Analysis / Breaking News

Deriving meaning from Philadelphia’s 2024 Superdraft

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II Communications

Last year the Union made two selections in the 2023 SuperDraft, goalkeeper Holden Trent from High Point University in North Carolina, and former Georgetown striker Stefan Stojanovic. It was the first time since Ernst Tanner’s fall 2018 arrival that actual picks had been made.

This year on the same day as 2024’s Superdraft, the Philadelphia Union announced they had re-signed forward Chris Donovan, the 23.4-year-old former Columbus Crew draft pick from Conestoga High School and Drexel University. Through sustained hard work and intelligent self-discipline, Donovan has overcome the Sporting Director’s objections to signing a collegian. Compare Tanner’s language when presenting Donovan’s initial first team contract to that of the second. Both are positive of course, but the subtext of skepticism in the first is much less obvious in the second.

Donovan will never be a candidate for re-sale to Europe. But he is proving to be an improving, increasingly productive reserve striker in MLS. Most recently he finished the goal that advanced the Union past New England into the second round of the playoffs. Weeks earlier he tapped home the score that secured Philadelphia’s participation in the 2024 Concacaf Champion’s Cup.

Later the same afternoon as Donovan’s re-signing, the Union drafted three other college players. With the 53rd pick they took University of Pennsylvania junior forward Stas Korzeniowski. With the 63rd pick they took sophomore Stanford forward Zachary Bohane. And with the 82nd they took Boston University senior goalkeeper Francesco Montali. (Draft eligibility was expanded this year to include underclassmen.)

Going into 2024’s draft, the Union held three picks beause their fourth, the first round’s number 24, had been traded to Inter Miami as part of Damion Lowe’s acquisition on January 25, 2023. The additional pick came from Austin as part of the Brandan Craig loan.

Both of 2023’s drafted collegians survived. Trent made the first team as a squad player. Stojanovic had already been signed by Philadelphia Union II the previous year and was being protected from acquisition by another MLS first team. In 2023 Stojanovic became Mr. Offensive Versatility for Union II, starting or subbing anywhere among the front five of the 4-4-2 narrow diamond throughout the season.

Additionally, a 2023 undrafted third collegian, former Rutgers University captain Hugo Le Guennec, was signed to replace Gino Portella at center back against the German-Italian’s expected midseason departure. Le Guennec also was a stopgap. He himself was let go this December after the emergence of two younger center backs with higher upsides. The first is 19.6-year-old Olwethu Makhanya from South Africa, and the second is 16.2-year-old Union Academy junior Neil Pierre (see picture), younger brother of first-team homegrown Nelson Pierre.

Last Monday  Union II released its full slate of  2024 roster announcements including the declining of Le Guennec’s option. The previous week another collegian Duke senior attacking midfielder Nick Pariano had been signed as a homegrown, preempting him from candidacy with other organizations.

The changed organizational attitude towards older players in the development pipeline is best exemplified by a final signing, actually a post-collegiate one.  Twenty-four and fourth tenths year-old defensive midfielder Kyle Tucker’s option for 2024 was exercised. Signed originally last summer the Drexel graduate known as “Uncle Tuck” to his high school-age teammates had kept himself involved with local amateur side West Chester United Predators under head coach Blaise Santangelo. Once integrated and conditioned he showed MLS NEXT Pro credibility as a single 6 at the defensive vertex of the diamond.

Here are some possible reasons for the philosophy adjustment.

  • We infer that it is easier to teach others the intricacies of the 4-4-2 narrow diamond if it can actually be played on the pitch during games, something that had not been the case since James Chambers’ retirement until the middle of 2023.
  • We also suspect that inculcating mature professionalism into 17-year-olds is reinforced by Uncle Tuck and the presence of other collegians.
  • And we further infer that the self-described sports scientist who is the Sporting Director has realized that the level of teenage soccer talent in North America is not yet as broad and deep as it is in western and central Europe, a point suggested anecdotally by continued European dominance of the knockout stages of FIFA youth world cups no matter their level.

Philadelphia’s business model remains focused on finding and developing candidates for re-sale to Europe’s developmental leagues. But it has adjusted its secondary parameters to reflect conditions in North America, especially as they affect developing young players towards play in MLS.

Perhaps the Pierre brothers, Nelson and Neil, best exemplify how Tanner has adjusted his philosophy.

When discussing signing Nelson as a homegrown last offseason, the Sporting Director described him as likely able to score goals in Major League Soccer making no mention of Europe.  And anyone who has tracked his development would agree that European ambitions are not likely to be realized. But it is much too soon to apply such restrictions to his younger brother. That Tanner signed Neil before he was 16 hints other organizations may have considered acquiring him. The 2024 season will begin to reveal just how high his ceiling may potentially become.

A scientist adapts his working hypothesis to fit the data ongoing investigation reveals.




  1. John P O'Donnell says:

    Good article and at some point this is the tipping point I believe will happen across the league when you describe the Nelson brothers. Players who will go to Europe but others that might have a decent career in MLS.

  2. PaulContinuum22 says:

    US Soccer to MLS yesterday: You won’t have MLS teams in the US Open Cup over our dead bodies. Google it.

    • The idea which follows is compromised by the general public, specifically writers, not having access to a complete set of MLS’s actual rules. With that as a caveat, … .
      Short-term loans up for players contracted to affiliates are restricted in the rules summary to which we all have acces ONLY by MLS Regular season games.
      The US Open Cup does not play MLS Regular Season games.
      If in fact there are no restrictions on such loans up on “Not MLS Regular Season” games, loan the entire MLS NEXT Pro side up to the first term for the short term, and play the match with those players.
      Fixture congestion is already real. The first four matches that count will all fall on the third or the fourth day. 20-Feb, 24-Feb, 27-Feb, 2-Mar.

  3. Great stuff, Tim. Love the Union II coverage.

  4. John P. O'Donnell says:

    These are two Federations that can’t get out of their way to create a better mouse trap. Other than Mexico you have USL level leagues and down across CONCACAF. Maybe Costa Rica has a couple of teams that can compete but not much else. The number one economy in CONCACAF isn’t a soccer mad nation and they have a huge geographic footprint and weather problems. Finally they are starting to gain some traction in this market and now this. I get the US Open Cup has over a century of history but it’s Ivy League football when it comes to revenue in 2024. USL would have had a better shot at 425K in prize money without MLS teams playing in Open Cup and a CONCACAF Champions Cup spot to go along with it. MLS and US Soccer should try and figure out how to build a better mouse trap instead of hoping one day the Open Cup will be a revenue winner.

  5. Analyzing the meaning of the Superdraft is very easy. There is very little professional level talent coming from US colleges anymore that can be drafted. Most teams have academy systems the have players locked in post college. Chris Donavan seems like a hard worker but if the Union are depending on him for anymore than that as a late game sub they are delusional. I don’t expect any of the players they drafted this year to be on the team except the goalie. I just took at a peak at the last few years superdraft. Only saw a couple of notables Darrel Deike and Roman Celantano. It’s pretty much a wasteful time. I don’t blame Ernst for not valuing the superdraft. The Union would be better off hiring South American scouts and financing and developing a youth accademy in Brazil or Columbia to supplement their own academy. Need to go to poor country that is rich in young talented players

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