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July 06, 2016

What could have been? Ex-Union target heads to China

Soccer Union
070616_union_16 Courtesy: Glenn Reigel, Reading United AC/for PhillyVoice

Former Reading standout and Union target Deshorn Brown is heading to China at age 25.

This story dates back to 2013, but it probably started in 2012.

The Philadelphia Union had entered the offseason with the removal of John Hackworth's interim tag. A number of foreign players were jettisoned to make room for what would become a veteran-heavy and domestic rebuild. It was easy enough to swap out Porfirio Lopez and Gabriel Gomez for Conor Casey and Jeff Parke, but Freddy Adu's contract presented a different challenge.

What should the Union do with the former teenage wonder kid?

The SuperDraft was fast approaching, and this class of rookies had a lot of potential. Future starters like Andrew Farrell, Kekuta Manneh, and Walker Zimmerman were among the top names on the list.

The Union had the interest in Reading United and UCF striker Deshorn Brown but didn't have any first-round draft picks. The technical staff offered Adu in an effort to trade into the top 10, but they couldn't find any takers. Brown went to Colorado with the sixth-overall pick and the Union ended up with Don Anding and Stephen Okai in the second round.

That Adu bit is what I had heard from sources at the time.

Brown did well in Colorado, then transferred to Norway, where he did even better. Now, he's leaving Valerenga to join up with China's Shenzhen F.C.

Union head coach Jim Curtin was an assistant back in 2013 and admitted this week that Brown was a guy that he really liked.

"Great player," said Curtin during his midweek press conference. "A combination of speed and size, a threat to get in behind, a guy that, I won’t keep it a secret, I tried to get here a few times when I was an assistant and now as a head coach. It has to be the right timing. It has to be the right price. Obviously, China has a…let’s just call it a 'different market' at the moment in world soccer. Great for him. I was just texting with Damani (Ralph, Brown’s agent) about it, and it’s really great for him, let’s put it that way (laughs)."

The growth of the Chinese Super League is hard to ignore. In the past year, clubs have successfully lured players like Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez, Ramires, and Gervinho.

"There are some things you can compete with, and some things you can’t, and the prices and the way the market’s set now by China is…astronomical would be the word," Curtin explained. "It’s a different level; it’s not logical in some ways, but it’s good for the kid. He’s a great player and a good kid, too - a kid that’s getting better and better, still at a young age, great speed, a threat to get in behind. So, yeah, one that’s on our radar but we’re not going to win that one. He’ll stay on our monitor but, at the same time, moving on, I wish him the best of luck."

Maybe the story here is the pathway to Major League Soccer and the frustration in acquiring players through myriad mechanisms.

The Union have always had strong connections with Reading United, which has been a fertile ground for future stars. Players like Matt Hedges, Luke Mulholland, Keegan Rosenberry, and C.J. Sapong all had stints with the club.

But there was no mechanism to take players from Reading and send them directly to the Union. It just didn't work that way. Even if Jim Curtin and John Hackworth got to watch a prospect play 15 games at Don Thomas Stadium, they were relegated to the MLS SuperDraft or confusing homegrown rules to acquire those players.

That's what happened with Deshorn Brown. The staff really liked him, they just couldn't acquire him through existing mechanisms.

Now, a player who could have been a mainstay in Philadelphia has gone from Jamaica to Alabama, to Florida, to Berks County, to Denver, to Norway, and now, to China.

"Even (players like Ray Gaddis and Andrew Wenger), even though they’re playing here for Reading, there are no guarantees that they’re our property," Curtin added. "It’s something that MLS is taking a good hard look at - what’s fair, what is a homegrown - and trying to re-establish these rules and regulations because it’s a little bit of a 'Wild West' feeling. It’s young talent being pulled away to Mexico now. And you can’t blame kids if, all of a sudden, a Mexican club… a kid plays in Dallas or Houston and San Jose, Galaxy, whatever team, and all the sudden now, a team from Mexico comes over and says, 'here’s half a million dollars'. That's life-changing money for a family, you can’t fault the kid. It’s something that I can tell you, even when I was (coaching) in the academy, they were actively trying to discuss mechanisms to keep a hold of these…I hate saying the word 'assets' because these are children, but they are. At the end of the day, you’re developing these kids, you’re bringing them along. What’s the best way for our league to keep our talent here? It’s a challenge."