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Teams move aggressively
by Ridge Mahoney, January 15th, 2010 7AM

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[MLS SUPERDRAFT] Host Philadelphia set the tone of the 2010 SuperDraft before the selections even started by acquiring two additional first-round picks and D.C. United midfielder Fred, and thus shook up a draft that started off pretty much according to form.

Veterans Chris Albright and Clint Mathis also changed teams in trades as teams underwent renovations, some extensive and some minor, in four rounds of picks at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Albright, a native of Philadelphia, was traded by the Revs to New York after New England declined to pick up his option, and Mathis will go back to Los Angeles, one of several clubs on his MLS resume.

The first four picks -- Danny Mwanga (Union), Tony Tchani (New York), Ike Opara (San Jose), and Teal Bunbury (Kansas City) -- didn't surprise anybody, but the Union's aggressive moves did.

Philadelphia used its some of its liberal allowance of allocation money as an expansion team to get the No. 6 pick from FC Dallas, and used more cash plus a swap of allocation places to get Fred and the No. 7 pick from D.C., which brought goalie Troy Perkins back to MLS with the allocation it acquired.

FC Dallas kept its No. 5 pick to take midfielder Zach Lloyd (North Carolina), one of a midfield crop rated as very strong this year.

With three of the first seven picks Philadelphia went heavily for youth: Mwanga (18), midfielder Amobi Okugo (18) and forward Jack McInerney (17). Combined ages: 53.

"Rather than fill the roster late in the draft, we made the decision - especially with some personal knowledge of these guys - that these are very talented guys, so let's move up and get them early and build our roster," said assistant coach John Hackworth, the former U-17 national team coach.  "I personally coached Amobi for two years and I always thought he was one of the brightest talents we had coming through our national team programs. He is a very talented individual and I have no questions about his mentality adjusting to the professional game. I've watched Jack over the last few years and with the 17s, and he's one of the best attacking players at his position at his age that we've seen in a long time."

The Union also took rugged midfielder Toni Stahl (UConn) with the first pick of the second round, during which two well-regarded forwards - Andrew Wiedeman (California) and Andre Akpan (Harvard) - were taken by FC Dallas and Colorado, respectively. The Rapids, which didn't have a first-round pick, chose Virginia midfielder Ross LaBauex with the No. 23 overall pick.

New York began its rebuilding under Swedish coach Hans Backe in midfield by taking Tchani, the draft's top-rated player at his position, at No. 2 and midfielder Austin da Luz at No. 14.

"Tony was the best player available, said Red Bull assistant coach Richie Williams, who headed the scouting of players while the team underwent the search that eventually yielded Backe. "For sure, the best player in the Combine: 6-foot-4, two-way midfielder, box-to-box, very good skill, good touch, good passer, big, physical, good kid. I followed him a lot and we think he's going to be very good."

Da Luz, one of several talented playmakers in this year's draft crop, is one of four Demon Deacons taken in the first round. He played at Wake Forest, where his father Tony, is the women's coach.

"He's the one who got me interested in the game and kept me involved all my life," said da Luz. "He's always been in my corner both as a coach and a parent, and that's been invaluable. He knows when to be a dad and when to be a coach, so he knows when he has to give me a kick in the butt and some criticism, he does it."

Albright, who had reportedly requested a trade to Philadelphia, played just one game while battling a severe hamstring injury last season and requested a trade when his option wasn't picked up.

New York gave up its later second-round (No. 31) and third-round (No. 48) picks to get Albright.

"If he can get back his fitness and get back to the level that he's been playing, he's one of the best right backs in the league," says Williams. "He's won championships and has experience with the national team, and we think he can help us. For us, there's no way to go but up."

New York, despite trading those two picks, came away with five players. Irving Garcia, a 5-foot-5 midfielder from UC Irvine, also came in for praise from Williams.

"He's a good player, too, and he's little guy, so I have to mention the little guys," said the former D.C. United, MetroStar and national team defensive midfielder.

Four Demon Deacons - Tchani, Zack Schilawski (Revs), Corben Bone (Fire) and da Luz - were taken in the first 14 slots.

Akron, which contributed the No. 1 pick last year when expansion Seattle took Steve Zakuani, supplied Bunbury and No. 10 pick Blair Gavin (Chivas USA) to the first round.

UCLA contributed three in the first round: Okugo at No. 6, David Estrada (Seattle) at No. 11 and No. 16 Michael Stephens (Galaxy). Another Bruin, former U.S. U-20 midfielder Kyle Nakazawa, dropped all the way down to the third round when the Union took him at No. 33 overall.

New York's pick in the second round, No. 18 overall, was used on defender Tim Ream. During the draft, rumors circulated that the Red Bulls were discussing a trade with Kansas City for defender Jimmy Conrad. In the second round, the Wizards selected Olukorede Aiyegbusi, but the draft unfolded without confirmation of any trade.

Columbus took highly-rated U-20 midfielder Dilly Duka with the No. 8 pick, then went for massive (6-foot-1, 223 pounds) forward Bright Dike at No. 12, higher than most teams had projected the Notre Dame senior would go.

"I think the first four picks went about the way that everybody expected," said Crew assistant coach Brian Bliss. "When Philadelphia moved up and took those young players, that helped us, and we were pretty sure at that point that guy we were isolating was the guy we were going to get, and that was Duka. We didn't think McInerney would go that high; we like him, we just didn't think he'd go that high. That opened it up.

"I saw Duka with the 20s and I talked with some of his coaches with the national team, they gave good remarks and we thought had some good moments at the Combine to back up those remarks. He can play a little bit in the middle, based on his national-team success, but in MLS against guys who are bigger, I think he's better suited as a wide guy, maybe on the left and coming in on his right [foot]. Robbie [Rogers] could be gone with the national team a lot so that might open up some opportunities. We like his quick feet in the offensive end of the field. We didn't get him to defend.

"Dike we thought was the second- or third-rated forward in the Combine, and we've seen a lot of Notre Dame, too, so we're more familiar with the kid and what he's done over his career. We kind of like his physicality. We think he could stand to lose a few pounds, but we'll get that off him once we get him into camp."

Dike's selection brought the total of forwards taken to five, and at least two of those had been on the Galaxy's radar screen. During the first round, Los Angeles talked trade with Real Salt Lake; the MLS Cup 2009 finalists switched the 15th and 16th places in a deal that sent Mathis back to Los Angeles, one of several teams listed on his MLS resume.

"Clint expressed a desire about coming back to LA -- his wife's family is from Orange County -- and credit to Real Salt Lake for taking that into consideration," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, who coached Mathis with the U.S. national team. "We all could see that Clint has some soccer left in him, and he's a very talented player. I think he can play another two years in the league. He's a still a very good attacking player, creative and still capable of scoring goals. He would be in a less-demanding role but he can give depth to our roster. Clint's a champion now. There are no knocks on Clint. All the knocks are on the Galaxy. We haven't won anything and Clint did. That's a big positive."

Both MLS Cup finalists went for midfielders at the end of the first round. Collen Warner of Portland went to RSL; Los Angeles took a local product, Michael Stephens from UCLA.

"Clint is a second forward and can play anywhere in the midfield," said Arena.  "We maybe made ourselves a little bit deeper and won't have to force Landon Donovan play a bunch of different positions depending on where we need him. Hopefully, we can give him a  more consistent responsibility on the field."

Arena summed the draft both for his team and overall when he said, "On paper it looks good, but you don't win games on paper. I think we feel pretty good where our team looks in terms of ability and experience on the field. We need some guys to play better and produce better and be coached better. We could finish anywhere from first to 16th this year, and that's the motto for every team in MLS. It's almost like the NFL. The Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, didn't make the playoffs this year, and we almost follow the NFL model. We're a league of parity."

The Union led all teams with six selections. Coming next with five apiece were Chicago, Chivas USA, Columbus, FC Dallas, Kansas City, New England, New York, and San Jose. Making four selections apiece were Colorado and Real Salt Lake; Seattle and Houston made three selections each, Toronto FC - which had three first-round picks last year -- - made just two selections, and D.C. United's only selection - after it traded the No. 7 slot to Philadelphia - was Jordan Graye of North Carolina.

 



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