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Throughout the 2012 season, the Philadelphia Union was either linked with, took a long, hard look at or even made a run for a number of players in the hopes of supplementing and improving upon their roster. Some of these names should be instantly recognizable to those who follow the Union, are familiar with other MLS clubs or have knowledge of clubs – and national teams – throughout the world. Other names are head-scratchers and instantly send you to the internet to find out just “who” they are. The following is a breakdown of the group of players who had an opportunity - and maybe some still do - of playing down on Seaport Drive, some even in a return appearance.
Michael Ballack should be a stranger to no one. A German international who has appeared on the world stage in the World Cup and European Championship, and on the club level with Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich, Ballack was linked to multiple MLS clubs – the Union included – during the summer transfer window. Supposedly offers were extended to the 36 year old midfielder, but no agreements could be made. He was most recently linked with a move to new A-League (Australian) club Western Sydney Wanderers, following other "big name" players down under such as Allesandro Del Piero (Sydney FC) and Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets). Has since decided to retire from club football and is currently pursuing his coaching qualifications in his homeland.
Andreas Chronis is a New York native, born in Queens, who last played professionally in the Greek Super League. The defender had a short trial stint with Real Salt Lake in early May, plus one with FC Dallas, and appeared in a Union reserve match loss against Toronto FC on May 26th. Chronis is currently without a club.
Greg Cochrane is a defender currently playing for the Reading United AC. The left back, from the University of Louisville, took part in the Union’s open practice session in June. It is unknown if he was there for a formal trial, or just taking advantage of the Union-Reading United affiliation and keeping up with his fitness.
Eric Hassli, the big, tattooed, French designated player who came to the league after joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in their inaugural season in MLS, was traded to Toronto FC in June after a knee injury sidelined Danny Koevermans for the remainder of the season. It is believed that the Union put together a trade offer for the target striker, but obviously lost out to the Reds. The Brotherly Game, through managing editor Scott Kessler, tweeted that there were rumors going around the Union's offices that Danny Mwanga might be involved in a swap for Hassli.
Christian Ibeagha appeared in the Union reserve’s loss to TFC. The tall central defender, who attended Duke University and was a member of the US Soccer residency program, was being looked at to help shore up the backline. He signed with North American Soccer League club the Puerto Rico Islanders in July.
Matt Kassel signed with the New York Red Bulls in January 2011 as a home grown player, and made his MLS debut – one of only two appearances for them – the following May. Just over 13 months after signing with the club, Kassel was waived; he joined the Pittsburgh Riverhounds shortly afterwards. Near the end of August it appeared that Kassel’s time with Pittsburgh had come to an end. He’s been training (trialing?) with the Union ever since, appearing in many reserve matches. Although he hadn’t signed by the league’s roster freeze deadline, he’s still with the team. We can definitely expect him to at least be invited to the Union’s preseason camps.
Patrick Kanyuka, another large-bodied central defender brought in for backline reinforcements, was put on display during the Union’s open practice session in June. He most recently played for Tamworth FC, in the fifth tier of English soccer. Before coming to Philadelphia, he went on trial with both Leeds United and Chivas USA. Kanyuka relayed that the Union had no intention of signing him with their focus on the imminent signing of Bakary Soumare. He is currently without a club.
Sebastien Le Toux. Seriously, what needs to be said about this guy that we don’t already know? He’s seeing out the final months of his 4-year contract up in the hinterlands of Harrison, New Jersey. The Union met with Le Toux at some point during their trip to Red Bull Arena in July, and both parties expressed their desire to have him return to PPL Park next season. It’s understood that Le Toux is their top priority signing in the upcoming offseason. I guess question begs, why can’t you go home again?
Lucky Mkosana, like Matt Kassel, has been training (on trial?) with the team since his previous club’s season ended, but in this case it’s the Harrisburg City Islanders, another team affiliated with the Union. He wasn't signed prior to the league’s roster freeze deadline, but is still in camp having appeared in a few reserve matches – and scoring a few goals. Although he may not be a lock to sign, it would appear that Lucky will join the team in the preseason and get a chance to join the first team.
Aubrey Perry is a defender from University of South Florida who was picked by the Columbus Crew in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He was waived in June and promptly landed with the Union, participating in a reserve match shutout win against the Red Bulls in July. He is currently without a club.
Ryan Richter should be a familiar name to Union supporters. Picked up by the Union in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft, the La Salle alum’s only first team games came during friendlies that summer against Everton FC and the Harrisburg City Islanders. He was released from the team in January and went on trial with DC United for a couple months, but then signed on with the Charleston Battery in March, helping them win the 2012 USL Pro Championship. He’s been training with the team since the USO Pro season ended.
Marcus Tracy was a highly-touted forward coming out of Wake Forest, and was drafted by the Houston Dynamo in 2009. He decided, rather, to pursue his professional career overseas and signed a 3-year deal with Aalborg of the Danish Superliga. Knee injuries limited his playing time and his contract was not to be renewed. After training with the Union for over five weeks, Tracy signed with Major League Soccer and entered a weighted lottery. Popular belief was that the Union would "win" him and all the team’s scoring woes would be a thing of the past. That was not to be; he currently is on the roster of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Only time will tell who, if any, among these guys will be members of the Philadelphia Union come next season. They are, after all, merely rumors and conjecture. Some names could be discounted immediately, like Ballack and Kanyuka. Others seem to be very probable, such as Le Toux, Kassel, and Mkosana. Others, like Cochrane, could be a dark horse and follow in the footsteps of fellow Reading United alumni, guys like CJ Sapong, Andrew Wenger, Matt Hedges, and Ray Gaddis – you may have heard of that last one – when the 2013 SuperDraft comes rolling around.