez), among other offseason acquisitions, both Gutiérrez and team manager Peter Nowak have indicated they can be selective in Thursday’s draft and not hone in on a specific position.
Looking at the roster, it would appear the club could still use some defensive depth, but the coaches maintain they’re simply looking for the best available player – not only with their first round pick, but also with their two second round selections, one of which they acquired in a trade that sent Shavar Thomas to Sporting Kansas City in 2010.
In the second round, the Union hold the No. 32 and No. 35 overall slots – which is a similar area as to where they picked Kyle Nakazawa in the 2010 draft. Nakazawa is still with the club and could be a key component to the franchise’s future.
“If you look at the history of the draft, there have been guys who have gone late in the third round that have made it,” Vartughian said. “They’re there. Whether or not we draft at one, five or 13, there are still going to be good players available.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org