Philadelphia Union Roster Analysis
Manager Peter Nowak made it clear on Wednesday that the Union’s
roster is not finalized, but we’re beginning to see some clarity as preseason
winds to a close.
There has been a tremendous amount of turnover in Philadelphia’s
short history. Only three players selected in the 2010 Expansion Draft and half
of the players on the 18-man match day roster from last year's First Kick still
remain with the club.
Despite all of the losses, the roster appears to be stronger
on paper now than at any point in 2010. The club added four front-line starters in the offseason
– Brian Carroll, Faryd Mondragón, Carlos Valdés, and Carlos Ruiz – all of whom
have the potential to be among the best players in the league at their
The club is also stocked with young talent, with an
average age of 24. 13 of the 22 rostered players are 25 or under.
Five international roster spots are being used –
Mondragón, Valdés, Roger Torres, Juan Diego González, and Thorne Holder –
leaving a total of three open spots.
Let’s take a position-by-position look at each player
currently on the 22-man roster.
Faryd Mondragón – Arguably the club’s most influential
offseason addition, Mondragón gives the Union experience and leadership between
the pipes. A commanding presence who will direct the players in
front of him, the World Cup veteran figures to transform a weak spot into a strength. Mondragón will also serve as a terrific mentor for the club's two young backup 'keepers.
Zac MacMath – The club’s future in net will bide his time
behind Mondragón, but MacMath should see his fair share of playing time between
the return of the MLS Reserve League, U-20 US National Team action and friendlies. Word out of preseason training is that MacMath and Mondragón – separated by 20 years – are enjoying strong
chemistry, a positive sign for the 2011 first rounder’s development.
Thorne Holder – On trial with the Union in preseason, Holder
impressed his way to a contract with the club. A physically imposing presence
with tremendous athletic ability, the Trinidad & Tobago youth international
will also benefit from working behind Mondragón. While the 24-year-old
Adelphi University product figures to be third on the depth chart, his upside
is intriguing and he’ll provide much-needed depth, especially when MacMath is
off on international duty.
Danny Califf – A leader on the backline, Califf is at his
best in the air and when marking in tight quarters. One-on-one situations in
space are less of a strength for the 30-year-old, but Califf has the ability to
dominate defensively when at his best. With speed flanking him on both sides, the
right-sided centerback is positioned to excel in year two with Philadelphia.
Carlos Valdés – Another big-time offseason addition, the
25-year-old Colombian international has the potential to step right in as one
of the better central defenders in MLS. Valdés brings intensity and athleticism
to the fold, not to mention leadership qualities that enabled him to captain
his last two club sides. Look for Valdés to establish himself as a force in the
middle from the get-go.
Jordan Harvey – A steady presence at left back, the club’s
leader in minutes played last season isn’t flashy, but he’s effective. Harvey’s
positional sense is refined and he understands his role: to limit mistakes and
occasionally push forward when an opportunity presents itself. The next match
Harvey misses will be his first in over two years.
Sheanon Williams – Expected to round out Philadelphia’s
defensive unit, the 20-year-old is looking to solidify the right back role he
quickly seized after joining the club at the end of August. Williams has pace to spare,
enabling him to make runs into the opposition’s territory and track back in
time to defend the counter. The former City Islander also has a cannon of a
throw-in, a weapon that will inevitably lead to some bonus goal scoring
opportunities in 2011.
Juan Diego González – González immediately earned a starting
role after joining the club in August, but a right groin strain took him out of
the lineup and he never reclaimed his spot down the stretch. The 30-year-old
Colombian center back was effective in his seven starts last year, and he’ll be
depended upon should the need for depth arise in the center of the defense.
Brian Carroll – Another critical offseason addition, Carroll
brings a winning pedigree along with excellent tackling and distribution skills
to Philadelphia’s holding midfield position. Carroll could be paired alongside
another defensive midfielder, or Nowak could opt to employ the
29-year-old at the defensive-most tip of a midfield diamond formation.
Regardless, Carroll brings both bark and bite to a spot that was a revolving
door alongside Stefani Miglioranzi in 2010.
Stefani Miglioranzi – It remains to be seen whether
Miglioranzi will hold onto a permanent starting spot with Carroll in the fold
and Amobi Okugo entering his second season, but the 33-year-old still has the
ability to be an efficient player for the Union. Confident on the ball and
always keenly aware of his positioning, Miglioranzi will likely be an important
contributor yet again.
Michael Farfan – A potential steal in the second round,
Farfan has the versatility to help the Union as a rookie. The two-time First
Team All-American can play as a central attacking midfielder or on either wing,
an invaluable quality for a player looking for time anywhere it becomes
available. The 22-year-old’s vision and dribbling skills are both assets, and
it’s likely only a matter of time before he emerges as a dangerous attacking option.
Roger Torres – The diminutive attacking midfielder is
supremely talented – as evidenced by six assists in only 10 starts as a teenager last year – but can Torres hold up to the wear-and-tear of a full season in
MLS? Philadelphia’s technical staff brought him along slowly after a string of
starts to begin the season in 2010. If Torres can stay healthy and improve
his durability, there’s no reason he can’t emerge as one of the more dangerous
playmakers in the league.
Zach Pfeffer – The club’s first Home Grown Player, Pfeffer
has impressed in preseason, fueling the debate surrounding how soon he’ll make
his league debut. An attacking midfielder with superior technical ability,
Pfeffer unleashed a 35-yard upper-ninety rocket against UCF on Feb. 13, proving he also has a goal scorer's mentality. Whether the 16-year-old receives a chance to shine in 2011 or not,
it’ll be fun to watch his progression. In all liklihood, reserve matches will
provide the bulk of the teenager’s minutes this season.
Justin Mapp – Acquired midseason from the Chicago Fire, Mapp
infused the Union attack with some much-needed width in the second half of the
season. With split-season numbers that resemble his production from 2005 to
2008, Mapp appears to be reinvigorated in Philadelphia. After a full preseason
with the club, the 26-year-old will attempt to regain his status as one of the
league’s most menacing wingers.
Amobi Okugo – After a busy offseason that included three
stints with the U-20 US National Team and a 10-day Generation adidas trip,
Okugo is hoping to carve out a larger role for Philadelphia. The 19-year-old
covers a ton of space as a defensive midfielder, and his tackling ability isn’t
in question. Okugo will look to refine his distribution in year two, a
skill-set that comes with game play. Once the 2010 first rounder grabs hold of
a starting spot – whether that happens this year or not – don’t expect him
to relinquish it anytime soon.
Kyle Nakazawa – One of the best
values in the 2010 SuperDraft, Nakazawa showed glimpses of his potential as a
rookie, excelling on set pieces in particular. The former US youth international
came into preseason fit, positioning himself to challenge for a starting spot.
If the 22-year-old can excel enough in the run of play to warrant regular
minutes, his dead ball ability will be lethal for Philadelphia’s attack.
Sebastien Le Toux – The addition
of Carlos Ruiz likely pushes Le Toux into an attacking midfield role, but it
really doesn’t make a difference. No matter where Le Toux lines up at the opening whistle,
he’ll pop up in dangerous spots all over the field for 90 minutes plus.
Philadelphia’s first-ever All-Star and Best XI member, Le Toux has a legendary motor
and proved last season that he can match his intangibles with offensive
production. The obvious question is this:
What can Le Toux possibly do for an encore? We’re about to find out.
Ryan Richter – The lone
Supplemental Draft selection to earn a contract,
Richter came into camp hungry. He instantly made an impression by finishing
first in the Beep Test and has consistently shown a tremendous work rate.
With size and strength to boot, the LaSalle graduate’s physical ability isn’t
in question. If his technical and tactical abilities can keep up, Richter has a
shot to become a major success story after being bypassed in the SuperDraft.
Danny Mwanga – A 2010 Rookie of the Year finalist, Mwanga’s
growth potential is frightening – in a good way. High expectations
are only increased for last year’s number one overall pick, but he’ll have a
built-in advantage by starting off the year as a first choice striker. All
seven of Mwanga’s goals came within a 13-match stretch in the middle of the
season, form he’ll be eager to duplicate in his sophomore campaign. An
attacking trio of Mwanga, Le Toux and Ruiz could become one of the most
prolific in MLS.
Carlos Ruiz – “El Pescadito” wasted no time opening his
account with Philadelphia, scoring in the first half of his first preseason
match with the club. Ruiz is fit and motivated to prove that his last
impression in MLS was a fluke, and it’s not like he stopped scoring goals after
heading overseas. Ruiz’s presence will create space for Le Toux and Mwanga to
operate – similar to the role Moreno played last year – but what the Union
really need is a viable third scoring option. Ruiz has the ability to be just
that and the potential to be even more dangerous. It wouldn’t be a shock to see
the 31-year-old lead the club in goals scored.
Jack McInerney – The addition of Ruiz likely solidifies
McInerney as a bench player who can provide an offensive spark late in matches.
The 18-year-old’s goal-per-minute numbers were sensational in 2010, but the
body of work was too small to extrapolate over more significant minutes. What
McInerney lacks in size he makes up for with rare positional awareness and
finishing ability for a player his age. He’s not as slight as one might
think, though, and has clearly bulked up since being drafted seventh overall
last year. Scoring two goals in the club’s final preseason match will provide a
nice confidence boost for the youngster heading into the season.
Chris Agorsor – It’s hard to find a more motivated player
than Agorsor, who nearly had his leg amputated in 2008 after a devastating knee
injury. Philadelphia’s technical staff has given the former US youth
international his first shot at the professional level, and early returns have
been encouraging. Agorsor matched McInerney with a brace of his own on Wednesday, his
first tallies with the Union. How much playing time the 2007-08 U.S. Soccer
Development Academy U-17/18 Player of the Year receives is up in the air, but
Agorsor is another young attacking option with loads of upside.