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The Philadelphia Union will select its first set of players on Wednesday in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft and while there is no guarantee that the ten players chosen will make Peter Nowak's team, it is a safe bet that several members of the group will make up a good nucleus for Major League Soccer's 16th team.
There is plenty of big names for Nowak to choose from, but he's fully aware that many of the better available players are heading to Europe this winter. Nowak also knows how important it will be to start building the team with a solid defensive nucleus.
Defense will be one of the three keys for the Union's draft, along with veteran leadership and finding players with strong local ties. That combination of characteristics should help the Union come up with a good group for Philly fans to embrace.
So who will Nowak select on Wednesday? Here is our best guess:
AMADO GUEVARA, Toronto FC
Preki's arrival at Toronto FC, coupled with the team's surplus of central midfielders made Guevara expendable and Philadelphia would be crazy not to grab him. His creativity, toughness and personality makes him a fan favorite wherever he goes, even if his temper and reputation as a prima donna has left some former fans glad to see him go. Guevara has matured in recent years, and with a World Cup to play in next year, something tells me he will be stepping up his game in 2010.
Even if Guevara isn't in Nowak's plans, he would be wise to select him as trade bait, with several teams (Houston and Chivas USA among them) likely to need a creative midfielder for next season.
BOBBY CONVEY, San Jose
The prodigal returns and Philadelphia adds the homegrown talent it hopes will help serve as a poster boy for the community. Convey has had his struggles through the years, with injuries and most recently with form, but he's still talented and relatively young and you would like to think that playing back home in a new stadium for his hometown fans will help bring the best out of the former U.S. national team midfielder.
FRANKIE HEJDUK, Columbus
Who better to join a team called the Union than the fearless and hard-working Hejduk, who seems tailor-made to be a Philly fan favorite. He struggled late in the year for Columbus, and his recent showing for the U.S. national team left a lot to be desired, but Hejduk is still an above average right back in MLS and his presence in the locker room is invaluable.
JESSE MARSCH, Chivas USA
It has been more than a decade since Marsch and Nowak were teammates on the 1998 MLS Cup-winning Chicago Fire, but Marsch has remained one of the most respected midfielders in MLS.
The problem with Marsch is that he is dealing with concussion issues that could force him to retire. If he is still uncertain about playing in 2010, then look for Philadelphia to grab someone else from CHivas USA, be it defenders Carey Talley or Jim Curtin (A Philly native), or Jon Conway (A Chester native).
EDDIE ROBINSON, Houston
Nowak will be looking for tough, talented and experienced defenders and Robinson fits that bill. Before this past season, which he missed almost all of due to knee surgery, Robinson had been a rock in the back for the Dynamo, serving as a starter on two MLS Cup-winning teams. The emergence of Geoff Cameron made him expendable by the Dynamo, but he could step right in and anchor the Union's back-line.
STEPHEN KING, Seattle
A product of last year's expansion draft, King got lost in the mix in a loaded Seattle Sounders midfielder, but he's still a talented young central midfielder who happens to be a product of the powerhouse Philadelphia-area youth club FC Delco. Now 23, King played in 20 games as a rookie with the Chicago Fire in 2008 and impressed there. Nowak can never have too many good central midfielders. This one just happens to have local ties, making him a safe bet to be selected.
CHRIS ALBRIGHT, New England
Another one of the more high-profile players to come out of the Philadelphia area, Albright is also coming off a year lost to knee surgery. There are concerns about his health with him having missed most of two of the past three seasons. His versatility as a defender makes him a valuable asset though so if the Union is confident of his health, it would be tough to see Philly passing on Albright.
ANTHONY WALLACE, FC Dallas
Nowak isn't going to just select a bunch of veteran players. He will need to take a few younger prospects and few are as intriguing as Wallace, a standout left back prospect who was starting to flourish for FC Dallas before being sidelined by injury.
AARON HOHLBEIN, Kansas City
With Eddie Robinson already in the fold, Nowak grabs another starting centerback in Hohlbein, who really came into his own in 2009, his third year in MLS. Hohlbein is just 23 but has already started 40 MLS matches and even has a pair of goals to his credit. If Nowak wants to go even younger, he could go with KC's Matt Besler, a rookie standout for the Wizards last season.
NICK ZIMMERMAN, New York
This one might be a bit of a long shot, but if Nowak caught a glimpse of Zimmerman during the middle of the 2009 season, when he was still playing regularly for the Red Bulls, Nowak will have seen a tough, tireless and skilled midfielder capable of playing on the right wing or centrally. If Nowak isn't ready to add that much youth to his team, he could go with striker John Wolyniec or defender Mike Petke, who started on Nowak's MLS Cup-winning D.C. United team in 2003.
Some other players who could wind up being selected on Wednesday include: Alejandro Moreno, Andy Iro, Quincy Amarikwa, Shea Salinas, Matt Besler, Herculez Gomez, John Wolyniec, Mike Petke, Nathan Sturgis, Pat Phelan, Devon McTavish, Ryan Cochrane, Robbie Russell and Sanna Nyassi to name a few.
Wondering where big names like Ricardo Clark, Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares are? Since they are all safe bets to sign in Europe I don't see Philly wasting expansion draft picks on their rights.
What do you think of this list? Who are you hoping Philadelphia selects? WHo are you hoping the Union stays away from?
Share your thoughts below.