The MLS SuperDraft is Thursday, January 12 at 12pm ET (ESPN2, ESPN3). Philadelphia Union have the 13th, 32nd and 35th picks this year, and nobody knows what the team will do. PSP runs down some of the options.
Why: Some experts believe the Union will look to solidify their wing play by adding a player like UConn’s Tony Cascio. Montreal drafted Justin Mapp’s left foot and Keon Daniel’s status remains up in the air so the team doesn’t have a lot of depth or experience in the wide areas.
Who: Ives Galarcep calls Cascio “the best pure winger in the draft.” Listed at 5’11″, Cascio has speed and skill and a nose for goal. He tallied 24 in his four seasons at UConn, but he was not the impact player many expected him to be in his senior season. As a Hermann finalist in 2010, Cascio appeared to be breaking through to the top tier of offensive talent, but with only 5 goals and 8 assists in 2011, the winger is likely to be around after the 10th pick.
Sam Garza can play on either wing or jump up top. He has fought back from an ACL tear his sophomore season, transferred to UC-Santa Barbara, and basically lit the world on fire. Like Cascio, his numbers took a slight dip in his senior season, but 8 goals and 4 assists is a fine return from a guy who spent time all over the pitch. Importantly, Garza excels as the type of winger the Union love. He can play on the left and cut in onto his monster right foot to deliver a bomb from distance. Kyle Nakazawa recovered from a major knee injury in college and his workrate and dedication have been exactly what the Union want from their young players. In an interview with MLSsoccer.com, Garza talks about his recovery and how much he has to prove. He has the attitude and skill set to be high on the Union’s list if they look to bolster this area of the team. Garza’s Generation Adidas status means he would be a cap friendly selection at the 13 pick.
Finally, the Union could look to Englishman Jason Banton. The 19-year old is testing the MLS waters after spells in the youth systems of Arsenal and Liverpool. Banton is big and fast, and he has the versatility the Union love. Chivas USA declined to offer a contract after Banton went on trial last season, and since Chivas rejected him, the kid is probably good. (Hey Zarek Valentin!) The biggest problem with Banton is that he would likely require an international slot. And since the team has -3 available right now, the math could get difficult.
In their first two seasons the Union have had as much use for pure wing play as a T-Rex has use for a side salad. When Mapp and Michael Farfan ran the wing, they were left crossing to empty boxes. The team has been more inclined to fill their midfield with dynamic players who drift in off the wings to occupy the false nine space behind Le Toux. Garza and Finlay would be the best fit for the Union’s current style of play, but it’s doubtful that wide midfielder is the biggest need for this team right now.
Why: The Union are woefully short on defense, but the backs they do have are good enough that they can bring in a talented project and give him time to develop. The team’s last attempt at bringing in a defender through the SuperDraft “Stahl-ed” out of the gate, but there is a deep crop of versatile fullbacks in the 2012 class, and with Mondragon and Califf, the Union have the right veterans to grow a young talent.
Who: Matt Hedges is a big, skilled centerback who helped UNC earn a shutout in the College Cup final. His size makes him very attractive to the Union, and the team could bring him along slowly as he adjusts to the speed of MLS.
If the Union are committed to pushing Gabe Farfan into the midfield, Tyler Polak of Creighton could still be around at #13 to add some depth to the back line. Polak spent two years at Creighton before declaring for the SuperDraft and he has been in the US youth system for a while, starting at left back during the last U-17 World Cup. At 5’8″, Polak won’t help the Union’s size issue, and what type of player he will become is still up in the air. He could become a shut down, stay-at-home defender—think Jordan Harvey with a bit more shut down—or he may find that MLS suits him and push forward. He has done both in college and it’s really a matter of finding out how he fits the league and how the league fits him. Polak signed a Generation Adidas contract so he won’t count against the cap in 2012.
Another option at left back is Virginia product Hunter Jumper. The team gets proven versatility in Jumper, who played left back as a sophomore when the Cavaliers won the College Cup, shifted to defensive mid for his junior season, and returned to left back for his final year. Jumper is 6’2″ and, if he lives up to his name, could alleviate the height issues in back. In an interview with VirginiaSports.com, Jumper takes pride in both his own and the team’s defense, but notes that he’d like to get forward whenever possible. If he lives up to his college career, where he notched 5 goals and 13 assists in four seasons, Jumper could be the perfect long-term solution for the Union at left back.
A sleeper, late round selection would be UNC Charlotte defender Charles Rodriguez. While he lacks the offensive skill set of Polak and the height of Jumper, Rodriguez possesses leadership and versatility out the wazoo. He converted to left back for the 49ers as a senior captain, giving up his role in the middle to fill a gaping need on the back line. The Niners went on to make the College Cup final, shutting out likely No. 1 SuperDraft pick Darren Mattocks of Akron and Hermann Trophy runner up Ethan Finlay of Creighton along the way. The Union could snag Rodriguez with a late pick.
Why: While their offense did, um, underperform in 2011, the Union would only take a striker if the perfect situation fell into their lap. And while the cream of the striking crop are all around six feet tall, the rest are a bit smaller. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Sons of Ben’s Corey Furlan suggested the Union might use the SuperDraft to find a backup for the possibly Olympic-bound Sheanon Williams or to give Seba some help up front.
Who: Darren Mattocks and Andrew Wenger won’t make it out of the top three picks, so the Union would have to decide if Casey Townsend of Maryland or Chandler Hoffman of UCLA are too good to pass up if they fall to the 13th spot. Both strikers were studs coming out of high school and didn’t disappoint in college. Townsend netted 17 goals in his senior season while Hoffman tallied 18 as a junior in 2011. Both are nearly 6’0″ tall but are known more for their feet than their head. Sadly, there is no Will Bruin in the 2012 class of strikers.
If the Union decide to fool us all, there are plenty of small, tricky playmakers available this year. If the team thinks they are set to lose Roger Torres, they could bring in UNC’s Enzo Martinez or trade up for UCLA wunderkind Kelyn Rowe. Both players have high ceilings and GA status.
A work in progress, Rowe is truly the most out-and-out talented player in the draft. Like Jack McInerney, Rowe has some work to do before he lights MLS up. Peter Nowak tends to like that kind of project, but the time probably isn’t right for this kind of move in the 2012 SuperDraft.