As a defender myself, in a family of defenders, building a team based on a strong defense is something that I would make me very happy. Jim Curtin has said that is how he wants to play, so let's have a look at the players he'll use to form that sturdy back line.
1) Steven Vitoria.
With Carlos Valdes stealing a lot of the talk preseason for all the wrong reasons, the Union had to replace the Colombian once a loan deal was finally agreed. They replaced him pretty quickly by signing Steven Vitoria on loan from Portuguese giants Benfica. At 6'5, Vitoria should have the height to help out the Union defensively on corners, one area where they struggled last year. He should also be a goalscoring threat on offensive corners and long free kicks.
2) Ethan White.
Having came over to the Union in the trade that netted DC United Jeff Parke, White had been basically ignored by John Hackworth. When Hackworth left the club, White was suddenly reinvigorated and played a pivotal part in the Union teams under Jim Curtin, basically dropping Amobi Okugo to the bench. He should be able to form a good partnership with Vitoria, and his aggressive style of play will endear him to the Union faithful.
3) Richie Marquez
Having been drafted in the 3rd round (44th overall) of the 2014 SuperDraft, Marquez spent the year in Harrisburg. He must have impressed enough there and in training camp to move him up to 3rd in the depth chart ahead of the now departed Austin Berry. Some decent preseason performances have given fans a glimpse of what the future holds for the young center back. Will he be the next Raymon Gaddis, earning a starting spot despite his late draft position? While he is unlikely to replace either Vitoria or White at the start of the season, injuries, suspensions or loss of form may allow Marquez to shine.
4) Sheanon Williams
While Sheanon will be likely starting at right back, if needed he has shown in the past that he can drop into the center of defense and do well there. Hopefully this doesn't happen during the season, as it takes away some of his positives in terms of getting forward.
I am sure most of you are thinking, "what about Maurice Edu?" While Edu played well in the games he played back in defense last year, the lack of Amobi Okugo or similar quality player to play in midfield means I think that Marquez and Williams/Fabinho will get the nod before bringing Edu back and having Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud in midfield.
1) Raymon Gaddis
The most improved player of the 2014 season has to be Ray Gaddis. He led the team in minutes played (3051), and had an excellent season mostly playing on the wrong side of the field at left back. On defense, his speed allows him to cover up for any mistakes made. If he can improve his attacking game enough to be a threat going forward, he could turn himself into one of the elite left backs in the league. He is the epitome of how hard work can get you places.
2) Fabio Alves (Fabinho)
Far more influential going forward than he is defensively, Fabinho would be a good option if we were needing a bit more attacking flair than the dependable Gaddis. He is naturally left footed and can put in a decent cross, meaning that if Williams or Gaddis needs a day off or is forced out of the lineup, Fabinho is likely to be the person taking their place. If he has to play a more prominent role; however, the Union could be in trouble as a good attacking team will take advantage of his defensive deficiencies.
3) Raymond Lee
Being left footed and fast is a good start to sticking on an MLS roster. The club called Lee a left back project when he was picked, and he has done quite well in his minutes in preseason. As of writing this, Lee hasn't been signed or released. He would most likely spend the season in Harrisburg getting match practice if the Union sign him. If Lee isn't the third choice here, then Sheanon Williams could play left back in an emergency situation that ranks more unlikely than a zombie apocalypse.
1) Sheanon Williams.
Last season wasn't one of Sheanon's best. He had a preseason that was plagued by injury problems, and he just never got going. Hopefully this year he will be back to the form that got him close to 10 assists on the year. His long throw should make that assist total "boom," and the passing ability that he showed for the first goal of the preseason against Jacksonville Armada was also a good sign. I'd expect Williams to get back to being involved in over 10 of the Union goals this season as he has always shown a willingness to get into the box and on the scoresheet (7 goals in his Union career).
2) Raymon Gaddis.
Gaddis is a natural right back, so it makes sense for him to move over if Williams is out of the lineup. It may be that being on the right will give Gaddis even more confidence to get forward, making Williams a very attractive trade piece if needed later in the season.
3) Michael Lahoud.
While having natural right footers at left back shouldn't be done, the fact a quality left footer is much rarer than right footer means it often happens. However, I refuse to have a left footer at right back. Therefore my third choice right back is Michael Lahoud. When the defense is thin on reserves, Lahoud has been the player asked to line up in the back. As a defensive midfielder he has the awareness of where he should be most of the time, but he can be prone to giving the ball away cheaply. When you are on the last line of defense, mistakes usually end up in the back of the net, as we saw in the preseason game against Columbus.
While the starting four defenders look good, I don't think the depth is really there to be confident over a long season. Injuries and suspensions in defense will hurt the Union, so let's hope that Williams, Gaddis, Vitoria, and White can remain healthy and out of the referee's book.
In worst case scenarios, Maurice Edu and maybe even Andrew Wenger could be asked to come back and defend. However, Curtin may be too worried about losing their influence further up the field (and maybe even to Real Madrid as our recent article suggested if Wenger was played in defense).
What do you think of our defensive depth? Let us know in the comments.