By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 2015 MLS SuperDraft takes place this Thursday in Philadelphia, so for the third time in six years, the Union will draft in front of its home fans.READ MORE: Philadelphia Weather: Fabulous Fourth Of July Forecast
It’s quickly become tradition for the Sons of Ben, who take the day off, hit the bar at the crack of dawn, and then march into the Pennsylvania Convention Center waving flags, singing songs, and “bantering” with New York and D.C. fans that have made the trip to Philadelphia.
In years past, they’ve watched the Union select Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, and Andre Blake, all in the first round. Opinions on decision making aside, it was hard to match the atmosphere created on those previous draft days, when young kids saw their dreams realized on national TV in front of a raucous crowd.
There’s always something special about being drafted by a team in its own city, in front of its fans.
But that moment might not happen this year, because Philadelphia doesn’t have a first round pick. The club traded the 10th overall selection to Sporting Kansas City for forward C.J. Sapong and is not slated to draft until the second round, number 31 overall.
So when the “SOBs” head up that escalator and into the convention center’s grand ballroom, what should they expect?
“As an overall assessment of the draft, and the talent that’s here, there’s not a ton on the high end of things,” manager Jim Curtin said during a conference call Monday from the MLS Combine in Florida. “There’s a clear top three players, and (the draft) does have a lot of depth to it, specifically at left back and center back which are positions of need for us at the moment.”
Philadelphia has seen some success with later round picks in previous drafts.
Ray Gaddis and Mike Farfan were second round selections in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Antoine Hoppenot was picked up in 2012’s Supplemental Draft, but the club whiffed on second rounders Don Anding and Stephen Okai in 2013.READ MORE: Man Shot In Botched Robbery Attempt Over Cell Phone On Chestnut Street Bridge At Penn's Landing
Second round selections are generally hit or miss.
“In the second round, you’re looking to find those role player types,” Curtin explained. “I would agree with (the idea) that a lot of second round picks haven’t worked out for a lot of clubs in MLS. I think the draft as a whole, there’s still a niche for the college player, but more and more players are going through the academy route and the Generation Adidas route. It does tend to get a little watered down, but we still see a lot of value in the second round and there are some players that we’ve targeted, that we think can have strong careers in MLS.”
This draft does not look as talent rich as previous years. There are a couple of slam-dunk prospects, like Connecticut forward Cyle Larin and Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan. But the talent level drops off around 12 spots in, and Philadelphia doesn’t even pick until number 31 overall.
One intriguing quirk sees Toronto FC with the 9th and 11th overall pick. Sporting Kansas City has the 10th and 12th picks, one of which was acquired from Philadelphia. Rumor is that TFC would like to trade out of one of those spots, so theoretically the Union could swing some allocation money to the Canadians for a shot at the top 12.
Moving into that range would give you a shot at left back Otis Earle from UC Riverside. He’s the son of English/Jamaican midfielder Robbie Earle, who now features as a broadcaster. There’s certainly a pedigree there.
You could also take a crack at Michigan State’s defensive midfielder, Fatai Alashe, or hope that one of the top 15 center backs is still around. Nick Besler, brother of Matt Besler, is also an intriguing prospect in the midfield.
“Sure, yea, I would say that that is a possibility,” Curtin said of trading up. “There’s a lot of chatter down here about teams trading picks, all the way through the first round. It’s a unique one. I think Kansas City has a cluster of three (picks) in the first round. There are good players down here, but there are probably only so many picks that you want in the first round, so those are a few good targets to possibly move up. If we think it’s worth it, we’ll put a package together. We’re not going to overplay it, and we’re not going to move up for the sake of moving up unless it makes sense.”
If they wait until round two, the Union might have a shot at Reading United product Manolo Sanchez, a local kid who attended Germantown Friends School. He went to Louisville, transferred to Clemson, and had a good senior year for the Tigers, scoring three goals, adding six assists, and leading the team with 37 shots.
He’s generally seen as a wide midfielder who can get forward and join the attack. He’s six feet tall and 205 pounds, so he does have the physical specs to play in MLS. The knock on Sanchez seems to be consistency. You’ll see some great flashes of ability from the midfielder/forward, but you wonder if he can do those things on a regular basis at a higher level. If anything, the coaching staff will be familiar with Sanchez and know whether he can perform as well as other Reading guys like Gaddis, Sapong, and Andrew Wenger.MORE NEWS: GUIDE: Where To Watch Fourth Of July Fireworks In Philadelphia Region
The Union also held a “pro-day” of sorts back in December. The two day event was attended by a number of local college seniors who do not project in the first two rounds.