Draft News / Transcript

Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin talk prospects before Thursday’s SuperDraft

Philadelphia Union Technical Director Earnie Stewart and Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media about how the club is approaching this week’s MLS SuperDraft. The Union have the third and sixth picks in the draft and the Union braintrust discussed what they will look for with those picks and what value they see in the SuperDraft is now and going forward. Questions have been paraphrased.

There are a lot of holes in the roster. You can draft for need or take the best talent available. What’s the strategy going into Thursday?

Earnie Stewart: Well obviously we want to create a winning team at some point so I can say that I’m very pleasantly surprised with what I’ve seen here during the combine. We’re actually doing interviews left and right right now, to find out the person behind the player. Once again, we’re pleasantly surprised in a lot of those things. A lot of times it’s said in the United States that there’s not much talent, but once again this has been a good couple of days that you can get a good overview of the players that are here. There’s a lot of potential in the players that we’ve seen. Not saying that they’re going to be the direct starters or anything like that, but definitely enough potential that we can fill some slots in our roster with good potential players for the future.

Why don’t first year players often make a big impact in MLS?

Jim Curtin: First and foremost, this is a new year and a new chapter. We have a lot more clarity in what we want in all things, in the process with Earnie being on board. If you rewind to last year, I think it’s a little unfair to judge that draft, because you think back, we traded the tenth pick for CJ Sapong, so oftentimes that gets overlooked that he was a big piece. The other players, yes, they’re not on our roster anymore, but at the same time they were later picks.

With the third and the sixth pick, yes there is a real opportunity for us to see players that will come in and come in and contribute. And we’ll identify those guys. Earnie’s been very good at clarifying the roles that we want and what we want a Philadelphia team to look like, to be part of what the city is. We need all those traits. We’ve identified some of those guys. It does no benefit for us now to go into anything further because there is a lot of cat and mouse that goes on now and there will be 100 different scenarios that will change from now to the draft day. You talk about, you hear different rumors, and teams wanting to trade their pick, and this and that. Without revealing too much, there is a lot more clarity. And with those third and sixth picks, it is an exciting time to get players that can come in and contribute who are, relatively speaking to the salary cap, at good prices as well.

Could you talk about how difficult it is for MLS teams picking guys who can come in and contribute right away? 

JC: It’s hard in any sport to go from the college level to the pro game. It becomes full time, there are pressures that come along with it. But at the same time, from what we’ve seen you have to do your homework. It’s not just basing it on this combine here. We’ve done our research on these guys for the entire career that they’ve had in college. Some of the international players that are here, you monitor them. It’s not an easy step, there are no guarantees, it’s not a perfect science, that is for sure. But with the research that we’ve done, with the roles that Earnie’s defined, we are going to do our best to bring in guys who can come in and make an impact, and [we] feel confident in the guys that we’ve narrowed it down to.

When you look at the current dynamic in the combine, two of the presumptive top four picks not being there — or in [Brandon] Vincent’s case going off to camp early — does that change anything? Does that introduce additional uncertainty?

ES: No, not really. Because this is obviously a great showcase to see players. And the best part of it is you get to talk to them. And if you’ve done your homework beforehand, the games themselves don’t necessarily mean that much. And I say that with all due respect because you have to do your job pretty much beforehand and make sure that you know these players from an identification standpoint.

The best part about this, I feel, is that you actually get to sit down and talk to these players. We did have the opportunity to speak during this week with some prospects even though some of them are not here anymore. That’s the best part about this. I don’t see it as a big disadvantage that they’re not here. Obviously these days in communication there are different ways of speaking to each other. Then again, it’s always good to have a pair of eyes across from you to learn more about the player and the person behind the player.

Last time you had two high picks in the draft, you made a few trades. With a few high picks again, will you listen to a lot of teams to potentially move up and down the draft board. 

JS: You always listen. It’d be silly to say no. You’re always listening. You want to make your roster as strong as possible. A lot of variables go into it. Again, we’re confident in the players that are here. We’ve identified a pretty strong class, I think. As we stand, it’s ten deep at a minimum. Going through these interviews, the kids come off and impress you even more. Having the third and sixth picks is a spot that we like. It’s a good position to be in, but the game that gets played is you can want all these players but on draft day it really comes down to making those decisions as to what’s best for Philadelphia Union moving forward.

About Keegan Rosenberry specifically: There was a report that a homegrown claim was denied on him. Is there anything you can say about that, and where you see him falling in the draft, and if there’s interest there from you. 

ES: Yes, that’s all true, what you said in the first part of your question. That is there, that has been denied, so we have to deal with that. That’s the case that there is. A little bit on the second part of your question, I don’t think it’s really in our advantage to say, right now in the rat race we have going up until the draft, to actually comment on what we find as attractive players for the Philadelphia Union going forward. We don’t want to give everything away quite right now.

Darius Madison is a player that you, Jim, know well. Is there an opportunity to lock him up to a homegrown deal before the draft?

JC: Again, there’s a lot of good players here. There’s players we’re looking at, obviously some we’re more familiar with than others. Some have trained in our system, some have said they want to be Philadelphia Union homegrowns. Unfortunately, some of the things are out of our control. We’ll look and evaluate guys. Keegan and Darius are two guys we’re aware of, probably know better than others. That’ll weigh into our decision-making process, it’s helpful. But at the same time, at this moment neither one of them will be homegrown players. So it’s one of those things that, it’s disappointing but it’s something we have to move on from.

What do you want to come out with in this draft? What are you looking for as far as your goals? Are you looking to get starters? Guys that can compete?

ES: That’s the goal in everything that we do here, is to actually come off this with starters. It’s always difficult going into this process, 1) Identifying players beforehand and during this draft, and 2) Having the interviews to actually find out about the person and the player himself to see what their traits are, where they’re good at, where they’re not so good at, what their ambitions are in life and in soccer in general, and try to go from there.

But our goal is to get starters and to make our roster as strong as possible. Because we all believe at Philadelphia that if we get two good players at every single position they’re going to drive each other to bigger and better. So that’s our goal, and going into this you have to make sure that you identify those players — and there are a couple of players here that would directly have impact for us as starters. Except with picks 3 and 6, there’s obviously two other teams that are there before us. So we’re going to go into our mock draft and see how we come out for ourselves and discuss all scenarios that could be possible. And hopefully those scenarios come out and we come out on top.

There are so many guys from other countries that are involved in this draft. How does that factor into what you guys are looking for?

ES: Yeah, for sure. We have a couple of spots open for that, so that’s good. We created that for ourselves, that we have the opportunity and the possibility to move on that. But that is something we take into account in how we look at our roster and what is possible. So: yes.

When you have a guy like Brandon Vincent who gets a call-up while he’s in the combine, does his stock rise to the point where he goes 1 or 2, or he moves drastically from where he was projected? 

ES: No. That’s emotion. And we try to stay as far away as possible from that. For Jim, myself, and everybody here, we try to identify our needs. For a player that gets called up to the national team, that’s great for the player, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we would have to move on that because we have the way we look at soccer, we have our demands on what we need positionally and that won’t change for us.

JC: Just to piggyback on that, Brandon Vincent is the same player as he was two days ago. Earnie and I have had contact with Jurgen [Klinsmann] about him, so again we have eyes there, communication there that will be able to monitor him during his time in the national camp. So again, a great thing for the kid but it doesn’t change our opinion of him one way or the other.

There’s been talk of the draft being outdated, and more kids come through the academies maybe the draft isn’t the best way to find players anymore. Do you see it that way or do you think you’ll be able to find solid talent coming through the college ranks in the next 4-5 years?

ES: Maybe it’s best to put it in best practices: I came to the Philadelphia Union and everybody was telling me: ‘You’re going to go to this college draft and you’re not going to find any players’ and this and that. And like I said at the beginning of this press conference: I was pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen. So apart from the academies being built and having players come through those ranks. Maybe in the future it might go in a different direction. But once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of player that is here right now. And yes, one is going to have more impact in the first year than another person. But the potential in a lot of players that is there is good. And the draft is something that belongs to the American culture, and in what we carry. And as long as these types of players keep coming out of the college draft, it wouldn’t have to change for me. Maybe the venue, since I didn’t think the field was that good, but other than that: no.

JC: It’s a way to get inexpensive labor, to be honest. These are kids that, with the G[eneration] A[didas] mechanism, they don’t hit your salary budget. There’s good players that have a very sensitive cap hit to the budget. The teams that are doing it right in the league, if you look around, are getting it right in the draft. While, yes, the hope is that the academies are the ones that are developing and bringing players through, it’s still a strong mechanism to bring in talent and to bring in talent at an inexpensive rate, which is valuable in a salary cap league.

Jim, how would you rate this year’s draft class compared to the last couple of years?

JC: Off the top of my head, it’s stronger than last year’s. This is the second time I’m in as the head coach here. I think it’s a deep class, which is good to have two picks in. There may not be a sexy striker. Everybody always looks for a goalscorer, but there is some real talent here. And Earnie’s already mentioned that he’s been impressed with what he’s seen. We’re pretty confident that however this works out we’re going to get some pretty strong players with the three and six picks. I would say it’s a good level. Higher than last year’s draft.

Does international influence has anything to do with draft strength?

ES: I mean, I think overall it’s good. What we’re trying to create at Philadelphia at the Union is that at every position we have the best players. So that means if international players are coming into our colleges and actually they are pushing the American player at the same time,  in the end I think it’s good. Obviously we want to make sure we develop talent here in the United States, all homegrown and American players, because that’s the most important, to add those types of players to certain colleges that drive other players, American players, to higher heights is actually good. The best playing against the best is what development is about; not only, but a big part of development has to do with having good players around you and making sure it drives you to better yourself. I mean it’s good, these kids are coming over, they’ve had a great impact for college football but, at the same time, I see the kids around them are doing very well too.

JC: Overall, it raises the ball for everyone, that’s a good thing. Four to five kids that we just interviewed had their starts in top academies in Europe and I think that that is a good thing, they share experiences with the American kids and they both can kind of feed of one another and, again, it strengthens this draft and the college game, and eventually MLS, so it’s a positive.

28 Comments

  1. So we are hoping to grab some starters from the draft. Not only that we are basing out future acquisitions after that.
    hmmm
    #theskyisfalling

    • Easy Sieve, easy. Yes they did say starters. They didn’t say starters for next year. They said they hoped to fill holes in next year’s roster. Along with having two quality players at each position that will push each other to get better. So basically they want to fill out the bottom of the roster with the 3rd and 6th pick with hopes that at sometime in the future they will push for starting positions. Which I feel is acceptable. Also they alluded to the foreign players in the draft, which may come in the form of later round picks (my opinion). So no need for the Henny Penny just yet.

  2. Now this is what I’ve been waiting for. Information.

  3. Who needs Twitter when we have PSP to give us the lowdown!

  4. I like that Curtin mentioned “roles” a couple of times, and that Earnie has defined those roles. This feels like an organization that has a true professional in charge now.
    .
    Combine that with “No. That’s emotion. And we try to stay as far away as possible from that.” I like the approach, and it feels like this is indicative of the approach towards all initiatives.
    .
    I’m maintaining my excitement of ES being on board. I think we’ll all be cautiously optimistic by the time they break spring training and the JAX scrimmage.

    • I definitely see more about your reference to ES being a calming influence. He does come across in that way. I also am pleased to hear about defined roles. El P’s famous Plan, Vision, Philosophy.

  5. MLS just posted an analysis of the 2015 draft class on their website:
    http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/01/11/2015-superdraft-retrospective-how-did-last-years-class-fare-their-1st-season
    .
    The Union selected four players (Catic, Bird, Simmons, Lee), none of whom are with the team a mere 12 months later…
    .
    .
    .
    Here’s hoping to better scouting/luck this year…

    • To be fair, those were 2 2nd round picks, 1 3rd round pick, and 1 4th round pick. At that point, hitting on 1/4 would be doing pretty good.
      .
      If you look at the top 10 from last year’s draft, 5 played significant minutes (half of the season or more), and the other half played some and are still on the team. I would hope to get that kind of contribution from these two picks.
      .
      Personally, if I could convince a GM to give me a legit player (say, Waylan Francis, LB from Columbus, or Fabian Castillo, winger from FC Dallas) for both picks, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • there is no way dallas would trade castillo for any amount of draft picks. rumor has it they won’t sell him for less than double digit millions

  6. I stand by my position that the first team needs one of the two top picks to be a cornerstone player… the other -if he sticks out of the gates, great- otherwise playing time in USL is acceptable with a hopeful call up in 12-18 months.
    .
    Friends while the ‘shriek of nothing is killing me’….. ultimately the draft is a “God awful small affair.”
    .
    There will be a team in Philadelphia and Bethlehem. It will not be a finished product. All will be revealed.

    • its good to take up a second or third hobby during these times of leaden inactivity. i suggest working, exercise, listening to music or dining out with friends.

  7. The adage of”Patience is a virtue” applies to this whole Union/BSFC process. The rebuilding and building of the teams we love needs to play out. It sucks it takes so much time and drags on….and on…but by early spring, it will be getting ready to bloom.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Since the season starts in what is technically late winter – we will have played three games before the Vernal Equinox – ready to bloom in early spring may be a bit tardy.

      • Damn it!!! I knew I should have fact checked!! Off to theCUD! THANKS OSC!! Oh well..I still hope for a pretty bloom!

  8. Newest SBI Draft Big Board has Madison ranked 66/80. If you are the Union do you target him with your second round pick?

    • Have the Union tried a Homegrown claim on him yet?

      • Darius Madison is a player that you, Jim, know well. Is there an opportunity to lock him up to a homegrown deal before the draft?

        JC: Again, there’s a lot of good players here. There’s players we’re looking at, obviously some we’re more familiar with than others. Some have trained in our system, some have said they want to be Philadelphia Union homegrowns. Unfortunately, some of the things are out of our control. We’ll look and evaluate guys. Keegan and Darius are two guys we’re aware of, probably know better than others. That’ll weigh into our decision-making process, it’s helpful. But at the same time, at this moment neither one of them will be homegrown players. So it’s one of those things that, it’s disappointing but it’s something we have to move on from.

      • The trick is, did they put in a claim, or did they decide not to even try? They have been very careful with their wording regarding him.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t try due to the circumstances at Maryland. Character off the field is important to most clubs

      • Yeah, that seems like the most likely reason right now. But they don’t want to trash the kid before the draft.
        .
        That said, if he’s projected to go in the 3rd round, it’s not like they can do much more damage to him.

      • It is curious because wasn’t curtin talking about giving him a homegrown deal last year?! But now it sounds more like they chose not to offer him the deal this time around. Maybe his issues off the field are not what Earnie Stewart wants to deal with in a player

  9. I read most of the ES/JC statements as we will look for players wherever they are presented to us, and have in our own minds what we are looking for. ES also values talking to them more than watching them play. Remember, your child (assuming you have one with normal developmental milestones) rolled around, sat up, crawled commando, crawled on all fours, stumbled like a drunken sailor hanging onto things, stumbled like a drunken sailor without hanging onto things, walked, then ran (and we are only at about age 4). since our expectations are all (quite unreasonably) for ES to exhibit Usain Bolt level sprinting, it may be helpful to reference normal developmental milestones. heck, I’ll be happy for a coherent playing strategy and the beginning of the selection of players to fit it. progress will be measured in years in which a high level of performance is sustained. take the long road.

    • Dude…. so well thought out and said… anything short of this is silliness.
      .
      the goal is not the playoffs…the goal is not some old heads… the goal is a vision philosophy and plan…
      .
      none of this shit happens over night and it sure as hell isn’t going to magically appear before us… all this talk about only having a few players… who cares….. what— are they going to field a team in March with 6 starters in a SSG?
      .
      NO. It will all be okay. This is a total rebuild…almost exactly what many of us have been begging for and now that the car is all apart and laying in pieces everywhere…people want to go lease a Lexus.
      .
      “phew for a minute there…I lost myself-I lost myself”
      .
      They’ve told us everything they need to tell us right now without being able, really to tell us anything… So well said Sir.

    • You’ve met Philadelphia sports fans before, right? C’mon, man…we want it NOW!!!!
      😉

    • I agree with the message, though do believe that in MLS (unlike nearly all other major leagues in the US), you can turn a team around fairly quickly to a competitive status. I’m not sure that vision/philosophy/plan and fielding a team with a puncher’s chance at the playoffs this year are mutually exclusive. Build out a coherent strategy and assembling pieces of best fit, but a few competent placeholders (I assume this is the logic with Pontius) who are short term commitments and/or low cost can give us a better product to enjoy this year as we transition. I suspect ES and JC will be smart enough to do that.

    • just to clarify, high level of performance means high place finishes (1 or 2) and deep playoff runs (semis or better) every year.

  10. Lucky Striker says:

    A legit 2-deep at every position. Draft, Window, trades, off the street…….

    Don’t care who they are-or how famous.

    The goal here is to find people who actually play the position they are assigned to…..

    So that I never again have to hear that the Union dropped points because they were dead tired and had no real roster to call upon.

    All of which makes it easier for me to narrow down the areas that will need improving going forward while simultaneously giving me a fair eval. of the staff.

    That’s it. That’s all.

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