During last year’s MLS SuperDraft, John Hackworth and the Philadelphia Union had to wait until the middle of the second round before making any selections. And the two players they ended up taking – Don Anding and Stephen Okai – are no longer with the club.
The 2014 SuperDraft in Philadelphia figures to be much different for the Union, who hold eight overall selections, including two of the top six in Thursday’s first round (noon ET, ESPNEWS). And with many of their hometown fans looking on, the Union may look to work from a position of strength and deal some of their early picks.
“Going back to last year, we didn’t have any chips to play,” Hackworth told reporters earlier this week. “We had to sit there for an awful long time knowing we had no moves to make. In this draft, we have, potentially, a ton of those – not only in draft picks but potential trades or making a move to bring a player in. It’ll be a fluid process.”
While there are certainly available college players that fill some of the club’s needs, Hackworth noted that most of the potential draftees will need time before developing into MLS regulars.
The Union, meanwhile, are looking for at least a couple of new starters for 2014, and are engaged in active negotiations for French midfielder Vincent Nogueira and Argentine winger Cristián Maidana. They've also been rumored to be in pursuit of US national team midfielder Maurice Edu.
In other words, despite having acquired so many picks from previous trades, they’re not putting too many eggs in the SuperDraft basket – at least not for this coming season.
“Right now, I look at the players available in this draft more as depth than absolute starters,” Hackworth said. “We have some very specific needs we have targeted and have remained steadfast with that. I think there are some players that will have long careers in MLS and will do quite well. In general, most of the guys need a little bit of time.”
If the Union do hold onto their first-round picks, they’ll likely aim to scoop up a center back, especially after Tuesday’s trade of veteran defender Jeff Parke. And they’ll have a couple of good ones to choose from in the Cal duo of Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean, with Hackworth calling Birnbaum a player that’s “more ready immediately” and Dean one that “has a ton of potential”
Another player the Union will look toward is former Georgetown midfielder and Philly-area native Steve Neumann, who doesn’t have a clear-cut position for the pros but is someone who, according to Hackworth, “is going to make it.”
Hackworth also threw as screwball into things when, unprompted, he brought up UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake as someone who’s “clearly showing he’s a player for the future." The Union already have a young goalkeeper in Zac MacMath and another potential Homegrown signing in Maryland rising star Zack Steffen.
“The good news is we do have two high picks and that puts us in a really favorable position,” the Union manager said. “There have been many teams that have approached us but, as of right now, we haven’t elected to make any moves. They will heat up on draft day.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.