Union manager John Hackworth chatted with reporters Monday morning in advance of Thursday's SuperDraft at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
It was a fairly open conversation, with most of the questions centering on the team's preparations for the draft. Here are some excerpts of Hackworth's remarks.
On the value he sees in the draft, and his goals for the team's selections:
Right now the players available in the draft I would term more as depth than I would absolute starters. We have some very specific needs that we have targeted and have stayed steadfast with that.
Although I think there are some players who are going to have long careers in MLS and do quite well, I think in general most of those guys need a little bit of time.
We need to maximize this draft. We need to do a really good job selecting players that we feel can really contribute. We have a couple of position-specific areas where we need to add depth, absolutely, and I think that's our main focus right now in looking at this draft and this draft pool.
There's obviously a lot of talk about centerbacks in this particular draft. Right now we have two centerbacks on our roster, so that's an area [of focus].
Probably the player that position-specific is getting rated more highly than anybody is [Connecticut and Jamaiaca national team goalkeeper Andre] Blake. We have Zac [MacMath], he's our no. 1. But then you've got a young player like Andre, and he's clearly showing he's a player for the future.
On whether the Union will draft for positional need or take the best player available:
That's going to have to be a tough decision because I think there's absolutely value in picking the best player available. And yet in reality, you need to have knowledge of what you can get for [that]. What value does he bring, does he allow you to to trade and get what you need from another team?
There's a lot of these dynamics in play when you start talking about taking the best player available, and you leave yourself in a position where you aren't covering the positions you need to add at.
On whether he'd trade draft picks, especially the two in the first-round:
It depends on what we get offered. I know that's kind of vague and I apologize for answering that way. If a team comes to us and we feel we can make a trade in the league, and that's a player who has value, that's a direction we would clearly go in.
On preparing for this year's draft compared to last year, when the Union didn't have any first-round picks:
This year we are in the exact opposite [situation as last year]. So it's a much different draft. As far as our scouting, we have spent a lot more time on the road making sure we have seen as many college games as possible, so we would see these guys in their playing environment before we get to the combine here.
We have certainly invested more time and energy out of necessity more than anything and making sure with the picks we have we have to do a really good job.
[In the] big picture, it's not like we ever intentionally tried to get away from the style that I've tried to talk about and the style we've trained with every day. The reality is in the modern era of this game you're going to have to be able to adjust.
Certainly there were games last year where we were effective and I wasn't really proud of the style. But this year, one of our biggest challenges is we have some resources - not only in this draft in the number of picks we have, and specifically the number of high picks, but we also have some resources to go outside and make some changes. Last year we didn't have any of those.
Going back to last year, we didn't have any chips to play, so to speak. We had to sit there for an awful long time knowing we had no moves to make. In this particular draft, I think we have potentially a ton of moves. There's a lot that's going to happen, it's going to be a very fluid process.
Some of that might shake down before we actually get to the draft, and then there is definitely going to be some movement within the draft.
On fans' frustration with the team not making big moves this winter:
I always look at any move we would ever make with a little bit towards a long term view. When you are trying especially in our league to build a team it's very difficult to make some changes that are immediate. So I think you need to have an eye on what the long term plan is. I feel like we have stuck to that.
Last year was a year where we didn't have a lot of those moves, but we knew we were going to be in a much better position this year.
If you look back to Michael [Farfan] specifically we were able to acquire him in a draft, and I thought Michael contributed to our team tremendously. Then we were able to really get some value out of that transfer, and again build up some resources that we will look to use this year in other ways.
So I think you've got to have a long term outlook. I think if you go short-sighted and you just want to go for the now. it can hurt you in this league.
When it gets put out there that we would be looking at a long-term view, I'm sure fans are going to be frustrated. Believe me, nobody wants to win right now more than those of us working on the inside. But for the longevity and success of our team, you can't be shortsighted like that.
We've experienced that as a club already in a very short a mount of time. We don't want to make that mistake again.
On University of California defenders Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean, two of the top prospects in this year's draft pool, and how Dean's status as a Generation Adidas player affects his potential:
Birnbaum and Dean are two guys that are being talked about a ton. Birnbaum is, I think, more ready immediately. [But] He doesn't have the roster protection that having the GA] status would allow.
It's going to be an interesting decision, not just for us but for some other teams - whether you invest in a guy like Birnbaum who can step in and compete for a job, [or] a guy like Dean who has a ton of potential.
The cap relief [with Dean] is huge, but if there's a player that's ready and a GA player is going to take time, I think you're going to have to look at that situation very carefully.
On the importance of the Union's relationship with Reading United of the PDL, and how it helps the team scout draft prospects:
It's extremely important. When I talk about long-term planning, that was a very strategic relationship that we tried to establish five years ago. It was clear that having that relationship would give us access to these top players for a following draft.
There's a number of those Reading guys that have trained with us this summer. You get to know them as a person and see their tendencies, and that's a big advantage for sure.
On New Hope native and Georgetown product Steve Neumann, and where he might fit in MLS, given scouting reports that he isn't a standout any one position:
Just knowing Steve, I think he's going to make it. There is that question of where he's going to play, but he is the kind of player that I think is going to have a long future in the league.
He's a very confident young man, and has skill sets that allow him to be real versatile - whether that's playing in the midfield or as a second forward.
When you talk about drafting the best available player with a guy like Neumann maybe you aren't talking about [being] position-specific. You take a player like him knowing that somehow, some way, he is going to make it.
On the big offseason signings made around MLS - especially by Eastern Conference rivals D.C., Toronto and Columbus - and how that has affected the Union's offseason:
What is extremely clear to everybody is that the stakes are being raised significantly. It has been an offseason where teams have really invested heavily and are continuing to do so.
I think the Eastern Conference right now, if you look at the three clubs you mentioned, they are all making significant and impactful moves, and it's going to make things more difficult.
Our league is getting better and I think that's a great thing. It's good for everybody. We've got to make sure we're doing the same thing. I'm confident we are.
I know sometimes fans can get frustrated by a lack of movement. But I'm confident that we are in a really good position.
Hopefully very soon we'll have some things to announce that will show we're in a similar situation to D.C. [signing Eddie Johnson and Sean Franklin, among others] and Columbus [signing Michael Parkhurst]. Maybe not spending the same type of money that Toronto has laid out for [Michael] Bradley and [Jermain] Defoe, but at least that we're in it.