INDIANAPOLIS – This college sports-crazed city is still in the process of catching on to the world's game the way other parts of America have. Still, it's fitting that Major League Soccer's annual convergence with the college game will take place this year a few blocks from the NCAA's headquarters.
The 2013 MLS SuperDraft features few sure-fire prospects. There aren't many names that fans who don't follow college soccer closely would recognize.
And the Union probably wouldn't have a shot at that kind of player, since they don't have a first-round draft pick this year. The team traded that pick to Vancouver in order to acquire defender Bakary Soumaré.
But the Union do have two second-round picks, the 26th and 29th overall.
Union manager John Hackworth and his staff have had a lot of success in recent years finding gems in later rounds of the draft. Examples include midfielder Michael Farfan and defender Ray Gaddis.
Now the Union have another opportunity to find under-the-radar talent.
"We feel like we have addressed our positional needs already this off-season, but we still have a few spots where we would like to add depth," Hackworth said. "If a player is still available that we really like and he fits one of those specific spots, great. If there is a player who we really like no matter what, we could go that way as well."
Hackworth and his assistants have spent a lot of time scouting college talent across the east coast and beyond. One of those assistants, Brendan Burke has developed close relations with a number of top college players through the Union's amateur affiliate in Reading.
In addition to his Union duties, Burke is the head coach of Reading United, which plays in the amateur Premier Development League. Through an agreement with the NCAA, college players can play for PDL teams during the summer without losing any eligibility.
Burke has taken full advantage of the system. He has built a program that perennially features top pro prospects with East Coast ties.
Last season, his roster included Louisville defender Greg Cochrane (Council Rock South/Holland, Pa.), West Virginia defender Eric Schoenle (Pennsbury High/Yardley, Pa.), and Notre Dame forward Ryan Finley (Rancocas Valley/Lumberton, N.J.). All are likely to be first-round picks this year.
Reading has also contributed a player to MLS' high-porifile Generation Adidas class for the third consecutive year. Generation Adidas players are a select group of college prospects who are exempt from the salary cap, and are paid higher-than-average rookie salaries in order to attract them to MLS instead of foreign leagues.
This year's Reading connection is forward Deshorn Brown, a Jamaican who played college soccer at Central Florida. He is following a path established by three Pennsylvania natives: Andrew Wenger (Lititz), Zarek Valentin (Lancaster) and Corey Hertzog (Reading).
"After the partnership was formed in 2010 and as my role has continued to progress and change, the main goal behind Reading now has become more and more to know the best players in the country," Burke said. "Recruiting them takes time, but it's worth the effort because we get to know them on an individual basis on and off the field."
It's likely that Reading's top products in this year's draft class will be gone by the time the Union get on the clock. They have the 26th and 29th overall selections.
Burke cited Farfan as the standard-bearer for the kind of player teams look to find in the second round.
"So far there hasn't been a better example of an extremely high quality player being picked up in the second round," Burke said.
If the Union are going to find a player of that caliber at any position, it's likely he'll be a defender. This year's draft class has depth at the position, and given the recent departure of Carlos Valdés, it's a position that the Union may look to strengthen.
"Any pick is valuable if you understand what you need and you understand the player you're drafting," Burke said. "We've done it two years in a row and I wouldn't rule it out again."