After not having a pick in either of the first two rounds with the draft in town last year, the Philadelphia Union will have a chance to pick 13th (or trade the pick) in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft in Chicago on January 11th.
What that will mean is hard to say given the dwindling returns from the annual college draft and the fact that the Philadelphia Union more than most teams in the league has mostly moved on to more fruitful areas like their academy and foreign markets searching for young talent.
You have to go back to 2015 to find an impact player taken 13th in the draft in New York Red Bulls defender Tim Parker, who Union head coach Jim Curtin recently noted was on the team’s radar and likely would’ve been taken 10th had the team not traded the pick away to Sporting Kansas City for CJ Sapong.
That’s not to say the Union won’t be able to mine the college ranks to add to their depth with a pick in the first round or later. Jack Elliott, after all, was selected 77th overall and has been more than serviceable in his two seasons in blue and gold.
Through development affiliate Reading United, the Union and Bethlehem Steel FC staff have had a chance to see many of the best players from this year’s draft pool up close and in training with both Steel and the first team over the summer.
There’s an argument to be made that a better path to the pros for non-academy college players would be to be signed directly from teams like Reading United, but for now the SuperDraft with its preceding Combine is still the mechanism the league is sticking to.
In addition to the 13th pick, the Union have the 37th, 61st and 85th picks.
The Union has drafted seven players over the last two drafts. Two were on first team contracts this season — Jack Elliott and Marcus Epps — and three were on USL deals (Santi Moar, Aidan Apodaca and Mike Catalano). It remains to be seen whether any of the three Steel players will return next season and whether Epps has shown enough to be retained with the first team (Elliott, unless he is dealt, should be back next season).
New sporting director Ernst Tanner seems even less interested in mining talent from the college ranks than his predecessor and has stated that the ideal age for development is 16-21, a window that has already closed for the majority of players eligible for the SuperDraft, which has only a select number of underclassmen signed through the Generation adidas program.
Outside of the draft, the Union have a decision to make about Villanova midfielder Zach Zandi, a standout 22-year-old midfielder and academy grad who could be signed directly from college either to a first team deal or Steel contract.
The draft has never been particularly kind to the Union despite having seasons with multiple high picks. For every Andre Blake or Keegan Rosenberry, there are multiple whatever-happened-to-him picks like Danny Mwanga, Stephen Okai, Cole Missimo and Don Anding.