By TRAVIS CLARK
The Philadelphia Union weren't finished wheeling and dealing until the very morning of Thursday's draft. Deals with FC Dallas and D.C. United left the newest MLS club with three first round picks, and a chance to continue the team-building process that started last November.
Everyone in the room knew that Danny Mwanga would become Philly's first-ever draft pick, and the Union brain trust stayed the course, adding an exciting and talented striker to build a team around.
"He's very honored and proud to be part of the Union," Coach Peter Nowak said. "Aside from his physical tools, he reads the game very well and plays like he's thinking about the game faster than everybody else."
Once the dust had settled, picks six and seven were fast approaching, and with big names like Ike Opara and Teal Bunbury coming off the board, the Union's next moves came with one eye on the future. U-17 forward Jack McInerney and UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo rounded out the Union's first round, as Nowak brought in three teenagers who will continue their develop under his tutelage.
The preparation prior to the draft had to be spot on — particularly in the first round with the cacophony of Union die-hards dominating the supporters who had made the journey to Philadelphia for the draft.
"We did a lot of homework before the draft. This draft class is very strong," Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. "We figured out some things down at the combine, and we went for it. It's really important to get some young players with a good, hard attitude that can play football."
Selecting three Generation adidas gives Philadelphia a bit more cap flexibility to bring in more experienced players from overseas — though Sakiewicz thinks Mwanga is an asset right off the bat.
"He's quality all the way around. He's fast, he's big he's strong, he's got soft feet, he can play with the ball, he can attack," Sakiewicz said. "He has the right mentality and attitude for the Phialdelphia Union brand."
Of the first round picks, Jack McInerney looks the furthest away from MLS-ready, but he is the youngest of the three. His international experience will certainly be an asset, not to mention learning from the MLS veterans already a part of the club. The 17-year-old wasn't sure where he'd end up heading into Thursday, though he knew of Philadelphia's interest at the combine.
"I had an idea (Philadelphia wanted me), but I didn't know about the trade until I got here today," McInerney said. "Coach John Hackworth at the combine said that he hoped I fell to the second round."
His new teammate, Okugo, is another exciting prospect who seemed thrilled with his new club. The midfielder spent just one year at UCLA but his physical stature is more imposing than your typical 18-year-old.
"I'm really excited to be part of an expansion team, we're going to get a lot of exposure," Okugo said. "The fans are crazy, in a good way. I'm just excited to play for the Union and make an impact immediately."
Counter-acting Philadelphia's youth movement was their second round pick — Toni Stahl, who comes to Philadelphia via Finland and the University of Connecticut. At 24, he could step in immediately and perhaps even battle out for a starting spot in midfield.
As the draft continued, Philadelphia added two more players who will fight to make the roster. A mediocre combine kept Kyle Nakazawa available until the beginning of the third round, and a weak keeper class meant Brian Perk was left for Philadelphia's final pick of the day. If Perk makes the roster, he'll likely deputize behind Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton in between the posts.
Union fans can now fix their attention on March 25, when they travel to Qwest Field to face Seattle. After Seattle's great 2009, the Union can expect a lot of comparison's with their first opponents. Nick Sakiewicz was adamant that the Union will forge their own path in 2010.
"Seattle did a great job, they hit on all cylinders at every level," he said. "We are Philadelphia, and we are building this plan and this team our own way."