[MLS SPOTLIGHT] No team claimed more players in the SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft than the seven collected by the Philadelphia Union, yet none of them is expected to fill immediate needs. Instead, the club had already locked up Costa Rican striker Josue Martinez and defender Porfirio Lopez, and Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gomez to shore up areas the coaching staff deemed problematic during the offseason. So when highly rated forward Chandler Hoffman dropped far enough in the SuperDraft first round that the Union could pick him at No. 13, manager Peter Nowak regarded his good fortune as a bonus, not a boon.
“We addressed these needs in the offseason, Chandler was the best option available and we didn’t hesitate,” said Nowak, who is preparing for his third season in charge of the Union. “We have another young forward to develop. We have a couple, they develop in the right way, so this is another time, especially with Generation adidas we have the time right now to make it work.”
Hoffman joins Danny Mwanga (the No. 1 pick in 2010) and Jack McInerney (a first-round pick last year) on a Union roster that was getting crowded by the end of business Tuesday, when four Supplemental picks joined SuperDraftees Hoffman, midfielder Greg Jordan and defender Raymon Gaddis. If the international acquisitions emerge as starters in those positions, the collegians will be pushing them for playing time.
“We were a little bit different than some of the other teams,” said Nowak of attempts to strengthen a team that finished third in the Eastern Conference and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to MLS Cup finalist Houston. “We don’t want to scramble at the draft table and thinking how it’s going to be and what it’s going to be. We addressed these issues and we’re still looking.”
Taken in the Supplemental Draft on Tuesday were defender Thomas Brandt (Penn), midfielder Krystian Witkowski(Marist), forward Antoine Hoppenot (Princeton) and midfielder Brandon Zimmerman (Santa Clara).
Philly didn’t have a lot of holes to fill. The only notable losses from the 2011 squad were flank midfielder Justin Mapp and holding mid Stefani Miglioranzi, and it picked up a possible replacement for Mapp, former Whitecap Nizar Khalfan, off the waiver wire.
Nowak and head of scouting and player development Diego Gutierrez believe their newest foreign acquisitions can continue the improvement shown last year when defender Carlos Valdes and keeper Faryd Mondragon helped transform an expansion straggler into a respected opponent.
“Porfirio and Josue are very centered and very hungry,” Gutiérrez told mlssoccer.com. “They know it’s not easy to come here and make an impact. Both Peter and I are very impressed with those two guys’ mentality. And Gabriel Gomez has played in a lot of important games and I expect him to bring more of the same. I know he’ll fit in nicely as well.”
Hoffman joins former UCLA teammate Amobi Okugo on the Union roster. Okugo, along with Freddy Adu, could miss significant portions of the season to represent the U.S. Olympic team, which might also free up time for another ex-Bruin, Kyle Nakazawa, taken in the SuperDraft third round last year.
“I believe the UCLA program was always very strong for years,” says Nowak. “I know [head coach] Jorge Salcedo, who played with me in Chicago. He always developed good guys, not only just on the soccer field but also good human beings, the guys who fit in an environment and adapt to an environment pretty fast. I’ve always been impressed with his work. And, of course, Amobi Okugo played with [Hoffman] as well. I think he was still very underrated because there was always Kelyn Rowe [the No. 3 overall pick by New England], who was always on the top of the team and was the visible guy, and Chandler was always in the background. So we’ll see.”
Hoffman and his fellow draftees will soon be introduced to the ways of Nowak: a playbook, intense training sessions, and the unique tutelage of the only man to win an MLS title as captain (Chicago, 1998) and head coach (D.C. United, 2004). He won with the Fire in his, and its, first MLS season, and debuted as a head coach with a title for D.C. His ambitions for Year 3 in Philly are starkly evident.
“The pieces are coming together and I think the most important thing is to have 25 guys ready to roll,” says Nowak of starting training camp next week. “I know we’re going to miss a couple of guys because of Olympic camp, but that’s important, because if they all go to the Olympic Games we have to have somebody to fill the shoes. That’s the whole idea, that from Year 1 to 2 to 3 we will progress.”