Well, not many people saw this one coming.
Holding two of the top six picks in Thursday's Major League Soccer SuperDraft, the Philadelphia Union were expected to try to bolster a beleaguered defensive unit.
Or perhaps they would snag local boy Steve Neumann, an All-American midfielder from Georgetown.
And the option of grabbing Maryland striker Patrick Mullins -- college soccer’s leading goal-scorer -- must have always been enticing.
But in a move that surprised the Sons of Ben that packed the Philadelphia Convention Center, the Union opened the draft by trading their No. 2 pick to D.C. United for the top overall selection, before scooping up UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake.
The surprising part of this was not necessarily that Blake went No. 1 overall -- although he was the first goalkeeper to ever go that high in an MLS draft -- but that the Union would take a goalie when they already have a young, promising one in Zac MacMath.
But for the Union, Blake’s talent was simply too much to pass up. He was so talented, in fact, that Philly manager John Hackworth said he “knew for a fact” he wouldn’t still be around at No. 2.
“He can do stuff now that people in our league can’t do,” Hackworth said. “He’s got a ways to go. He’s got to come in here and really earn it. But this is a great opportunity for him. He wants it and, at the same time, he’s phenomenal. He’s already a Jamaican international. We’re talking about a college player that’s already had international experience. We feel like with the competition that’s going to be between him and Zac, it’s going to great for us.”
Naturally both Hackworth and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz were asked where this leaves MacMath, the team’s 22-year-old starter who just happened to be in attendance for Thursday’s draft.
Both men unequivocally stated that MacMath would remain the starter heading into the 2014 season. But the question now is for how long.
“It’s going to ratchet it up a little bit for Zac,” Hackworth said. “He’s not coming in and sitting. When he looks around, he knows that he’s going to have to try his best every day because this kid is here.”
To move up to the top overall slot, the Union had to give up some allocation money to D.C. United. But the club was then able to get that back and more when they traded their No. 6 pick down to No. 10 and then traded down again to 15.
The reason they felt comfortable doing that is that they knew their specific target -- Coastal Carolina's Pedro Ribeiro -- would likely be available later in the first round.
The gamble paid off when the Union were able to in fact snag Ribeiro, who showcased his skills in front of Philly coaches while playing with affiliate club Reading United over the summer.
“He’s got serious tools,” Hackworth said. “We saw that two years ago when he trained with us in Reading and he was fit and healthy. He had a sports hernia and a groin problem and was never healthy during this college season. But at the combine, he had some moments that nobody else has. So we felt that we got a little bit of a steal at 15.”
Ribeiro, who originally hails from Brazil, fills a need for the Union as a creative presence in the midfield. The Union then filled some more needs in the second round when they picked up defenders Kevin Cope (Michigan State) with the 25th overall pick and Robbie Derschang (Akron) at No. 27.
The Union are desperate for defensive depth following the trade of center back Jeff Parke to D.C. United and the continued uncertainty surrounding Carlos Valdes, who is under contract with the Union but wishes to play in Central America or South America leading up to the World Cup this summer.
“Cope is a center back and that was clearly a positional need,” Hackworth said. “And there’s a lot of center backs in this draft. … For me, he was one of the most solid and consistent center backs we saw all year long.
“With Robbie, I’ve known him from his youth national team days. He’s an attacking player who has moved back a little bit, and I think he’s got a lot of upside. He was our favorite left back. There weren’t many options at left back but he was our favorite guy and we’re pretty surprised we were able to pick him up in the second round.”
While Ribeiro, Cope and Derschang could all be potential steals, the story of the draft for the Union -- and for the entire league, for that matter -- was Blake.
What was it like for him to become the first goalkeeper ever picked first -- and to have that happen in the same city he’s now going to start his professional career in?
“It’s a great feeling, man,” Blake said. “It comes with pressure because it’s the No. 1 pick overall and you’ve got to show them it was a good choice taking you No. 1. But I’m a goalkeeper. I’ve been under pressure every day of my life. I’ve just got to go out there and work hard on the pitch and show in the end that it was a good choice.”
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Well, not many people saw this one coming.