Without a first-round draft pick at their disposal, expectations are low for the Philadelphia Union heading into this year’s MLS SuperDraft, but past experience shows that selections made after the first round and later aren’t always an exercise in futility.
Sure, most of the names selected after the fanfare of the top picks and the high-profile Generation adidas players are off the board aren’t ever heard from again. But sometimes, the opposite happens.
Starting with the Union’s current first-team lineup, you’ll find three players who were selected late enough to be available in the team’s 2017 draft scenario, most notably Richie Marquez, who has gone from Division III unknown to regular after being selected 44th in the 2014 draft. Warren Creavalle was taken 37th by the Houston Dynamo in 2012, just two picks after reserve defender Ray Gaddis.
Former Union defender and Drexel alum, Jeff Parke, made 261 career appearances (31 for the blue and gold) after being taken 60th in the 2004 draft by the MetroStars. If you are wondering about a certain other former MLS center back, head coach Jim Curtin was a third round pick in 2001 but doesn’t meet the criteria here because he was 29th overall.
Several players with USMNT caps were drafted in later rounds, most notably Chris Wondolowski, who saw 87 players picked ahead of him in the 2015 SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft before being snagged by San Jose. Nick Rimando went 35th in 2000, Michael Bradley 36th in 2004 and Geoff Cameron waited through 41 picks in 2008 to hear his name called. Alan Gordon hung around until No. 53 in 2004, Davy Arnaud was 50th overall in 2002 and Jonathan Bornstein was a No. 37 pick by Chivas USA in 2006 to name a few others.
Rimando is part of an impressive group of goalkeepers to go late in the draft. Sean Johnson was the No. 51 pick in 2010, Luis Robles was No. 50 in the 2007 draft, Tally Hall No. 44 by the LA Galaxy in 2007 and more recently South Jersey native Tyler Miller went 33rd in the 2015 draft (in part because of interest from Europe).
Some other late picks that stand out from previous drafts include Jack Jewsbury, who went from 43rd overall pick in 2003 to play 359 career matches, veteran Jeff Larentowicz clear down the list at 92nd overall in the 2005 supplemental draft, No. 34 pick Mike Grella in 2009, No. 58 pick Andy Dorman in 2004 and No. 45 pick in 2007 Bobby Burling.
Colorado Rapids midfielder Jared Watts going No. 33 appears to be, alongside Thomas McNamara going 20th, one of the best picks of the second round in 2014 (As John Adair painfully reminded us all last week, the Union drafted Kevin Cope and Robbie Derschang ahead of Mr. Watts).
Two of expansion club Minnesota United’s first players - Miguel Ibarra and Kevin Venegas - were taken very late in the 2012 draft and left to take a more circuitous route to the topflight. Ibarra was taken 65th overall by the Portland Timbers in 2012 and Venegas was chosen 10 picks later by Chivas USA.
Joao Plata was quite a steal for Toronto FC with the 49th pick in 2011 while Darrius Barnes (No. 40 in 2009), Chris Schuler (No. 39 in 2010), Sebastian Velazquez (No. 36 in 2012), R.J. Allen (No. 43 in 2012) and Femi Hollinger-Janzen (No. 51 in 2016) all seem like, with the benefit of hindsight, smart picks.
While these players are exceptions and hardly the rule - a USL/NASL story on the same topic would no doubt produce a much lengthier list - don’t count the Union out just yet when Draft Day comes around January 13. They just might end up with a solid player who, unlike with pre-2016 draftees, has an opportunity to earn minutes from day one at Bethlehem Steel FC.