THE COLLEGE PLAYERS eligible for this year's Major League Soccer SuperDraft are widely considered to be the finest in league history, featuring 12 of the top prospects in the country, multiple All-Americas and all three finalists for the 2009 NCAA Division I Player of the Year award.
The expansion Union has the chance to choose the best among them with the first overall pick today in the Grand Ballroom at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (2 p.m. ESPN2).
Team officials appear confident they've already found the cream of the crop in Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga, if weeklong speculation becomes reality today and the Union selects the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year as the draft's overall No. 1.
ESPN Soccernet's Ives Galarcep wrote that the team already has agreed to terms with Mwanga, 18, for a six-figure contract rumored to be upward of $200,000.
The Daily News learned that of five players scheduled to appear for a meet-and-greet at the Reading Terminal Market yesterday in advance of today's draft, one was the team's top choice. A source close to the team confirmed that Mwanga was scheduled to take part in the festivities, but didn't make the appearance.
Another team source neither confirmed nor denied that Mwanga's absence further solidified his apparent selection.
Later last night, the Union announced that it has sent cash to D.C. United in exchange for the seventh overall pick in the first round and Brazilian midfielder Fred. D.C. was able to sign 2006 MLS goalkeeper of the year Troy Perkins.
Also fueling speculation was that Mwanga reportedly dropped out of the MLS combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., just before it began Saturday, an indication that he and the Union had a deal in place. He and former club coach Monty Hawkins said Union manager Peter Nowak visited Mwanga on Dec. 23 in an attempt to entice him not to try out for a European team, according to a report in the Oregonian.
On Monday, Union CEO and managing partner Nick Sakiewicz said the team had its definitive No. 1 pick in mind. At the time, Mwanga was among those rumored to be top contenders, along with Division I national player of the year Teal Bunbury, of Akron; defender Ike Opara, of Wake Forest; and U.S. under-20 star Dilly Duka, who played for Rutgers last season.
Sakiewicz called Fred "a quality footballer." In three full seasons with D.C. United, Fred had 11 goals and 16 assists in 72 games, including 60 starts.
The four-round SuperDraft highlights the National Soccer Coaches Convention, which began yesterday and is expected to draw 7,000 attendees. This is the sixth time the city has hosted the event, and the first since 2006. It is scheduled to return in 2014.
The first-round draft order is as follows:
1. Union 9. New England
2. New York 10. Chivas USA
3. San Jose 11. Seattle
4. Kansas City 12. Columbus
5. t-FC Dallas 13. Chicago
6. FC Dallas 14. h-New York
7. d-Union 15. Los Angeles
8. c-Columbus 16. Real Salt Lake
t: from Toronto FC; d: from D.C. United
c: from Colorado; h: from Houston.
Villanova's Mike Seamon and Temple's J.T. Noone - who participated in the MLS combine - could be selected late in the draft.
Seamon, who played both forward and attacking midfielder, was a first-team All-Big East selection and was voted the Player of the Year in 2007 by the Philadelphia Soccer Six. Seamon led the Wildcats in scoring in each of his four seasons.
Noone, who also plays both forward and midfielder, set the Owls' all-time assist record (26) and was named the Soccer Six Player of the Week three times. He also became the first Temple player in 22 years to be named to an All-America list following his selection in 2008 to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America second team.
Penn State forward Jason Yeisley is also in the mix. Yeisley, who sat out the 2008 season to rehab a torn MCL in his left knee, returned in 2009 and was second on the Nittany Lions in points (21).
The Philadelphia Independence, of Women's Professional Soccer, can select up to five players in tomorrow's WPS college draft (9 a.m.) at the Convention Center.
The team dealt its two first-round picks to Boston in September for veteran Amy Rodriguez and another first-round pick.
Later in the day, the team will unveil its new uniforms at Trust restaurant (249-51 Arch St.).