Continue the development!

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Bethlehem Steel’s offseason will begin this coming Monday after the rehabilitation-cum-travel Sunday of the return from the season finale in Charleston, South Carolina.

Preseason for the 2020 campaign cannot begin before January 20. That is a three-month hiatus. For the players in the 17 to 21-year-old developmental window, a three-month offseason is 25 percent of a year — too long.

Here are roughly the players I expect to be with Keystone Sports and Entertainment’s soccer teams in 2020 who fall within the age parameters of Ernst Tanner’s stated developmental window, plus two needed outliers. A plausible gameday 18 could be fielded out of the list, since it combines the young players into one group across the teams’ separation barrier. Past USL/USLC teams have played full seasons with rosters this size.

Combine the youngsters

Union & Bethlehem players between 16 & 21
1. Brenden Aaronson181. Faris19
2. Anthony Fontana192. Issa Rayyan19
3. Matt Real203. Jamoi Topey19
4. Auston Trusty214. Saed Diaz20
5. Mark McKenzie205. Walter Cortes19
6. Matt Freese216. Nate Harriel*18
7. Michee Ngalina197. Ben Ofeimu19
8. Cole Turner188. Axel Picazo*18
9. Jack De Vries179. Shanyder Borgelin17
10. Chavany Willis22*
11. Todd Morton23*
12. Selmir Miscic 16

The chart below distributes players by primary positions. First-teamers are the presumed starters and listed first, i.e., above. Chavany Willis and Todd Morton are outliers by age. Willis provides depth for Cole Turner and Brenden Aaronson. Morton backs up Freese.

Distributing the youngsters by primary position in a 4-4-2 diamond

First-team is listed first, i.e., above
Outside left channelCentral channelOutside right channel
FarisNgalina, Diaz
Aaronson, Miscic
De Vreis, PicazoFontana, Rayyan
Turner, Willis
Real, CortesTrusty, TopeiMcKenzie, OfeimuHarriel
Freese, Morton
Substitute coverages:
  • Cortes has also played right wing back and left midfielder.
  • Diaz has played both strikers.
  • Picazo has played both of the up-the-field midfielders.
  • Willis has played all four midfielders. An alternative to Willis could easily be Zach Zandi.
  • Rayyan has played right wing back, both right midfielders when in the trapezoid, and right striker.
  • Ofeimu and Topey have played both center backs.
Starter versatility:
  • Real has also played left center back and left midfielder, for both the Union and the Steel.
  • Harriel has also played both center backs.
  • Turner has also played both center backs.
A solution to the opportunity deficit

In the 1920s and 30s, Major League Baseball players formed all-star teams after the season and barnstormed overseas, for example, to Japan.

What if the sporting director could find some place in the world for these players to play a two-month schedule of friendly exhibition matches while practicing daily in between? Assistants from the technical staffs could be in charge, and some sports performance and medical people could tag along to take care of the troops.

I have no idea what FIFA directives and continental confederations’ rules the idea breaks.

I do not know the ramifications for playing for a couple of months overseas in a cooperating developmental environment with De Vreis and Borgelin being 17 years old, Miscic being 16, and Harriel and Picazo being amateurs not signed to either professional contracts or pre-contracts.

And I have no idea how the costs might be covered.

But Ernst Tanner just might have the chops, the chutzpah, and the contacts to make something roughly akin to these ideas actually happen. Losing one quarter of a developmental year is a big problem.


  1. When I was talking with Matt Real at the team rally last week, he was saying how they are starting to move him up the field to transition into a midfield role. Given that Kai has locked down LB it sounds like they are trying to find ways to get him on the field more.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      MOST interesting, Silver Rey! Thanks for sharing!
      How long with the Union be able to keep Kai Wagner? Kacper Przybylko? At some point the business side of things will say sell once the value has increased enough.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      He equipped himself well there against Orlando, if memory serves.

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