Analysis

Thinking through Union absences for 2021 international play

Photo: Earl Gardner

A detail that may influence the Philadelphia Union’s 2021 roster build is projected absence due to international play.

The tournaments involved

Pandemic postponements of FIFA’s 2020 international windows and Tokyo’s Olympics have compressed the schedules for four premier 2021 national-team tournaments, expanding and overlapping them. Assuming the pandemic interferes no further, these are the tournaments and the internet’s current expectations for their schedules.

  • World Cup qualifying in March, June, September, October and November
  • The Olympics, both Concacaf’s qualifiers for it in March and the tournament in Tokyo in July and August
  • Concacaf’s Gold Cup in July
  • Africa Cup of Nations qualifying in March

There is also the CONMEBOL’s Copa America. Call-ups would come for mid-June to mid-July. When it has occurred simultaneously with World Cup qualifying, Copa America has often been played with lesser rosters to preserve the better players for the federation’s more important competition.

On top of all that, the Union will play in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, presumably this February and March.

Union players

As many as five 2021 Union players project to be involved in these international call-ups, not including the two possible future roster additions. Charts mapping the details are appended below.

Two call-ups are certain barring injury or illness. Another is quite likely. The last two vary in possibility. One is a goalkeeper, one is a defender, two are midfielders, and one is a striker. The midfielders and the goalkeeper start. The striker and the defender are front-line reserves.

  • GK Andre Blake, Jamaica’s captain, is a certainty for both the Gold Cup and Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
  • CM Jamiro Monteiro, Cape Verde Islands, is a certainty for the Africa Cup of Nations and CAF World Cup qualifying.
  • RCB Olivier Mbaizo, Cameroon, is quite likely for CAF World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
  • S Cory Burke, Jamaica, is a good possibility for both the Gold Cup and Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
  • DCM Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, Venezuela, is a possibility for CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, (or alternatively the Copa America).

While no Union spokesperson would ever call the circumstance of these five being called up at every opportunity the “worst possible case,” it is the worst possible case, especially if none of their teams exit early.  “Worst cases” are unlikely, but not planning for them invites disaster. (December 7 and June 22, 1941 exemplify such disasters for the United States and the former Soviet Union respectively.)

Neither Mark McKenzie nor Matt Freese were called up for the Olympics-focused January camp of 12 over-age national team players and 26 under-23s that was announced Tuesday. Hence they are no longer included in this analysis. (UPDATE: Saturday, January 9th, Matt Freese has been called up to January camp as an injury replacement at goalkeeper.)

Three over-age players are allowed to join U-23 sides for Olympic competition. The two over-age goalkeepers called up are Sean Johnson of NYC FC and Matt Turner of the New England Revolution. And the two over-age center backs are Aaron Long of New York Red Bulls and reigning MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman of Nashville.  PSP’s crystal ball predicts Turner and Zimmerman will win their competitions and start in Tokyo, rendering Freese and McKenzie superfluous.

Beware late March in the midfield

Were Jose Martinez to be away for Venezuela World Cup qualifying in March, Jack Elliott cannot cover DCM since he will be the LCB unless Mark McKenzie’s replacement has already been identified, signed, proven to be better, and fully integrated. Jakob Glesnes did not win out that quickly last year.

Nor could Jamiro Monteiro shift back to cover the position for Martinez, since Monteiro would be absent with the Cape Verdes Islands in Africa’s Cup of Nations qualifiers.

So March will see a significant depth problem in the midfield. Depending on whether Bedoya shifts back, DCM and LCM, or both CMs will be short. Current midfield homegrowns — probably the Jacks, de Vries and McGlynn — must play, since the HG mids’ sheer quantity prevents adding experienced depth there, at least as roster rules are currently understood. (The alleged MLS Reserve League, plus the failure to ratify the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and last June’s addition of the force majeure clause that now has been invoked, might change the numbers of roster slots available. Imagination suggests that “loaning down” with concurrent roster-slot vacating might well re-emerge in quantities greater, and with time-spans more flexible, than allowed in the past.)

The Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League schedule is not yet published, although the technical staff are probably using sound assumptions. Were the Union to make a deep run in the SCCL, the stress on the roster in late March would be acute among the later round SCCL games, the regular season, and the international absences occurring between March 23rd and 31st.

In 2021 overall, Monteiro will miss time second only to Andre Blake, since Cape Verdes are in CAF World Cup qualifying as well as March’s last two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Mbaizo will probably mirror Monteiro, but as a reserve his absence may not be felt as acutely.

Postscript: Copa America

Were Martinez to be called by Venezuela for the Copa America — a decent chance if he does not make World Cup qualifying — he would play the first match of the northern group’s Colombia group stage June 13th and the last on June 28th. And unless Qatar are surprisingly successful, Venezuela will qualify for the quarterfinals since only two of the 12 teams will be eliminated by group play. But Venezuela would likely finish fourth and face the winner of the southern group on July 3rd and probably exit then.

Appendix

The charts below aggregate every anticipated international absence for the four competitions in the international windows as they are currently defined by FIFA. Note the expanded numbers of games per window. Apologies for the quirky layout.

If Brenden Aaronson’s unidentified replacement is a national team player from UEFA, the chart becomes more complex.

FIFA: 23-31 March 2021 – 3 games, not 2

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
3/18 Olymp Q 3/19 Olymp Q 3/20 Olymp Q
3/21 Olymp Q

 

3/22 Olymp Q

 

3/23 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/24 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/25 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/26 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/27 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/28 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/29  WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/30 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

Olympic Qs

3/31 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Martinez

AFCON Qual

Monteiro

Mbaizo

 

 

31 May – 8 June/15 June 2021 – 2 games CONMEBOL/4 games Concacaf & CAF

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
5/31 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/1 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/2 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/3 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/4 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/5WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/6 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/7 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/8 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro

Martinez

6/9 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/10 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/11 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/11 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/12 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/13 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/14 WC Qual

Burke,  Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

6/15 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo

Monteiro

Martinez

 

10 July – 1 August 2021 – Concacaf Gold Cup & 22 July – 7 August 2021 Tokyo Olympics

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
7/10 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/11 Gold cup

Blake, Burke

7/12 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/13 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/14 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/15 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/16 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/17 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/18 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/19 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/20 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

7/21 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

7/22 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/23 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/24 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/25 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics 

7/26 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/27 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/28 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/29 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/30 GoldCup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

7/31 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

8/1 Gold Cup

Blake, Burke

Olympics

8/2 Olympics

 

8/3 Olympics

 

8/4 Olympics

 

8/5 Olympics

 

8/6 Olympics

 

8/7 Olympics

 

 

 

30 August – 8 September 2021 – 3 games, not 2

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
8/30 WCQual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

8/31 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/1 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/2 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/3 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/4 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/5 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/6 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/7 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

9/8 WC Quals

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

  

412 October 2021 – 3 games, not 2

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
10/4 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/5 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/6 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/7 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/8 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/9 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/10 WCQua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/11 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

10/12 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

 

8-16 November 2021 – 2 games

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
11/8 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/9 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/10 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/11 WC Qual

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/12 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/13 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/14 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/15 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

11/16 WC Qua

Burke, Blake

Mbaizo,

Monteiro,

Martinez

 

11 Comments

  1. Vince Devine says:

    Given that we lost two starters and as noted above could be without several others for long stretches, I’m surprised by the lack of signing activity. Surely there are MLS free agents available who would make quality replacements, but we never seem to go that route. I think we’re out of International roster spots, so I’m not sure what other player acquisition mechanisms are available. I love our homegrowns, but not sure I want to see 5 on the field at the same time. One or two injuries and we’re toast.

  2. Another thing we have to remember is we’re going to have CCL games on top of everything else, so Philadelphia is going to need a deeper squad. Even if Martinez was going to be available every game, basic rotational needs would require he have a competent backup.

    I guess one of Matej Oravec or the homegrowns could serve in that role, but its a pretty important spot to put a completely unproven player who has barely sat on a MLS bench before.

    • Vince Devine says:

      More pressing is the other three midfield spots given Bedoya’s age, no experience at CM, and Montiero missing for int’l duty. Probably need at least 5 starting caliber players for those three positions, more in injuries happen.

      • Well you have Monteiro, Bedoya, Fontana, the mystery Aaronson replacement and Ilsinho there, so that’s five. A DCM signing also addresses those spots because you can always play Martinez in one of the advanced roles if need be. As a general rule, I’m also a bit less concerned about giving a rookie a shot in one of the advanced CM spots than I am as the DCM.

      • What about Oravec? Assuming we signed him last year with the thought he would actually see the field at some point in time….
        .
        Also, there are DeVries, McGlynn and Cole Turner (and maybe Paxton Aaronson?) all on Big Team contracts next season.

  3. I’m really hoping we use some of that sweet, sweet transfer money on some depth. The homegrowns will take some of that time as they should, but squad rotation is going to be the word of the year for 2021.
    .
    I was also really hoping the Union would have grabbed BWP specifically to give us strength off the bench for CCL. We are going to need a few players like that to make us a real threat.

    • I don’t mean for this to come off as a smart ass, but do you feel BWP has anything left? I can’t remember him being a factor in anything last year. He would be the forward equivalent of Aurelien Collin to me.

      • Scored a bunch of goals for LAFC last year when they had people out

      • Ok, thanks MSG. I couldn’t remember who he even played for last year. As I’ve said before, I’d rather see a player get let go a year early than a year too late. So from this, I’m not really a fan of guys in their mid 30’s. But after just checking and seeing he scored 8 in 19 or so appearances, I can see where Rey was coming from. Still not for me, but I get it.

      • The big thing to me is Bradley Wright Phillips, even making half of his 1.2 million salary, is awfully expensive for bench depth when the Union already have three decent to good forwards already. I’d also prefer if we got another striker, to get a high work rate/speedy one who’d compliment Przybylko and Burke the way Santos does.

        So yeah, agree that while he’s a decent enough player, he wouldn’t have been a good Union signing.

  4. Unless the new CBA being renegotiated yet again under “force majeure” changes the roster size limit — since they are losing money because of the virus I doubt they increase it, so I am guessing letting homegrowns not count towards the 30 in some fashion — with the Aaronson and McKenzie replacements they have only two more slots available.
    .
    Repeat, only two more slots available.
    .
    My guess above is based on logic only, no evidence whatsoever. It is what I would do if I were league Tsar and could do whatever I saw fit.

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