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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Drafting conclusions from the Union's five picks

Clemson grad and English defender Aaron Jones, left,
is one of four foreign-born players taken by the Union
in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union Tuesday wrapped up day two of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft with three picks – forward Chris Nanco, defender/midfielder Jack Elliott and forward Santi Moar. The odds of any of the three having an impact on the senior club, this year or next, are fairly remote. But those chances are improved by the minutes afforded by Bethlehem Steel, and if nothing else, the three added Tuesday are intriguing pieces. A few takeaways from the draft in broad strokes:

Foreign flair. Four of the Union’s five draft picks were born outside the United States – Nanco (Canada), Elliott and Aaron Jones (England) and Moar (Spain). Nanco cut his teeth at FC Sigma and the Canadian youth national team. Jones played at Ipswich Town, Elliott at the delightfully named Old Wilsonians Football Club. Not sure about Moar’s upbringing. In the two drafts overseen by Earnie Stewart, six of the Union’s 11 picks have been foreign-born players (Josh Yaro went through Ghana's touted Right to Dream Academy, while Fabian Herbers was at FC Twente and a pair of German clubs before landing at Creighton). Considering that 31 percent of the available players in this year’s SuperDraft were foreign-born (75 of 238), the Union’s preference looks to be a trend.

What you can’t teach. Cliché as “you can’t teach speed” may be, it’s helpful to look at the Union’s picks through a risk-reward lens. There are plenty of solid players available in the SuperDraft with elite club and college upbringings who are what they are at age 23 – that is a five-foot-something center mid or undersized but cerebral center back or a college center mid turned right back because that’s his best chance. Call it the Eric Bird mold. The Union seem to eschew that and look not for a complete player who has met his (middling) potential but one who could have an elite skill around which the Union staff can mold a fully-formed whole. With Marcus Epps and Nanco, that’s speed. With Elliott, it’s his 6-foot-5 frame. (No Aaron Wheeler jokes, please.) Jones has exemplary set-piece ability and work ethic. Moar, I’m guessing by the 19 assists, can provide a final pass. None is a complete player. But it’s easier in the second or third round to find one arrow in the quiver that projects as MLS-caliber and coach the rest of the individual around it, especially since the Union have improved drastically from a development standpoint in the last few years. The chances of any contributing are long, so why play it conservative?

The Real deal. With all due respect to the three draftees enjoying a monumental achievement, the big story is Matthew Real, who should be the Union’s left back of the future in two or three years, signing his first pro contract with Bethlehem Steel. The Drexel Hill native has been in the Union youth pipeline since before there was a coherent vision thereof. He’s a fixture on U.S. Under-16 and U-18 teams. The former Wake Forest commit would’ve played significant minutes for Steel before leaving for school this year. Now they’ve finalized a full pro deal, Real joining the likes of Auston Trusty, Derrick Jones and Yosef Samuel to sign out of the Academy. Of the four, Real could end up being the most impressive. Expect Real to train with the Union regularly this season.

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