Zac MacMath, the Union's first-round SuperDraft pick, on stage after the selection was announced. (Jonathan Tannenwald/Philly.com)
BALTIMORE - When the time came for the Philadelphia Union to make their first-round MLS SuperDraft pick yesterday, there were a lot of quality players to choose from.
Peter Nowak and Nick Sakiewicz could have taken Akron defender Kofi Sarkodie, one of the best defenders in the draft; or one of two top-notch forwards, Indiana's Will Bruin and Penn State's Corey Hertzog.
But when MLS commissioner Don Garber announced the Union's selection, the first thing out of his mouth was that the player came from the University of Maryland. That caused a minor stir.
Then Garber announced that the player was goalkeeper Zac MacMath, and the stir became genuine surprise.
No one questioned that MacMach was the best goalkeeper in the draft. A lot of people even said that the 19-year-old is on a career track that will lead him to the U.S. national team at some point.
But with Faryd Mondragon and Brad Knighton already on the depth chart, did the Union really need their third-string goalkeeper to be a player as good as MacMath? I'm not so sure.
Having said that, MacMath's age clearly played in his favor. Peter Nowak and his coaching staff have plenty of time to develop MacMath into a top goalkeeper. As long as MacMath is willing to be patient and earn his playing time, then everything could turn out well.
Above all, drafting MacMath was a tacit admission by the Union that players are coming from abroad. I heard from a good source yesterday that the signing of Colombian defender Carlos Valdez is done. I also got a tweet from a reader in Germany who said that Slovakian striker Marek Mintal is officially en route.
If those signings weren't happening, then the Union would have had a much greater need to take a quality striker and center back in the draft.
In my opinion, the best pick the Union made yesterday was getting University of North Carolina midfielder Michael Farfan in the second round. Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told me he was stunned that Farfan was still available at No. 23, and he wasn't alone.
Farfan is a creative midfielder who can play in multiple positions. He holds dual American and Mexican citizenship, and his brother players for Mexican powerhouse Club América.
(Coincidenally, América also has Bimbo as its jersey sponsor.)
As I mentioned yesterday, Farfan played on the 2005 United States Under-17 World Championship squad with Kyle Nakazawa, Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez. That team was coached by current Union assistant John Hackworth, so Farfan comes to Philadelphia as a known quantity. I think we will see him on the field at some point this year as a reserve player.
The Union's third-round pick, UMBC winger Levi Houapeu, is also a nice pickup. I don't know how much he'll play, but he was such a prolific scorer in college that he was worth a shot.
I did a lot of interviews yesterday that you can watch and listen to this morning. There are four videos you can watch:
- Zac MacMath, the Union's first-round draft pick
- Sasho Cirovski, MacMath's college coach at the University of Maryland
- Michael Farfan, the Union's second-round draft pick
- Peter Nowak, who spoke with me exclusively after the Union made all their picks
There are also two blog posts with audio interviews. The first post is from the MLS SuperDraft, and incudes:
- Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer
- Hans Backe, Red Bull New York manager
- Ben Olsen, D.C. United manager
- John Spencer, Portland Timbers manager
- Bob Lenarduzzi, Vancouver Whitecaps president
- Rudy Fuller, Penn men's soccer head coach, whose team faced MacMath's Maryland squad in the 2010 College Cup
The second post has interviews relating to other events at the NSCAA convention. You'll hear from:
- Earnie Stewart, former U.S. national team star
- Claudio Reyna, former U.S. national team star who is now the U.S. Soccer Federation's youth soccer technical director
- April Heinrichs, former U.S. women's national team coach who is now U.S. Soccer's women's youth soccer technical director
- Jill Ellis, U.S. Soccer women's youth soccer development director
Finally, I'll be live-blogging the Women's Professional Soccer Draft this afternoon at 1 p.m. Click here to read my advance on the event, and to follow along once it kicks off. If there's time, we can also talk about the Union's picks yesterday.