Season Reviews

Season review: The Harrisburg contingent

Four young Union players spent most of the 2013 season on loan with the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders. It was the first year of USL’s partnership with Major League Soccer, and as part of the relationship, the Union agreed to send at least four players on loan to Harrisburg.

At times, the group rotated, with players like Aaron Wheeler and Leo Fernandes playing a handful of games for Harrisburg while spending most of the season with the parent team in Chester. Three players were almost exclusively Harrisburg players — Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez, and Greg Jordan. A fourth player, rookie Don Anding, spent most of the year with Harrisburg but put in a good amount of time with the Union as well.

This review will focus on the four Union players who played most for Harrisburg, as well as Yann Ekra, a Harrisburg attacker who signed with the Union after the USL season concluded.

PSP contributor Tim Uhrich has been following Harrisburg since before the Union played their first game, and I’ll include an assessment from him on each player’s performance in Harrisburg. Also, before we dive into the player reviews, here is his take on the overall arrangement between the Union and Harrisburg.

Tim’s take: “This was the Union’s first year with the expanded partnership with Harrisburg. Previous loans were primarily for match fitness, injury rehab, and getting an extra game for depth players when reserve league games weren’t held often enough. The Union use of loans was at times confusing, however. Torres didn’t see any time in Harrisburg despite very limited appearances for the first team. Anding was also called up from Harrisburg and did not get as much time with the Islanders as he might have, despite not making the [Union] 18 much. Matt Kassel similarly spent a lot of time training with the first team but limited field time. These players would have gotten 10 games or so with the reserve league but ultimately got very little with this new setup.

“The arrangement might favor the homegrown players, GA players not yet ready for MLS, and developmental prospects, and end up hurting the game readiness of rostered players 16-22 or so. With good squad rotation, these players would be less affected, but the Union concentrate the minutes so tightly that they did not see the field. Has this hurt the further development of a draft pick like Don Anding, a player Hackworth was so high on? The loan program was, I believe, good for the development of McLaughlin and Hernandez and might serve them better again than sitting in the 16-22 roster spots next year. Would either do a Pfeffer-esque year-long loan elsewhere? In my mind, Hernandez would be more likely for such a loan, though it is a longshot.”

Now, on to the player reviews.

Cristhian Hernandez

2013 season: Hernandez spent the year on loan with Harrisburg in USL, where he netted four goals and four assists in 20 games. The attacking midfielder started the season as a consistent starter but saw less time as the year progressed.

Tim’s take: “Kind of a cross between Roger Torres and Antoine Hoppenot this year … Plays with speed, creative in passing, effective on the counter and in space. Still developing in his ability to combine consistently with other players in the final third and in tight spaces. Decent finishing … Could be on the edge of the first team next year, but would probably do well to spend another season at Harrisburg as a consistent starter or on Pfeffer-esque loan. MLS position: second forward, wing forward.”

Outlook: Hernandez is just 20 years old and a Homegrown Player, so he remains off the salary budget for the Union and therefore a low risk investment. He will remain under contract with the Union. He has good speed and creativity, but another year on loan may be in the cards for him as the Union watch to see if he can progress from solid USL player to the type of USL star that projects as a reliable contributor in MLS.

Don Anding

2013 season: Anding was the team’s first draft pick (No. 26 overall) and spent most of the season on loan with Harrisburg, where he recorded one goal and three assists. The speedy left-footer was drafted with an eye toward possibly converting him to left back. His entry into the Union’s U.S. Open Cup loss to D.C. United completely changed the Union attack, and he assisted on a Union goal. He only played one regular season game for the Union, however. Hackworth planned to invite him to training camp next year with an opportunity to win a contract, but the Union granted him waivers after his 2013 contract expired so he could explore options with other teams.

Tim’s take: “Welcomed to rave reviews from fans early in the season, bombing down the left hand side from left back. Speed to burn, emphasized offense over defensive responsibilities. Had the speed to make up for his overcommitment at USL level, may not be the case in MLS. Called up to Union first team after a few appearances but did not see much field time. Could have made a continued impact in Harrisburg and learned the LB role (converting from college forward and winger) but was kept up [with the Union]… MLS position: Left back, left wing forward.”

Outlook: Anding cleared waivers, so he is free to sign with any MLS club. The Union have a spot for him in preseason if he wants it. Anding looked like the most impressive of the Union rookies, so it was a surprise that they did not offer him a straight contract. His future with the Union looks unclear.

Greg Jordan

2013 season: Jordan spent the season on loan with Harrisburg, where he recorded one goal and one in 12 games. The Union waived him this week.

Tim’s take: “Jordan was effective early in the season as a CB in Harrisburg but was limited by knee injuries … MLS position: center back.”

Outlook: Jordan will not return to the Union fold in 2014. He will probably latch on somewhere in USL.

Jimmy McLaughlin

2013 season: McLaughlin spent the season on loan with Harrisburg, where scored five goals in 23 games. Like Hernandez and Greg Jordan, he never cracked the Union lineup.

Tim’s take: “McLaughlin plays with great speed and individual skill but needs to develop in terms of maintaining possession and defensively. Some of this development will come as he continues to grow and mature physically. McLaughlin started quite a few games early in the season but then was used as more of a late game sub as the season progressed. Harrisburg does play a longer schedule than most college teams; perhaps this draw down in time was intentional. MLS position: Right wing.”

Outlook: McLaughlin is 20 years old and a Homegrown Player, which means he’s off the Union’s salary budget. He will likely return in 2014 with the chance to compete for a spot in the Union rotation, but a return to Harrisburg on loan is likely in the cards.

Yann Ekra

2013 season: Ekra recorded four goals and three assists for Harrisburg. He impressed enough that he earned a contract with the Union, who wanted to see how he looked up close in practice. The Union liked him enough that they traded goalkeeper Chris Konopka to make room for him on the roster.

Tim’s take: “Flashes of brilliance, plays with decent speed, capable of the amazing finish, but inconsistent at times and can get lost [or] become ineffective. Position in MLS will be a part of the challenge. Not a 4-4-2 winger or attack-minded midfielder. Perhaps better described as a second striker or possibly a wing forward in a 4-3-3. Signed late in the 2013 season after USL had ended, the Union will get an entire off-season to evaluate Ekra and what he can do. International status may work against him in camp as he is of French/Ivorian descent and would likely occupy an international spot. MLS position: Forward, possibly left wing.”

Outlook: Ekra will be invited to Union preseason camp with an opportunity to make the team. If he can find a position within the Union setup, he could be a contributor to the attack coming off the bench. He turns 23 in December and has spent much of his professional career playing on reserve sides in Europe, including Hull City’s during their last Premier League visit. That competitive background could help him when preseason positional battles roll around.

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