Season Previews

Six Union players to watch in 2018

Photo: Ryan Griffith

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece of PSP’s season preview on Philadelphia Union. Read the other posts of the season preview here.

No MLS club added fewer players from outside its organization this off-season than Philadelphia Union. Two outsiders have joined the club, one likely to be announced today. They’ll be key. 

It means that returning players need to step up and perform at a higher level than they did in 2017. For some, that means a return to form. For others, that means a step up to the big time. And for one, that means being more than just a local star. It means being a superstar.

We’ve seen what we can expect from cornerstones like C.J. Sapong, Alejandro Bedoya, and Andre Blake. Each is among the league’s best at his position and has shown no signs of that changing.

The variables are elsewhere. 

Here’s a look at six intriguing players to watch this season. 

Auston Trusty

Auston Trusty’s moment has arrived.

The 19-year-old U.S. youth international has yet to play an MLS minute, but he will probably start opening day next to Jack Elliott at left center back.

Trusty has talent, without question. He has good feet, good speed, and he’s a left-footed center back, which in MLS makes him practically a unicorn. He has also looked pretty good in preseason.

There are also question marks. The notion of a teenager starting next to a second year center back in Jack Elliott could create quite a few unsteady moments, particularly without a true defensive midfielder in front of them.

Trusty had to get his chance sooner or later. What’s strange is that it wasn’t late last season, when the Union were out of the playoff hunt, which makes this look like a decision that came down from above head coach Jim Curtin’s pay grade.

Regardless, it’s happening. The first true public test of the Union’s academy is about to play out. (And if you say “Trusty the process,” we’re going to have to slap you.)

Keegan Rosenberry

Rosenberry was supposed to be the Union’s next star. After a fantastic rookie season, he went to the U.S. national team camp and returned to the Union locked into the starting right back spot. Then he started poorly (along with the rest of the Union), got benched most of the year, and landed so deep in head coach Jim Curtin’s doghouse that sulking on Twitter was his last resort.

This year, Rosenberry needs to suck it up, truck on through whatever adversity the world throws his way, and produce. It no longer matters whether Curtin was right to bench him for so long last year. All that matters now is the bottom line: You play well when you get the chance. 

Rosenberry is one of MLS’s best right backs in possession, and he offers more in attack than Ray Gaddis, whether crossing, overlapping, cutting inside, maintaining ball control, or circulating possession. With a pair of direct speedsters manning the wings, the Union’s fullbacks must help maintain possession and add balance while providing defensive cover for wingers not exactly known for defense.

If Rosenberry doesn’t step up, there’s a good pro behind him in Gaddis who will. Gaddis is exactly the sort of player you want on your team — humble, hardworking, and fast as light — but his technical limitations mean he hasn’t historically added much on the offensive side of the ball. A matured and improved Rosenberry can pull that off. 

David Accam

Of course you have to watch David Accam. Every defender does. Or tries to. For a time last year, Accam was the best player in MLS.

His production over three MLS seasons has been more like Chris Pontius than Diego Valeri, however. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any team would take 8-14 goals and six-plus assists from a wide player. Just keep it in perspective.

Where will Accam play? It looks like it will be mostly on the left, a smart move since that’s where he fared best for Chicago. 

Will he play sufficient defense? He didn’t in Chicago.

Will a pairing of him and Fafà Picault on the wings be too direct? Possibly. Or maybe it will be exactly as direct as Jim Curtin wants.

There are many questions when it comes to Accam, but one thing is not in question: He’s a burner who can break open defenses. If he stays healthy and meshes with his teammates, he is a game-changer.

Matt Real

The 18-year-old U.S. youth international locked down a starting spot for a USL playoff team last year, and his performance was enough to convince the senior club to offer him a contract. He is one of just two left backs on the Union roster, and if he can’t break through to win a starting role, it means another year of Fabinho being required to do more than he’s capable of. (At this point, we must accept Fabinho for what he is: A good backup and occasional starter who works hard, is a good presence around the team, but isn’t a good enough starter for a title contender.)

A preseason injury set Real back, but he shows promise. Who knows? Maybe he can eventually be the good, true left back they’ve needed since Peter Nowak traded Jordan Harvey (and every other good veteran) away nearly seven years ago. 

Alejandro Bedoya

The Union’s captain may also be their most underrated player. This year, we’re going to find out just how important he is, but most probably won’t notice it happening.

Bedoya will likely be surrounded much of this season by four midfielders without much reputation for defense. The starting center backs have a combined one year of MLS experience. The right back is coming off a disastrous year, and left back will feature either a teenager, a converted winger, or an incumbent known for major defensive breakdowns.

Somewhere, there’s a record for most distance run in an MLS season. (It’s probably held by Sebastien Le Toux.) Whatever it is, Bedoya may break it this year, because chances are that, defensively, he’s going to have to be everywhere.

Bořek Dočkal

Have you seen Bořek Dočkal play much?

Me neither.

Union sporting director Earnie Stewart presumably has. He is betting Dočkal will be the difference-making playmaker the Union need.

In 358 career league games, Dočkal has netted 79 goals and 93 assists. In European Champions League and Europa League, he’s been even better, with 14 goals and 26 assists in 59 games.

Those are good numbers, but they’re just numbers. The product on the field is what matters.

As Dočkal goes, so go the Union.

9 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    In re the good analysis of Trusty above, late last season Bethlehem was locked in a race to make the USL playoffs. That may have mitigated against bringing him up for baseball’s “September Sniff of the Bigs.”

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    In re the same quality analysis of Real, he locked the position in mid-season not March. In March he was both hurt and playing more poorly that Charlie Reymann who was in from of him. He had 19 appearances only by memory, 18 of them starts by the same unreliable source, and all these are in the minors.
    .
    TRusty had something in the 20’s as mentioned plus the youth world cup experience in South Korea.
    .
    Both would be the greenest branches on the tree once Dockal is up to speed, should they be playing together. But Real is a more green one than Trusty.

  3. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Tsar Nicholas 2 Romanov’s most important government minister right after The REvolution of 1905 that immediately followed Russian failure in the Russo-Japanes War at the far end of the Trans-Siberian Railway was a man named — in English — Peter Stolypin. He attempt to reform the Russian Empire by making it possible for individual peasants to break the constraints imposed by their more risk-averse neighbors in the village. Text books summarize the policy with Stolypin’s phrase “The bet on the strong.”
    .
    To paraphrase the Tsar’s interior minister, the Union are putting onto the table “The bet on the young.”
    .

  4. Trusty the Process. You basically dared me. 😮 . Is that a bear? Let me poke it.

  5. “exactly as direct as Jim Curtin wants”-this is the key to the season, I say as Jim Curtin goes the Union goes. He is going to be one to watch. Will their be proper Rotation, will he keep trusty in even through some inevitable challenges, will we use all 3 subs, will we use differing game plans and tactics?

  6. santo bevacqua says:

    Management did deliver on the new signings kudos to Stewart, Sugarman. I think there is enough flexibility and talent to be special this season, i also believe that Curtin will do a good job. If not Curtin will be curtain.

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