A more frugal 2018 Union bench?

All photos PSP 

The Union’s 2017 MLS season will end on October 22, so it is time to focus on the future.

Dumping salaries in a salary cap league can direct more resources toward player acquisition. Meanwhile, Earnie Stewart and company are tight-lipped, so we are speculating about the organization’s future plans.


Are there players on the Bethlehem Steel who might perhaps be ready to assume the roles played by more expensive members of the Union’s 2017 roster? How much money could be saved? What might be done with the savings?

The Steel reduced the roster from 14 in 2016 to 13 this season. An Earnie Stewart response at a 2016 summer Q & A could mean the Steel salary budget is inflexible and fixed. Further comments made by the squad’s head coach further strengthened PSP’s beliefs.

In the offseason, Bethlehem resigned two veterans and added a third. The new signing was an easy decision – a quality player named Hugh Roberts. The resignings of James Chambers and Cory Burke took a little more time. PSP guesses, shamelessly and wildly, that the total cost of the three might be as high as $225K-$300K. Each possibly might be on a one-year contract with a club option, since USL does not allow contracts longer than two years with a further one-year club option.

We guess the club paid in part for its three Steel veterans with the 14th salary from 2016.

The first-team’s third striker

Cory Burke might replace Charlie Davies. Davies is a practice player with only 4 total appearances between both teams, 90 minutes with the Steel once and 25 with the Union. Davies earns $109K and is 30 years old. The 25-year old Cory Burke might earn $75-100K because strikers are pricey.

The move would increase Seku Conneh’s Steel responsibilities and make the Union bench younger. It would save $10K-$35K. The Jamaican national teamer would need an additional international slot.

Reserve center back

Hugh Roberts might replace Richie Marquez. Marquez’s “plus/minus” numbers in Chris Sherman’s SEBA projections are poor. By the eye test, Roberts’ play with the Steel is at least comparable to Marquez’s and perhaps superior – especially looking at the Louisville games. The 25-year old Marquez earns $133K while the 24-year old Roberts might earn $75K-$100 because he was a finalist for 2016 USL defender of the year. Thus, Roberts replacing Marquez would save $33K-$58K.

Left flank midfielder/left winger

Steel starter Santi Moar might replace Chris Pontius, were Fafa Picault become the full-time first-team starter. Of the three, Moar is the most talented attacker, and has spent this season becoming a very effective USL player. The 30 year-old Pontius earns $400K and we assume the Union would sign the Spaniard Moar to a supplemental roster spot at $65K, given his age and the possible reserve roster move described below. Moar was a Union 2017 draft pick and is old for an end-of-season rookie at 24.

Replacing Pontius with Moar would save $335K, improve offensive creativity, and provide the Union with much needed youth. But he would provide the first team with less defensive physicality and aerial prowess and Moar would need a new international slot.

Right flank midfielder/right winger

Chris Nanco might replace Ilsinho, which would help Marcus Epps break into the first-team’s top three flank mids with Picault and Fabian Herbers. Nanco was a Union 2017 draft pick. His initial adjustment to professional soccer was slow, but he has appeared in the last 15 consecutive Steel games, starting 10 and subbing 5. Whether the Union would sign him to the reserve roster at $52K or the supplemental at $65K would depend on the open slots in each category. Officially, the two rosters hold four spots each, although there are loopholes as the 2017 roster illustrates.

The 31-year old Brazilian Ilsinho earns $470K and replacing him with the Canadian Nanco would save $405K-$418K – in addition to bringing youth to the Union.

Reserve left back

This idea is the greatest stretch.

Matt Real, one of Coach Burke’s mid-season candidates for his most improved player, might replace the 32-year old Fabinho.  18 year-old Real was signed to the Steel out of the academy. He would be signed to the reserve roster as a homegrown player for $52K (Meanwhile, Fabinho earns $160K).

Replacing Fabinho with Real would be bold. Left backs are scarce and Real has only appeared in 14 professional matches, all starts. Jettisoning Fabinho would save $108K and significantly reduce the first team’s age.

Potential results

Moar for Pontius and Nanco for Ilsinho would save $740K-$757K, historically a Maurice Edu or a Tranquillo Barnetta salary.

Were all five moves made, and our wild guesses for Roberts and Burke anywhere close to the truth, the savings might range from anyone between $891K-$954K,a bit under an Alejandro Bedoya salary.

And making some, or all, of these moves might signal an organizational commitment to a player-management principle called “up or out.” As yet, we have little evidence whether that might be Stewart’s management approach.


  1. I approve of Corey Burke moving up. He has had really impressive flashes of skill whenever I watched the Jamaican national team play. We need something (anything!) off the bench late in games and Burke seems like a player who will try and make something happen as opposed to Simpsonwho needs the game to come to him.

  2. I agree.

    Really the only thing that makes me have hope and interest in the off season is that we should (and sounds like we will) be removing a TON of money from the books.

    And get rid of Edu and Alberg and others, and with the TAM increase, we have a lot of money to play with.

    That’s why at the very least I look forward to seeing all the new faces we have.

    • My ticket rep told me they are planning to have about $2 million to spend.

      • AKA less than the transfer fee of several DPs

      • Which ticket representative was this and does planning to spend mean they actually will? Their track record says no and their ticket reps/marketing campaigns are designed to simply fill the stadium by whatever means necessary including bs lies.

  3. The Union should have a lot of money (for them) to spend in the offseason. A very good #10 and very good winger need to be signed. Depending on what happens with Blake in the January transfer window they may have another 650K. If you don’t think Marquez is the guy for LCB going forward then I think they have to upgrade at that spot because of Gooch’s age.

  4. Section 114 (Former) says:

    There are several different thoughts in this piece and while they all run together, I think they are best appreciated separately.
    1. The Union’s bench was very mature (old, experienced, has-beens) and EXPENSIVE. If the Union is going to spend money — and they better — they need to ensure it gets on the field. This is Davies, Carroll, Simpson, Alberg/Ilsinho, etc. Of the veteran bench guys, Gooch was the only one who meaningfully contributed to the team’s success this season, unless you consider Alberg the backup.
    2. The Union’s $350-500K players need to be better. This is Pontius, Simpson, Alberg, Ilsinho. Basically every one of these guys not named Haris. The DPs too, although we all understand what happened to Mo, and I would hope that Bedoya’s play improves a little more.
    3. Every team needs a regular infusion of guys at the bottom end of the salary scale. About half the team needs to make between $53 and $110K. And about a third of that population moves out of the category each year, either becoming more expensive or getting cut. So you need about 5 new guys like that each year. You get them through the draft and through affiliates and through low dollar signings. The Union have historically not used the affiliate route much (exceptions like Williams stand out), but they likely have a good chance to do so this year, particularly since we gifted away most of our draft picks. I would hope that, at least, Burke and Moar get that chance this year. I’m hoping Burke is a breakout surprise.
    4. Fabinho and Wjinaldum are not a successful LB tandem for next year. I agree with you that Wjinaldum has earned survival. Whether we bring in someone much better to replace Fabinho or someone cheap to back him up depends, for me, on what ES is able to find on the market. If his dollars go elsewhere, a Wjinaldum/Real pairing would be OK.
    5. Our wing play must be better. I disagree with the idea of featuring Fafa, Epps, Moar, and Nanco. SPEND MONEY HERE. I think a wing roster of (a) DP, (b) $300k guy, (c) Fafa, (d) Epps, and (e) Moar is a very solid start. Now you just have to find the right DP and $300k guys.
    6. Simpson was a bust. CJ is a good #1/2 guy. Burke should be #3. Now go spend some money on the other #1/2 guy.
    7. We have a wealth of talent at CB. But it doesn’t work well together unless Gooch is fit and healthy. I’m not willing to count on that, even though I’d love to have him back as a $65-100k “backup” again. So we have to figure out a long-term partner with Elliott. And that might be Marquez, might be Yaro (who I would prefer to see in midfield) and it might be someone else. Hugh Roberts isn’t the answer as a starter, but letting him compete with Marquez and Yaro for roster spots is an OK idea, but only if that’s not at the expense of a real fit with Elliott.
    And yes, I guess neither of us covered RB and GK. The RB horse has been long-beaten and GK depends on whether Superman returns. Presuming he doesn’t, signing a replacement for him has to be up front as a need along with replacements on the wings and for Simpson.

    • Section 114 (Former) says:

      Self edit:
      I forgot Austin Trusty. If he’s ready, I’d love to see Elliott-Trusty, backed up by Onyewu and some combo of Marquez, Yaro, and TBD.

    • The Union also need an offensive coordinator in the offseason. Can’t sit back every single game and give up lots of possession when their passing stats are bad when they finally get the ball.

    • You are correct, Section 114 (former), that I made several unspoken assumptions, and you take each one and developed it as you think best. That is what these pieces and this site are for, cross-fertilization.
      My focus was that they could save salary cap space for another low-end DP by exchanging — primarily — Moar for Pontius and Nanco for Ilsinho.
      To my knowledge of the games the two sides have played, Trusty and Elliot have never been a pair. Trusty is likely been tasked with improving his vision and distribution out of the back line. And he needs to prove that in USL before he can be expected to show that in MLS. I like his competitiveness and leadership potential, but his offensive game needs to grow.
      And my preference would be to move Bedoya wide and bring in both an #8 and a #10 on the first team.
      Finally the only thing I intended to consider was what I presented, the Steel guys who, by moving up, could save enough money for a low-DP/high-TAM player. Other first-team roster moves were outside my limit.

      • Section 114 (Former) says:

        It’s a very nice piece. Just thought taking it apart made sense.
        And if Derrick Jones is for real, he and Haris can start in the back and then Bedoya can go wide and we can add two offensive pieces. Remember, we have to expect Bedoya to miss two months of the season for NT duty next year. If the USMNT doesn’t choke against Panama.

      • Exactly. The Union can let Pontius leave and move up Epps and Moar on the depth chart, but they should also move Bedoya to his best position on the right. Then DJ can play the 8, with Creavalle and even Yaro as backups. Suddenly the team would have a DP winger to go with (HOPEFULLY) a DP 10 and another key attacker.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    At this point, I would literally take any iteration of what was described in the article or the comments. This team needs upgrades and changes in a lot of places. The money will be there. ES must spend it wisely.

  6. Enjoyable article. I predict that one of the above things will happen, and it will go well. I predict another one of the above things will happen, and it will go very, very poorly. In addition, the Union will make a bunch of other completely unexpected moves, and they will mostly be meh, but if some are pretty good to very good, who knows?

  7. PhilinWilmiington says:

    Great Article. Can’t wait until the most hopeful thing we can ever talk about is “next season”.

  8. All this talk about pinching pennies to makes me sick.

    This team needs to improve the quality of the STARTING team at almost every positions as soon as possible or face failure and more empty seats in 2018.

    Open up the purse strings and make immediate improvements or face another crappy season.

    The academy system will be lucky to produce 1 quality player every 3 to 4 years. I have lost all patience with Ernies moneyball BS.

    Priority # 1 is to sign a quality #10. Someone who can make even the average vet and young forwards produce more goals.

    Davies, Edu, Gooch and Alberg all have to go. I would also consider letting Bedoya go if you really want to save money and add a quality forward who can compliments Sapong.

    If you get rid of Ilshinio who does the Union have capable of taking on someone on one in the final third ?

    You guys are way to tough on Pontius and too easy on Bedoya. Pontius clearly was told to change his role by Curtin. He works as hard as Le Toux and is an unselfish savvy player who can score or assist if put in the right position . If Pontius is willing to take a slight pay cut they should keep him for his work ethic and leadership.

    On second thought Bedoya should take the pay cut. Bedoya is way overpaid for what he contributes to the team.

    I don’t know why you even bothered to write this article . The team needs better players at every STARTING position with the exception of Blake. The whole bench discussion is an afterthought for the priorities of this team.

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