cThe Earnie Stewart era has begun with a bang. Players being traded, options being declined, and allocation monies being stockpiled left and right. Now that the roster is down to around half it's size, now is the time for the team to start rebuilding. The first ever Free Agent period has opened, the Re-Entry Draft first round is Friday and the international transfer window is weeks away.
If we were to build a squad only through what is currently on the roster and available through Free Agency and Re-Entry Drafts, here is the Union depth chart that could be formed:
*Depth chart created with a Dutch style 4-3-3 in mind*
Rank. Name - 2015 Team - 2015 Base Salary
1. Andre Blake - Philadelphia Union - $85,000
2. Chris Konopka - Toronto FC - $66,000 *Re-Entry Draft
3. John McCarthy - Philadelphia Union - $60,000
The goalkeeper situation has finally shaken out over the past few seasons and there is a clear starter for the first time in over a year. McCarthy is young and has shown equal parts promise and face palming agony in the nets and still needs some grooming. Bringing former Union keeper Konopka back into the fold will give the Union an MLS vet to deputize when Blake is away on international duty, but his salary is very back up friendly.
1. Steven Beitashour - Vancouver Whitecaps - $190,000 * Re-Entry Draft
2. Raymon Gaddis - Philadelphia Union - $130,000
I know I'm going to take some heat for bumping fan favorite Gaddis to the bench, but after his 2015 campaign there should be some questions as to his starting role on the team. He's worthy of a spot on the roster, but when a player such as Iranian international Beitashour is available you jump at the chance to bring him on board. This is a position upgrade, even if Sheanon Williams was still the starter.
1. Maurice Edu - Philadelphia Union - $700,000
2. Chris Schuler - Real Salt Lake - $165,000 *Re-Entry Draft
3. Drew Moor - Colorado Rapids - $258,500 *Free Agent
4. Richie Marquez - Philadelphia Union - $60,000
The center back role has been almost as revolving door as goalkeeper for the Union. Edu has been a solid leader, but putting some league veterans in the ranks with him would greatly improve the back four. Schuler has featured in RSL's back line, and Moor has played multiple roles in Colorado's over the past few seasons. Both offer a reasonable salary for being known quantities, and Marquez rounding out the position gives the Union the most depth they have ever had in that position - not to mention the best overall talent from top to bottom.
1. Corey Ashe - Orlando City - $180,000 *Free Agency
2. Fabinho - Philadelphia Union - $114,000
Fabinho was the biggest (pleasant) surprise of the 2015 season, but his career is nearing it's close and he can't be relied on to hold down the left flank for an entire season. Seth Sinovic would have been my first choice as starting left back, however he just resigned with Sporting Kansas City so he is off the board. Ashe is the next best option. While he's bounced around last season from Houston to Orlando, he's athletic and talented and would be a solid option at left back, which is something the Union hasn't had since Jordan Harvey was traded.
Center Defensive Midfield
1. Vincent Nogueira - Philadelphia Union - $330,000
2. Jeff Larentowicz - Chicago Fire - $265,000 *Free Agency
3. Michael Lahoud - Philadelphia Union - $108,900
4. Brian Carroll - Philadelphia Union - $150,000 *Free Agency
Nogueira is one of the best players that have ever put on the Union kit, but as he has struggled to control the center of the field by himself as injuries have limited his impact. Carroll is currently listed as a Free Agent, but the rumors are a deal is being worked out. Along with Lahoud, these two members of the last few Union seasons will offer a quality reserve at the position. Larentowicz is the obvious choice for an incoming defensive first style midfielder to give Nogueira free range to create from deep. He is a former teammate of manager Jim Curtin and grew up in Philadelphia, leading Chestnut Hill Academy and FC Delco as a youth player. What better place to end his career than in the place he learned the game.
Center Attacking Midfielder
1. Tranquillo Barnetta - Philadelphia Union - $624,000
2. Leo Fernandes - New York Cosmos - $60,000 *Returning from loan
3. Zach Pfeffer - Philadelphia Union - $60,000
No one is technically new to this group, but the loss of Maidana from this role is the elephant in the room. The Union are going to miss their assist leader yes, but Barnetta seems highly capable of taking on the role - and beyond that has shown to be fully on board with being the emotional leader of the Blue and Gold. Fernandes is fresh off an award winning year with the New York Cosmos in the NASL, and his confidence raises his standing above that of Zach Pfeffer. The Philadelphia-area native has fallen from grace, and in 2016 he's going to need to step up his game to show he belongs in the league.
1. Chris Pontius - DC United - $365,000 *Traded for
2. Ned Grabavoy - New York City - $200,000 *Free Agency
3. Michael Farfan - DC United - $120,000 *Re-Entry Draft
The deal to bring Pontius to Philly is already complete. If healthy, this is a huge deal for the Union, and he will become the best left winger to play for the franchise. On the off chance his injury concerns continue, Grabavoy is a more than capable stand in. He offers nifty skills and a flare for scoring an impressive goal or two. Rounding out the position group is a former favorite, Marfan. He's a utility player that gives the Union a lot of options at either wing or centrally.
1. CJ Sapong - Philadelphia Union - $125,000
2. Fernando Aristeguieta - Philadelphia Union - $350,004
3. Maximiliano Urruti - Portland Timbers - $200,000.04
Sapong's 2015 season had some promising highs, but both on and off the field he had some scary lows. Here's to hoping 2016 sees Sapong in the headlines for the right reasons and off the injury list all together! Speaking of the injury list, Nando couldn't shake nagging injuries and reach his potential. The rumors point to the Union working out a deal to bring him back after his loan expires. Fresh off an MLS Cup championship, Urruti would give the Union a wealth of options up top. This could be a long shot, but would be a real sign of intention by the Union Front Office.
1. Boniek Garcia - Houston Dynamo - $120,000 *Re-Entry Draft
2. Sebastien LeToux - Philadelphia Union - $275,000
3. Eric Ayuk - Philadelphia Union - $50,000
LeToux has served the franchise admirably over the years and Ayuk has shown true potential in stretches this season, but neither have been consistently dangerous enough to be a first choice option. Garcia played for Honduras in the World Cup in Brazil and give the Union a real option on the right.
There is no denying that the 27 man roster outlined above is easily better than what the Union fielded in 2015. Nearly every position has either been improved at the starting role, or the depth is set up to handle the inevitable injuries that occur over the course of a season. The real question is how could the Union afford such a fortified roster?
Using the base salaries of the players from 2015, the hypothetical roster comes in at $5,411,404.04. While nearly a $5 and a half million wage bill seems like a heavy one, however it ranks just $141,481.04 more than the actual 2015 Union roster. It is hard to believe that those two rosters could be so close in cost, but it goes to show how much wasted money there was in the squad. Luckily those days are over as Earnie Stewart takes over, wiping away many of the mistakes by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
The next three months are going to be exciting times as players are signed to fill out the roster. Even more exciting, the roster that is put together won't only be comprised of MLS players. Not all the names will be well known, but Earnie Stewart has earned our trust as he stabilized AZ Alkmaar on a modest budget making the most of the resources he was given. Get ready for a wild ride this off season.