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USL team provides Union flexibility on international player slots

The Eric Ayuk loan means the Union have an available international slot to work with thanks to USL loans

Matt Ralph

Eric Ayuk’s loan to the Swedish first division, which was finalized earlier this week, was mostly about getting the 20-year-old midfielder playing time and experience in a top-flight league. It also demonstrates the roster flexibility having a USL team provides the Philadelphia Union when it comes to international players.

Ayuk’s departure for the season means the number of international players on the first-team roster has gone from 11 to 10. And while that number is still two more than what’s allotted by the league, having Bethlehem Steel FC means the Union really have 15 international roster spots.

Bethlehem Steel currently have four international players signed to USL contracts - Seku Conneh, James Chambers, Cory Burke and Santi Moar - meaning there are 14 of 15 spots in the organization filled.

The 10 international players on first team contracts are Roland Alberg, Andre Blake, Jack Elliott, Fabian Herbers, Haris Medunjanin, Ilsinho, Jay Simpson, Giliano Wijnaldum, Josh Yaro and Aaron Jones.

Which eight players are available for first-team selection can vary on a weekly basis. Jones and Wijnaldum have both been loaned out to Steel FC the past two weekends while Elliott has been a regular in the 18 for the first team and was loaned to Steel FC for Sunday’s game. Yaro is still on the injured list and won’t count as an international until he returns.

“The easiest way to put it is that between the two rosters we have a lot more than the allotted MLS version,” head coach Jim Curtin said in an interview back at the beginning of preseason. “That mechanism will never prevent us from maintaining a strong international player. The numbers can get changed, there's green cards that happen at the snap of a finger now.”

International roster spots aren’t the only impact of Ayuk’s loan.

His departure also reduces the first-team roster from 31 to 30. While 30 is the limit for the first-team roster, teams can carry 31 players if there is a player on season-long loan to USL.

For the Union, the player listed is rookie goalkeeper Jake McGuire.

According to league rules, the season-long loan to USL can only be recalled in “extreme hardship” cases, which isn’t very difficult for goalkeepers. Having fewer than two goalkeepers available on the first team is considered an extreme hardship case, which occurred last weekend when McGuire was recalled because of an injury to backup John McCarthy.