It’s all about trying to get guys mentally, physically and tactically ready for March 2.
That was what Union manager John Hackworth wanted to have as the theme of his weekly press conference Thursday. Instead, media inquiries centered primarily on recent cuts made ahead of the March 1 roster compliance date.
On Wednesday, the club announced it waived defender Damani Richards and midfielder Alex Mendoza, which kicked off the affair.
“In Mendoza’s case, you have a guy who is scouted by the league, we signed him and gave him the same kind of look that you would give any trialist or draft pick,” Hackworth explained. “But ultimately he was not going to make our roster.
And as for Richards?
“Damani brings qualities that any coach would ask for, but he is very young, very inexperienced – actually he has no professional experience. But it doesn’t mean we have given up on him, it’s why we have a partnership with Harrisburg. Look, at the end of the day you have to pick the players that are going to allow you to have the best success on the field, and that’s a process.”
The process starts with the knowledge for all 19 MLS coaches that there are only a certain number of roster spots allowed by the league all that have to comply with a salary budget number.
This year, MLS has set the cap at $2.95 million.
So essentially, it’s the job of the technical staff to keep a roster of players contractually content and field the best possible product beginning March 2 – all for under $3 million.
The exorbitant amount of wealth bestowed to players in other leagues just isn’t the case in MLS and while cap considerations have been made, essentially it comes down to doing the best with what one is allowed to retain and spend.
“Our league and the way you acquire players is very different from anywhere around the world,” Hackworth admitted. “The most important thing for us is that we are improving and that we are prepared and that all of the things we have trained and worked on are actually better than when we started. We still have a number of decisions to make on players and the guys we think will make us the most competitive team on the field; they are tough decisions but ones we will make.”
Two more decisions were made within the past 24 hours when Hackworth also revealed that his preseason number was trimmed more, as defender Shaun Francis and Supplemental Draft pick defender Eric Schoenle were let go. It’s these types of decisions however that assuredly make the recent merger with USL Pro vital in the sense that a lot of these guys will find their way onto those rosters.
Just like Sheanon Williams once was with the City Islanders before becoming a key component of the Union defense.
One more on the subtraction front…
Hackworth also noted that while they gave a good look to Greek midfielder Pantelis Kafes, he ultimately didn't fit into the club's plans and has already left the team.
The Union skipper did mention that there are seven players that are “starters for sure” when the Union host Sporting Kansas City on opening day. Furthermore, he indicated that this Saturday’s preseason finale against D.C. United (1 p.m.) should add some further perspective on who fits where perfectly.
"We'll probably have seven guys that are going to be starters for sure on March 2," Hackworth said. "Our plan is to get as many of those 11 that we start on Saturday the full 90 minutes, and then we'll use some substitutions to see if some different relationships are maybe a little better than others."
Today’s featured player in the “The Daily Doop” video edition is Conor Casey, who was featured Tuesday on philadelphiaunion.com. We caught up with Casey to pick his brain on the grind of an MLS preseason, his budding relationship with his fellow teammates and his outlook on the upcoming season.
To the latter he replied:
“I want to help the team win, first and foremost,” Casey said. “In terms of personal goals, I tend not to try and do that too much, I just want to perform as well as I can and do whatever it takes to help the team be successful and win games.”
Also it was the perfect day for Hackworth to be the topic of discussion. Check out this video of him that was released today in our last installment of the "Is it March Yet?" promotional spots.
Eight days, people. Get excited.
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org