Teenage trio headlines first Union draft

Mwanga (Getty)

By TRAVIS CLARK

The Philadelphia Union weren't finished wheeling and dealing until the very morning of Thursday's draft. Deals with FC Dallas and D.C. United left the newest MLS club with three first round picks, and a chance to continue the team-building process that started last November.

Everyone in the room knew that Danny Mwanga would become Philly's first-ever draft pick, and the Union brain trust stayed the course, adding an exciting and talented striker to build a team around.

"He's very honored and proud to be part of the Union," Coach Peter Nowak said. "Aside from his physical tools, he reads the game very well and plays like he's thinking about the game faster than everybody else."

Once the dust had settled, picks six and seven were fast approaching, and with big names like Ike Opara and Teal Bunbury coming off the board, the Union's next moves came with one eye on the future. U-17 forward Jack McInerney and UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo rounded out the Union's first round, as Nowak brought in three teenagers who will continue their develop under his tutelage.

The preparation prior to the draft had to be spot on — particularly in the first round with the cacophony of Union die-hards dominating the supporters who had made the journey to Philadelphia for the draft.

"We did a lot of homework before the draft. This draft class is very strong," Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. "We figured out some things down at the combine, and we went for it. It's really important to get some young players with a good, hard attitude that can play football."

Selecting three Generation adidas gives Philadelphia a bit more cap flexibility to bring in more experienced players from overseas — though Sakiewicz thinks Mwanga is an asset right off the bat.

"He's quality all the way around. He's fast, he's big he's strong, he's got soft feet, he can play with the ball, he can attack," Sakiewicz said. "He has the right mentality and attitude for the Phialdelphia Union brand."

Of the first round picks, Jack McInerney looks the furthest away from MLS-ready, but he is the youngest of the three. His international experience will certainly be an asset, not to mention learning from the MLS veterans already a part of the club. The 17-year-old wasn't sure where he'd end up heading into Thursday, though he knew of Philadelphia's interest at the combine.

"I had an idea (Philadelphia wanted me), but I didn't know about the trade until I got here today," McInerney said. "Coach John Hackworth at the combine said that he hoped I fell to the second round."

His new teammate, Okugo, is another exciting prospect who seemed thrilled with his new club. The midfielder spent just one year at UCLA but his physical stature is more imposing than your typical 18-year-old.

"I'm really excited to be part of an expansion team, we're going to get a lot of exposure," Okugo said. "The fans are crazy, in a good way. I'm just excited to play for the Union and make an impact immediately."

Counter-acting Philadelphia's youth movement was their second round pick — Toni Stahl, who comes to Philadelphia via Finland and the University of Connecticut. At 24, he could step in immediately and perhaps even battle out for a starting spot in midfield.

As the draft continued, Philadelphia added two more players who will fight to make the roster. A mediocre combine kept Kyle Nakazawa available until the beginning of the third round, and a weak keeper class meant Brian Perk was left for Philadelphia's final pick of the day. If Perk makes the roster, he'll likely deputize behind Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton in between the posts.

Union fans can now fix their attention on March 25, when they travel to Qwest Field to face Seattle. After Seattle's great 2009, the Union can expect a lot of comparison's with their first opponents. Nick Sakiewicz was adamant that the Union will forge their own path in 2010.

"Seattle did a great job, they hit on all cylinders at every level," he said. "We are Philadelphia, and we are building this plan and this team our own way."

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25 Responses to Teenage trio headlines first Union draft

  1. Petke fan says:

    We need to talk to your headline writer. Didn’t everyone go with youth in the draft ? There isn’t a veterans draft, is there?

    (SBI-You do realize that Philly’s first three picks were 18,18 and 17 right? That’s younger than the average draft pick, hence the reference to youth.)

  2. Neumannator says:

    not to be picky but i think their first 3 picks are actually 18, 18 and 17.

  3. mike says:

    ^^^ 20, isnt a teenager.

  4. Domagoj says:

    I think Perk will surprise people. Yes, he is undersized, but he is a good keeper and has a good amount of experience.

  5. MemRook says:

    I think Ives meant 18, 18 and 17 and it was just a mis-type.

    I also think that Petke Fan was maybe trying to be funny but it’s hard to tell on the interwebs. Either way, it didn’t work. It just sounded pompous.

  6. baldguy says:

    In support of Travis, there is a difference between 17, 18, and the typical 21 year old senior coming out of college. 3 years of high level soccer(college/pro/international) and life for that matter makes a huge difference – just ask Charlie Davies. Technically you are right, but there is still some differentiation to be had. Union went with the youth of the youth. Go Fire!

  7. Charles says:

    Ives,

    You forgot to post the story about the CBA agreement, no big deal but if you could get the details up there in the next 16 days please, so the Sounders-Union game can be played on time.

    thanks.

  8. june16_1904 says:

    This is a neophyte’s comment, but here goes: Having never followed the draft before, or college soccer, I think I may not understand how college soccer works. I’m surprised at the youth of these players. Do college players who go to the draft always spend so little time in college?

  9. MemRook says:

    ha ha ha, the way you word this makes it sound like Ives has control over whether or not MLS season starts on time.

    Let dude get stuff out when he’s ready; I’m sure he’s WELL AWARE of the situation (more than any of us) and has something in the works. Dude does more than any of us probably ever could getting inside soccer info.

  10. Marco says:

    Off topic, but anyone else feel CNN’s Larry King Live was rude to Jozy Altidore, he drove three hours to Leeds to talk via satellite with Larry and he’s given a minute and a half, in which time we only learn he has family lost in Haiti? Unlike many, many guests Larry had on he didn’t get to even name his lost family.

    Jozy was incredibly emotional but still well poised throughout.

  11. Rory says:

    Well, see in most countries 17 year old kids would already be professional players. In America most of them go to college at 18, and the best of those have a legit shot at turning pro early so they leave college early. The college coaches are thought of as not being very good so pro teams want them out as quick as possible and under their system. But this is a bit misleading as it’s not that the college coaches are bad (and some are, but some are very good) but college players are under NCAA rules that limit how many hours they can practice and limit them to a very short amount of months they can practice. As soon as they’re pro they have no such limits.

    Main points: The best leave college early (usually). In England a player is probably nearly fully developed by 20 and in American they’re just really getting started. Colleges really limit the practice time soccer players can get.

  12. srfinger says:

    Off topic.

    Bookmakers in England are giving between 7:1 to 14:1 odds on LD scoring versus City.

    link to evertonfc.com

  13. Pappajohn says:

    I just watched a video of Jack McInerny’s goals from the U-17 MNT on YouTube. Pretty impressive. Lots of power and accuracy from outside the 18. I know he’s only 17, but I predict he will develop fast under Nowak’s leadership.

  14. Only the really good college players leave early. The draft also has players that never played college … guys from the US U-17 or U-20 teams.

  15. patrick says:

    like any other sport, as soccer progresses in the US, and as the $$ gets better, kids will be coming out earlier and earlier. Why waste their time, and risk their health (and stock) by playing in college where they aren’t getting paid, and can’t train full time? In the past it had been mainly college seniors and some exceptional players, but frankly, these kids eneds to go pro as early as they possibly can

  16. baquito alyeska says:

    Yeah, I felt frustrated for Jozy as well, but CNN and ESPN did end up talking with Jozy for respectable segments in later broadcasts.

  17. EA Scott says:

    Well the thing is also that Philly went all out on this draft, acquiring 2 extra first round picks to draft 2 of the best young talents available. This coupled with their young picks in the expansion draft shows that they are really building a team through youth. They may not be the strongest team this year, but it seems like a really smart long term strategy.

    It’s an interesting story and I’m excited to see them play…

  18. Pete from Chitown says:

    Philadephia stole the show picking up some get young talent. I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much these players could actually impact during their rookie seasons. Okugo and McInenery are both studs. Mwanga is expected to be a Franchise player. Anyway My Fire had a great draft as well with Bone and Watson-Sirboe, also Yates can be a spark off the bench. Sean Johnson on the other hand can develop under the right guidance into a star goalkeeper 2 or 3 years from now.

  19. Gary says:

    What do people think of the Fred pickup? Is he a hard worker?

  20. baquito alyeska says:

    My impressions last year was that he has a great work rate but a frustrating turn-over rate.

  21. DC Josh says:

    I really feel Peter Nowak is the future USMNT coach. He is a fantastic coach and I’ve always liked him. He will do great things at Philly, and has all ready shown that he knows what he’s doing with DC United and the US Olympic team.

    All three teenagers are in good hands.

  22. DC Josh says:

    can’t reply for some reason…

    “Gary said…

    What do people think of the Fred pickup? Is he a hard worker?”

    Having seen him the last couple years, his pros: footwork, creativity. cons: speed, injuries, work rate.

    If he’s surrounded by guys who like to work the ball around with 1 and 2 touch passing, then he impresses. Nowak has the Arsenal mentality where he likes to keep the ball on the ground using tight passing. Hope Fred does well, but don’t think he will last all season.

  23. Pappajohn says:

    According to the new roster posted on the Philadelphia Union website, including the new draft picks, they have 5 forwards, 7 midfielders, 3 defenders and 3 keepers. A little top heavy. They better go out and buy some good defenders. What’s the word on Danny Califf coming to Philly?

  24. tim says:

    Someone should tell him this isnt the U-20’s. After a weak expansion draft, I just dont really see Philly pulling a Seattle in its first year.

  25. Petke Fan says:

    Yeah, to clarify, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but rather using sarcasm (veterans draft comment) to point out that the headline kind of missed the point. Sorry if anyone was offended.

    I realize that you have 40-60 characters to get the point across in a snappy fashion, and that you often have 30 seconds to type it out before getting the story up as fast as possible, but it kind of hits on a pet peeve that there are bloggers & journalists, that there are Writers and there are people who happen to write. I think the former would have picked a different headline.

    Most people look to this site for quick news and good stories, not literature, I get that. However, the real message of the story was written above- that they had ‘an eye for the future’ over the present. That, in their first draft, they had a choice to go for the guys who were the most ready to help their team on day 1, or those who would be the best long term players (using allocation dollars on a today player to get a pick on a tomorrow player, etc). Thus the angle, the story was “Philly Plan for Future with Young Draft”. The original (since changed) “Philly Take Youth in Draft” headline, didn’t really communicate the message. This also leaves out the question of them taking Mwanga & Okugo where they did because they were best available (in their mind) and thusly maybe the only real “youth” reach for the future was McInerney. Who knows.

    But anyway. It’s a blog post, not life & death. I think we’ve already made too much of it; sorry for my role in that.