It was one of the most exciting weeks of early 2010. It was MLS SuperDraft week, and the Philadelphia Union were going to be adding some fresh talent to their roster. It is now six years later, and the enthusiasm that was there in 2010 has evaporated in 2015. The Union traded their first round draft pick (tenth overall) to Sporting Kansas City for CJ Sapong. Looking at one mock draft, the Union may come away with a future left back in Otis Earle (son of NBC's Robbie Earle). However, given how the Union have treated other left back draftees, maybe it is better for Otis to not be "Sitting by the Dock of the (Delaware River that empties into the) Bay". I don't know about you, but if the Union are able to get a starting quality proven MLS star for a draft pick, I'd make that trade every day of the week.
Let's have a look at the players the Union have drafted in previous SuperDrafts as well as the Supplemental Draft (since MLS likes to merge and separate the two drafts year to year). The names are listed along with years and the position in the draft they were picked.
2010 - 1) Danny Mwanga (Generation adidas/GA), 6) Amobi Okugo, (GA) 7) Jack Mcinerney, (GA) 17) Toni Stahl, 33) Kyle Nakazawa, 49) Brian Perk
2011 - 5) Zac MacMath (GA), 23) Michael Farfan, 41) Levi Houapeu
2012 - 13) Chandler Hoffman (GA), 32) Greg Jordan, 35) Raymon Gaddis,
2013 - 26) Don Anding, 31) Stephen Okai,
2014 - 1) Andre Blake (GA), 15) Pedro Ribeiro, 25) Kevin Cope, 27) Robbie Derschang, 44) Richie Marquez, 52) Aodhan Quinn, 63) Luca Giminez,
2011 - 5) Ryan Richter, 23) Josh Walburn, 41) Matthew Marcin,
2012 - 13) Tom Brandt, 32) Krystian Witkowski 51) Antoine Hoppenot 70) Brandon Zimmerman
2013 - 12) Eric Schoenle, 17) Uriah Bentick, 24) Mark Linnville, 43) Jake Keegan, 62) Leo Fernandes
What you immediately notice is that after the twentieth pick (the first pick of the second round this year), It is very rare to see someone stick with the Union. That gives extra evidence that the 2015 SuperDraft might not be very interesting for Union fans. That being said, for this article I wouldn't consider anyone picked that late to be "bad picks". Most of the time it just allows coaches to get a better look at some players who may be able to stick around and be depth options.
I'll start with the worst SuperDraft picks. A lot of the issues with draft picks not doing well tends to be because of a lack of improvement, coming from the coaching and misuse of the players. One good example of this comes from the first player ever picked, Danny Mwanga. He had the size and strength to be a hit in MLS, and had a good first season scoring many important goals. However Mwanga never improved other parts of his game that year, or the year after. Add in being benched often in year two and the rumors of his lack of effort causing rifts with then coach Piotr Nowak. However, a great first season means I didn't add him into my top three worst SuperDraft picks.
Bottom 3 (worst) SuperDraft picks.
3) Chandler Hoffman.
Chandler Hoffman just edged out Pedro Ribeiro for number three on my worst list. Drafted in 2012 - the year after the Union's only playoff appearance - Hoffman was a striker that knew where the net was. He was on the Generation Adidas list and should have had a nice future in MLS. However after just seven appearances, mostly out of the blue and mostly at winger where he wasn't comfortable, Hoffman was traded to the LA Galaxy (and played in eight games before heading to the Houston Dynamo this past Re-Entry draft).
Like Mwanga, Chandler may have been misused by Nowak in his early games. He looked lost out on the wing while up front looked like he had some ability. He got a nice goal against Schalke 04 and showed how he could be useful. However the Union were at that time stacked up front with young players (Jack McInerney was sitting in the stands too). Could the draft choice have been a more useful player instead of a striker? Possibly. Defender Tommy Meyer was taken by a few picks later. However if we wanted another striker (and a Generation Adidas striker at that), it will be painful for the Union faithful to know that Dom Dwyer was taken by Sporting Kansas City three picks after Hoffman. What could have been...
2) Toni Stahl
While there may have been many worse who didn't see a minute for the Union, a worst draft pick list would not be complete without Toni Stahl. Stahl was picked with the seventeenth overall pick in the 2010 SuperDraft, the Union's first pick in the second round. He played in the first ever game the Union played in MLS, and didn't last 45 minutes before getting sent off for a second yellow card. That was the last the Union ever saw of him in MLS play.
He did however play in some of the friendlies for the Union that year. In one of those, against Celtic at PPL Park he also got sent off - again before he could get 45 minutes of playing time. It was not a surprise that the Union didn't extend Stahl's stay with the Union any longer.
As for who the Union could have picked instead of Stahl, at that time Tim Ream (who has more assists than Stahl in Union history), Seth Sinovic, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour were all available. Amazingly, the best value in that draft may have been Sean Johnson, who was picked up by Chicago Fire with the fiftieth pick. How the Union's goalkeeping situation may have been so much better had we got him.
1) Andre Blake.
This is likely to be the controversial pick. Blake is still with the Union, is an international and could turn out to be the best keeper in MLS in the years to come. However that isn't taking into consideration the current Union goalkeeper is also an international and that we already had a young goalkeeper in Zac MacMath (who is actually younger than Blake). When drafting, it's often said that you draft the best possible player, but I completely disagree with that (even without considering if Blake was the best player). In MLS where you have a small roster you have to pick players that fit needs first.
Considering needs is even more important for me when considering goalkeepers. If you are not the starter, you don't get playing time. It is very rare that a goalkeeper gets substituted (When was the last time a Union keeper came off in a league game?). Instead of playing either in the first team, or at Harrisburg (if the Union had an able backup as third choice) Blake sat on the bench or in the stands, not improving and probably getting frustrated at the lack of a chance. This not only means that Blake's usefulness is limited now, but his improvement for the future is hindered.
Now to consider who the Union could have taken. They traded up to get Blake with the first pick of the draft. They had been second. With the second pick, D.C. United took Steve Birnbaum. Unlike Blake, Birnbaum got plenty of playing time for the team that won the Eastern Conference. He was instrumental in their successful season, and ended up third in the Rookie of the Year awards. Who wouldn't have liked to see a tall central defender playing for the Union instead of Aaron Wheeler?
If United didn't trade down to give up the first pick (the Vancouver Whitecaps were also interested in trading to get Blake) then the third person taken in the draft was Christian Dean, another tall center back who ended up at Vancouver. Dean also had the advantage that he could have played left back for the team. Unlike Birnbaum, Dean only played four games for Vancouver but that is still more than Blake.
For those pointing out Blake's service to the Jamaica National Team, both Dean and Birnbaum were called up to the recent United States National Team camp. There wasn't a Union player called up (or even close to being called up) to the squad. How nice would it have been to have someone thought of as a future USMNT star in the squad again.
Those are my three worst picks in Union draft history. Now on to the best drafts in Union history. Before getting into the top three, I'd like to give some honorable mentions. First, there's only two SuperDraft choices that have ever gone to an All Star game for the Union - Michael Farfan in 2012 and Jack McInerney in 2013. The fact Farfan was drafted just the year before in the second round (after that magical twentieth pick mark) means it is even better for him. However like others mentioned, both of those players were a bit misused by the Union in the past and also didn't improve from their "base level" as it were.
The other honorable mentions are Leo Fernandes and Antoine Hoppenot. While neither are currently in and around the Union first team, both have had an impact in the Union by scoring and assisting on a few goals. Add in to the fact that both are supplemental draft picks, with around 100 players chosen before each one of them then it shows that those low draft picks can work hard and stick around professional soccer for a while.
Top 3 Best SuperDraft picks.
3) Zac MacMath
There have been two goalkeepers chosen in the first five picks of the MLS draft, both by the Union. One is for me the worst draft pick in Union history, whereas the other is one of the best.
As of right now, MacMath is the Union record holder in wins as a keeper, as well as shutouts. When he was drafted, it was going to be as the understudy for the experienced Faryd Mondragon. Having an experienced goalkeeper (along with great goalkeeping coaches) can improve a young goalkeeper, and you wonder if that was the issue with Chris Seitz the year before. Faryd picked up an injury part of the way through the season, and Zac got his chance. He took it well, and had a successful enough year that some people wondered if he should start ahead of Mondragon come the playoffs.
The year after Zac was the starting goalkeeper, and he seemed to take a bit of a backward step in his advancement (again, I wonder if that is because of the lack of experienced goalkeepers around him). However later that year he was able to learn from veteran Oka Nikolov. When Nikolov signed, there was a huge improvement in Zac's play. The improvement continued this year, and despite his detractors Zac had a solid year in goal. If you remember that Zac is still young and improving and consider the records he holds, it was a good draft pick (he is even twentieth in MLS history in shutouts, ahead of Dan Kennedy and Sean Johnson).
It is also possible that Zac's Union career is not over. This year's loan with the Colorado Rapids may be good for him and give him a chance to play without the nonsense that is the "three starting quality goalkeepers" with the Union. If he does well, there is still a chance that the Union will take him back and use him as the starter from then on. He may also get a lot more in return for him if there is no interest to bring him back.
2) Amobi Okugo
It is no secret that I am a huge Okugo fan. For me he should have been the Defensive Midfielder of the Future™ and captain of the team. He has the ability, vision, work ethic and soccer brains to be great. However, he is also yet another young player who has been misused by the Union.
Under Nowak, he barely got a chance to play. His few minutes on the field he showed glimpses of his ability, but without a run there isn't a single player who can show what they really have. In 2012, Nowak was fired and John Hackworth placed in charge. The Union also had need of a central defender with the trade of Danny Califf. Without anyone who can play there in the squad, Hackworth asked Okugo to do the job. Amobi did so with plenty of ability and no obvious complaints. In 2013, when he should have been moved back to midfield, he was kept in defense. Same in 2014. While Hackworth didn't abuse Amobi in terms of not playing him and subbing him out/benching him, the abuse was in not letting him play his natural position. Despite this, Amobi did a great job and was someone that I am shocked hasn't been called into any USMNT camp yet.
Then after Hackworth got fired, Amobi finally got his chance in midfield. However there was another issue when the Union re-signed Carlos Valdes. New coach Jim Curtin also was giving Ethan White a chance to play, and White also did well. It was going to lead to a choice, Valdes and White in defense, Maurice Edu in midfield or Valdes and Edu defense and Okugo in midfield. The first game where everyone was fit was the US Open Cup final, and in the biggest game in Union history, Okugo was abused again when he was dropped to the bench.
With this long history of misuse, along with the lack of youth improvement with the Union and Europe apparently calling, it is probably not surprising that Okugo didn't stay at the Union and is now an Orlando City SC player. Hopefully he can continue his career in a positive way (apart from when he plays Philadelphia). His ability, as well as character deserves better than the Union have given him. That ability means he is my second best Union draft ever.
1) Ray Gaddis.
There are two things to consider for this. First is impact on the Union, and second is the draft position. Seeing all the players picked ahead of Gaddis, to get any value from a thirty-fifth pick is a plus. To get the impact he has had is almost amazing. It shows that you can find gold amongst the fools gold of later draft picks.
Ray was picked in the second round of the 2012 draft. While he may not be the greatest player ever, the one thing he does have is heart and a willingness to learn. He is also super fast, which can be useful covering up in defense. It was enough to allow him to stick around in 2012, and then get a starting job when the Union needed someone to play left back, or cover for Sheanon Williams in right back. Since that time, there has been an immense improvement in his defensive play, which led to him being given a well deserved new contract. In 2014, Ray was the busiest player in blue and gold as he racked up over 3000 minutes of playing time, which is an impressive stat for someone drafted so low.
Looking forward, Gaddis is likely to hold down one of the full back spots due to his defensive ability. The only drawback on Gaddis now is that he doesn't impact the team going forward, and can be the cause of giving away possession cheaply. If he can improve that, there's no reason he can't reach the highest level in MLS and even potentially get a national team call up, as there is always going to be a need for a player that can play left back.
There you have it, my best and worst draft picks. Hopefully that gets you a little more excited about the draft coming up. Will our thirty-first pick be a Ray Gaddis, or will it be a Stephen Okai who despite being mentioned as the most MLS ready player in the draft by John Hackworth ended up being released within a week or two. Make sure to tell me what you think in the comments section below.