Press Conference

Curtin and Albright talk SuperDraft; tight-lipped on Edu, Klejstan

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin and technical director Chris Albright answered questions from reporters via conference call on Monday. Here’s a transcript of what was discussed. Questions have been paraphrased.

What was learned from last year’s draft?

Jim Curtin: It’s a lot different this year. Obviously we have a greater responsibility. We have not as high of a draft pick though. So it’s a bit of a give-take there. Last year there was… we sat as kind of assistants and not with the final say, this time around we’ll have the final say.

Obviously, we’ve traded out of the first round to get a guy like C.J. [Sapong]. We are still happy with that and concluded our thoughts being down here [in Florida at the MLS Player Combine] that the tenth overall pick we gave up for C.J., there’s no player that’s down here that represents his quality right now, so we’re happy with that. Having said that, there are still opportunities maybe to trade back into the first round, we have a couple picks in the second that we could maybe package to get into the second or the first round if we see a player that we’d like to target.

The difference from last year to this is we have the final say on the selection. It was a good experience last year, things come at you quickly, it’s fast and furious and you have to react quickly to a lot of different situations that get thrown to you, whether it be trades, player trades, sometimes pick trades, allocation money, weighing all those things is a big responsibility, one we’re up for, and one we’re looking forward to.

Does having the final say change the way you approach this draft?

JC: I trust my staff, first and foremost. So I have a very good support staff around me — B.J. Callahan, Mike Sorber and Chris Albright. So again, I don’t make any one decision solely on my own. There are the… the weight of it does come down to Chris and I with the final say on these selections. It’s a big one, but again you take all the information you’re given, you trust your staff.

B.J. Callahan has been our lead guy on the college scouting this year, he’s done a great job organizing that and making it easier, having a lot of eyes on a lot of games this year, talking to a lot of the college coaches. Obviously, Chris and I have a strong network throughout college and throughout MLS, but sometimes you get busy on other things, whether it’s international signings or different things like that. So, B.J.’s done great taking the lead on the college thing, but obviously we take all the information we get, we come together, and we make a decision that’s best for the Philadelphia Union to get back in the playoffs.

How much have you seen the college draft change? Is it getting less impactful for teams, specifically yours?

JC: I would first like to stress the importance of role players still in our league. The guys that give you 34 games — maybe they just make 100,000 dollars a year, but that can give you 34 games — are so valuable in this league. You don’t have to worry about them. They’re guaranteed guys, a lot of them have gone four years in college and they come through and go on to have good careers. They make coaches sleep easy at night, and that’s kind of the guys you look for in the draft at this stage.

Are there less of them coming out? You could probably say the data says yes. But are they still important to this whole thing? I would also have to say yes to that. Still an important mechanism for players, but the hope is, and the way the league is moving, is more towards individual academies developing players, whether they be role players or whether somebody develops the next Landon Donovan, that’s kinda the direction that it’s moving. But again, I don’t want to downplay the importance of the draft because that’s where you find the guys that can play and give you those 34 consistent, hard games for you.

How do you stay even keeled, as crazy as the draft can be?

JC: It’s a whirlwind, it happens quick. I’d also add that in our league it’s the easiest mechanism that we have to bring players back — [a player] might not be on your discovery list, or you might not be the top spot in the allocation — so there’s all these different moving parts that happen. With the college draft specifically, you can target… there are always two ways to approach it: You can go for specific need by position or you can pick the best available player.

We’ve kind of decided amongst our staff to go best available player because of the fact that we pick 31 and there’s thirty variables in front of you that can take your guy. So this draft our clear idea is to take the best available position. Obviously if it’s one of the key positions slips to us, and a guy that we’re shocked falls into our lap at a left back spot, we would do it.

Again, you still weigh the risk-reward of moving up, of packaging something together to move up and get into the first round. We’re still going through the interview process with a lot of these kids, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to interview the majority of them, to be a little more thorough than maybe we have been in the past, just so you get to know them and ask questions and see what they’re all about. Part of that process is on us to not make it as confusing if your guy does get nabbed before you’re on the clock, so you have a built-in sense of who are the three guys that are available if the number one guy goes right before you select.

Again, it is a crazy time, move quickly, and when you’re on the clock, you only have a select amount of time to make that decision. I’m confident in our preparation so far, and obviously having the 31st pick probably takes a little bit of the pressure off, to be honest.

Last year, the Union ended up picking a couple of guys that either didn’t get to contribute much their first season or are no longer on the roster. Are you looking for a player that can make an immediate impact if you move up this year?

And we have targets. I’ll be blunt, there’s two guys right now that we are debating moving up for in the draft, and they’re the guys that are at positions of need.

JC: I’d stress that the past is the past. I didn’t have final say on those selections, certain guys and things that were said about building for the future, those weren’t comments from me. Again, trying to put your stamp on this group, Chris and I are trying to do that now.

And we have targets. I’ll be blunt, there’s two guys right now that we are debating moving up for in the draft, and they’re the guys that are at positions of need. If that price gets too high to move up, we won’t do it. It’s as simple as that. But that might be packaging a player and allocation money, whether its packaging two draft picks — there’s a million different variables that you guys have all mentioned, but it’s something we’re thinking about, we’re weighing, and there’s just a lot of variables that go into it. Whether we want to make that jump or not will be a down to the wire decision. And obviously, I apologize, I can’t reveal the names of the kids because that just gives other teams an advantage.

Can anything be said about Sacha Klejstan? Are you pursuing him? Any updates on the reports that Maurice Edu is close to being a permanent Union player? Also, any additional news on the search for new players?

Chris Albright: I would say, in regards to Maurice, I know there were reports that surfaced last week, we’re obviously aware of those. I think that Mo is a player that we think very, very highly of. He’s a player that gives us versatility and a player that has played at the highest level.

What I can say to that right now is that I think we’re close to being over the line, and look forward to getting that behind us and having Mo be a big piece for us in the foreseeable future.

As far as players of Sacha’s caliber, we’re always going to be interested in players of that quality. We’re not going to get into speaking about specific players that we’re targeting.

As far as players of Sacha’s caliber, we’re always going to be interested in players of that quality. We’re not going to get into speaking about specific players that we’re targeting. But I think a player with Sacha’s resume and CV obviously speaks for itself,and I think he’d be a great addition to MLS no matter where he ends up if he were to come back. As far as the overall transfer market, we’re still very active in looking for players. We’re in some conversations right now internationally and that’ll continue as we go on here over the next few weeks.

How much flexibility to you have to add on-budget players?

CA: I think everybody is operating under sort of the same unknown territory. It’s been our policy, and league policy, we’re not going to comment on CBA negotiations or where that may come out specifically, but there’s obviously an area, a bit of unknown, for anybody that’s trying to add players.

That being said, I think Jim’s said it before, we’d like our roster to be judged on March 7th. And I know that everybody’s eager for additions or subtractions or announcements, but our comment would just be to remain patient and you can fully judge us… March 7th obviously is one time to judge us, and then whether or not we make the playoffs is another time to be able to judge the roster. But for now, we’re active in trying to improve the roster daily and hope to have some announcements over the next few weeks.

Can you add to the on-budget roster without subtracting? 

I would just say that you just entrust that we have a real good idea of how to handle the roster

CA: I would just say that I think you just entrust that we have a real good idea of how to handle the roster, and like I said, you guys’ll have a better idea in a couple weeks where it all falls out.

If the opportunity presents itself to sign a guy like Sacha Klejstan, budget aside, depth chart-wise, what’s the calculation for trying to fit him in?

CA: That’s a good question. It almost relates itself to the draft. You’re always balancing position of need versus the quality of the player. And those are conversations that when they come down to specific players we have a pretty good idea of how to analyze that and where we come out on it. But I would say that the discussion changes given the specific qualities of the player and our position of need at the time.

So if it’s not a position of need, that would be a factor?

CA: Of course, it always is. But again, I think you weigh the quality of the player and the resume of the player and how you think he could have an impact on your team. There’s no sort of one answer, obviously, as you guys know. And we have ways of analyzing how we weigh those two variables.

Regarding Mo, what does it mean to have him back, where would you like to see him on the field?

I had an end of the year meeting with him and we discussed where our team had success and where he played, so, you can infer… you can come to a conclusion on that if Mo is the guy we have back.

JC: Until we finally have Mo as our player, I’ll refrain from the future; I will talk about the past though. You guys know what position I played him at in the past. I had an end of the year meeting with him and we discussed where our team had success and where he played, so, you can infer… you can come to a conclusion on that if Mo is the guy we have back.

Both Toronto and Kansas City have clusters of first round picks. Do you anticipate that situation will make it easier to trade up into that range? 

JC: Sure, that is a possibility. There’s a lot of chatter down here about teams trading picks, all the way through the first round. It’s a unique one, that you see, I think Kansas City has a cluster of three in the first round. So there’s good players down here but, yeah, there’s probably only so many picks you want in the first round. So those are a few we’ve targeted to possibly move up. If we think it’s worth it, we’ll put a package together. We’re not going to overpay and just throw stuff at it for the sake of moving up though, unless it makes sense.

Anything you can tell us about Darius Madison and the club’s discussions with or about him?

JC: Darius Madison, he’ll be a pro soccer player. There’s no question about that. Darius didn’t have the best year. Darius is someone that I’m close with.

He won the national title, I’m very aware of that, but you speak with Darius and he’s disappointed in his goal production. He had some injuries and he bounced back.

The discussions on Darius are ongoing. Out of respect to his coach, I have to reach out to him and speak on that before I even speak specifically on Darius’ situation. But we’ll evaluate that, see what’s best for not only the University of Virginia, what’s best for Darius, what’s best for the Philadelphia Union. We’ll come to a conclusion there.

I will say that Darius as the tools to play pro soccer. He’ll be a pro player. We’ll see how that goes in the coming weeks. So, again, those are discussions we’ll be having, he’s not a guy that we’ve forgot about or anything like that. A guy that I coached in the under-18s, I know Darius very well. I know he’s a Philly kid and he still has the qualities we like in a player.

Are you exploring any more homegrown signings?

CA: It’s something that [principal owner] Jay [Sugarman]’s spoken about. From ownership on down, it’s something that we’re going to be committed to, developing our homegrown players and getting them in to be contributors on our first team.

That being said, we have a couple guys in Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer that are going to be back with us. I think it speaks to our commitment of trying to develop young players and we’re going to probably have a couple of academy guys in with us in preseason as well. We’re constantly evaluating those guys. We’re going to do a better job going forward of integrating those guys on a weekly basis with the first team in order to better evaluate their readiness for the MLS level.

So I would say specifically, we’re not going to reveal any specific discussions we’re having as far as signing homegrowns, but it’s something we’re committed to as an organization and as a staff.

JC: And the last thing I’ll add to that part of things, the importance of the homegrown player in Philadelphia is a big one because we know where we are as a club: We’re not going to spend like the Galaxy or Seattle. So our academy is going to produce those role players that I talked about. Those are the key guys that come in and you don’t have to lose sleep over at night because you know you can pencil them in.

And Tommy Wilson has done a great job of seeing that quality player, that type of player and knowing the environment and the messaging to get them ready for our first team, and come in and be a guy that we can trust and be a steady 5-10 year pro that we can pencil in on the roster. And that’s kind of the goal of our academy. If they produce the next Landon Donovan, that’s excellent. But, at the same time you can’t stress enough the importance of those role players and to be able to develop them in the academy is huge.

Any updates on Zach Pfeffer’s injury situation?

Jim: I’ve been in touch with Zach, and he’s kind of gutted that he missed the [US U-20 MNT] training camp leading into it because of injury and then wasn’t selected obviously, and I think the injury had a lot to do with it.

You look at how the group’s done and maybe Zach’s a guy that they miss a little bit. And he’s a guy that is healing, he wasn’t 100 percent.

My advice to him was to make sure he’s 100 percent before he goes back out there because the last thing you want to do is be a reoccurring thing for the rest of your career. So, he’s being smart with it, monitoring it, doing all his rehab right now, and it’s expected to get him going for the preseason. He came in last year and had a very good preseason, and then maybe didn’t get the opportunity early on. We’re hoping he’s a guy that comes in and makes an impact and is a guy that makes it hard for us to not put in our lineup.

Any advice to the US team on how to turn things around at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica?

CA: Any advice from me? No, I’m too old to be giving advice.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    “I would just say that you just entrust that we have a real good idea of how to handle the roster” — That’s a big check you just wrote… better be able to cash it.

  2. “I would just say that you just entrust that we have a real good idea of how to handle the roster.” -Chris Albright

    “Based on recent history, all I can say in response to that is ‘Bl0w Me.’.”
    – the fan base

  3. The way I see it:
    Mo will be CB along with Valdez and White or Berry will be moved.
    That leaves Nogs (assuming he re-signs)and potentially Klejstan at Dmid.
    So starting 11 (4-2-3-1): M’Bholi, Gaddis, Mo, Valdez, LB, Nogs, Klejstan, Seba, Maidana, Wenger, Sapong. With a potential upgrade at striker.
    Not a bad line-up.

  4. “Trust that we know what we’re doing.” “We had to keep Fabinho.” “We need a good left back.” “The MLS draft doesn’t supply good players, just roleplayers.” “We hope to draft a left back.”

    I don’t trust you. I don’t trust you at all.

  5. I agree with Curtin that Sapong, even if he is an off the bench sub for any of the forward positions, is better than what would be there at #10. Credit to the FO when they get one correct.

    Not a fan of the pursuit of Klejstan – does not fit an area of need and continues the problem last year’s roster had, players out of position. Neither Nogueira and Klejstan will stay home and shield the back 4, leaving a lot of space there. Good player, but Union should spend their limited money in other areas, LB or top-line striker.

    Union never make an on budget addition without moving someone off the roster. I fear that signing Edu leads to Valdes leaving, or signing Klejstan means Nogueira would head back to Europe. Until the Union add a big dollar player without subtracting somewhere else, I will remain a skeptic.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Agree with the money/player swap the Union seem to do. I also agree with Duke above that the lineup listed is pretty solid, but you still have LB in there. They need one. And not a drafted college kid. I mean that is fine for next year but you need a real, actual left back. That must happen before SK.

    • Personally, I’m ok with Valdes leaving if Edu is made permanent.
      White has played well and Berry surely is better then he showed this past injury-riddled season. Valdes seems to not be fully committed to the team with rumors of loans or transfers always popping up and would likely be a DP and take up an international spot.
      If Edu is permanent and is going to play centerback then I would rather not see 2 of the 3 DP spots used on the backline. The open DP spot could then be used to keep Noggy here or to bring in a proven goal scorer.

  6. Steve OMalley says:

    It would fun to have kljestan and edu together and then I think we may make the playoffs

  7. hamishe ye jooraei mefnoatfer boodam az roozaei ke migzasht ama hamishe ham nesbat beshoon ye hese gharib dashtam va moddatie be sheddat deltange oon roozaii hastam ke gozasht…man ham havas kardam,havas kardam baraye aan roozha esmi begozaram be pakie barf va arameshe baran…ahvalatet chetore refigh?!

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