Draft day reaction: Anding, Okai, Adu


(via Philly Soccer Page) Featured — By Dan Walsh on January 18, 2013 12:00 pm Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Two draft picks that surprised many, and the winding down of Freddy Adu’s tenure with Philadelphia Union — all in one day.

Since everyone wants to talk about it, here’s some reaction to the Union’s draft day to drive the conversation some more.

The Anding pick: Huh?

This one came out of left field. We all expected a left back. And maybe we got one — who many didn’t project as a left back.

The word on Anding is he was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, players at the MLS combine. And he’s left-footed. And he was a pretty good forward in college. There’s not much more than that to go on.

If Anding is to become a left back, he is now what you call a project. He has minimal experience there. As a left winger, he may slide in more naturally, but even then, he may be more used to collecting crosses than sending them in.

Of all the Union’s moves Thursday, this is the biggest head-scratcher. It’s not that conversions from forward to fullback are unheard of. After all, a certain Union right back known for his runs down the flanks once played striker. But Sheanon Williams converted to defender at a younger age than Anding.

Several other actual left backs were available, including Bucks County native and former Reading United player Greg Cochrane, who went to the Los Angeles Galaxy with the 38th pick. The Union must have had a good reason for passing on Cochrane. He has practiced with the Union and played for Union assistant coach Brendan Burke, so it’s not from lack of familiarity.

The Union must really like Anding’s potential, and the one thing you can’t teach is speed. Union manager John Hackworth has praised his character, and that does matter. But at least as important is what he can do on the field. If he’s a left back, we may not see Anding on the field with the first team all season.

Stephen Okai: Working the draft perfectly

A basic premise of all professional sports drafts is this: If you know you want a player but think you can get him in a spot lower than your draft position, trade down.

The Union did that perfectly. They wanted midfielder Stephen Okai, the NAIA player of the year and former Reading United player, and they knew nobody else was going to snatch him first. So they traded down, got two additional picks in the Supplemental Draft (effectively the amateur draft’s third round), and still got Okai. That is exactly how you work the draft.

As for Okai himself, the pick looks really good for this reason: In a league where the scouting of amateur players isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as it is in basketball, football, or baseball, the Union have seen a lot of Okai at a high level of competition. No, not at the University of Mobile, where he played his college soccer, but with Reading United, the Union’s Premier Development League affiliate.

The Union are so high on Okai they legitimately think he could start this season. But it’s worth noting he was the only player drafted for whom a biography was not prepared for the MLS website before the draft. Just an oversight, or did everyone else rank him that low?

Philadelphia might have just gotten a steal. Or they may have reached for a guy other teams were low on for a reason. If former Reading United star Ray Gaddis is any indication, then it’s probably of the steal variety, and I think that will probably be the case.

Bidding adieu to Freddy Adu

So is Adu finally on the way out? Probably.

Could he sit out the season? Doubtful. He’s not that dumb, and he is too good a player to do that.

Adu is on the outs with Hackworth not so much for what he’s done on the field, but what he’s done off it. Few can deny Adu’s talent. His goal numbers are fine, but the assists haven’t been there. You can attribute that as much to poor finishing as you can to Adu himself, as the video below shows. (Thanks to Gordon Strachan for the link.)

What’s been clear, even if the specifics aren’t always, is that there has been friction off the field between Adu and the coaching staff.

Plus, even if the Union’s finishing was subpar most of 2012, Adu’s salary is still too high for his performance. Anyone who’s seen him stepover three times into defensive oblivion knows that. The Union never should have given so high a salary ($400,000 base, $512,000 average per year counting bonuses) to a player who last played in Turkey’s second division. If Adu was making half that, he would be worth it. But he’s not.

The two sides haven’t discussed publicly whether the Union have been trying to renegotiate his salary downward. If so, that’s exactly what they should have done. Adu has not been an on-field failure with the Union. He simply hasn’t matched his inflated salary.

If Adu genuinely thinks he will never get an extended opportunity to play the No. 10 position with the Union, it’s not surprising that he would want to force his departure. When he joined the Union, he was told he would play there, but Peter Nowak and later Hackworth never gave him more than a game here or there at the spot. The blame for that could fall more on Nowak than Hackworth. It’s absolutely fair for a replacement manager to delay key position changes till training camp, and swapping Michael Farfan and Adu full-time could have disrupted instead of improved the club. On the other hand, it would have been nice to know before going into an off-season with the matter unsettled on the field.

In an ideal world, Adu would have renegotiated down to a salary budget hit under $280,000 under the premise that he would get his chance at CAM, while Farfan returned to the right wing. Yes, that’s leaving a lot of money on the table, but the last thing Adu needs is another public knock against his character. What he needs is to play well without any off-field drama.

Adu’s controversial departure isn’t good for him. And if he sits on the sidelines all year while collecting paychecks from the Union, it’s even worse, both for him and the Union.