On Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids completed a trade that sent Keegan Rosenberry west in exchange for General and Targeted Allocation Money. The deal points to a number of ways the Union will progress through the rest of their offseason, and to the types of players they are looking for as they modify and adjust their playing style.
Rosenberry spent three seasons with the Union, and his time can be described quite fairly as a bit of a roller coaster ride. He finished second in rookie of the year voting in 2016, lost his starting spot in 2017, and emerged again in 2018 as an improved defender and key piece of Philly's right-sided attack.
In many ways, Rosenberry embodies the overall tactical direction soccer has moved over the past few years, and as such he possesses many of the traits that modern fullbacks require as well as a few of the shortcomings they need to overcome. For instance, Rosenberry can arrow a pass through the lines to a striker like few other fullbacks in Major League Soccer, and he can get up the pitch and combine in the final third aggressively. In 2016 and 2018, these talents made Rosenberry a dangerous and hugely useful option on the outside.
In 2017, however, the young defender struggled to find his defensive awareness. Often caught in two minds, he could be dragged out of position and exploited. Rosenberry ended the season on the bench, and when new signing Olivier Mbaizo thrived in preseason it looked as though there could be a changing of the guard.
But Rosenberry rebounded, and his 2018 season showcased both his attacking talent and his ability to adjust his defensive positioning to account for how opponents were attacking him.
Now, with Rosenberry entering the last season of his contract and with Mbaizo waiting in the wings, the Union made the difficult decision to send the Georgetown product to Colorado Rapids in exchange for allocation money. It's a deal that could benefit both sides even as it leaves a lot of questions on the table. For example, Olivier Mbaizo is now the only right back on the roster (though Ray Gaddis remains out of contract) so how will Ernst Tanner fill in depth along the back line?
In his conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Tanner noted that with both a high-upside prospect in Mbaizo and an experienced defender in Gaddis, he believes the club has a good foundation at right back and can use the money acquired for Rosenberry to develop the squad in other areas. For example, when asked about the left back position, Tanner explained that with Matt Real likely to compete in the Under-20 World Cup, the Union are nearly certain to acquire at least one left back as they continue developing the roster.
In the end, it's clear that with Rosenberry moving into his contract's final year and Tanner looking for a different type of player at fullback, the Union felt they could move forward with a new right back. More is sure to happen at this position in the future, and time will tell whether the back line that enters the 2019 season can match or exceed what the young squad did last year. Tanner indicated in his end of season presser that there would be tactical and personnel tweaks before the 2019 campaign began, and this move gives indications as to the style of play and attributes that he will want in his wide defenders.
For now, Union fans can enjoy what was a fun three years with Keegan Rosenberry. He could be excellent on the pitch, and at times he could frustrate. But he always played bravely with the ball, and that is something that he will not lose as he moves on to the next stop in his career.