The MLS SuperDraft is here. And, like past drafts, it will be a hit and miss affair. Only three players on the current Union roster were directly acquired through the SuperDraft: Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney, and Zac MacMath. While all three have become (or are becoming) first eleven caliber players, their evolutions from raw talent to consistent quality have taken time.
And therein lies the problem with the MLS SuperDraft: Even top picks often need multiple seasons to become impact players.
Sean Doyle already did an excellent job evaluating the top talent in the draft, so let’s dig a little deeper and take a final look at what short- and long-term needs the Union can address.
Left back: Forget it. South Florida’s Ben Sweat is the only left back on the board that is anywhere close to being MLS-ready and, let’s be honest, he’s not. Enduring the mistakes of a rookie at left back will be nothing new for Union fans that have seen right-footed players and Fabinho fill in for the past 12 months, but at least Sweat has the tools to be a long-term solution.
Centerback: If the Union want someone who can play regular minutes in 2014, they will opt for Steve Birnbaum second or wait for Wisconsin’s AJ Cochran or Hartford’s Damion Lowe with the sixth pick. Birnbaum is considered “MLS-ready” and a “sure thing” by many media outlets, but so was Ike Opara. Lowe is the biggest reach of the bunch in terms of short-term potential, but his athleticism could make up for any early mental mistakes if he’s thrown directly into the fray. Cochran is the most like-for-like replacement for Jeff Parke. He doesn’t have Lowe’s speed or Birnbaum’s technical ability, but he attacks balls in the air and plays a good positional game.
Creator: The SuperDraft is not the place to go looking for your creative hub. Since 2010, Darlington Nagbe, Kelyn Rowe, Luis Silva, and Nick DeLeon are the only top ten picks that come close to filling that role, and none would rank among the elite — or even second tier — creative players in MLS. The 2014 class is weaker than most in this area. If the Union want an impact creative player out of this SuperDraft, they will have to trade for him using picks.
Wingers: Reliable wing play is hard enough to come by when searching the veteran ranks, so expecting it out of a rookie is shooting for the moon. Yet, the Union struck gold with Michael Farfan in the deep 2011 draft and they can hope to do so again this season. Since wingers often make more of an impact off the bench than defenders, looking for a short-term solution to Philly’s inconsistent wing play doesn’t mean finding a starter as much as a spark plug. Taking Maryland’s Schillo Tshuma or NC State’s Alex Martinez seems like a long shot since Philly absolutely needs impact players with their first two picks and neither Tshuma or Martinez fits the bill.
Pedro Ribeiro has fallen down draft boards after an iffy combine, but so did Michael Farfan and he turned out alright (as a winger). Ribeiro will only be an option if the Union trade down, but his size and skill should make him appealing as an early sub in his first season. Finally, the Union could gamble on Patrick Mullins with an early pick. Mullins suffers from Andrew Wenger syndrome in that he has obvious talent (two Hermann trophies worth) but no clear position at the next level. The Union would likely use him off Jack McInerney’s shoulder, but without a clear spot on the pitch, Mullins becomes a question mark as a short-term offensive solution, albeit one with huge upside. Critics will see another Chandler Hoffman while supporters will see a guy that just needs enough game time to find the pockets in MLS defenses.
Left Back: See above. The Union could take a chance on Akron’s Robbie Derschang in the second round, but… why? A senior who falls somewhere between the left back/left midfield slots at the professional level, Derschang has Nakazawa-ceiling written all over him. A modern left back is hard to come by, but if the Union want to continue with a box or diamond midfield, that is exactly what they need. They can dangle picks to pick one up or go out and sign one. Either way, it’s an undervalued position that should not be filled with stopgap players for another season.
Centerback: Here’s the thing. Christian Dean, the absurdly talented, big, and skillful central defender out of Cal, did not look good at left back in the combine. That said, Ray Gaddis did not look comfortable all year at left back and the Union seemed fine with that. So if the guy is available and the Union still have the number two pick, he should be the obvious choice. Dean won’t be close to perfect in 2014. But playing alongside a commanding, young presence like Okugo will do wonders for his development. If the Union trade down a bit, Damion Lowe again comes into the picture as a guy that can develop into a solid player.
Creator: Playing the long game, two names stand out in this year’s draft: Steve Neumann and Enrique Cardenas. However, just dismiss Cardenas right now. A 5’6″ player with a whip shot and a creative instinct? The Union had one of those sitting around for ages. Why draft another? Neumann is another story. The main adjective attached to the Georgetown product is consistency. The major question mark, however, is how that consistency will manifest itself. Neumann has the technical ability to become the distributor in an offense that looks to get behind defenses with dynamic attackers. He can also recycle play and hold possession. But on a team like the Union that has struggled to find an offensive identity, can Neumann become a powerful focal point of the offense? Perhaps. Philly knows him well, so the club should recognize that the Reading United alum has the tools to be a contributor now and the ceiling to be a focal point later. He is the type of player the Union have never successfully incorporated into a squad, but, given time, he could become a very useful pick.
Winger: Another Reading product, Kadeem Dacres, offers speed and skill on the wing, but his ability to take on MLS-level defending is far from certain. Along the same lines, Jamaican attacker Andre Lewis can attack up the flank, but he is even more raw than Dacres. Both players will offer the same dazzle and frustration that Union fans experienced with former number one pick Danny Mwanga, though probably fewer delightful finishes. Neither Dacres nor Lewis offers a reliable cross from the outside, which makes them somewhat one-dimensional as professionals. While either could turn into something special, their early years will ebb and flow with their confidence and equal numbers of fans will dub them “the next big thing” and “the last big mistake.”