Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
When the dust had settled, the Philadelphia Union may have ended up with the best draft day out of everyone.
After what had been a quiet offseason so far, the Union came to life on Thursday, landing four strong draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, including the first overall selection, goalkeeper Andre Blake. Unexpectedly, the Union agreed a deal with D.C. United to acquire the No. 1 pick and then later moved down in the draft while still securing players that fit positional needs.
Following Blake, the Union selected highly-rated midfielder Pedro Ribero at No. 15, centerback Kevin Cope at No. 25, and left-sided player Robbie Derschang.
Even though they have a young goalkeeper – Zac MacMath – already on the roster and a potential homegrown goalkeeper – Zack Steffen – waiting in the wings, Union head coach John Hackworth said it was a no-brainer that the Union would select the consensus top player in the draft if given the chance.
“It was a little bit crazy out there today but it was a good day for us overall,” Hackworth said after the draft. “We felt like if we moved up to get (Blake), we moved up to get him, we got the best player in the whole draft. (He’s) a guy that out of the whole draft pool has the biggest and brightest future.
“He’s going to come in and push Zac right away and that real competition is important to any player’s development, so I think this is going to be really good for Zac as well.”
One of the Union’s biggest areas of concern last year was creativity in midfield, and with the loss of Michael Farfan this offseason, those concerns were multiplied. After trading back in the top 10 twice, the Union selected Ribeiro, a player they are very familiar with after watching him play with nearby Reading United.
Ribero is coming off a stellar college career where he scored 31 goals and provided 26 assists, leading his side to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance is 2013. And yet, according to Hackworth, Ribero wasn’t even at full strength during the college season.
“He’s got serious tools and we saw that a couple years ago in Reading when he trained with us on the first team,” Hackworth told the Union’s website. “He was fit and healthy. He’s coming off a hernia surgery and a groin problem. He was never healthy in this college season. In the combine, he had some moments that no one else had. (We) feel like we got a little bit of a steal with him at 15.”
In the second round, the Union took advantage of Kevin Cope’s availability by selecting the former Michigan State defender with the 25th overall pick, despite him being projected to be drafted in the first round. Cope helped lead the Spartans last season to record 13 shutouts and an appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He was ranked as high as ninth on SBI’s most recent MLS Draft Big Board.
When the Union traded Jeff Parke to D.C. United it opened up a position that should be competed for between Cope and Ethan White this preseason. Two picks later, the Union also snagged Robbie Derschang, a former youth national team player that played and started all four years at Akron and could potentially fill a need as a depth player on the left side.
“Cope is a centerback and that clearly was a positional need,” Hackworth said. “For me, he was one of the most solid and consistent centerbacks. With Robbie, I’ve known Robbie from my youth national team days. He’s an attacking player who has moved back a little bit. I think he’s got a lot of upside. He was our favorite left back. He was our favorite guy. Pretty surprised we were able to pick him up so late.”
All in all, despite the unexpected trade to move up to No. 1 in the draft order, the Union had a great day in front of their fans, the Sons of Ben, and acquired pieces that should have an impact this coming season.