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Re-drafting the Union: Part One

As the SuperDraft approaches, we break down what each pick in Union history could have been and what would be different as a result.

MLS: SuperDraft Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With success consistently escaping the majority of homegrown players (unless you’re FC Dallas), the MLS SuperDraft is still the easiest way to acquire young talent to contribute to your roster. As is the case in any draft, every player is somewhat of an unknown until they either start producing at the professional level or fall flat on their face.

The Union first participated in the draft in 2010 as they prepared for their expansion season. Like most clubs, the blue-and-gold have had their fair share of good picks, as well as a handful of picks that failed miserably.

Philadelphia has now been in the professional landscape for seven years, and it’s about time that we take a look back at previous drafts. With just two postseason appearances, the team has been underwhelming to this point. In this article, I will attempt to turn the fortune around by trading in the bad picks for good ones, or decent at least.

Some of my picks will surprise you while others might as well be the definition of unextraordinary. One thing to keep in mind is that I approached this draft as if I were actually building a roster. To further elaborate, picks in 2012 changed how I looked at the 2013 draft. Players off the board at the time of each pick are not eligible meaning I was not able to take Cyle Larin with my fourth round pick in 2015.

In addition, I left out all 2016 picks outside of the first round to avoid having to try to evaluate players before they get the chance to develop. With all of that said, let’s take a look at what could have been the 2017 Philadelphia Union.

2010 - Round 1, Pick 1

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Tchani, Box-to-Box Midfielder, Virginia

Original Pick: Danny Mwanga, Forward, Oregon State

We start off the re-drafting process with a pick that everyone involved with the Union would like to have back. As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 SuperDraft, Mwanga was supposed to become the face of the club and was viewed as a budding superstar.

After a highly successful rookie campaign in which he found the back of the net seven times, Mwanga’s form dipped consistently for what has been the remainder of his career thus far. In the six seasons following 2010, Mwanga scored just eight goals in stints with the Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids, and Orlando City SC in addition to the Union.

Tchani, who also made his presence felt immediately in MLS, has been far more consistent over the course of the past seven seasons. The Cameroon-native has appeared in over 1,100 minutes in every season of his career. His athleticism and physicality allow him to eat up ground, break plays up, and be dangerous when he gets involved in the attack.

The box-to-box midfielder started 33 and 32 games respectively in his first two seasons under Gregg Berhalter in Columbus. His 2016 season was effected by injuries that only allowed him to make 21 appearances. Prior to that, however, Tchani managed to hand out six assists in back-to-back seasons while netting a career-high five goals in 2015 as well.

Tchani was passed on by the Union in 2010, but if they could re-do this one, I can guarantee you they would. While Tchani is an obvious upgrade from Mwanga, this pick was not so simple. Left on the board were Ike Opara, Teal Bunbury, and Zach Lloyd who rounded out the Top 5 in 2010.

2010 - Round 1, Pick 6

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Orlando SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Amobi Okugo, Defensive Midfielder, UCLA

Original Pick: Amobi Okugo, Defensive Midfielder, UCLA

Philly acquired the sixth pick in 2010 from FC Dallas for allocation money, and given how the pick turned out for them, it’s hard to argue with that deal. Okugo took two seasons to get acclimated to the league, making just 14 combined starts. In 2012, however, he came into his own, making 27 appearances including 24 starts. From that point on, the UCLA product became a staple in the line-up, making 63 starts over the course of his next two seasons with the club.

Okugo showed his versatility by playing center back at times in addition to his natural position in midfield. In 2014, there were people that thought he was worthy of a call-up to the national team and MLS even ranked him as the league’s 13th best player under 24 years old.

Since joining Sporting Kansas City in 2015, he has had uneventful stops in Orlando and Portland. Okugo has made only 12 starts combined over the last seasons, but his stint in the City of Brotherly Love was an extremely successful one so I’m staying put on this pick.

2010 - Round 1, Pick 7

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jack McInerney, Forward, Bradenton Preparatory High School

Original Pick: Jack McInerney, Forward, Bradenton Preparatory High School

Boring, I know. Jack doesn’t have the best reputation around in Philly, or even the league for that matter. Regardless of what the consensus is on McInerney, he has 43 career goals, and he’s still just 24 years old. Taking a forward fresh out of high school with a Top 10 pick is a big risk regardless of who you are, but as a 17-year old kid, he wasted almost no time making an impact on the field.

After 3 goals in 350 minutes as a rookie, McInerney took a step backwards with just one goal in his sophomore season. 2012 was a different story. The youngster found the back of the net 12 times for the Union, but going back to his reputation, he made just four appearances for the club in 2014 before being dealt to the Montreal Impact despite his performance.

Over the course of the next two seasons, McInerney scored 11 goals in 43 games for the Impact, but once again the Chattanooga-native was given up again as Montreal struck a deal with Columbus Crew SC. It only took five appearances for Gregg Berhalter to come to his own conclusions on the striker, and in 2016, McInerney joined his fourth club in two calendar years when he signed with the Portland Timbers.

Given the remaining players on the board for the Union at No. 7, it’s hard to pass up on a proven goal scorer that can play the super sub role. When names like Dilly Duka, Corben Bone, Collen Warner, and Michael Stephens stand out, it means that it truly is slim pickings.

2010 - Round 2, Pick 1 (17th Overall)

Soccer: International Soccer Friendly-Peru at USA Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Ream, Defender, Saint Louis University

Original Pick: Toni Stahl, Midfielder, Connecticut

This pick speaks for itself. Toni Stahl made less appearances for the Union than Tim Ream has made for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Stahl got one start in 2010, and he managed to get sent off in just 41 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Stahl failed to ever get back on the field.

Ream, who was taken with the very next pick in 2010, was on the field for every minute of his rookie campaign. He was name the New York Red Bulls’ Defender of the Year and was a finalist for Rookie of the Year. After 58 starts in his first two seasons in the league, Ream earned a transfer to England and joined the Bolton Wanderers in January 2012.

After making 42 appearances throughout the 2013-2014 season, Ream was named the club’s player of the year. Bolton awarded Ream the same honor the following season and signed him to another long-term contract. In August 2015, Bolton agreed to a transfer fee that sent the American to Fullham on a four-year deal where he made 29 appearances in his first season.

To make things worse, Seth Sinovic, Justin Morrow, and Steven Beitashour were all on the board when the front office made this pick.

Anyone passing on Ream to take Stahl now?

2010 - Round 3, Pick 1 (33rd Overall)

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Schuler, Defender, Creighton

Original Pick: Kyle Nakazawa, Midfielder, UCLA

In the third round, the Union elected to take a collegiate teammate of Amobi Okugo in Nakazawa. After an incredible career at UCLA that included an NSCAA All-American selection, the dead-ball specialist had a promising start to his professional career.

To appear in 14 games as a rookie taken with the No. 33 pick is considered overachieving. Nakazawa went on to appear in 22 games for more than 1,200 minutes the following season. After joining the LA Galaxy in 2012, the once promising midfielder made just two starts, and then nobody ever heard from him again.

Schuler has made a name for himself at Real Salt Lake, logging almost 7,000 regular season minutes to go along with more than 1,000 playoff minutes. Over the course of his seven-year career, injuries have sidelined him more than any coach would like, but given how late in the draft he was on the board, this selection is a no-brainer.

Round 4, Pick 1 (49th Overall)

MLS: New England Revolution at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Johnson, Goalkeeper, UCF

Original Pick: Brian Perk, Goalkeeper, UCLA

Yes, this could have happened. Yes, this pick in hindsight is a game-changer. Sean Johnson has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers that the league has seen since his arrival in Chicago.

In seven seasons, Johnson has made at least 28 starts on four different occasions. While his 1.4 Goals Against Average is less than flattering, he has shown moments of brilliance to the extent that he has been in the national team picture since 2011. He earned his first senior cap in a friendly against Chile after the January camp that year.

Perk, in all fairness, has not been an utter disaster. He was in the league up until last season as a back-up for the LA Galaxy. In seven starts, the 5-foot-11 goalkeeper has allowed just seven goals. With that said, his UCLA connection to Okugo and Nakazawa was not enough to keep him in Philly.

Given the club’s struggles in goal over its seven-year history, Johnson would have been a great way to start things off in 2010.

2011 - Round 1, Pick 5

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Meram, Winger, Michigan

Original Pick: Zac MacMath, Goalkeeper, Maryland

Admittedly, this is one of, if not the hardest choice that I had to make. Zac MacMath was the butt-end of an unfair amount of jokes during his time with the Union. For a guy that made 102 starts with a 1.29 GAA over a four-year span, MacMath had a knack for drawing heavy criticism, whether he deserved it or not.

While I have always been one to defend MacMath, this pick is made solely based on the fact that I took a goalkeeper last year in Sean Johnson. While Johnson wasn’t a full-time starter in Chicago in 2010, joining an expansion team certainly would have given him more playing time, and you have to believe that he would have impressed enough to secure the No. 1 goalkeeper position.

With Johnson between the posts, I elected to go after a creative, savvy midfielder in Justin Meram. In 154 appearances, Meram has just 24 career goals but has come on as of late, scoring 19 of those goals over the last three seasons.

Meram means significantly more to Columbus than your typical goal scorer. In his seven seasons, he has racked up 26 assists, including 13 in 2016 alone. It’s his ability to take players on, find spaces, and create chances for himself and others that makes him an enticing prospect this early in the draft.

C.J. Sapong and Will Bruin were still available at No. 5, but given the fact that I took Jack McInerney just a season ago, I would give him the benefit of the doubt as the future center forward.

2011 - Round 2, Pick 5 (23rd Overall)

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hector Jimenez, Midfielder, California

Original Pick: Michael Farfan, North Carolina

I swear that I’m not a Columbus Crew SC fan. In 2010, I elected to build a young core straight up the spine with a center forward, two central midfielders, two center backs, and a goalkeeper. In 2011, it’s time to balance out the field. With my first pick, I took Meram who gets deployed wide left and now I’m taking Jimenez to play wide right.

While it may come as a surprise, Farfan and Jimenez have similar numbers. Both are also versatile and can play multiple positions. Farfan has played out in the flanks and in center midfield. Jimenez, on the other hand, has played as a winger, a right back, and even had to make an appearance as Columbus’s No. 10 in Federico Higuain’s absence this season.

Ultimately, this gives us two wide players willing to run beyond Jack McInerney and wreak havoc in the final third. Jimenez has 10 assists in 72 appearances for Columbus since Gregg Berhalter took the reins in 2014.

Chris Korb was an enticing prospect with the 23rd pick, but Jimenez’s ability to hold down the right back spot if needed sealed his fate as a member of the Union at this point in the draft.

2011 - Round 3, Pick 5 (41st Overall)

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Joao Plata, Forward, LDU Quito

Original Pick: Levi Houapeu, Forward, UMBC

These types of picks are more my style. The Union screwed this one up big time. By passing on Joao Plata in favor of Levi Houapeu, the Union missed out on 33 goals and 35 assists for a player that failed to appear for the club.

Houapeu led the nation in points during his college days at Maryland from 2009-2010. In addition, he earned ECAC First Team selections, ECAC Men’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Year, and America East Striker of the Year honors. While that’s all fine and dandy, his game failed to translate to MLS. Houapeu currently plays for the Rochester Rhinos of USL.

Plata’s journey to the SuperDraft was a unique one. The Ecuadorian was playing professionally for LDU Quito and had even scored prior to being loaned to Major League Soccer, making him eligible for the draft.

At 5-foot-2, it would have been easy to write off Plata back then, but in 2016, nearly every decision maker in the league has probably felt like a fool at one point or another for passing on him. H is versatile, with the ability to play as a second striker or out wide.

Aside from the numbers, Plata, along with Kyle Beckerman, has been the heart and soul of Real Salt Lake. His energy coupled with his ability makes him one of the most dangerous attackers in today’s league. In addition to his club achievements, Plata has earned four caps and scored two goals for the Ecuador’s national team.

Imagine being able to pen Sharpie Plata into the Starting XI every week. What a dream come true that would be.

2012 - Round 1, Pick 13

MLS: Sporting KC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Dom Dwyer, Forward, USF

Original Pick: Chandler Hoffman, Forward, UCLA

Bad luck or bad scouting? At this point, it’s become apparent that the Union technical staff a team the time had trouble finding top end talent via the SuperDraft. Chandler Hoffman has to go down as one of the worst picks in the club’s history. Despite making their first selection later on than in any previous drafts, you expect to get some value at No. 13.

Hoffman was a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist at UCLA and appeared to be a guy that could produce goals at the next level. That quality was never seen from Hoffman as a professional. The Union sent him packing to join the LA Galaxy after just seven appearances. Despite spending two years in Los Angeles and another year in Houston, Hoffman made just 13 more MLS appearances before joining USL side Louisville City. Hoffman has since joined the Real Monarchs.

Dwyer, on the other hand, was the rare player coming to America from England for the opportunity to play professionally via the college route. After a successful career at USF, it was far from smooth sailing for the London-native. Dwyer made just one appearance in his rookie season before being called upon 16 times in his second season.

Since becoming a full-time starter for Sporting Kansas City in 2014, has netted 50 goals. Yes, you read that correctly: 50 goals! Dwyer has proven to be not only consistent in form but durable as well. The USF product has logged at least 2,500 minutes in each of the last three seasons.

Dwyer’s rise to stardom in MLS happened nearly overnight, but he has become one of the face’s of the league since. His work ethic along with his clinical finishing prowess make him a tough task for the top defenders in MLS.

At this point, McInerney has scored just four goals in two seasons, so it’s time to start thinking of a Plan B. That’s where Dwyer comes in.

2012 - Round 2, Pick 13 (32nd Overall)

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Warren Creavalle, Midfielder, UCF

Original Pick: Greg Jordan, Midfielder, Creighton

Greg Jordan is an all too familiar story for Union fans. With future difference-makers still on the board, the club selected a player that failed to make a single MLS appearance.

After being selected to the NSCAA All-America Second Team during his collegiate career at Creighton, Jordan was immediately loaned to the Harrisburg City Islanders after being selected by the Union in 2012. To make things worse, the 32nd pick in the draft never even got close to cracking the 18-man game day roster, appearing just eight times during the USL season.

Creavalle immediately saw the field in MLS, making 11 appearances for the Houston Dynamo. In his second season, he established himself as a semi-regular in the first team, making 17 starts and logging over 1,600 minutes.

Since leaving Houston in 2014, he made a brief stop with Toronto FC before joining the Union via trade in August 2015. Creavalle’s versatility makes him a great addition for just about any bench in the league. Being able to play as a true No. 6, a box-to-box midfielder, or a right back at times, makes him a valuable asset. He had a strong 2016 season in Philly, making 21 starts in Maurice Edu’s year-long absence.

Round 2, Pick 16 (35th Overall)

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Raymon Gaddis, Defender, West Virginia

Original Pick: Raymon Gaddis, Defender, West Virginia

They got one right! They got one right! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however. Gaddis saw his playing time decrease significantly in 2016 with the addition of Rookie of the Year Keegan Rosenberry.

Prior to this season, Gaddis was a crucial member of the Starting XI on a weekly basis. Comfortable at either fullback position, Gaddis checks off the versatility box as is the case with a lot of my selections thus far. His strengths on the field clearly lie off-the-ball. More of a traditional fullback, Gaddis does not offer a ton going forward. However, he is a shutdown 1v1 defender and does extremely well snuffing out opponents’ goal scoring opportunities in wide areas.

Gaddis did the impossible in 2014, eclipsing the 3,000 minute mark for a single season. He exceeded the 2,000 mark in both 2013 and 2015 as well. Make no mistake about it. He was never going to win you a game or play the killer pass, but he was always good for doing a job.

Check back for part two later this week, in which I will take a look at the Union’s more recent SuperDrafts and put together a projected lineup.