All photos courtesy of Glen Riegel/Reading United
Question: How do the Philadelphia Union build upon a successful off-season just hours before officially kicking off their 2013 campaign?
Answer: Ace the MLS SuperDraft.
And that’s easier said than done.
The Union hold just two draft picks, the 26th and 29th overall selections, in Thursday’s draft. Union manager John Hackworth and his technical staff have been busy scouting draft-eligible college players and are well aware they have little margin for error.
In the past three SuperDrafts, the Union have had success in finding contributors in the second round. In 2011, the Union landed Michael Farfan with the 23rd pick after a poor combine led several clubs to pass on the former UNC man. Last season, the Union had two picks in round two and used them to acquire Greg Jordan and Ray Gaddis. With Gaddis, Philadelphia scored the best sleeper pick of the 2012 draft. The jury is still out on Jordan, who didn’t earn a single minute of league play last year.
So what might the Union do on Thursday with their selections?
A look at the Union roster is a very telling exercise. A quick look at the defenders currently on the Zolos’ roster reveals just six players. One of those guys is Carlos Valdes, and he’s as good as gone. Another is Chris Albright, who turned 34 on Monday. (Happy belated birthday, Chris.) Bakary Soumare and his questionable knee played in just one match in 2012. Gabe Farfan and Amobi Okugo helped to stabilize the Philadelphia backline in 2012, but ideally they belong in the midfield. The Union have just three true defenders on the roster that played in at least half of last season’s matches.
The Union should use their two draft picks to bolster their paper thin defensive corps. Center back and left back will be the priority, which is good for the Blue and Gold, because this draft is deep at both positions.
The top rated center backs, Andrew Farrell and Walker Zimmerman, will be off the board within the first five picks.
There are several very talented center backs who should be available for the Union. Heading into the combine, West Virginia’s Eric Schoenle was rated as the top senior center back in the draft. Schoenle is a technician out of the back, with Brendan Burke saying, “Eric is one of, if not the most technically sound center back in the draft. His positioning is excellent, and he is very good in the air. I think Eric could end up being a very reliable player in the league over the long term.” The Reading United alum’s stock took a hit at the combine as he struggled in his team’s first two matches. That poor performance may have been enough to drop him into the second round.
Two other center backs likely to be available at picks 26 or 29 are Georgetown’s Tommy Muller and Michigan’s Kofi Opare. Muller led the Hoyas back line to the NCAA College Cup Final, but at 5’11”, the GU product is not the tallest option at center back. He is strong on the ball and commands the back line very well. Opare is 6’2′ and a tremendous athlete, but he’s not a finished product yet.
Left back is the deepest position in this year’s draft. The Union will have their choice of several very good options if they want to go this way. Greg Cochrane, Jimmy Nealis, Taylor Kemp, Kory Kindle and John Gallagher are the top left backs available. Cochrane is the most likely target in the bunch. The Holland, Pennsylvania native played under Burke at Reading United in 2012 and is an ideal fit for the Union’s style of play. Burke told PSP, “Cochrane is one of the top two or three left backs in this draft. He has pace, a great engine, and serves a very good ball with his left foot.” Cochrane’s work rate is exceptional and he gets up and down the left flank with tremendous pace. The Louisville man also provides excellent service into the box from the left flank. Add Cochrane’s ability to play as a left sided midfielder, and you have a perfect match for Philadelphia.
Should Cochrane, who has had a very good combine, not be on the board for the Union, there are several good alternatives. Georgetown’s Jimmy Nealis, like Cochrane, is a high motor player who also provides very good service from the flanks. Maryland’s Taylor Kemp is a fine left back but has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Penn State’s John Gallagher is another good option at left back and could fall out of the SuperDraft and be available in the Supplemental Draft, which will take place on January 22.
For more SuperDraft info, check out Sean’s scouting report on the Reading United alumni who are available in Thursday’s SuperDraft. The post includes comments on each player from Reading United head coach, and Philadelphia Union assistant coach, Brendan Burke.