Examining the Union’s 2021 roster: Replacement versus addition

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Here are two estimates of the Philadelphia Union’s roster as of MLS Cup day, December 12.  One is a depth chart for the 28 players known and being negotiated to return or be acquired for 2021. The other charts the Senior Roster, the Supplemental Roster 21-24 and the Supplemental Roster 25-30 subgroups necessitated by the salary cap distributing the 28 players above.

A key detail is that the Union have enough already signed 2021 homegrown players to fill roster slots 29 and 30. Slots 21 to 24 and 25 to 30 are already full, since neither Anthony Fontana nor Matt Real is being offered a new contract. Both had options exercised instead.

The only slots for more roster additions, as opposed to replacements, are senior roster slots 19 and 20.

Last year Ernst Tanner chose to distribute his salary budget among senior slots 1-18 and supplemental ones 21-28 for a total of 26 players. If all three currently known negotiations (Unknown, Bendik, & Collin) succeed, he will have 28. The upper limit is 30.

Depth Chart


Kacper Przybylko

Cory Burke


Sergio Santos

Anthony Fontana

Attacking center midfielder

[Publicly unidentified outsider]

Jack de Vries

Paxten Aaronson*

Left midfielder

Jamiro Monteiro

Jack McGlynn*


Right midfielder

Alejandro Bedoya


Quinn Sullivan*

Defensive center midfielder

Jose “El Brujo” Martinez

Matej Oravec

Brandan Craig*

Left back

Kai Wagner

Matt Real


Left center back

Mark McKenzie

Jack Elliott


Right center back

Jakob Glesnes

Cole Turner

 [Aurelien Collin]

Right back

Ray Gaddis

Olivier Mbaizo

Nate Harriel*

Goal Keeper

Andre Blake

Matt Freese

[Joe Bendik]

Notes and assumptions:

  1. The five ” * “s  will officially join the Union January 1, 2021 as new home grown players.
  2. ” # ” Almost always, Ilsinho entering a match as a sub triggers a formation change.
  3. The club is negotiating with [Bendik] and [Collin] after declining their options.
  4. Tanner has strongly implied that an unidentified attacking center midfielder will be signed from outside the organization.
  5. Even though Brandan Craig played his 2020 public matches more at left center back than anywhere else, since announcing his contract the club has always listed him as a defensive midfielder.
  6. Cole Turner’s skill set has always seemed more compatible with center back.
  7. Anthony Fontana’s defensive play profiles better as a striker than as an attacking midfielder.
  8. More than once Jim Curtin has referred to Jack de Vries as able to play forward as well as midfielder , but de Vries never appeared there in 2020 or 2019 for either professional team.
The roster charts

2021 Senior Roster                             (2019 Salaries, less 5%)

  Player Adj Salary Contract Signed Category
1 Jamiro Monteiro DNA ’21, ’22, O ‘23 Jan 10, ‘20 INTL1, DP
2 Alejandro Bedoya $1,140,000 ’21, O ‘22 Feb 27, ‘20
3 Sergio Santos $470,000 ‘21 Dec 14, ‘18 INTL2
4 Andre Blake $475,000 0 ‘21 Jan 17, ‘18 GC1
5 Jakob Glesnes DNA ’21, O ’22, O ‘23 Jan 31, ‘20 INTL3
6 Jose Andres Martinez DNA ’21, O ‘22 Dec 23, ‘19 INTL4
7 Matej Oravec DNA ’21, ’22, O’23 Jan 20, ‘20 INTL5
8 Ilsinho $313,500 O ‘21 Jan 24, ‘20 GC2
9 Kai Wagner $302,100 O ‘21 Feb 6, ‘19 INTL6
10 Jack Elliott $237,500 ’21, O ‘22 May 22, ‘19 GC3
11 Kacper Przybylko $228,000 ’21, ’22, ‘23 Feb 28, ‘20 INTL7
12 Ray Gaddis $180,500 O ‘21 Jan 9, ‘19  
13 Olivier Mbaizo $67,331 O ‘21 April 17, ‘18 GC4
14 Mark McKenzie DNA ’21, ’22, O ’23, O’24 Jan 16, ‘20 HG
15 Cory Burke DNA  ‘21, ’22, O ‘23 Dec 2, ‘20 INTL8
16 [Joe Bendik] $136,000 renegotiating
17 [Aurelien Collin] $166,250 renegotiating GC5
18 Unidentified attacking center midfielder DNA unknown INTL9


2021 Supplemental Roster 21-24      (2020 Senior Minimum Salary [$81,375, less 5%] = $77,306)

  Player Adj Salary Contract Signed Category
21 Matt Real $77,306 O ‘21 Jan 18, ‘18 HG
22 Cole Turner ?? ‘21 July 17, 2019 HG
23 Jack de Vries $85,500 ‘21 Aug 20, ‘19 HG
24 Nate Harriel DNA ‘21 July 17, 2020 HG


2021 Supplemental Roster 25-30      (2020 Reserve Minimum Salary, [$63,547 less 5%] = $60,370)

  Player Adj Salary Contract Signed Category
25 Anthony Fontana $66,747 O ‘21 July 17, 2017 HG
26 Matt Freese $66,500 ‘21 Dec 21, ‘18 HG
27 Jack McGlynn DNA ‘21 Aug 17, ‘20 HG
28 Paxten Aaronson DNA ‘21 Aug 19, ‘20 HG
29 Brandan Craig DNA ‘21 Nov 12, ‘20 HG
30 Quinn Sullivan DNA ‘21 Nov 12, ‘20 HG


  1. Although we do not have annual salary data for 2020, we know that the MLS Players Association accepted a 5% pay cut for 2020 after the virus. My estimates are based off of that.
  2. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2020 was never ratified, and was modified before the MLS is Back tournament.
  3. The three charts reflect the usage current on the MLS website under “Rosters,” but given the uncertainty of the times that usage could change going forward.
  4. “Signed” is the date of the most recent contract, as per searches of the Union’s website.
  5. “Contract”: If an entry lacks a prefix “O”, the year is guaranteed.The prefix “O”  means an option for that year is available. “O ’21” means 2021’s option is being exercised.
  6.  The Union seem not to announce home grown contract guaranteed  years or options.
  7.  Under “Adj Salary,” “DNA” means a new salary has been agreed since the last time MLSPA published salary data, i. e., September of 2019.
  8. We do not know if, or by what percentage, minimum salaries and the maximum  charge to the salary cap will increase in 2021, hence the use of the 2020 figures
  9. If roster spots 19 & 20 of the Senior Roster are not filled, they are not charged.
  10. Exponents after “INTL” and “GC” indicate the cumulative total for each.
“There is more to come”

So far in his tenure as Union Sporting Director, Ernst Tanner has never filled senior roster slots 19 and 20. But no longer being required to pay 12 separately rostered second-team professional players in the USL Championship might, possibly, change that.

  • When discussing Brenden Aaronson’s departure announced two months ago, Tanner said of the pending absence, “We have not been sleeping.” He followed with careful, clear warnings about how difficult it is to bring any deal to final completion, the same ones he gave every time while he was negotiating for Jose Martinez, Matej Oravec, and Jakob Glesnes last year.

Serious work to replace Aaronson is probably moving forward but is not yet complete. The charts above highlight the unproven, youthful nature of the first-team’s CAMs. All evidence says to expect a new CAM from outside the organization next year.

  • Assuming Anthony Fontana gets the  serious look that Tanner mentioned at striker, he makes the  fourth for a two-striker system. but he has no game experience there.  When discussing Michee Ngalina’s departure, Curtin assumed the existence of five striker positions. But only senior roster slots 19 and 20 are available for further additions from outside the club. He has mentioned Jack de Vries as a forward in the past.

None of the current usual strikers in the lower ranks match Ngalina, so none seem ready for the first team. Issa Rayyan, who is on a second-team professional contract with an unknown expiration date, filled in there in the first preseason session last February in Clearwater.

  • Tanner stated that there were no offers for anyone currently on the table, so right now the defense is intact for 2021. And Tanner highlighted that the 2020 defense reduced its average goals against by nearly a full half-a-goal when compared to 2019, recalling that this time last year he highlighted defensive improvement as a necessity.

Future transfer offers may change the intact defense’s return, and he indicated the organization is doing preparative homework. But the sporting director does not seem anxious to make a defensive change. Offers for defenders might need to approach the “cannot be refused” category to be considered seriously. Negotiating with Aurelien Collin and slotting Craig as a defensive midfielder reinforce the perception that change is not initiating from within on the back line.

McKenzie and / or Wagner departing would require like-for-like replacement, and Tanner intimated that preliminary preparative research may be underway.


The depth behind Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield is  young and unproven. Ilsinho is not a real like-for-like substitute there, so counting him as depth is tricky.

Adding an experienced midfield depth piece might be worth considering. But an addition requires using slot 19 or 20.

Defensive center mid seems set, especially since Monteiro, Bedoya and Elliott have all served effectively as emergency fill-ins during immediate short-term need. The veteran fill-ins give Craig and Oravec time to grow.

Right back also appears to be set with a clear starter, Ray Gaddis, a proven back-up, Olivier Mbaizo, and a promising youngster, Nate Harriel.

If talks with Joe Bendik succeed, first-team goalkeeping will be solid. Next year Andre Blake will have Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying duties for Jamaica, so an untimely injury might send the club into MLS’s reserve goalkeeper pool. (Reports on Twitter that Tomas Romero was training with Union II earlier this fall probably reflect courtesy to an Academy alumnus who needs a way to stay sharp while Georgetown Men’s Soccer is inactive.)

Tricky navigation lies ahead

In the past two years Ernst Tanner’s decisions have spread his salary budget among a minimum number of players, allowing him to give each player more than otherwise. If, and only if, the Union II’s new second-team competitive venue were to have no minimum number of professional players required, and if Union II’s professional player salary budget has already been set and remains immutable, Tanner might have more salary money available to the first team and he might choose to fill senior roster slots 19 and 20. Of course he has already filled Homegrown slots 29 and 30.

How Union II’s competitive venue will crystallize for 2021, and whether any of the pros signed to the second-team last year have contracts guaranteed for 2021 will affect first-team salary budget behavior.

MLS itself, MLS NEXT,  U. S. Soccer, and the MLS Players’ Association can be presumed to be stakeholders in the creation of any future MLS reserve league.  Brand new MLS NEXT includes dozens of independent youth academies and its newly-created governance structure deliberately gives them a meaningful role in the entity’s governance.

There are many interlocking facets involved in filling senior roster slots 19 and 20.


  1. As usual great article. I know Fontana is a homegrown, but still crazy how little he gets paid. He is going to be 22 next year, so I am sure he is dying to get some solid experience and then sold for a good amount

  2. Very insightful as usual Tim. I think the most interesting thing to watch this offseason will be how those senior roster spots will be filled. I would think CAM and center back would be minimum requirements, although a striker could be useful as well.

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