A year after Philadelphia Union began fleshing out their inaugural season roster via the 2009 Expansion Draft, the ’10 version wound up being a small step in the opposite direction. The Vancouver Whitecaps selected two Union players, midfielder Shea Salinas (fourth round, eighth overall) and forward Alejandro Moreno (seventh round, 14th overall, traded to Chivas USA later in the day). Both losses hurt the overall composition of Philadelphia's roster, but the offseason is still young and there are likely a number of moves still to be made before First Kick.
While Moreno’s veteran leadership will be missed, as well as his ability to hold up possession in the attacking third and knack for drawing fouls around the area, the Union are well equipped to fill his void. Best XI member Sebastien Le Toux can easily play up top, Danny Mwanga only figures to improve on his impressive 2010 rookie form, and Jack McInerney showed in limited playing time that he’s ready to compete at this level. Not to mention the possibility of the technical staff bringing in new striking talent, a move that is more likely today than before Moreno’s departure.
Then there’s Salinas, who endeared himself to many Union fans with speed out wide, versatility, and hustle to spare. While the 24-year-old has definite potential to break out in the future, it appears as though his inability to do so this year -- in large part because he missed over two months due to a stress fracture -- played a role in the decision to leave him unprotected.
“When we selected the protection list, we said we have to find a way to protect the core of the group,” said Nowak. “Unfortunately for Shea, he started in seven games, playing in a little bit more than half of the games total … so of course we have to look at that as a factor. As much as we’d love to have him with us next season, that’s the unfortunate beauty of the Expansion Draft (for expansion teams).”
So while Salinas may have become part of the Union’s core in 2011 had he remained with the team, Philadelphia's protection list indicated that others were considered more vital to future success. When looking at the players protected, as well as the rules surrounding the draft, it’s easier to understand why a player with Salinas’ upside was left available.
Danny Califf is the club’s captain and a physical presence in the center of the backline. Jordan Harvey was the club’s leader in minutes played at left back, while 20-year-old Sheanon Williams solidified the defense upon being inserted as the starting right back. If the Union are able to bring back Michael Orozco Fiscal, whose loan status is still undetermined, the club’s entire starting backline from the end of the season will be around in 2011. That continuity can’t be underestimated, a lesson that was learned the hard way in Philadelphia's inaugural campaign.
[inline_node:288194]In the midfield, the newly acquired Brian Carroll is a strong bet to be inserted immediately into the starting XI as a defensive midfield anchor. Justin Mapp brought a new attacking element to the flanks after being acquired midseason from Chicago. 19-year-old Roger Torres showed immense potential in his first year with the club, displaying rare vision and passing ability in the midfield. And Kyle Nakazawa proved deadly in set piece situations, a skill set that could prove invaluable next season especially if he fulfills his goal of becoming more versatile.
Some may wonder why Toni Stahl -- who played only 41 minutes as a rookie -- was on the protected list, but there are several reasons. For one, the Union needed to protect three internationals out of four on the roster – Torres, Stahl, Juan Diego González, and Eduardo Coudet. But regardless, given Stahl’s age and inexperience there’s no reason to believe he can’t become an effective MLS midfielder. After all, he was the first pick of the second round in the 2010 SuperDraft and many considered him to be one of the most MLS-ready players coming out of college. He didn’t once have an opportunity to play his natural holding midfield position, and Nowak indicated that the club was pleased with his work during friendlies and believes he has potential to emerge. International status may have also played a role in protecting González, but he, too, proved valuable when inserted along the backline – plus, you can never have too much depth in back.
While the technical staff clearly made their decisions for a reason, it doesn’t lessen the blow of losing two players who were impactful whenever they were on the pitch. Salinas only scored one (terrific) goal in 795 minutes, but Moreno started 25 matches and was second on the club in assists with seven.
“It was unfortunate that Alejandro was picked up … he provided a lot of good stuff for our youngsters,” Nowak added. “For Jack McInerney, for Danny Mwanga, he always was a good buffer, always had a cool head about certain things. … He really analyzed things in a very good way - I really enjoyed working with him. I really respected his way of playing and respected the way he appeared every single day coming into practice. We’re going to miss that for sure. All I can say is a big thank you for the past year and good luck with everything else in the future.”
On a conference call with media following the draft, Nowak lamented the two losses, but was quick to emphasize that the only option now is to move on. He also indicated that the club is actively pursuing talent both in the U.S. and abroad.
“We have resources to make (our team) better,” he said. “We expect (our roster) to get better. From a resources standpoint we’re very close to the expansion teams. Money-wise, we have a lot of resources to make (our team) better. We have to be smart, we have to be cautious, and we need to add the players we believe (will help).
“Brian Carroll was the first selection, and now we’re going to go make it work in every position. So we’ll have really good competition at each position - two, three players depending on the position. That’s our intention - that’s where we’re going to go. Whether it’s going to be domestic markets or international markets, I’m sure we are going to be really active. We have added some people to our staff to help us with the scouting. Our chief scout is working with us and we have enough people to make it good for everyone and make this roster really good.”