Union take long view in MLS draft

Union's first pick Danny Mwanga, left, sixth pick Amobi Okugo and seventh pick Jack McInerney. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)

In the Union's first SuperDraft as a Major League Soccer franchise yesterday at the Convention Center, manager Peter Nowak directed the selection of six players, including the top pick, Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga.

The Philadelphia club had a league-record three players in the top seven picks.

"I just wanted to make sure that with the number-one pick, we selected a guy who can be ready for Major League Soccer," said Nowak, who visited Mwanga before the draft. The Pac-10 player of the year had opportunities to play in France.

"I think Peter, once he met [Mwanga] and got to see him, I think he was pretty sold on him," Union president Tom Veit said.

"I talked to a lot of people," said the 18-year-old Mwanga, who scored 14 goals in 18 games as a sophomore last season. "Of course, Peter made a contribution to that, but I already had my mind up to stay here in the United States."

After picking Mwanga, who was born in Congo, the Union selected UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo, 18, with the sixth overall pick and United States under-17 men's national team member Jack McInerney, 17, with the seventh. The team acquired both picks in trades before the draft.

The three early selections eclipsed the record held by D.C. United, which made three of the top eight picks in 2001.

Nowak used the 17th, 33d and 49th overall picks - in the second, third and fourth rounds - on Connecticut midfielder Toni Stahl, 24, and two UCLA teammates, midfielder Kyle Nakazawa, 21, and goalkeeper Brian Perk, 20.

"Step by step, we're going to build this team," said Nowak, who now has 18 players on his roster along with the rights to midfielder Danny Califf, a U.S. national team veteran. "Having some veterans coming and also the youth, it's important to have a good mix of guys who can contribute from day one. And also, we have to [look to] the future"

In a trade on Wednesday, the Union received the seventh overall pick, Brazilian midfielder Fred, and allocation money from D.C. United in exchange for Philadelphia's No. 1 allocation ranking, which D.C. used to obtain U.S. national team goaltender Troy Perkins.

A few hours before yesterday's draft, the Union sent allocation money to FC Dallas for the sixth overall pick.

Allocation money can be used to sign players and does not count against a team's budget for salaries. When two teams file a request for the same player on the same day, a higher allocation ranking receives priority.

Nowak has his eyes on the future.

All three first-round picks are "Generation adidas" prospects - development players who are part of a joint venture between MLS and U.S. Soccer, the national governing body, that fast-tracks the top high school and college players.

Generation adidas players can be grandfathered out of the program by logging significant playing time. But if they don't play much in the Union's first season, they will be protected automatically in next year's expansion draft, when Portland and Vancouver will select players from existing MLS rosters.

"We kept in mind that, next year, there is going to be another expansion draft, and with the Generation adidas players, you have almost a guarantee that they are not going to get drafted in the expansion draft," Nowak said. "With three Generation adidas players already, we'll make sure that they'll stay with us a little bit longer than just one year."

The Union open their first season on March 25 at Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Sounders. The club's home opener will be April 10 against D.C. United at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Union's 18,500-seat stadium in Chester is still under construction. A team official said the stadium is scheduled to be completed in late spring, so the Union will have to play a few home games elsewhere.


Union Draft Picks

Round                     Age   Position      School/Club Team

1 (1)   Danny Mwanga*   18      Forward      Oregon State

1 (6) Amobi Okugo*      18      Midfielder   UCLA

1 (7) Jack McInerney*   17      Forward      Cobb FC (Ga.)

2 (17) Toni Stahl         24      Midfielder   Connecticut

3 (33) Kyle Nakazawa   21      Midfielder   UCLA   

4 (49) Brian Perk         20      Keeper      UCLA

* - Generation adidas prospect; protected in next year's expansion draft. (Overall pick in parentheses)


For more coverage of the MLS draft, the WPS draft, the Union, the Independence and the national soccer convention in town, check out philly.com's newly redesigned soccer page at http://www.philly.com/soccer