Commentary

No Yaro, no problem?

Photo: Daniel Studio

Everything was shaping up well.

Suspiciously well, in fact.

The Union had barely put the finishing touches on their 2017 roster — the deepest in franchise history — when the team announced that second-year defender Josh Yaro would miss three to five months following shoulder surgery.

Yaro, the no. 2 pick in last year’s SuperDraft, was in line to start alongside Richie Marquez before the injury. Now, he is sidelined until at least early May, and the Union’s depth will be tested immediately.

Here’s a look at the three players who might fill the void, along with some handicapping of who’s likely to earn the starting spot.

The favorite: Ken Tribbett

Yaro, of course, is not the only second-year center back on the team. Ken Tribbett leaped from a Bethlehem Steel signing to the first team through an impressive 2016 preseason, then forced his way into a platoon with Yaro for most of the season.

Tribbett is a polarizing player. If you asked the Union press corps, you’d find a pretty even split between those who think he’s a competent defender with upside who had some bad luck last year, or a player whose flaws are so egregious that he will never be a starter on a good MLS team. Count me among the latter.

The thing about Tribbett is that he makes a ton of mistakes. For example, in two late-season matches against Toronto FC last year, Tribbett was directly responsible for five of the six goals the Reds managed to score on Andre Blake. Tribbett’s positioning and decision-making is suspect, and he lacks the elite athleticism or distributional range to make up for it.

But as much as I might wish otherwise, I don’t manage the Union.

Jim Curtin, in particular, seems very high on Tribbett’s future in MLS and with the Union. Ultimately, his voice is what matters the most, and it’s fair to conclude that Tribbett entered preseason with the inside track to start in case of a Yaro injury.

The wild card: Oguchi Onyewu

If Tribbett had the inside track at the start of preseason, however, that might not be the case now. Because no one predicted that a former U.S. international would show up to the Power Training Complex determined to turn a training stint into a career renaissance.

Oguchi Onyewu is the ultimate wild card in this conversation. If he’s healthy and anywhere near his physical peak, Onyewu is unquestionably the most talented defender on the Union roster. Few, if any, American center backs are as strong as the mountainous Onyewu. Fewer still combine that with above-average technical skills.

The veteran impressed Jim Curtin from the get-go, as the advertised “training stint” turned into a formal contract within two weeks. Curtin raved about Onyewu’s influence on the younger defenders as well as the quality of his soccer on a recent media call.

If we consider only Curtin’s preseason lineups, it looks like Gooch has a slight edge on Tribbett so far. He started both matches against MLS sides, though he did earn a red card against DC United. Earning a red card in the first preseason game is like getting caught cheating on a practice test — why on earth did you put yourself in that position to begin with?

There are certainly questions about Onyewu’s durability, having played precious few matches in the last few years. If he can handle the rigors of preseason, though, Curtin will be awfully tempted to install the veteran at the center of the Union back line when the season kicks off.

The rookie: Auston Trusty

The Union have one other intriguing option at center back — an option that would be the complete opposite of going with the experienced Onyewu.

Auston Trusty, a 18-year-old Homegrown Player, has yet to see the field in MLS action for Philadelphia, though he did play 1,710 minutes for Bethlehem Steel FC in USL last year. Despite his young age, Trusty is physically imposing at 6-3, and he has international experience with the U.S. U-20s.

Until Yaro’s injury, many pegged Trusty to be designated to Bethlehem on a season-long loan. But might he be getting a second look now?

It’s probably too soon to trust in Trusty. He isn’t even with the Union in preseason camp, as Tab Ramos recently named Trusty to the 20-man roster for the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. This spell of national team duty begins this week in Costa Rica and runs up to the opening day of the MLS regular season. If Trusty was to play a big part in Curtin’s plans, the coach would want such a young player to be a part of the squad for the entire preseason.

Onyewu and Tribbett are known quantities in a way that Trusty is not.

While Trusty has a bright future with the Union, asking him to step in to Yaro’s shoes is too much, too soon.

Reading the tea leaves

Who will start in 20 days against Vancouver? There’s still a lot of preseason left, but I think Curtin will ultimately end up choosing Onyewu, provided that he continues to maintain his form. Onyewu has more upside than Tribbett and adds an element of veteran leadership on a relatively inexperienced back line. If history is any guide, the lineup that Curtin uses in the last two preseason games will provide concrete evidence of the manager’s intentions.

29 Comments

  1. “Onyewu is unquestionably the most talented defender on the Union roster.”
    .
    IMHO Onyewu is the most talented central defender to where the US jersey since I started regularly following the US National team with the 1990 World Cup.

    • I Am Citizen Insane says:

      — this is debatable only in that people are entitled to their own opinions… beyond that, anyone who thinks differently than your statement is pretty well— wrong.
      .

    • What about John Anthony Brooks? I’d have to say as one of the best CBs in the bundesliga he’s got more talent than Onyewu.

      • Big fan of Brooks, I think he could wind up having a better career than Gooch, and sure I’d rather have him now since he’s 24 and heading toward his prime. But I think peak Gooch is better than anything we’ve seen from Brooks so far. Plenty of time left for that to change.

      • You never saw Onyewu in his prime then. Brooks is good, but he’s not even close to what Oneywu was in 2009.

  2. I think we’ll see Trusty sooner rather than later. However, his stint with the U-20’s will delay that, since he won’t be able to work on chemistry with Marquez/Gooch until he gets back.
    .
    But all signs point to his rapid ascent. As Kevin Kinkead pointed out, if this was Europe, he’d already be starting.

    • Depends where in Europe though. And he probably will be starting, it will just be in Bethlehem. Which is how it would be done in Europe. I just don’t think he’s above others in the depth chart but it will not be age or experience that stops him. As soon as the staff believes he’s the best option he will be starting.

      • I haven’t seen him play, so I’m going completely on word of mouth and inference.
        .
        But if he’s quality enough to start on the U-20’s (TBD if he’s starting for them), you’d have to think he’ll move ahead of Tribbett fairly quickly. And if that’s the case, he’ll get minutes, because Gooch can’t start every game.
        .
        Again, pure guesswork, but if he gets on the field, he could be the kind of kid who doesn’t let go of that spot.
        .
        But realistically, I’d expect to see him playing for both teams this year, depending on availability.

      • Agreed, A. Age is not relevant in the discussion. If Curtin thinks he’s good and ready, he’ll be playing for the Union.

  3. Something else to consider:
    .
    Marquez has always played LCB for the Union, despite being right footed.
    Yaro has always played RCB for the Union and is right footed.
    Tribbet has always played RCB for the Union and is right footed.
    Gooch has said (and Curtin echoed in a presser) that he is equally comfortable on either side and is right footed.
    Trusty has always played LCB for the Steel (to my knowledge, but others follow the team more closely then I do) and is left footed.
    .
    .
    My guess is Gooch to add a veteran presence but I would bet both he and Tribbet see some time next to Marquez do to injury/suspension/etc. Also I wonder with Gooch if he should sit if the game is on turf.

    • Marquez did play RCB for Harrisburg I believe though.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        And played every minute of that season there.
        .
        The sun came up in the east and Coach Becher started Richie Marquez at right back.
        .
        Led or tied for the league lead in minutes played because they went to the playoff final where they lost to Sacramento.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      CPfeif is correct that Auston Trusty started every game he played for the Steel save one at the LCB position. The outlier was a start at left back, an experiment that did not warrant enduring for the entire game, let alone repeating.
      .
      The other exception was that he played the lone center back in a three man backfield in a late-game formation shift to try to score goals. MY guess is he did so because Nick Bibbs was even less experienced at center back than he.

  4. For LCB and RCB, corresponding right/left footedness is not as important

  5. I have a feeling Onyewu is a lock to start next to Marquez with Tribett on the bench. Tribett will have to have a stellar pre-season to win that job. I don’t see him doing it. I think he will get starts to spell Onyewu as the season goes on. Perhaps at home where he was better (I think he was better, though I don’t have numbers in front of me to confirm my hunch here).

    Also, if that midfield triangle of Alberg, Bedoya and Mudanjanin works well, team always has Mo down the road for that spot.

  6. Personally even if Yaro was healthy to me he was not a lock for starting. Yaro has confidence issues on top of being undersized. I think it always was and will be Onyewu’s spot unless he doesn’t show up and play or if there is an injury. Also instead of everyone waiting for Yaro to comeback this year I would think a nice healthy loan to BSFC might actually do some good for him this year. I think the Union have depth to at least have Yaro off the roster for at least half the season. No sense rushing him back this is the second shoulder injury he has had in 2 seasons.

    • I Am Citizen Insane says:

      Confidence issues- are players not allowed to be rookies anymore.
      .
      while he may have displayed ‘tentativeness’ as you describe it to be ‘lack of confidence’- I’d argue he was continually calculating and adjusting to men playing the game at men speed and strength…
      .
      he also displayed a high IQ, quality passing range, pure speed and general solid defense… which would be confidence boosters.

      • well put

      • I don’t disagree with any of that he just constantly has to be reassured he is doing a good job you can see it when Curtin talks to him. I have nothing against Yaro and I think he has some good skills I just don’t see a point to rushing him back. I am saying let him be a rookie let him take his time let him build as a player.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Might it be a recurrence of the one he endured last season?
      .
      I have seen nothing. I ask if anyone else has seen anything.
      .
      It would be a logical possibility and would explain the quick resort to surgery the second time around.

  7. I Am Citizen Insane says:

    Funny… for me…when your center back of the future is hurt again before kick off of his second season and missing key opportunities to grow it is a significant problem.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    On Twitter from Dave Zeitlin today – https://twitter.com/DaveZeitlin/status/831190393303728129
    .
    I think I am ok with this. I am a little concerned with Gooch’s speed (or assumed lack there of, given his age), but I feel like he knows the position well enough to make up for that.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      David Accam was playing at a flank midfield in what I took to be a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 by Chicago. In the first half there were perhaps two issues down the left flank channel for the Union defense. I was focusing sufficiently on the Union that I had not identified Accam yet, so I do not know his role in them.
      .
      There was nothing as blatant as last season’s Chicago preseason scrimmage when Accam simply ran right by Richie Marque playing at right center back.
      .

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Good point. Accam did have his way more than once against last year, simply by just running past defenders.

  9. I am sure that Gooch will start. And regarding Tribbett, I say this all the time, but people forget that he was actually quite good in the first half of last season. I agree that if he plays the way he did in the second half of the season, he is simply not MLS caliber. But having played much better, I would hold out hope that he might be a good CB with proper development. And having Gooch around might be really good for that.

  10. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I agree with Peter Andrews’ conclusion that Onyewu will likely get the majority of starts at RCB. Tribbett will get spot starts here and there to spell the wise old veteran.
    .
    It will be instructive for all of us to watch Onyewu v. Sebastian Giacovinco in the second game of the season away to Toronto. The most important observer will be Ken TRibbett.
    .
    It is possible we may learn how to defend the Atomic Ant. It is also possible that we learn we need to forgive Ken TRibbett a little bit, and to value Josh Yaro’s foot speed.
    .
    It will be an educational night.

  11. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Do notice that for the next month the Union will have only three center backs on their roster.
    .
    They may well have a fourth in camp, because roster compliance day will not occur until right before the season opener, Friday, March 3, if the league follows last year’s pattern.

    Hugh Roberts was there during phase 2 of preseason judging from background video clips, and would seem likely to have returned today or tomorrow for phase 3 because of Trusty’s absence with Tab Ramos’s team.
    .
    Yaro’s injury is giving Jim Curtin a good opportunity to evaluate Roberts. I would guess Roberts is not upset by the informal opportunity to show his stuff at the MLS level.

  12. Minus the very visible mistakes made in the two Toronto games, what other mistakes has Tribbett really made? He was a rookie too, last year.

    I suspect that if he had been drafted 2nd overall, people might be more forgiving of him.

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