Three regular starters for the Philadelphia Union last season may have been initially acquired via the MLS SuperDraft but for the third straight year MLS Draft Day isn’t expected to garner much attention or excitement among the fanbase here.
The Union have only one pick in the first stage of the draft that will be conducted via conference call beginning at 12:30 p.m. today and three additional picks in the third and fourth rounds, one of which they acquired in the infamous Kevin Kratz trade with Atlanta United more than three years ago.
After making headlines last year by talking FC Cincinnati into paying $150,000 in allocation money for draft picks that resulted in three players who played a combined 244 minutes in 2019, the Union could be dealing their first round pick again or end up passing altogether if there aren’t any takers.
Needless to say, expectations are low. Even the official Union Twitter account is bragging about “nailing” last year’s draft by opting out.
They did this — and were clever enough to throw in two picks that ended up not being used for effect — in part because FC Cincinnati was making a lot of head-scratching roster building decisions that doomed them to failure in season one. But also because Sporting Director Ernst Tanner understandably was uninterested in drafting players that would either potentially block the path of a younger homegrown in the team’s development pipeline or take up valuable international spots for which he had better/younger players in mind.
It was always a logical conclusion that a team emphasizing youth development as much as the Union have would move on from a dated and inefficient mechanism for player acquisition but Tanner managed in his first year at the helm to both rip off the band-aid of draft reliance and fill the second team roster with players not yet old enough to buy alcohol.
A year later, despite extending the contract of one of the great draft steals in former No. 77 pick Jack Elliott, the Union are just as committed as ever to bypassing it and even undercutting it with a full-throttled approach toward capturing players long before they would have traditionally become draft eligible.
Whether it’s grooming local youth in the pre-academy and academy programs, recruiting players from outside the area to the academy like they did with their newest homegrowns Jack de Vries and Cole Turner, scouting and signing internationals to USL deals (like Michee Ngalina and Olivier Mbaizo were initially) or even going after players in other MLS homegrown territories or academies, the Union under Tanner have become even more aggressive about locating and finding talent that they hope will not only make an impact in MLS but will also generate revenue through transfer fees.
By and large, the players available in today’s draft, particularly those that will be available by the time the Union pick at 21, don’t match the profile of what Tanner is doing but as the Union have proven over the last two years, it will be worth paying attention today regardless. Even without first or second round picks in 2018 and 2019, the past two Draft Days ended up being noteworthy with the David Accam draft day trade and introduction of Mark McKenzie and Matt Real as homegrowns in 2018 and the draft pick trade in 2019.
The first round of today’s draft will be streamed on ESPN’s social channels: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN app. The draft tracker is available at www.mlssoccer.com/superdraft/2020/tracker. Rounds three and four will be held on January 13.