One day after officially signing with the Philadelphia Union last year, Cristian Arrieta was thrust into the starting lineup for the first home game in franchise history.
It was a daunting challenge to be sure, but the Italian-American responded in a big way to help the club earn a 3-2 win over D.C. United in front of over 30,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
Arrieta’s debut was lauded by his teammates, and at the time, Union assistant coach John Hackworth said, “Cristian certainly brings something that previously we didn’t have.”
But as the year progressed, Arrieta’s role became more and more diminished, and he eventually lost his place in the starting lineup when defenders Juan Diego Gonzalez and Sheanon Williams were signed midseason.
On Tuesday, the defender’s time in Philadelphia came to an end when he was released by the club to clear roster space.
“We were looking at the whole position and it was not an easy decision to make,” explained Union manager Peter Nowak in a conference call Wednesday from Orlando, where the team is currently training. “We’re not going around saying, ‘Let’s cut this guy, let’s cut that guy.’ That’s not the way we operate. … As of now, we’re looking at the roster situation, looking at the numbers and keeping in mind we still have a couple of weeks to get new players. As much as it’s an unfortunate decision to cut Cristian, that’s the reality of the situation.”
The move continues an overhaul of the backline that was in place at the start of Philly’s inaugural season.
David Myrie and Toni Stahl were starters in the Union’s first-ever game but are no longer with the club. Neither is Shavar Thomas, who was brought in to be a veteran defensive presence.
But the Union made a big splash this offseason when they acquired Colombian star Carlos Valdés, who joins Gonzalez and Williams, as well as stalwarts Danny Califf, Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco Fiscal on the backline – which, despite all those losses, still looks to be far deeper than it was last season.
“After the season, we always look to what went right and what went wrong,” Nowak said. “The roster will be better and will be more competitive. A guaranteed contract will not give you the guarantee to play. This stands from the captain to the rookie. If you want to make it work, and work in a good way, you have to be there for your team.”
Arrieta – who played professionally in Italy before coming to the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues First Division, where he was the league’s two-time defender of the year and 2009 MVP – was the most significant player to be cut while the team trained in Orlando, but the Union also recently let go Supplemental Draft picks Matt Marcin and Josh Walburn, both of whom were trying to make the team.
And that, of course, came on the heels of the departures of Chris Seitz, Brad Knighton, Shea Salinas, Alejandro Moreno, Fred and Stahl.
But more help appears to be on the way. During the conference call, Nowak noted that the team’s roster is still a work in progress and likely won’t be finalized until March 1, the league’s roster compliance deadline.
“We have to fill those spots with guys we believe can either do the same work as the previous guy or better work,” Nowak said. “When you look at the roster, you always try to improve it. As much as we love to keep all of the players we already have, that’s not going to help. The roster is good, it’s competitive but it still needs more balance here and there. In the next couple of days, weeks, we’re going to make it work.”
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