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Building a Young Core

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013 Nick Sakiewicz and John Hackworth were planning to build around a young core of Jack McInerney, Zac MacMath, and Amobi Okugo. Two years later, all three have been sent packing; Jim Curtin has stepped in as the new head coach; and the Union currently sit in last place in the East with little hope of making the playoffs. Unless Curtin can win the Open Cup, this season will be considered a failure and a total rebuild might be in order. If the team decides to commit to a rebuild it will have some good young pieces to build around, but they need to figure out who to keep and have patience with them in order to develop a new team.

The Union have some talented players that are 24 and under, including: Eric Ayuk (18), Richie Marquez (23), Andre Blake (24), and Warren Creavalle (24). These players aren't the most talented, but each of them bring something to the table and can contribute in their own way.

Creavalle is a defensive center midfielder who also plays fullback. He has already played 88 games in his MLS career and recently arrived from Toronto. He has shown himself to be a very versatile player and could be looked at as a long-term replacement for Brian Carroll.

Richie Marquez has experienced a meteoric rise from a bench player who didn't play any MLS minutes a season ago to the starting center back for the Union. Marquez has provided a calming presence in the back and has filled in for Steven Vitoria admirably. Marquez has a lot of potential due to his athleticism and aerial ability, and if he can continue to improve his passing and defensive IQ he will be a starting center back for years to come.

The Union selected Andre Blake with the first overall draft pick in 2014. Since then, he has only played one league game for the Union and has been set back by a series of injuries. Blake was drafted with the first pick because of his top tier athleticism and shot-stopping ability. His talent was also noticed by the Jamaican national team, who called him up for international matches when he was still in college. If he can recover from his surgeries and pry the starting spot away from Brian Sylvestre, then he has the potential to be a top goalkeeper.

Eric Ayuk is the most intriguing of these prospects, given his youth and willingness to attempt the spectacular on the field. Ayuk boasts a tenacious defensive work rate, willingness to take defenders one-on-one, and has developed a habit of making dangerous delayed runs into the box. He still needs a lot of polishing as a winger but he has all of the natural ability to become an elite wide player.

Zach Pfeffer, Andrew Wenger, and, if he stays, Fernando Aristiguieta have shown that they can play a big part in the long-term future of this team. Pfeffer is the Union's first homegrown signing and has shown flashes of his attacking potential throughout the 2015 season. He is most comfortable in an attacking role but has mainly played as a number 6 this season. Pfeffer is a very technical player who is calm on the ball and has a tendency to make lethal delayed runs into the opposition's box. He has mainly been used as a substitute and occasional starter, but if he can become more clinical in front of goal and continues to expand his attacking repertoire he could be an important player for the Union in the years to come.

Andrew Wenger is a much more complicated case. After being drafted first overall by the Montreal Impact in 2012, he failed to live up to his high draft pick. Following the trade that sent him to Philadelphia, the Duke alumnus ended the year in great form, giving fans hope that he could carry that over into 2015. Unfortunately, he started the season horrifically and it seemed like he was never going to recover from his bad start. He eventually began to play better and tallied a goal and two assists, but these numbers are not enough to justify keeping him around for the long term. He will be an asset to the team if he is able to return to the form that he had at the end of the 2014 season, but that is becoming becoming less likely by the day.

Fernando Aristigueta, a 23-year-old striker from Venezuela, joined the Union on loan from FC Nantes and quickly showed that he is a formidable hold-up striker. Fernando is a strong, powerful player who has already earned 15 caps for the Venezuelan national team. He has the most experience out of the entire group but he also carries a substantial salary. His season has been marred by injuries and it has been difficult to determine wether or not he can live up to his paycheck. He showcased his aerial and finishing prowess in the first couple of games of the season but has not been able to put together another goalscoring streak since. Fernando has an abundance of talent and is more than capable of scoring a lot of goals, but I just don't think that he fits the Union's current system and his salary is just too large. Unless he raises his goal tally in the final stretch of the season I would rather keep CJ Sapong in the starting lineup. Sapong has a cheaper contract and has proven to be a prolific MLS goalscorer.

More pieces will have to be added for a rebuild to work but there are already some promising players on the current roster. Hopefully they can continue to develop and grow into a foundation that the Union can build on.