Union looks ahead to MLS SuperDraft

Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz held a conference call with reporters this afternoon ahead of Thursday's MLS SuperDraft at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He offered a few interesting pieces of news and insight.

(What's that you say? The SuperDraft is only one of three days' worth of soccer events at the Convention Center? And you have a hunch I might be there blogging it all? I'm shocked that you'd think of that.)

The main highlight from Sakiewicz was an update on the Union's ticket sales. The word is that over half the stadium is sold out as of now.

"Basically both sidelines are gone, and the Sons of Ben section in the south end is 80 percent sold out," Sakiewicz said.

Most of the conversation centered around the Union's strategy for Thursday's draft, which is for college players.

The Union have the first pick, and speculation has centered around Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga.

I will be honest with you and tell you that I haven't been paying that much attention because of college basketball. But Mwanga is apparently the top forward avilable, and the Union are already pretty well-stocked defensively.

Sakiewicz admitted as much when asked about the roster so far by Kerith Gabriel of the Daily News.

"We do have some gaps in certain areas, and clearly there are some opportunities with offensive-minded players," Sakiewicz said. He added, thoguh, that he "wouldn't read into it that we won't pick any defensive players."

Sakewicz isn't allowed to say who the Union will take with the first pick, but he did say that "we certainly know who we're picking first."

Sakiewicz said he has been approached about trading that first pick, but hasn't seen anything worth dealing for.

"That offer has not come as of yet, but a lot happens in the next few days, so I I'll never discount anything," he said. "I think the tires started to get kicked just shortly after MLS Cup [in November]. The tires are flat they've been kicked so much."

Sakiewicz was also asked if the Union's draft strategy will be affected by the potential of a work stoppage when MLS' collective bargaining agreement with its players expires in February.

"We don't consider the negotiations of the CBA to imapct who we're going to pick and how we're going to pick them," he said. "One has nothing to do with the other."

Finally, I asked Sakiewicz about an issue that comes up every year at around this time: whether college soccer is a good way to develop the caliber of player that MLS clubs and the U.S. national team need to succeed at the top levels of the game.

Some people think it isn't, because most countries start developing players while they're in high school and don't take them off the field for academics at college age. Others think the college system has worked and still can, with Claudio Reyna and Charlie Davies as examples.

"Some [college programs] are terrific - their coaches and programs are doing an exceptional job of preparing young talent," Sakiewicz said. "Others aren't. There's different degrees of quality everywhere you go. The group of draftees that are in this class seem to have come from very good programs."

He continued: "But college is only one avenue that players can prepare themselves in. It's up to the individual to develop in whichever way he feels is best, whether it's in a college environment or a youth academy environment."