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What do the Union do with all these draft picks?

Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

Expansion draft. Re-entry draft Part One. Re-entry draft Part Two. Superdraft. Now the Supplemental Draft.

Though MLS has tried to exhaust you with its countless relocation and dispersion techniques this offseason, don’t give up on the last and perhaps most unheralded draft.

Tuesday’s Supplemental Draft (which is really just Rounds Four, Five, and Six of the Superdraft), has a history of producing some notable players. The 2005 Supplemental Draft alone had the Earthquakes Jason Hernandez, Chris Wondolowski and Ginger Ninja Jeff Larentowicz. It’s not something that always pays off, but it’s also not something to sleep on. The Union’s own Jordan Harvey was a Supplemental Draft pick of the Rapids in 2006.

So what did the Union come out with on Tuesday?

A couple of local guys, some lesser known talent, and a few players who you may just see wearing the Blue and Gold in the coming years.

Ryan Richter (CB/F, La Salle), Josh Walburn (D/M/F, Princeton), and Matt Marcin (M, Providence) are likely to be the next big test of the Union’s affiliation with lower division clubs, the Harrisburg City Islanders in particular. Richter, Walburn, and Marcin will likely be given ample opportunity (along with unsigned Superdraft pick Levi Houapeu (M/F, UMBC)) to make the senior squad this offseason.

However, if coaches Nowak and Hackworth don’t sign all these players to contracts in March, it’s not the end of the world.

In many instances in the past, MLS teams would draft a bunch of players in the later rounds, the guys would come into camp, get cut, and be sent packing. The lucky few who were invited back for a second shot at preseason may not have done much better, even if they found a lower division club to play with for the season. Even now, despite expanded rosters, the Union simply won’t be able to accommodate all of its potential players, this season or most others.

But there’s an interesting rule that’s been in place in MLS for quite a while:

A player who was drafted by a particular team through the SuperDraft (also read Supplemental Draft) and did not sign with the League, is placed on that team’s “College Protected List” until the second December 31 following the draft in question, after which the team loses the rights to the player.

What this means is that MLS teams have essentially two years to sign their picks before they lose their rights to them.

Player rights are important for two reasons.

First, holding a player’s rights prevents another MLS team from signing them. Second, the player can be signed any time within that two year window without counting as a discovery signing. When you are an expansion club and get ten discovery signings, using one on an undrafted All-American isn’t a big deal. When you only get six like everybody else, it is a big deal.

For argument’s sake, let’s say one of the four unsigned draft picks doesn’t make the Union squad this spring. There is a lower division professional club no more than 100 miles away who should provide the perfect place to continue developing as a player. If Nowak and Hackworth think that Walburn, for example, isn’t ready for MLS this year, he could play up to two years with the Harrisburg City Islanders before the Union lose his MLS rights. If they don’t sign him now, they don’t have to waive him (if he is cut) and thus expose him to other MLS clubs.

No big deal, you say?

What does that have to do with anything, you ask?

Exaggerate the situation a bit more. Let’s say all four of the Union’s currently unsigned picks don’t make the squad this season. Are the four of them each supposed to go find a club? Is the Union supposed to develop a relationship with each club so that the player is not sold to an NASL club, or another USL club? What about player development? What kind of skills and what kind of training are these players getting for a full season? Is it worth the time and energy? Or do the picks just add to the list of MLS draftees who were cut once and never heard from again?

If Nowak and Hackworth take full advantage of their relationship with the Harrisburg City Islanders (as you may have seen this past Spring and Summer with JT Noone), players who do not make the full squad should find a place where they can play, develop, and train, and still be close enough to practice with the Union and be under their coaching. Bill Becher and his crew on the island were amenable to the Union’s plans involving JT this past season as well as providing a place for Sheanon Williams to find his feet again. I am confident that both signings will work out well for the Union long-term.

So, don’t be at all surprised to see one or more of the Union’s unsigned picks playing on City Island for the USLPRO season. It’s not an failure if they do so. That’s what the affiliate system is designed to do.


  1. There’s something about Walburn, a player who plays D/M/F that makes me nervous. jack of all trades, master of none. won’t cut it in the pro game.

    • While that kind of flexibility (or lack of dominant positioning, depending on your perspective) can be a negative, it can also be a huge positive. Okugo’s ability to play DM and CB helps him find more field time with the US U-20s and makes him a more frequent call up. You saw something similar with Jacobson last season lining up anywhere across the midfield. Ability to play more than one position doesn’t make you dominant – it makes you a team player. Walburn’s multiple positions should come in handy either on the Union Reserves or City Islanders where utility sometimes outweighs .

      • DM and CB are very similar, and yes, an ability to play both is an asset.

        However, a player who plays EVERYWHERE sounds like an unsettled player not good enough to lock down a consistent spot on his team.

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