SINCE ANNOUNCING its candidacy to become Major League Soccer's 16th team, the Philadelphia Union has had a hard time keeping big news a secret.
Such was the case when MLS commissioner Don Garber stood at the podium yesterday during the MLS SuperDraft at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and announced Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga as the Union's overall No. 1 pick. That confirmed weeks of speculation that the team had scouted the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year and agreed to a contract rumored to be in the area of $200,000.
"I can honestly say that today is probably the best day of my life," Mwanga said. "I cannot leave this stage without saying thank you to the Philadelphia Union fans. I am excited to be here and to have this opportunity."
Mwanga, 18, was one of three picks the Union acquired in the first round after striking deals with Eastern Conference rival D.C. United and FC Dallas hours before the draft.
Acquiring the No. 6 (from FC Dallas) and No. 7 picks (from D.C. United), respectively, the team selected UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo, 18, a three-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America, and Jack McInerney, 17, a forward on the under-17 national team. McInerney helped his team qualify for the U-17 World Cup.
"I wasn't expecting to go pro, but when I realized I had the opportunity, I had to take it," he said.
All three first-round picks fall under the league's "Generation adidas" guidelines, meaning their 2009 salaries will not count against the Union's salary cap. The program is a joint venture between MLS and adidas that gives incentive-laden contracts to amateur players who can be fast-tracked into the professional ranks.
"It is important for us to look for guys who can come in and play immediately, but also get young players we can develop," Union manager Peter Nowak said. "[With Mwanga], we selected a guy we feel is going to be ready to play in the MLS."
Union CEO and managing partner Nick Sakiewicz told the media Monday that the team wouldn't limit itself to selecting offensive-minded talent, given the number of defensive players the team has stockpiled since November's expansion draft and subsequent acquisitions. But the offensive firepower and speed these three bring should make for an exciting time come March, when the Union opens the 2010 season at Seattle.
"I am ready to get in here and get started," Okugo said "I don't know much about Philly, but what I do know I already like. I know coach Nowak likes to play soccer and likes to win, so we already have a lot in common."
With the first pick in the second and third rounds, the Union selected Connecticut midfielder Toni Stahl and UCLA midfielder Kyle Nakazawa. Stahl (17th overall), the 2009 Big East Midfielder of the Year and four-time All-Big East selection, hoped that he would have gone higher. But he is looking forward to playing for Nowak.
"Of course, I wished I would have gone higher - everybody does - but the fact that I get a chance to play for coach Nowak is something I am excited about," Stahl said. "I know nothing about his style or system, but I do know that he's a great coach, so I am ready to learn a lot."
Nakazawa (33rd overall), a 2009 Division I Player of the Year semifinalist, is among four Union picks hailing from the Pac-10.
With their final pick, the team selected UCLA goalkeeper Brian Perk (49th overall). Perk, a second team All-America, posted a 1.05 goals-against average in his 4 years as a Bruin.
The Union now has 19 players on the roster. Major League Soccer allows for a maximum of 24 players, (18 to dress on game day), meaning the Union will acquire its remaining players through free agency and by sifting through the undrafted talent.
In other draft news, Villanova product Mike Seamon was selected in the second round (27th overall) by the Seattle Sounders. Seamon is the second Villanova player to enter Major League Soccer (in 2001, the Chicago Fire selected defender Jim Curtin in the third round). Seamon said he received well-wishes earlier in the day from Curtin, who coached him on what it takes to be an MLS player.
"He offered a lot of words of encouragement and really told me what to expect, and the problems that I may encounter [with contractual disputes between the players union and the league] if I were to get signed," Seamon said. "But this is a really exciting time for me and for Villanova University. My school is new at this, unlike a lot of the other schools, so it's great for both me and our program to be recognized."
Sights and sounds
Sixers center Samuel Dalembert was also in attendance and hung out with the "Sons of Ben" - the Union's big support group - for much of the first round . . . Lehigh defender Adam Welch was selected in the fourth round by the New England Revolution . . . Nerves must have been a factor for the Revolution's first-round pick, Zach Schilawski, who thanked God, his family and the MLS' Columbus Crew.