By Kyle McCarthy
PHILADELPHIA – Forget about the other fifteen teams. The 2010 MLS SuperDraft was all about Philadelphia and the hosts didn't disappoint.
If the Union's first forays onto the field are as successful as its first venture into the SuperDraft, then the Sons of Ben will have plenty to cheer about during the inaugural season. The local fans added atmosphere to an event that has occasionally lacked it in the past, though a tip of the hat has to go to the traveling fans from New York and Washington who made the short trek to support their teams. The local club invigorated the proceedings by accumulating three first-round picks after striking two deals within a 24-hour stretch. To cap it all off, the Union selected one of the most comprehensive draft classes in recent memory by using its draft-high six picks to compile an assortment of ready-made contributors and future projects.
The perfect storm of circumstances resulted in one massive win for MLS' newest franchise. The Friday Five reviews a few of the key victories and defeats that emerged during the SuperDraft, starting with the Union's bold moves to stockpile all of those first-round picks.
1. No established team could have or would have pulled off the moves Philadelphia made. As an expansion team, the Union benefits from two things most teams don't possess: flexibility and available resources. The most important resource for the two deals – a straight cash swap with FC Dallas for the sixth pick and a pact to assume Fred and his hefty salary in exchange for D.C. United's seventh selection – is the treasure trove of allocation money Philly inherited when it entered the league. Union manager Peter Nowak and assistant John Hackworth used their allocation dollars wisely to acquire two young and raw players – Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney – who will likely make an impact a year or three down the line. Most teams can't afford to wait on an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old and they certainly can't afford to expend significant resources on two relative gambles. The Union can and benefited significantly from its ability to do so.
2. Ike Opara really is serious about heading back to Wake Forest and postponing the start of his rookie year. Opara, a communications major, had a clause inserted into his Generation adidas contract that allows him to attend school at Wake Forest this semester and postpone the beginning of his MLS career. Opara said yesterday that he has already enrolled in classes at Wake and said the plan now is to join San Jose in late April or early May.
“I'd be really close to (my degree),” said Opara, who left Wake after his junior season. “My parents are very highly educated individuals. My dad's in biochemical research and my mom is in the public school system. They really stress school. I wanted to do this because I really wanted to go pro. They worked out an option so I could do my spring semester. It's a pleasure. I feel really honored to do something like this.”
3. Corben Bone's stock fell because teams simply weren't sure where to play him. No player fell more surprisingly than Bone, the Wake Forest playmaker who almost everyone had as one of the top five players in the draft. Once FC Dallas passed on the Plano, Tex. native with the fifth pick, Bone's bottom fell out because most teams expected him to be off the board and had other players in mind. Bone slid all the way to a particularly grateful Chicago at 13. After talking to several people about why Bone dropped so precipitously, the general consensus coalesced around the fact that his projected position, not his ample talent, was the problem. In order to have Bone on the field, teams would have to create a tactical plan that would allow him some freedom from defensive responsibilities and plenty of time on the ball. Most teams aren't willing to do that and more than a few didn't see a spot for Bone as a true central midfielder, striker or winger. Ironically, the slide may have helped Bone in the end because he now joins a Fire side with plenty of experience in dealing with an offensive talent that needs plenty of room to roam in Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
4. Clint Mathis' road back to Los Angeles started with a simple request. Mathis wanted to move his family closer to his wife's family in the Los Angeles area. Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey said the Claret-and-Cobalt wanted to accommodate Mathis' request if it could. RSL eventually struck a pick swap with Los Angeles at the bottom of the first round once it became clear that Portland midfielder Collen Warner would be available with the 15th pick and included Mathis in the deal.
“One of the things we have espoused to the level of getting cheesy is that we want to be a player-friendly organization,” Lagerwey said. “Clint had asked if we could send him back to L.A. He won a championship for us and we felt he'd held up his end of the bargain.”
5. MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn't nearly as doom and gloom about the CBA negotiations as one might think. The key point to the negotiations, Garber stressed when he addressed the media during a break in the action, is that there is still time remaining to strike a deal. The fact that the two sides are still talking – even if those discussions aren't yielding any results – represents a good sign, according to Garber.
“You know how these things are,” Garber said. “We're making progress. It's good that we're spending a lot of time (together). We met almost all day yesterday. That's progress. Better than we were (at) a couple of weeks ago.”
Questions & Answers
(In the spirit of interactivity, I've picked out a few choice questions each day during draft week and answered them in this space. Get in the game by following along on Twitter – @kylejmccarthy – or dropping me a line via e-mail.)
Why no love for GKs?
@zacrigg, via Twitter
Even the Goal.com editors were confused about why goalkeepers were persona non grata at the SuperDraft this year. Only two goalkeepers – Generation adidas stopper Sean Johnson (Central Florida) and senior signee Brian Perk (UCLA) – were selected and Perk was the first to come off the board after Los Angeles snatched him with the 49th pick. After watching the shotstoppers at the Combine, I wasn't particularly shocked by their scarcity in the draft. How bad were the goalkeepers? Just ask New York sporting director Erik Soler.
“Personally, I didn't think any of the goalkeepers would have helped us, so we didn't really look at that position,” Soler said. “That might be unfair to the goalies, but we didn't look much for a goalie.”
What draftee do you see most likely to be a USMNT regular down the road?
@Sean_Heffernan, via Twitter
Opara narrowly edges this one over Tony Tchani, assuming the newly minted Red Bull can get his American citizenship in order. Opara's style of play combines his physical tools and his mental acuity and that's a combination that few American defenders, past or present, can match. If Opara adapts well to the professional game, he's the type of player with a significant future at the international level.
Any news on KC trading Conrad?
@TheBackpost, via Twitter
Of all of the rumors floating around the Pennsylvania Convention Center, this one was certainly the most ridiculous. Peter Vermes would have to come out of retirement and play central defense for the Wizards if he shipped Conrad out of town. Vermes, incidentally, strongly denied the rumors to Soccer by Ives late on Thursday afternoon.
What's the deal with Revolution midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and Colorado?
Many, many New England fans, via Twitter
Larentowicz is out of contract and the two sides are at an impasse on a new deal. The contract stalemate means one of two things: Larentowicz has to go on trial and find a deal in Europe or he has to locate some MLS team that is willing to trade for his rights and meet his salary demands. Since Larentowicz has been continually bothered by a knee problem for the past several months and recently pulled out of U.S. national team camp, the European option looks somewhat suspect right now. Several MLS teams have expressed interest in acquiring Larentowicz's rights and Colorado is among them. Talks are ongoing between the two teams, but no deal has been struck and no deal was imminent as of Thursday night. In other words, there are still a few moving parts to this story, so stay tuned.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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