This started off as a discussion I had with a friend as to what position Chase Utley would play if he was a soccer player instead of a baseball player. Once I started with him, I thought it would work better in the framework of a starting eleven from the current roster. But those guys aren't that good right now, so it then branched out to include the great teams and players of the past. I didn't see Grover Cleveland Alexander or Richie Ashburn play, so I cut it off at people who played during my lifetime. So, I submit this roster, by position, of Phillies players who I would think could have made the Philadelphia Union squad.
I opted for tall relief pitchers with these selections. Their height and experience getting "saves" seemed a like-for-like fit. My third keeper is Ryan Madson. He's 6'6" and a lean build. I'm guessing he could develop into a Thibaut Courtois-type netminder. My number two would be Brett Myers. He has a stronger build, and at 6'4", he would be quite the commanding presence. Couple his feistiness with his amateur boxing background, and he's a competent but risky choice to start, so I have him behind Jose Mesa. Joe Table is the Phillies all-time leader in "saves" so he seemed the natural pick to get saves for this fictional side.
Naming players left to right, I'll start with left back. The reserve here is Lenny Dykstra. He's determined and gritty, but he cheats quite a bit, and has a nasty attitude, thus would be a yellow card risk. My starter here would be Shane Victorino. He has plenty of speed and defensive instinct, but is good with both left and right sides, with a flare for the offensive dramatics. Advancing up the wing would cause problems for opposition defenses. How would a defender know where Shane is going when he probably wouldn't even know where he's going next?
Carlos Ruiz (the man we call Chooch, not El Pescadito) has been a wonderful defender during his time. He is reliable if not spectacular, and always a team-first player. Which is why he is the perfect player to have behind Garry Maddox. The saying was "two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by Garry Maddox," so who better to lead the back line? Victorino can be sent marauding forward with the confidence that the defense is secure.
The backup at right center half is another team-first, captain-like presence in Darren Daulton. It seems pretty obvious that a man nicknamed "Dutch" would be a soccer player, right? His defense and willingness to sacrifice his body to prevent the other team from scoring make him valuable. But, I wanted more agility in the position, and an aerial ball winner. So, my starter is Aaron Rowand. He was a very positionally-aware defender, and willing to win a header at all costs, even against an outfield wall. "For who? My teammates. For what? To win. That's what it's all about." Please accept the Captain's armband, Mr. Rowand.
On the outside right, I have Marlon Byrd as the deputy. His swing-for-the-fences approach is a nice change-of-pace if a more attacking mindset is needed in my tactics. But this is defense, so my starter is Larry Bowa. Shortstops have quick feet, and he'd need them to be able to retreat back down his flank. Plus, his no-nonsense, all-out-hustle mentality is perfect for this role. And he made many a throw in his career, so that responsibility would not be foreign to him at all.
I'm adopting Jim Curtin's lineup for this exercise, so, this team will have the look of a 5-man midfield.
At left central defensive midfielder, I'd have Rico Brogna as a reserve. This position calls for calm and poise; less frenzy, more control. Rico was a smooth defensive contributor in the infield, as I suspect he would be as an outfield player. But there's no question that he's number two on the depth chart behind Roy Halladay. "Doc" would be perfect with his precision directing of the ball, especially on 20-yard passes. He won roughly two out of every three decisions in his career, so I'd want him winning the ball back from our opponents.
The right central defensive midfielder to partner then would need more grit and effort, to match the intensity of Halladay. I'd have the bench option of Scott Rolen. His defensive prowess is the stuff of legend, throwing his body about with abandon to not allow a ball to get by him. His accurate passing of the ball (to the first baseman) from any body position make him a capable distributor from that spot. However, he would be on the bench because my starter here is Chase Utley. All-out effort and professionalism are his staple. He runs every play out, sets the tone for his team, and has the offensive punch to assert himself going forward as well.
The offensive midfielders are where more squad depth is needed, so I have eight in this set. Beginning on the left, my deputies are Hunter Pence and Bobby Abreu. Both are more known for their offensive minds than their defense (how in the hell did Abreu win a Gold Glove? I STILL don't get it). Hunter, as nice a guy as he seems to be, has a weird arm motion, so I'd keep him away from throw-ins at all times. Bobby was a placement hitter, so being able to serve the ball to all fields would be handy in feeding the front line. These two are behind Cole Hamels. I want a lefty out on the left side, and as World Series MVP, he has shown that his elevates his game in pressure situations. His various pitches show that he has more than one way to deliver the ball, and I need that creativity.
On the right wing, the reserves are Mitch Williams and Jayson Werth. "Mitchy-poo" was a very direct passer, not flashy or agile, but straight to the point. You know what you'll get from him. Werth is a different breed. He has first-choice ability, but an off-putting demeanor and inconsistent attitude. When the going gets tough, he'll bail (to D.C. United for a boat-load of cash, but still). It leaves he and Williams behind Ben Revere. I'd deploy the diminutive speedster much like Liverpool use Raheem Sterling. Ben uses his ball placement and plus-footspeed to wreak havoc on opposition full backs. He'd need to be in an advance position because his passes need to be short since he doesn't have much power.
The central attacking midfielder in my fictional team would be backed up by Peter Edward Rose. Pete is a crafty artisan of ball distribution. He would lead the team in passes attempted and completed, and may or may not be the person to have "consulting on sporting investments" (wink, wink). As wonderful an option as he'd be, I'd give the #10 shirt to James Calvin Rollins (I don't know why I went 3-name with those two. *shrug* ). J-Roll is the team's embodiment of swag, and that oozing confidence coupled with his quick feet and field coverage make him perfect. He's a former league MVP, a member of a championship team, and knows what it takes to win. And he's a central attacking midfielder because I'm not going to ask him to hustle all of the time.
Strikers are a different type of player. The system I chose this team for calls for a lone striker, so I needed players who are able to get things done one their own. My third choice is Curt Schilling. He gets buried on the bench because of his attitude, where he is too quick to blame a teammate for him not achieving his goal. The starter in this role is Mike Schmidt. The best hitter in franchise history also has the quick feet that put him on the short list of best third basemen of all time. His agility, power, and swing-for-the-fences mentality make him the obvious choice for the position. My contingency plan for a late offensive sub is Pat Burrell. One does not simply earn the moniker of "Midnight Mayor". It is earned through a lengthy record of being able to score late.
I'd elect Charlie Manual as the manager of this team. There are enough manic competitors in the side that I wouldn't need a disciplinarian at the helm. The professional level is about massaging egos more than instruction. But Charlie was great with people and fundamentals, so get him in a track suit with his initials on the breast and get him filling out a team sheet. Play (foot)ball!
Here's my starting XI if the Phillies were to lace up the boots for the Union.
Who is your Phillies starting XI? Let us know in the comments below!