Eric Ayuk’s departure from the Philadelphia Union, announced by the club on Tuesday, wasn’t a surprise.
The 21-year-old winger hadn’t made a first team appearance since October 2016 and hadn’t even seen the field with Bethlehem Steel FC in months. A few weeks ago, Ayuk visited Turkey to negotiate a deal with a team in the first division, but that deal never materialized. Instead, the Union transferred him to the Turkish second division.
When asked about Ayuk’s transfer to Osmanlispor FK after training Tuesday, head coach Jim Curtin told reporters that his opportunities were limited because of how crowded the position is on the team. Ayuk was sent out on loan last season to Sweden for a similar reason.
“It’s a good move for Eric,” Curtin said.
C.J. Sapong has started on the right wing of late, but Ilsinho, Fabian Herbers, Marcus Epps and Fafa Picault are all capable of playing out wide on the right side. On the left side of the field, Curtin has used David Accam, Picault and Epps and could also use Cory Burke if needed.
Ayuk is one of five field players on the first team roster who have not played a single minute in league play this season. John McCarthy and Jake McGuire have not seen any time in goal during league play.
The four other players with zero minutes include defenders Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro and Olivier Mbaizo and midfielder Adam Najem. Five others — Herbers, Matt Real, Derrick Jones, Anthony Fontana and Jay Simpson — have seen fewer than 500 minutes on the year.
For the homegrown players like Fontana, Real and Jones and 21-year-old Mbaizo, the lack of minutes is less of a concern. For the rest, their future with the club is certainly in question.
Here’s a look at five players we might see departing the club before next season.
The Union’s fourth-highest-paid player has been a spectacular bust, seeing only 39 minutes this season in two appearances after being mostly ineffective in his 22 appearances in 2017. He’ll certainly be gone when his contract expires at the end of the year, giving new Sporting Director Ernst Tanner some $623,000 to spend elsewhere.
It was a smart piece of business when the Union acquired Najem’s homegrown rights from New York Red Bulls in exchange for a draft pick last year. Though he made his international debut with the Afghanistan team recently — and the Union loves touting their international players — it’s still hard to see where Najem fits in with the team moving forward. Even before Borek Dočkal was fit to play, Curtin chose Anthony Fontana to start in the opening game of the season. Najem has done well with Bethlehem Steel, but so has 17-year-old Brenden Aaronson, who if he ends up signing a pro deal before going to college at Indiana would make Najem surplus.
The German was brought back at a lower salary after his Generation adidas deal expired last offseason and he had the difficult task of trying to earn back his position while also trying to rediscover his footing coming back from injury. Stints at Steel, where he’s excelled for long stretches, have aided his push for minutes but with precious few minutes to go around he’s only logged 331 this season. It would be surprising not to see him go elsewhere in the offseason in search of more consistent playing time.
Yaro was a pretty big deal coming out of college at Georgetown, but he was also a bit of a risk when the Union selected him second overall in 2016. Undersized for a center back and somewhat injury prone, his career has never really taken off. With Jack Elliott and Mark McKenzie battling it out for minutes alongside the workhorse Auston Trusty, even a consistently healthy Yaro would have to settle for minutes at Steel FC.
October 22, 2017. That was the last time Marquez made a first team appearance. Injured in preseason, Marquez never really had a chance to battle Auston Trusty for the starting job and now that the young homegrown has solidified a firm grip on it, it’s hard to see much future for Marquez with the club unless he’s fine being a backup.
The bigger question, of course, than what reserve players will be exiting is what will happen with the Union’s biggest acquisition last offseason: Borek Dočkal.
Dočkal was brought in on a one-year loan without an option to buy from the Chinese Super League. Whether the Union can get him for another year on loan — especially with the season he is having — or can renegotiate a deal to bring him to Chester permanently will be one of the biggest question marks facing Tanner entering his first offseason as the club’s sporting director.