The state of the first-team’s roster build

Photo Paul Rudderow

Major League Soccer’s preseason has begun. Philadelphia starts their campaign in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, which begins in Costa Rica Wednesday April 7 against Deportivo Saprissa. With that match only two weeks away, it is time to visit 2021’s roster build.

The Union are training in Clearwater and have played two of three preseason scrimmages scheduled for the Sunshine State. A fourth will be played at Subaru Park once the club returns north.


Ernst Tanner’s ideal squad assembly date was mid-to-late February. But challenges with international travel and immigration are affecting arrivals, in addition to the usual difficulties of three-way negotiations between team, players, and the league.

As an example, new left center back Stuart Findlay has not yet joined the team for training, even though his signing has long since been formally announced.

Officially, Aurelien Collin remains a free agent. Pragmatically, he seems destined for another year in Union blue, as he has appeared on the pitch against Chicago last Saturday.

The three lines

Collin’s speculated return would increase the roster’s total to 26, equal in number to that of 2020.

  • In spite of Ray Gaddis’ retirement, and given that defensive center mid Matej Oravec has switched into the back line when needed, there is plenty of depth in the defense once Findlay arrives (and quarantines) and assuming Collin is back.
  • There are only three out-and-out strikers, not five as the team had last year, a point highlighted in the two preseason scrimmages so far by Sergio Santos’ and Cory Burke’s continuing injuries.
  • And while there are 10 midfielders beyond Oravec, four are still under eighteen (and a fifth, Jack de Vries, has just turned 19). The recent Chicago scrimmage livestream supports Curtin’s earlier assertions that the youngsters can carry their respective loads… But it is only preseason.

Even with the clarification that Anthony Fontana will play attacking midfielder as he did against both Orlando and Chicago, experienced strikers and midfielders are thin on the ground.

A busy year

The yet-unannounced full regular season schedule will have 34 games. The team will play at least two CONCACAF Champions League matches as well. Should they happen to accumulate a bevy of points in their first three MLS matches? Qualification for a U. S. Open Cup spot also lies ahead.

The season begins six weeks later than last year’s original opener, in mid-April. So Saturday -Wednesday-Saturday sequences will be more frequent, stressing roster depth.

Oh, and the schedule will be salted with  international absences.

Barring injury, Cape Verde and Jamaica will call up international stalwarts Jamiro Monteiro, for Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, and and Andre Blake, for Concacaf Nations’ League, Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers, respectively. The first such call-ups were announced Monday.

Newly re-signed Matt Freese is currently away for CONCACAF qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. He’s like to go to Tokyo in mid-summer too considering the U-23s have reached the first knockout round of qualification. Cory Burke may match Freese’s absence, but for Jamaica’s three enterprises, especially were he to recover from his minor injury and start the season in top form.

If Jose “El Brujo” Martinez’s recent injury is not serious, he might be on the Venezuelan national team’s radar for its CONMEBOL endeavors, especially if El Vinotinto chooses to rest its regulars during the Copa America.

In short, three starters and two prime reserves could go missing, and not just once.

In this winter’s interview with the Italian publication that focuses on MLS, Ernst Tanner suggested Paxton Aaronson’s debut might come this summer.  Such a debut may be necessitated by the schedule and the international absences, not only for Aaronson but also for de Vries, Turner, Nathan Harriel, Jack McGlynn, and Quinn Sullivan.

Turner, McGlynn, and Sullivan will combine to replace Warren Creavalle’s midfield versatility.  Harriel replaces Olivier Mbaizo, as Mbaizo moves up for Ray Gaddis.  Meanwhile de Vries will replace both Andrew Wooten and Michee Ngalina, as the club remains short on strikers. The most exciting young prospects at this position in the Union academy are not yet old enough to talk to college coaches.

The first-team’s youngsters are going to have to play. So far preseason  makes it seem as that they will be ready, but it remains early days.

P.S. After this piece went to press, Tom Bogert of MLS’s website reports that the Union are pursuing American-born Bundesliga 2 left footed midfielder Leon Flach from St. Pauli.  Flach has had 9 appearances this season, but the longest was only 31 minutes according to Transfermarkt.


  1. Hello Tim and everybody in PSP land! I’ve been absent for about a year – we’ve had this virus thing at work, but I’m ready to jump back off the Union Cliff of Despair! Hope you’re all healthy and doing well.

    Now…about this roster. Hmmm…While I will always choose optimism, let’s just say, I have some concerns. Hoping I’m wrong and young guns take the league by storm.

    • WE will learn some things today! Curtin says the attack will be carried by the homegrowns.
      I expect a 4-2-3-1 and everyone of the 4 attackers will be a homegrown, and none is a seasoned striker.

  2. MLS site reporting Union acquiring German-American dual national. Flach? Just know what they reported: 20 years old defensive mid/box to box can also play left back from Texas but repped Germany in youth setup. Could be some depth for the Bedoya/Montiero roles?

  3. Tom Bogert of the MLS website says today, Wednesday, that Stuart Findlay is stuck in Poland [sic] waiting for his visa to get to the United States.
    The detail illustrates how the virus is complicating international travel. Assuming Bogert is correct and I do, the clear implication is that you cannot travel directly from Scotland to the United States.

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