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 respective positions.
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.