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Season review: The lost seasons

After finally returning to the playoffs in 2016, hope was high for the Philadelphia Union this season. The team’s 2016 rookie haul of Keegan Rosenberry, Josh Yaro, and Fabian Herbers looked poised to push the team over the playoff home game hump.

Instead, the trio, along with Yaro’s projected backline partner Richie Marquez and academy product Derrick Jones, faltered out of the gate (or never played at all) and stymied their career progressions – and hope of a better 2018.

Keegan Rosenberry

A lot has already been written about Rosenberry’s miserable 2017. Whether it was playing every minute of 2016, his U.S. National Team call-up, or playing next to not-Josh-Yaro, the rookie all-star did not seem himself in the spring. In his six starts to begin 2017, Rosenberry looked distracted following runners and downright shoddy on the ball – the very thing that has always made him such a tantalizing talent and so important to the Union’s success.

Instead of letting Rosenberry play out of his funk, manager Jim Curtin pulled back the leash and yanked Rosenberry from the starting rotation for the team’s backbreaking home draw with Montreal. Most pundits figured he’d be out a game or two at most.

And then he sat. And sat.

It wasn’t until August – four months later – that Rosenberry saw the starting eleven again. I’m not going to suppose any sort of player management philosophy, but Rosenberry not seeing the field for four months certainly delayed him from overcoming a very real sophomore slump. 2018 will be a huge year in Rosenberry’s career. There’s no doubt that Rosenberry has exponential potential and a very real chance to break into the USMNT roster. We’ll see if he finds his form and peace with his manager to continue that trajectory.

Josh Yaro

A month before the 2017 season began, the Union announced that Josh Yaro had successful shoulder surgery and would be back on the field in a few months. (Note: At the time PSP opined that Yaro’s spot would be in competition for Ken Tribbett [ha!], Auston Trusty [lolz!], and Oguchi Onyewu [ding ding ding!].) Onyewu ended up filling Yaro’s spot and, with Jack Elliott’s ascent into the starting lineup a month later, Yaro was roundly throttled out of the Union’s defensive plans.

For the remainder of the season Yaro saw spot start duty but was plagued with the very same issues that defined his rookie season: poor decision-making and a proclivity to give up penalties and bad fouls. With Elliott firmly grabbing hold of the starting spot, Yaro never had a chance to address these problems in 2017, only to leave fans wondering whether he really is an MLS-caliber defender.

Richie Marquez

A simple stomach bug killed Richie Marquez’s 2017. Once the MLS leader in Super Dope Slide Tackles (xSDST for you stat geeks) was on the pine in April, he too wouldn’t see starting duty again until September. In his return to the field, Marquez, unlike the other victims of a lost 2017, looked wholly himself: a solid MLS starter who could play for any team in the league.

This leads to the real issue of Marquez’s lost season. If the Union are serious about making Josh Yaro and Jack Elliott their backline of the future, Marquez is ample trade bait. Yet, perhaps it’s Yaro who is not in the picture. In the seven games they started together, Marquez and Elliot gave up nine goals. Not so great, but something to build upon. If Marquez never got the flu, you have to wonder what the Union backline would have looked like over the main stretch of the season.

Fabian Herbers

Jim Curtin said that Fabian Herbers came into 2017 preseason in the best form of anyone on the team. Despite Curtin’s praise, Herbers still only saw just one start in the first two months of the season before a sports hernia surgery – supposedly sidelining him for just two months – derailed any chance of the young German having a full chance to prove himself. The injury lingered, though, and Herbers never saw the field for the Union again this year.

Still, there is a lot of hope for Herbers. It’s his potential and creativity that may be instrumental in choosing to let Chris Pontius leave town this offseason. If he’s fit, the 2018 Union will be relying on Herbers an awful lot to create chances for teammates and score a few of his own.

Derrick Jones

There was palpable buzz around Derrick Jones this spring. To begin the season, the 20-year-old academy product broke into the starting lineup (with much self-congratulatory back-patting from the front office, I’m sure) before disappearing into the murky abyss of what-could-have-beens and barely sniffing the field for the remainder of the campaign.

The young midfielder showed promise, but also faced a positional roadblock to seeing minutes. The midfield triangle of Jones, Haris Medunjanin, and Alejandro Bedoya simply lacked the creativity and chutzpah to provide any offensive mettle.

So looking to 2018, how does Derrick Jones fit into the Union’s plans? With Alejandro Bedoya pulling down a big pay day, it sure looks like the front office’s young crown jewel may not fit into the midfield at all.


  1. Aside from the lack of results, the worst and most troubling aspect to the Union’s season to season play is the failure of any single young players to improve from year one to two. Every draft pick and academy product will have a bright debut only to regress to deep bench-warming status. That is a really awful track record for a team that wants to emulate Red Bull’s build-it-from-the-academy focus. This trend has to reverse for this team to have any hope at all.

  2. When it comes to Derrick Jones and his disappearance, I think one thing has been severely overlooked, his concussion. After he returned, and went down to the Steel, Curtin talked about DJ’s lack of aggressiveness. Curtin pointed out how happy they were with his play starting the season, but also how it had dropped off (since he returned from the concussion), and how Curtin(Burke) had been trying to get him back to that form. Obviously this is pure speculation on my part, but I believe the concussion has had more of an affect on DJ than we might have imagined, be it a reluctance to get stuck in, or maybe even something more medically concerning.

    • Very interesting thought. As a neurologist, I would bet on any change in his form being psychological, not neurological.

  3. The thing I find about this list is that there are only two reasons for these lost seasons – injury and Curtin.

    I put Rosenberry and Jones on Curtin 100%.

    Herbers is clearly injury, and I’d still consider Yaro injury as he had to recover and by the time he did there were 3 better options ahead of him all playing well.

    • I agree with most of this, but the jury for me is still out on Yaro. Maybe he really is too fragile to make it in this league. But man, I can’t help but see Curtin as a guy who just loves to push square pegs in round holes. He’s that way with the team’s tactics. And he’s stubbornly insisted that Yaro is a CB. Now, maybe what Curtin says to the press and what he believes are two different things, but I have no way to know, so I have to take him at his word. And to me, why would you not try Yaro in the midfield. He seems like he was designed to be a #6 from the ground up. Maybe they’ve tried in training and it didn’t work out. I don’t know. It’s all troubling….

    • I fully agree with you on Rosenberry. Jones was a casualty of the #10 situation, once Harris & Ale started rolling as dueling #8’s.
      I do contend that we should get rid of either Medunjanin or Bedoya (not both), and let Derrick play a true DM. Harris & Ale together pushes our shape out of whack too much (though they got better at the very end of the season once the games didn’t matter).

  4. I’ll ignore the past for now and simply look forward. It’s better for my mental state.
    A CB pairing of Elliott and Marquez is extremely tempting and difficult to overlook. The fact is, this is a physical league and those two are big, strong, and fast. They will deal better, especially as they mature as players than Yaro.
    I also don’t have faith in Herbers being much more than a sub. Relying on him to be a consistent playmaker scares me a bit.

    • Marquez leaves a lot more to be desired than is being mentioned in the articles and comments. It’s not a coincidence that all the really bad set piece goals dried up once he was out of the lineup. He’s a decent player but should probably really be the 3rd CB on a good team.

      • That’s valid. Also, the slide tackles will start to have a lower success rate eventually. But who’s ahead of him? Gooch for one more year, maybe. Yaro didn’t show enough, and still feels like he would be a better fit at CDM than at CB.
        Before there’s overreaction, I feel ok with combinations of the 4 of them. This is not a glaring weakness, just a position that needs to be solidified.

      • Yeah I’m fine with him starting next year even, I just think we would look a lot better with a legit good CB on this team. Honestly I think we have 3 young players (Elliott, Yaro, and Jones) who are all probably best suited for a #6 role.

  5. In re: Derrick Jones.
    In addition to the concussion, recall that he never broke out of giving the ball to somebody else for offensive distribution.
    Curtin’s “we want more” comment in a news conference before he began his 12 starts for the Steel suggests he was tasked with improving his own distribution skills.
    That had been his most obvious opportunity for future growth as a 8 in 2016, as the readers of this page reinforce every time they suggest that he be switched to a 6.
    Do recall that the very first time he appeared for the Union in a way known to the public, he was a center back in the preseason scrimmage in Jacksonville in Curtin’s 1st full season as coach. They have been converting him into the midfield line more recently, publicly since his signing by the Steel. I know nothing of his PG time at the Academy.

    • Sure, but DJ still had a place in the first team, if only for rotation purposes alone.

      Not only that, but to banish DJ to “grow” his distribution skills is BS. DJ is already a capable MLS destroyer and I was always impressed with his feet and ability to play the ball quickly.

      Yes he needs to get better, but he had something to offer us.

      • I’m fine with Jones as a #6. I agree with James, Derrick showed good potential in the limited run he had. Great energy, and good on turnovers. I can’t trust Curtin to do it, but Jones has high developmental potential. Hopefully he stays away from any more concussions.

    • Thanks Tim, there was a few things I didn’t know there, and I like your take on the distribution angle.

  6. sooo….., you think Rosenberry will be with Philadelphia in 2018?

  7. The Chopper says:

    MLS seems to have a history of players who shine rookie year and then disappear into the abyss. It seems to be even more common with defenders.

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