Union have options in draft with two late picks

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Union have options in draft with two late picks

In a change from their previous three trips to the youth talent pool, the Union are entering Thursdays 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis as virtual spectators.

Trading away the No. 5 overall selection to the Vancouver Whitecaps to move up in the MLS Allocation Order to sign Bakary Soumare in 2012, the Union left themselves with the 26th and 29th selections of the second round -- a fact that will force coach John Hackworth into some creative maneuvering.

A first-round pick has value and from that regard, we don't want to necessarily not have one, Hackworth told Dave Zeitlin of MLSsoccer.com. But I think we have enough flexibility right now to either move up or down. There will be a lot of negotiating.

Should the Union decide to trade up into the first round, one strategy could be to bring in an MLS-ready left back. With Gabe Farfan interested in returning to his natural midfield position, Georgetowns Jimmy Nealis could be a proper replacement. Considered the top left back in the draft, the six-foot Nealis has a strong all-around game as a natural left back and is a playmaker to boot.
Another option at left back is Taylor Kemp out of Maryland. Touted to have a fantastic left foot an ability to eat minutes right away, the 5-foot-11 Kemp could be on the Unions radar as a two-way player. Injuries limited the Maryland senior in 2012, which could cause his stock to drop right into the Unions lap.

Other options at left back that may not require the Union to trade up would be John Gallagher out of Penn State and Dylan Remick from Brown.

Its a ton of options to have two picks in the second round, said Hackworth. Whether we target a player we think will be taken in the first round, it gives us the potential to trade up. Or, if thats not necessary for us and we think there are two players available that we really want, we can select those.

One advantage the Union have over most teams is their proximity to Premier Development League and USL club, Reading United. Headed by Brendan Burke, who is also an assistant coach for the Union, Hackworth has direct insight into the many college talents that pass through Reading on their way to the MLS.

United names that are expected to go in the draft and could also have the Union intrigued are forward Paul Wyatt, defender Eric Schoenle, goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, midfielder Jose Gomez, striker Ryan Finley, defender Greg Cochrane, midfielder Ian Christianson, forward Deshorn Brown and forward Will Bates.

We believe that Reading United is an essential part of our player development and scouting structure, Hackworth said in a team release. Obviously with Brendan (Burke), we work very closely with Reading.

However, while the option to move up in the draft will keep Hackworth on his toes, should the club decide to stand with the 26th and 29th picks, all wouldnt be lost. The Union tend to succeed when it comes time to finding diamonds in the draft rough.

Arguably the Unions most exciting young player is midfielder Michael Farfan, who was drafted in the second round -- 23rd overall -- in 2011. Drafted 35th overall in the second round of the 2012 draft, defender Ray Gaddis came out of nowhere to open eyes last season with his poise and speed at full back. Striker Antoine Hoppenot was a another uncovered success story, as he was picked up in the third round of the MLS Supplemental Draft.

Hopefully we can pull that off again, Hackworth said. I think there are some players out there that may not be on the top of everyones list and may be a player that could help us. But well have to see how that goes with the other teams. Certainly its a little bit unique in that well have to wait around and see how some of these things play themselves out.

Regardless of where the Union will pick, its what position they choose that counts. And as of now, the roster void Hackworth wants to fill is still a mystery. Even to him.

That depends on who is available, Hackworth said. We feel like we have addressed our positional needs already this offseason, but we still have a few spots where we would like to add depth. If a player is still available that we really like and he fits one of those specific spots, great. If there is a player who we really like no matter what, we could go that way as well.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”