Philadelphia lands bumper first-round haul
Move over Mo Johnston. MLS has a new head trader.
Philadelphia Union head coach Peter Nowak swung a pair of deals that landed the expansion side two additional first-round draft picks in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, as well as Brazilian attacker Fred and some allocation money.
In the process Nowak reinforced his reputation as a shrewd judge of talent, and -- at least for the moment -- usurped the crown of Toronto FC general manager Johnston as the league's premier wheeler-dealer.
The Union were by no means the only team copping deals. New York and New England were active as well on an intriguing day of draft maneuvering.
1. Philadelphia Union -- Danny Mwanga, F, Oregon State
Nowak's personal plea to Mwanga to cast his lot with MLS and forgo tryouts in Europe paid off, and now Philly has the highest-rated forward in the draft. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Mwanga has the speed and size to go up against the kind of physical central defenders that are the norm in MLS, yet he is also plenty skillful.
Other pluses for Mwanga include his Generation adidas contract -- which means he won't count against the salary cap -- and his possession of a green card means the native of Congo won't count as a foreigner. All that's left now is to see how he fares in a league that has proved difficult for young attackers to break into.
2. New York Red Bulls -- Tony Tchani, M, Virginia
The Red Bulls need help everywhere, and in landing Tchani they've done plenty to shore up their midfield. At 6-4, 185 pounds, Tchani has the size to be a midfield enforcer for New York, and his technical ability has many comparing him to New England All-Star Shalrie Joseph.
Tchani is believed to have the versatility to play anywhere in midfield, but given his two-way ability that saw him bag 17 goals in two collegiate seasons, a holding role seems the best fit.
3. San Jose Earthquakes -- Ike Opara, D, Wake Forest
The Quakes badly wanted Tchani, but after being beaten to the punch by the Red Bulls, they'll happily settle for the highly regarded U.S. U-20 international. Opara has the athleticism to slot in right away, especially if Jason Hernandez's recovery from a broken ankle doesn't progress as expected.
When Opara indicated he would be staying in school until May, it was thought that he might slide down the draft, but the Quakes will gladly bide their time for the talented defender to arrive.
4. Kansas City Wizards -- Teal Bunbury, F, Akron
The Wizards tied for the second-worst offense in MLS last season, and in selecting the MAC Hermann award winner they've made some strides in addressing that need. Another tall striker at 6-2, Bunbury is viewed as being just slightly less talented than Mwanga, although still very fast.
Bunbury follows in the footsteps of his father, Alex, who played for the Wizards toward the latter part of his career. But while that makes for a nice story, head coach Peter Vermes will be concerned only with how the younger Bunbury performs on the field.
5. FC Dallas -- Zach Loyd, D/M, North Carolina
MLS coaches love versatile players, and at the combine Loyd dazzled the eye regardless of whether he lined up in midfield or defense. Loyd's best position is believed to be defensive midfield, and his reputation as a hard-nosed defender could see him provide valuable cover for midfield pit bull Daniel Hernandez.
Loyd could also begin his career filling in at one of the outside back spots, but such a puzzle is a nice problem for FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman to have.
6. Philadelphia Union -- Amobi Okugo, D, UCLA
Philly acquired this pick in a pre-draft trade with Dallas -- sending allocation money to FCD -- and used the selection to grab the UCLA product. Although just 18 years old, Okugo is viewed as a precocious talent, one who should be able to contribute in a holding midfield role. Philadelphia already has Stefani Miglioranzi on its books, so Okugo may not be asked to start right away, although he could line up beside the veteran. When he does step on the field, his physical tools and confidence on the ball should allow him to do well.
7. Philadelphia Union -- Jack McInerney, F, U.S. U-17 national team
Without question, the selection of McInerney -- one made possible by a trade with D.C. United -- is a surprise as it represents a longer-term project for the Union than the two previous picks. At just 5-8, McInerney is better suited to a second striker role, and he has the ability to take players one-on-one in the attacking half.
8. Columbus Crew -- Dilly Duka, M, Rutgers
The Crew have impressive depth at nearly every position, and in nabbing the U.S. U-20 international, have added a creative spark to their midfield. The youngster impressed at last year's U-20 World Cup with his passing and vision, but with players like Eddie Gaven already on the books, Duka will be given some time to adapt to the pro level.
9. New England Revolution -- Zack Schilawski, F, Wake Forest
Revs head coach Steve Nicol continued his affinity for Wake Forest players, and given the uncertainty surrounding the future of Taylor Twellman, who is recovering from head and spinal injuries, the selection makes sense. Some project Schilawski as having a brighter future at outside mid, but he'll definitely get some minutes up top this season.
10. Chivas USA -- Blair Gavin, M, Akron
With the future of Jesse Marsch still undecided, and Paulo Nagamura possibly headed out the door as well (to Tigres), new Chivas head coach Martin Vasquez opted to acquire some cover in midfield. Gavin is a different kind of player from the physical Marsch, in that his strength is in his passing as opposed to his tackling, but his ability in a deep-lying role could prove to be a boon to the Goats. A central midfield pairing of Gavin and last year's top pick, Michael Lahoud, could provide stability in the middle for years to come.
11. Seattle Sounders FC -- David Estrada, M, UCLA
The one-time freshman phenom wasn't considered a first-round prospect, but his stock rose following an impressive performance at last week's combine. Estrada can play either in midfield or up top, and while his production diminished over the years at UCLA, his skill and vision obviously appealed to Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid. It will be interesting to see if Estrada can fill the void left by the departed Sebastien Le Toux.
12. Columbus Crew -- Bright Dike, F, Notre Dame
If Seattle picking Estrada was a surprise, the selection of Dike is a stunner. An absolute beast at 6-1, 220 pounds, Dike is a classic target forward whose touch and conversion rate are highly suspect.
Certainly the loss of Alejandro Moreno in the expansion draft played a role in this selection, as did the fact that the Crew didn't have another pick until the fourth round. But with some of the other talent available, one wonders if it's a pick the Crew will later regret.
13. Chicago Fire -- Corben Bone, M, Wake Forest
No player slid further down the draft chart than Bone, who was projected to be a top-five pick. But with Chris Rolfe now off to Europe, the Fire will be pleased to have the midfielder fall in their lap. Bone has great attacking instincts and the ability to fill in either in the middle or on the wing.
14. New York -- Austin da Luz, M, Wake Forest
In addition to selecting Tchani, the Red Bulls acquired defender Chris Albright from New England in exchange for a second- and third-round pick, and this allowed them to look for a more attack-minded player with their second first-round selection. New York got its man in da Luz, a left-sided midfielder with outstanding vision and passing ability.
15. Real Salt Lake -- Collen Warner, M, Portland
RSL created an odd end to the first round by shipping Clint Mathis to Los Angeles, swapping picks with the Galaxy, and getting a third-round selection next year. Evidently that was needed to acquire Warner, whose stock rose considerably at the combine, and could give the champs more of a classic wide presence on the right side of midfield.
16. Los Angeles Galaxy -- Michael Stephens, M, UCLA
With Mathis offering a stop-gap measure for the Galaxy while Landon Donovan and David Beckham are at the World Cup, Stephens is a solid prospect for the future. In his time at UCLA, Stephens showed ability out wide as well as in the center, although his numbers dropped considerably this year. At minimum, manager Bruce Arena has succeeded in adding a young prospect to a midfield that is definitely showing its age.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He also writes for Centerlinesoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.