After engineering a franchise-altering splash at the draft last season, sporting director Earnie Stewart and the Union enter the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday in Los Angeles from a different perspective.
“It’s not going to be as exciting as it was last year,” Stewart said.
Unlike last year, when Stewart changed the course of the franchise by drafting Josh Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers in the 2016 first round, the Union do not possess a first-round selection in Friday’s draft. Instead, the club will have the 33rd and 42nd selection of the second round, along with the 55th, 77th and 82nd picks of the third and fourth rounds which will be selected on Jan. 17.
“We’ve done our homework when it comes to scouting players and what's in the draft right now,” Stewart said. “There’s always those guys that fly under the radar.”
The challenge is identifying that talent. Stewart, who didn’t close the door on trading up in the draft, admitted that his team has its eye on a number of players that could fall to No. 33.
“With the picks that we have, we hope they keep flying under the radar and we’ll be able to pick them up,” he said. “That would be fantastic.”
However, the Union, who traded their original No. 11 pick to the Chicago Fire to move up in allocation order to sign Alejandro Bedoya, and acquired the No. 42 pick from the Colorado Rapids in the Zac MacMath trade, view their position as an opportunity to find a steal.
“It’s great,” Stewart said. “Even with the picks that we have, it’s exciting that we can get players that fly under the radar, good players for the Philadelphia Union. You never know how things shake out. Tom Brady (former sixth-round pick and New England Patriots’ quarterback) is the best example of all. They are there. We try to look at it in a different way. Those guys need to be identified.”
While Stewart wouldn’t tip his hand to whom the Union were looking at, he did shine some light on his draft strategy. The club is always looking for immediate help but is just fine selecting a project.
“You try to look short term,” he said. “If that’s not there, you look a little longer term. You look at our roster, you look at contracts running out and you try to get young kids a chance. We’ll see if we can get a long-term solution.”
The reason a project might work is the Union’s USL affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel. The Union feel comfortable drafting a player to let them mature with heavy playing time and under close guidance of the parent club in the USL.
“With the picks that we have right now there will be young talent there,” Stewart said. “We’ve seen it last year with younger guys that came through our academy like Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty, that we can pick up players who can get valuable minutes with the Bethlehem Steel.”
Although Jeremy Ebobisse, a forward from Duke and the expected first overall pick of expansion site Minnesota United, won’t likely be in the Union’s wheelhouse, local players might.
Guys like forward Alec Neumann from Penn, forward Connor Maloney and defender Robert Sagel from Penn State and Temple forward Jorge Gomez Sanchez could be on the Union’s shortlist as the project they are looking for.
“Everyone says there’s not a lot of talent here but players emerge and have an impact in MLS,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “We have a good eye on the entire country but even stronger understanding the talent in our area and players in our backyard.”