A deal that sent Keegan Rosenberry to the Colorado Rapids for allocation money on Wednesday was a vote of confidence in 21-year-old defender Olivier Mbaizo.
While Philadelphia Union fans were quick to question the move — one of a series of moves new sporting director Ernst Tanner still has to make — it starts to make more sense when you consider Mbaizo’s status as an international player.
Mbaizo has made just one first team appearance, his MLS debut in a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City in September but he was a regular with Bethlehem Steel, where he made 22 appearances.
Though his salary wasn’t much — $67,500 according to figures released in October by the players union — the fact that he was taking up one of just seven international roster spots (they traded their eighth spot to NYCFC for the season) showed both the Union’s faith in him and the need for him to get more playing time in 2019.
“The decision was more or less a logic decision,” Sporting Director Ernst Tanner said in a phone call with media on Wednesday afternoon. “We feel we have the position covered with a very good prospect there, Olivier Mbaizo, who showed us he can play the position very well against [Sporting Kansas City].”
Tanner also said that the team is still negotiating to bring back veteran defender Raymon Gaddis, who he noted is much better on the right side of the field than the left, where he played most of his minutes in 2018. Tanner added that they are looking for a left back to cover for Matt Real assuming he is called up to the United States U20 team for the U20 World Cup.
If Mbaizo, who turns 22 in August, starts alongside Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty and Matt Real in a four-man back line next season, it would mean that the Union would have a back four entirely of players aged 21 or younger.
“I’m very confident with the players we have back there,” Tanner said. “For me age doesn’t matter, performance matters.”
Tanner mentioned one additional experienced player will be joining the back line, which also has 33-year-old Fabinho and 23-year-old Jack Elliott returning. Gaddis turns 29 in January.
The Union will receive a guaranteed $300,000 in allocation money for Rosenberry with an additional $100,000 coming if he meets certain undisclosed metrics in 2019. This for a player who was entering the last year of his contract in 2019. If the deal reaches the full $400,000, it would be just $50,000 less than Atlanta United received for defender Greg Garza from FC Cincinnati.
While it’s hard to say goodbye to a player who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., developed at Penn Fusion Academy and won a state championship with Lancaster Mennonite High School while also training with the Philadelphia Union youth team and playing in the MLS Reserve League, it’s a move that we’ll be able to better evaluate in the long term.
After all, if Mbaizo makes the position his own and the additional resources acquired lead to the kind of high-profile marquee signing fans have been clamoring for, this might not end up feeling like such a shocking, or as some have suggested, ill-advised, move after all.