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Draft reaction: The Union do it again

Philadelphia Union have figured out the formula to the MLS amateur draft:

Be patient, wait for other teams to screw up, and draft the best player available. When in doubt late, take a guy who played for Reading United.

The Union did it again this year, so let’s talk about it with the proverbial Five Observations about … the draft.

The steal of the draft?

Last year, it was Michael Farfan. This year, it might be Chandler Hoffman.

Some projected Hoffman as a top three pick.  Others had him much lower, but they were in the minority. He was an 18-goal scorer in 2011. Few expected him to be on the board for the Union’s pick. The Union certainly didn’t. But there he was. And with the top center backs already taken, Hoffman was almost a no-brainer for the Union. (Playmaker Enzo Martinez might have tempted, but if Roger Torres and Freddy Adu return, he’d have been excess.)

In terms of value for a pick, the Union got a potential top-five player with the 13th pick. That makes it a great draft choice.

Unless everyone else knows something the Union don’t — and that’s unlikely. The Union brass has proved terrific at identifying talented young players, maybe the best in the league. Michael Farfan showed that, as have Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo,  Danny Mwanga and others. (Remember: Mwanga wasn’t viewed as the probable top draft choice until Peter Nowak brought his name into the mix.) John Hackworth is one of the league’s most valuable assistant coaches partially because of this.

The question is whether Hoffman will get to play. He’s now the fourth Union striker under the age of 22, and you’d like to see all get some minutes in 2012. When and where will they all play? (Right now, Union fans should be praying Sebastien Le Toux doesn’t get moved out to right wing again.) The scouting report on Hoffman is that he may have a better nose for the goal than any other player in the draft, but some say he’s more of a goal poacher than anything else. If so, that sounds an awful lot like Jack McInerney, doesn’t it?

The Reading connection

When in doubt with your last pick, take a guy who played for Reading United.

That seems to be the Union strategy the last two years (with midfielder Levi Houapeu going last year) although whether there was any doubt in either case I couldn’t tell you.

Right back Raymon Gaddis is an oddity the Union have never actually had on their roster: Someone acquired to be a backup fullback. He’s someone they’ve seen plenty of, both in his time playing for Reading United and through Hackworth’s scouting of the youth international pool prior to his Union days. (That put them a step on everyone else in the league, because Gaddis didn’t play at the scouting combine.) The word on him is that he’s fast, and he plays right back. That’s a good thing, because Sheanon Williams appears to be a lock for the Olympic team, which means he’ll miss several games. Rather than having to shuffle the entire lineup, the Union can now slot in a backup defender who actually plays the position he’s filling. Quite revolutionary, isn’t it?

Center back depth still lacking

The one thing the Union didn’t do was take a center back. It’s hard to fault them for that choice, considering the top two center backs were off the board, including the one (Matt Hedges) most likely to fall to them. In the MLS SuperDraft, which is anything but super as far as drafts go, you take the best player available, regardless of position.

That means the Union could (and probably should) look to sign another central defender before opening day.

Englishman Joe Tait is still on the roster, but he has yet to feature for the club, so he’s an unproven variable. Other than Tait, there’s no natural center back to step into the lineup if Danny Califf or Carlos Valdes go down with injury or suspension. Of course, there is the option of players moving out of position. Williams featured at center back once last year, but the Union would prefer him on the flank. Amobi Okugo has played some center back at the youth international level, but never in the pros.

This was a hole last season, and the Union got away with it. They’ll have less leeway this year, because they could lose as many as five players to the Olympics, far more than any other team.

Just one trade on draft day?

I delayed this post several hours to wait for the post-draft trades to shake out. Sure enough, there weren’t any. That was a stunner. This was the first MLS SuperDraft without a single trade.

That said, the one trade that happened before the draft was a big one. Kenny Cooper may have struggled some in Portland (and in Europe), but he could prove a good compliment to Thierry Henry with New York. Last season, Luke Rodgers proved the perfect partner to Henry, and when he was healthy, his good positioning and hold-up play let Henry be Henry. Now, Rodgers may not return due to visa issues, which means Cooper could fill the space. When Cooper was with  Dallas, don’t forget how good the big guy was.

Look for more trades to be announced Friday. Speculation had Brian Ching on the move, but let’s be honest: Jesse Marsch and Joey Saputo are playing a game of chicken right now with Houston, waiting to see who blinks first on Quebec native Andre Hainault. (Thought: Is all the Brian Ching drama worth Andre Hainault? He’s good, but he’s not THAT good.)

A Reading guy goes No. 1

You didn’t think we were going to forget this, did you?

Stick another feather in Reading United’s cap. Last year, the MLS rookie of the year was a Reading alum, C.J. Sapong. This year, Reading can claim parentage of the No. 1 draft pick.

No, the club isn’t entirely responsible for Andrew Wenger’s development, but they get to take SOME credit for it. The model of the USL PDL is such that recruiting good players for that season is at least as as important as training and coaching them, so the cynic might say Reading’s good at finding them. Whatever. Wenger’s from central PA, right in Reading’s back yard.

This can only help Reading in the coming years. They’re building a resume as a place players go to get noticed by the pros, and they win games. The next question is whether the Union can turn some of those players into home-grown signings. As yet, they haven’t, but with the SuperDraft fading in relevance as other player acquisition methods arise, that could change.

The thought I don’t have

I have nothing to add about this Jordan guy. I guess he’ll fill in for Okugo if Okugo makes the Olympic team. Never seen Jordan play. Have you? What do you have on him or any of these guys? Observations welcome (on him and, well, on everything in the draft).

2 Comments

  1. Jordan is Carroll 2.0 (kinda looks like him too)

    Creighton conceded only 5 goals in 24 matches. That’s impressive.

  2. More draft picks to come, and a few potential mls sleepers down there. Still several decent centerback, fullback, defensive midfielder, and wing prospects on the board. Still excited for tuesday.

    Surprised we took Greg Jordan over kirk urso.

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