Training camp opens in a matter of weeks for the Philadelphia Union and while several deals have been announced, there are still plenty of question marks about how the first team roster will be shaping up for 2019.
Here’s a look at where things stand heading into January.
- Andre Blake
- Matthew Freese
Matthew Freese signing a homegrown contract gives the Union two keepers. Freese, a 20-year-old who played two seasons at Harvard, will get time with the Steel along with whoever the other goalkeeper the team signs is to back up Andre Blake. If they choose to go the SuperDraft route of filling that spot, Dayne St. Clair, Rashid Nuhu and Ben Lundt, who spent time at Reading United, are intriguing options but that would depend on whether the team wanted to use an international spot on a backup goalkeeper. If they are willing to use an international slot on a keeper, they could also just as likely bring one in from overseas. Another option would be to look within the league (Brian Sylvestre comes to mind).
- Matthew Real
Whether Matt Real becomes the starting left back to start the season or not, the likelihood is pretty high that he’ll be selected for the United States U20 roster for the U20 World Cup and miss several weeks of action with the Union. Ernst Tanner has said that he’d prefer to bring in a third left back over having Raymon Gaddis play there. Looking over the MLS Combine list, Creighton left back Akeem Ward and former New York Red Bulls Academy and NYRB II left back Marcello Borges are both names of note.
1. Olivier Mbaizo
Keegan Rosenberry’s trade to the Colorado Rapids has been one of the biggest offseason changes to the team’s depth chart so far. It means that as of right now Olivier Mbaizo is the starting right back. He’s also the only right back officially on the 2019 roster though Raymon Gaddis is in negotiations to return to the team. Assuming Gaddis would be Mbaizo’s backup or split time with the 21-year-old from Cameroon, a third back could be brought in to provide depth and earn minutes with Steel, which currently doesn’t have a right back on their thin roster (Matt Mahoney’s signing with Sacramento Republic FC was announced on Wednesday). Logan Gdula from Wake Forest is one outside back in the draft pool that stands out.
- Auston Trusty
- Mark McKenzie
- Jack Elliott
The center back starters appear to be pretty set to start the season but depth is certainly still needed, especially with McKenzie set to miss several weeks for the U20 World Cup. Tanner has mentioned adding a veteran on the back line so we can pencil in the unknown backup at center back. The other spot could be filled by another homegrown signing should they deem Ben Ofeimu ready to make that jump and entice him to skip out on going to Penn State in the fall.
- Alejandro Bedoya
- Haris Medunjanin
- Derrick Jones
- Warren Creavalle
- Anthony Fontana
With Creavalle re-signed for 2019, there’s probably not much work to be done in this area of the field for the first team.
- Brenden Aaronson
- Anthony Fontana
While he hasn’t officially signed elsewhere yet, there’s no reason to believe that Borek Dockal will be back for 2019 so that leaves Brenden Aaronson at the top of the depth chart to start. Hopefully this time around the Union land a designated player for the No. 10 position who shows up earlier in preseason than Dockal did last year and is fully acclimated to the team come March 2.
- Fafa Picault
- Sergio Santos
- Cory Burke
- David Accam
- C.J. Sapong
- Kacper Pryzbylko
The attack is still an area with a lot of question marks. Chief among them is if Accam and Sapong, who both disappointed in 2018, will indeed be back and if they are what their roles will be. Will it be on the right side or the bench for Sapong? Supersub for Accam? Another question is whether the Union will sign ACC Rookie of the Year Issa Rayyan to a homegrown contract. Middletown, Delaware native Kalil ElMedkhar, who had a monster season at Kentucky after playing well for Reading United in the summer, is another homegrown option while Michee Ngalina remains an attractive option still currently on a USL deal. Faris, who has a lot of talent but is still very raw, needs a full season with Steel to prove himself.
The Union roster still has room for a goalkeeper, a left back, a right back, two center backs, a central attacking midfielder and another attacking piece. That’s based on the current roster, which could still be reshaped by additional deals. Accam, Sapong and Medunjanin have all come up as potential players to be dealt, but all three remain on the 2019 roster for now.
Not counting Gaddis, there are nine openings on the roster (a 10th spot could be filled by a player on season-long loan to Bethlehem Steel) and two international slots.