A View from Afar

Making the leap, and why it’s time to trade Josh Yaro

Photo: 215pix

There are few moments in sports as enjoyable for fans as watching a young player “make the leap.”

It’s the moment when a player transitions from the abstract of raw potential to being a bonafide professional and prime contributor to a club.

Philadelphia Union fans have seen it before and fallen for those players in the process: Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney, Sheanon Williams, the Farfans, and others.

But in the past, those players, almost without exception, failed to progress past the initial leap. Either they plateaued with the Union and moved on (Williams), forced ill-advised transfer moves that stalled their careers (McInerney, the Farfans, Okugo), or were struck down by injuries (again, Okugo). They either regressed or plateaued at the level of quality contributor but never maintained the level of a top line player.

Now, however, is a different time.

Whatever problems the Union do have — limited spending, for example — one that appears a thing of the past is dysfunction behind the scenes.

  • They have the right training facilities.
  • They have what appears to be a largely unified vision among the key decision-makers.
  • Bethlehem Steel FC provides the opportunity for young players to get regular minutes before they break through with the Union.

So will the young players break through and stay through?

Jack Elliot looks like a favorite for MLS rookie of the year. His height, aerial ability, passing vision and comfort on the ball make him appear like the prototype modern center back.

Then again, that was Keegan Rosenberry last year, and now, the right back’s confidence looks completely shot. Six months ago, he was in camp with the U.S. national team. Now, he’s riding the pine. Can he resolve whatever problems are plaguing him? He has the ball skills. He has the talent. And last year, it looked like he had the defensive capability too. He needs to fix whatever ails him. Last year wasn’t fool’s gold. It was real.

Meanwhile, Anthony Fontana just signed a contract with the Union. In his limited time with the senior team, he has looked dynamic and dangerous. Derrick Jones looked fantastic in the U-20 World Cup, but he still has a ways to go at the professional level. Marcus Epps looks like he has the hop in his step to make the leap.

Also, Adam Najem has looked very solid for Bethlehem. Will we ever see him get extended minutes with the Union? Or will the talented but often unproductive duo of Ilsinho and Roland Alberg prevent Najem from getting an extended run at the No. 10?

And so it goes.

Much of the Union’s starting lineup consists of journeymen veterans, something that is far more common in Europe than in most American team sports. Those veterans have histories elsewhere. It’s not that fans can’t attach to them, and vice versa — Danny Califf and Sebastien Le Toux are classic examples of it — but rather that it just doesn’t take the same way. Every time you cheer Oguchi Onyewu in a Union shirt, you’re probably still thinking, “Am I really watching Oguchi Onyewu in a Union shirt?”

But there’s something that fans will always love about the players who sign their first professional contract with the home team. Maybe it’s the blank slate. The fans claim them.

Falling out of love with young players: The case of Josh Yaro

At the same time, you have to beware the trap of falling so much for a player’s potential that you lose sight of the ground realities.

Josh Yaro is the prime example of this. He is an undoubtedly talented soccer player with good feet and even better vision.

But at this point, it’s clear that Jack Elliott has far surpassed anything Yaro ever demonstrated in an actual MLS game, and he looks like the real deal. Yaro is faster but much shorter and more vulnerable in the air.

Otherwise, they are similar players and should be treated as filling the same spot on the depth chart as a ball-playing center back. Neither is the strong man, and every central defense pairing needs one.

At this point, Yaro is surplus to needs.

Oguchi Onyewu has played well at the left center back and earned the starting job, and while few expect the 35-year-old to be a long-term answer, let’s not forget that Richie Marquez appeared to be the answer until a sickness earlier this year sapped him of about 10 pounds of body mass. That’s not easy to recover from quickly, but eventually, he will. Marquez was one of the better center backs in MLS over the prior two seasons, and his combination of speed, size and tackling expertise — he may be the best open field tackler in MLS — make him a prime candidate to slot back in next to Elliott at some point.

Behind them, you have Auston Trusty playing well for Bethlehem and approaching the point at which he can compete for MLS minutes, and there’s also Ken Tribbett for depth.

That’s six center backs — more than the Union need.

If the Union aren’t shopping Yaro yet, now is the time to start. He has trade value and is expendable. Eighteen months ago, Yaro was considered by many to be the best player in the MLS amateur draft. He is just 22 years old and has a reasonable contract. He could bring the Union something they need elsewhere, such as an attacking midfielder.

As MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle recently suggested, a Josh Yaro-for-Jose Villarreal type of trade is exactly what needs to happen.

Last note: The schedule ahead gets rough

The Union play four games in the next 12 days, all against teams below the Red Line on points per game. Three of those games are on the road.

Normally, walking away from that kind of sequence with 6-7 points would be a good haul, particularly considering they have stabilized after their poor start and gone 6-3-1 over their last 10 games.

But these games against sub-Red Line teams are even more crucial to their playoffs hopes because of what comes next.

The Union have the most difficult remaining schedule in all of MLS, according to MLSsoccer.com. They still have to play Chicago and Atlanta twice, along with matches against Dallas, Toronto and a rebounding Seattle. Nine of their remaining 16 games are on the road.

Can the Union make the playoffs with that sort of remaining schedule?

They’ve beaten just one team this year with a current winning record, knocking off Houston at home, but Houston hasn’t won a single road game all year.

That said, the Union are a team threatening to pass the eye test. Alejandro Bedoya has played so well at the No. 8 that it has helped stabilize every other spot around him. If C.J. Sapong continues playing well and they can get any productivity from the No. 10 spot, then the Union should be making noise in November. The question is whether they will.


  1. I still haven’t figured out why Yaro is a CB (and was in college as well). He’s listed as 5’11” but that seems generous. His biggest strength seems to be lateral quickness – nobody gets by him on the dribble. Why has he never played in the midfield?

  2. “forced ill-advised transfer moves that stalled their careers (McInerney, the Farfans, Okugo),”

    I would argue the Farfans and Okugo were both victims of this “omg lets change their position!” mindset we have … that people here now want to apply to Yaro.

    • Michael Farfan was, definitely. Gabriel probably was too. I’ve written that before. But they also made very bad transfer moves.

      Okugo has been better as a CB as a pro. There’s enough evidence to demonstrate that.

      • I mean as a CB he had a good honeymoon period here then fell off, was traded, and has been nothing but a journeyman since.

        I agree he “has been better as a CB as a pro” but thats more because for some reason a coach though he was a CB and played him there more than CDM.

        I put that more on the ill advised move of putting him at CB instead of letting him grow and play into CDM. The guy never had a chance at his natural position.

  3. I am 100% against trading Yaro. Firstly, using Gooch as a reason to trade Yaro is silly. He is 35 and playing his first serious games in 2 years. This time next year he is more likely to be injured, retired, or our of form and benched than playing how he is now.

    Also, I feel like you overrated Marquez. “let’s not forget that Richie Marquez appeared to be the answer” – I disagree and am surprised by this. By the time he got benched this year, he had plateaued hard. When our defense was in shambles, he did nothing to help. True – he was probably our best defender in that time, but it’s also clear the defense improved immensely once he was NOT on the field.

    I feel like the current future at CB should be Elliot and Yaro. Trusty will be the #3 and the one who rotates in and probably displaces one of them within 2 years. Marquez is the #4. I think calling him one of the better CBs in the league is a big generous. He looked like he could be for a while, but then I think he firmly cemented himself as a “solid” MLS CB. He can be our 4, and having 4 Solid + CBs on the roster is about exactly what you need.

    • So keep him, even if you could fill a need, like that hypothesized Yaro-for-Villareal trade? Seems to me that have 1 Solid+ CAM would be more important than 4 Solid+ center backs.

      • Is Villareal good enough that anyone of us would go “Well we found our #10 woohoo!”? I don’t want to trade Yaro for another half solution.

    • Collin Deckert says:

      Both Yaro and Elliot are ball playing centerbacks, you need to have a destroyer/ ball winner. No good team has 2 centerbacks that are just ball winners or ball playing centerbacks. Variation is needed. Best example of this is Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin when Collin was at SKC

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    I do not support this week’s thesis. Yaro stays.

  5. I was shocked to read the title of today’s column, but I think you make a persuasive case — especially if they could get something of real need for him.

    The risk is that you just never know when young players will continue to develop, and when they will regress — as our experience with Rosenberry and Marquez seems to demonstrate. Who’s to say Elliott won’t crap the bed next year? I have no reason to think he will, but then again, I had no reason to believe that Rosenberry would have such a hard time this year either.

  6. I’m of the opinion that no one’s untouchable provided the deal benefits the club. If a reyal difference maker could be obtained at the CAM or STK position and it requires moving Yaro, then do it. It’s particularly safe at CB where this team does seem to have depth, even if you don’t count Gooch.

    I have to wonder about Rosenberry. Why the big slide. Is it simply confidence? And haven’t we seen this story before? Is this a case of a player regressing or is coaching not doing what needs to be done. Who knows? It’s pretty disappointing, though.

    • At this point – how big a slide is it if he can’t even get back on the field to prove himself?

      A couple of bad games and BOOM, he’s gone. Now the narrative is this crazy overblown thing and he can’t even get on the field anymore to prove anything wrong.

      He could just have easily turned it around by now instead of continuing his slide. Of course, we will never ever ever know because Curtin plays favorites.

  7. Tim Jones says:

    While Adam Cann and many others will role their eyes at the oversimplification in which I am about to indulge, defensive tactics can be divided into two categories of approach.
    Apologizing to the Bard for the latest abuse of Hamlet’s soliloquy, to play a high restraining line or a low restraining line, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to send out speed sufficient to recover into acres of space but keep compact support tight up against the midfielders, or more practical to entrench deep in the box and keep your enemies in front of you seeking victory on the counterattack.
    With Oguchi Onyewu starting in the back four, you are unlikely to succeed playing a high line. While Jack Elliott can cover ground with his extremely long legs and knows how to deliver emergency tackles, he is not ideal for a high line.
    The high line in my book will Yaro and Trusty in two years in the center with Rosenberry/Aaron Jones and Wijnaldum on the flanks.
    We are not playing a high line this year, and Elliott and Onyewu are centering the lower approach with reasonable success. But I do not think a low restraining line is the organization’s ultimate goal.
    When Richie Marquez is on the field, we give up goals on restarts. That’s fatal.
    Ken Tribbett became a center back with Harrisburg after college. He was a defensive center mid in college, has played well there for the Steel during most of their current unbeaten streak, has been in the Union’s game-day 18 there when BC and Creavalle were still unavailable, and got a cameo at the 6 against Swansea. I do not think he is rated as a starting caliber MLS center back.
    Should the Loons of Minnesota United be calling about Union center back depth, absolutely. But unless they offer Abu Danali the Union should keep Josh Yaro off the table. Marquez, sure. Tribbett, OK. Onyewu, listen with care. But not Yaro.
    Tangentially relevant to this conversation is a point from coach Burke last week in his conference call that Mark McKenzie has begun summer classes at Wake Forest and is no longer available to the Steel.
    To my eyes he was the other candidate for a home-grown signing besides Fontana out of this year’s academy group that practiced regularly with the Steel.

  8. scottymac says:

    Two words why not to trade Josh Yaro right now- “Generation Adidas”. He literally costs them nothing, and with green card in hand no longer takes up an international spot.
    Now, where I do agree is he doesn’t look to have the size to be a CB. If you told me his ceiling was Brian Carroll and can be the pressure release valve next season next to Bedoya, I’m on board.

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