Roster Building: the Union’s two Sporting Directors

Feature photo Paul Rudderow

Tuesday, we picked the only remaining Nick Sakiewicz era holdover besides the stadium itself as the Union’s greatest roster steal, reviewed the current salary cap rules and the roster structures they mandate, and presented a possible version of how the Union’s players fit into them.

Today we continue our appreciation of both the jobs Ernst Tanner has already completed and the ones he now faces by looking at who picked which current starters and reserves, and what those choices may mean for the club’s balance sheet.

Tanner and Stewart : Starters and Reserves

The current Sporting Director, photo Paul Rudderow

Technically three decision-makers have assembled this squad, but really there are only two: Ernst Tanner and Earnie Stewart (Andre Blake is the sole survivor of the Sakiewicz era).

The charts below divide players into starters and reserves based on 2021 on-field performance. Those categories are further subdivided by quality. The starters are the assumed to be the club’s strongest players, although Daniel Gazdag, Hungary’s Player of the Year for 2021, is only expected to be strong in MLS rather than actually proven to be so. Certainly the starters as a group are the club’s more valuable roster assets.

His predecessor. photo Ed Farnsworth

Position and contract data are omitted in the charts below (see Tuesday to find them) to focus readers on the financials.

Strikers command the highest salaries and provide the greatest roster values because of their scarcity. Defenders are more plentiful, therefore cheaper because more easily replaced.

Economics theory teaches us that actual value exists only at the moment of a consummated sale. All other valuation is guesswork. The guesswork below, “Estimated Value,” is from Transfermarkt as of May 6, 2021 or later.

Keeping charts readable means there is little room for an age column. Age affects potential for future sale, and therefore value. To illustrate, use the data below to compare Ilsinho, 35, or Bedoya, 34, to Jamiro Monteiro, 27. “Miro” still has potential to be re-sold, the others don’t.

The difference between the “Acquisition Cost”  and “Estimated Value” columns would produce a “Potential Profit” one. But since we have no way to know whether there are buyers expressing actual, serious interest at these estimated values, such a column is unjustifiable.

Explanatory notes on individuals follow as bullet points.

Salary Apr-15 Acq. Cost Est. Value
Tanner Przybylko $916,250 Free $2.20 M
Santos $728,500 $492 K $1.65 M
Monteiro $1,476,250 $1.98 M $3.30 M
Glesnes $448,125 $605 K $1.10 M
Martinez $251,250 $325 K $660 K
Wagner $521,000 $303 K $2.75 M
Gazdag After 4/15 $1.82 M $1.82 M
Stewart Bedoya $1,023,333 $985 K $770 K
Elliott $340,000 Draft $1.65 M
Mbaizo $89,513 $55 K $660 K
Sakiewicz Blake $650,000 Draft $2.20 M
  • Glesnes was signed using TAM, meaning the sum of his salary and acquisition costs exceeded 2020’s maximum salary budget charge ($612,500 in the 2020 pre-pandemic February CBA). His number is Transfermarkt’s estimated value right after the time of the transfer. TAM expires, and the Union had $300,000 extra 2020 TAM from the Auston Trusty deal, so perhaps they used it up and paid a high price. It took a long time to close the deal.
  • Mbaizo’s number is his Transfermarkt estimated value at the time of his signing from Bethlehem. Earlier that year he did not come for free to Bethlehem from Cameroon’s Rainbow FC , but there are no discoverable clues about that deal.

The total estimated roster asset value of the starters is $18,760,000, and as such a meaningful contribution to the overall value of the club. Maintaining and enhancing it is one of the sporting director’s jobs.


The reserves are first sorted by who signed them to the first team. Then they are grouped by current quality (an post-surgical Ilsinho will retain his full technical wizardry, naturally, since he’s Brazilian!). Homegrowns are in italics.

Individual explanations are bulleted below.

Salary Apr-15 Acq. Cost Est.Value
Stewart Burke $400,770 $138 K $660 K
Ilsinho $501,250 Free $550 K
Fontana $108,426 Acad $2.20 M
Tanner Real $90,000 Acad $660 K
Freese $115,500 Acad $191 K
Flach After 4/15 $275 K $440 K
Oravec $284,500 $1.10 M $880 K
Bendik $200,000 Trade $330 K
Collin* After 4/15 Free $110 K
Findlay $425,000 $300 K $660 K
  Ranjitsingh After 4/15 Free $220 K
Powell After 4/15 Free $440 K
Turner $88,444 Acad $193 K
de Vries $135,556 Acad $275 K
Harriel $87,500 Acad $220 K
McGlynn $78,892 Acad $220 K
P. Aaronson $91,500 Acad $220 K
Craig $77,825 Acad $330 K
Sullivan $67,047 Acad $165 K
  • “*”. Aurelien Collin brings an energetic seriousness of purpose and humorous good cheer to whatever he is asked to do by the club. That has real value even though it is not quantitatively fungible, and reports of his captaincy-style for Union 2 against Real Central New Jersey on Tuesday, May 18 illustrate this. He made it much easier for the other three first-teamers who also had never before appeared in a Union reserve team match (Jose Martinez, Stuart Findlay, and trialist Alvas Powell) to take the match seriously against a brand-new division three side. They thus got meaningful benefit from the conditioning opportunity, which for them was the point of the exercise.
  • Cory Burke was transferred permanently to Bethlehem Steel in January of 2017 from Jamaican top division side Rivoli. Transfermarkt estimates his value at that time as $137.5 K.

The estimated roster asset value of the reserves is $8,964,000. The strong ones are worth $4,701,000. The poorer are worth $1,320,000. The unknowns are the individuals whose value is being most actively grown, developed and enhanced, and are the group from whom the most future profit should come. They are currently worth $2,943,000. Ownership is betting Tanner can generate more than that in future sales.

Future sales

One of Tanner’s  more important on-going tasks is to develop the next group of homegrowns into attractive candidates for sale to Europe.

Homegrown candidacy for sale to Europe
Possibly Value Less likely Value Too Soon Value
Fontana $2.20 M Real $660 K Craig $330 K
de Vries $275 K McGlynn $220 K
Turner $193 K P. Aaronson $220 K
Freese $191 K Harriel $220 K
Sullivan $165 K

Fontana may be a live current candidate for re-sale. He is 21 and has been a professional with the organization for three and a half years. Reportedly he qualifies for an Italian passport as well as his American one.

Fontana and Real were first identified under Stewart, and they both continue to grow under Tanner. The other homegrowns all turned professional under Tanner. Whether MLS’s new lower division development league will prove as effective as Stewart’s USL Championship in creating value remains to be seen.

Homegrowns are not the only candidates for future sale of course. Usually the older the player, the less likely a “sell-on.” Goalkeepers traditionally retain more value as they age. And Jamaican soccer players immigrating to England now qualify for special consideration for work permits, since the Reggae Boyz  rank higher than 50th in the world, 45th according to FIFA . Blake could easily be attractive in England, particularly if Jamaica qualifies for Qatar and does well doing so.


Since he committed to the Union in the mid-June of 2018, Ernst Tanner has remade the side. Twenty-one of the 28 current players are his, and a 22nd seems poised to join. The 4-4-2 gegenpressing midfield diamond is now the primary tactical formation, although Ilsinho on the wing in the 4-2-3-1 remains a nice change of pace opportunity.

Seven more current players were originally selected by Earnie Stewart. The system Stewart created — officially not yet replaced (see link immediately above) — identified two other homegrowns who have been sold overseas, more than successfully. Tanner orchestrated those sales.

P. S. – Alvas Powell

At noon Thursday, the Philadelphia Union announced they have signed Alvas Powell “as a free agent to a one-year minimum senior contract.” The 2021 senior roster minimum salary is $81,375.

If Burke and Freese are now in fact on the senior roster, Powell could fill Burke’s old supplemental roster slot in slots 21-24 that have no age restrictions since the Jamaican defender is nearly 27 years old.

Powell has held a U. S. Green Card since 2015, so he does not explain Tanner’s mysterious purchase of a tenth international roster spot.

Powell’s potential addition might imply something might be happening with Olivier Mbaizo, since the new Jamaican would be an atypical luxury as a third right back.

Europe’s leagues are entering their summer transfer windows and Mbaizo is in an option year after four-and-a-half years in the organization come July. He will turn 24 in August. It might be time to realize profit from the value that has been added.

Or Powell might be insurance against Mbaizo’s expected international absences in September and October when the MLS season is in the final stretch run. The pressure on homegrown rookie right back Nate Harriel would be extreme were he moved into the starting lineup. There is a defensive line to clean up mistakes behind rookie midfielders McGlynn, Sullivan and Aaronson, and sophomores Turner and de Vries . But behind the rookie Harriel there would only be Andre Blake. Maximizing the probabilities of success, not stress, has always been Jim Curtin’s developmental mantra.

Although he was hampered by injuries, it took Mbaizo three seasons of “practicing and benching” to earn Jim Curtin’s trust to start in the defense. In Curtin’s mind the timetable for trusting a new defender may be slower than it is for a midfielder.

Overall, these possible implications suggest Powell’s addition would mean Tanner firmly expects the Union to be a serious contender for the MLS 2021 playoffs all the way through to the end of the season.


  1. soccerdad720 says:

    Awesome analysis. thanks

  2. Tanner has run the club the way I thought Stewart would — smart, affordable signings. Real ‘moneyball’ roster building. It’s hard to know, though, what sort of state the Union was in when Stewart got there. I suspect he may have had to do a lot of organizational clean-up that has made Tanner’s job easier. But that’s just speculation.

    Tanner has been tremendous. Prying him from the Red Bull system may the best ‘steal’ the Union has ever pulled off.

    • I’ve been saying this for awhile now, but I really think our understanding of not only the state of the Union as a functional organization, but also the actual state and level of their player pool and the job that Jim and Stewart did with it, is extremely lacking and needs to be re-evaluated. I believe it was really more of a shit show than we understand. Like trying to run a mom and pop against big box stores. I’m talking paper receipts and a Casio calculator, not even and IBM clone POS (point of sale not piece of shit, though it applies) system, let alone a system designed for your specific company needs.
      I think what Tanner has been able to do with this team in his tenure, is a testament to what Stewart did to establish culture and a real “Club” status to the Union. Were Stewart’s signings the best? No. But they weren’t the worst either and when given as shit a start as the Union were, he really did a decent job.

      • I suspect the same as you, All4U. Stewart probably had to spend an enormous amount of time just building the back office and other infrastructure things.

  3. Sorry, but I had to comment before reading past the first sentence:
    “Tuesday, we picked the only remaining Nick Sakiewicz era holdover besides the stadium itself as the Union’s greatest roster steal”
    Nick Sak also promoted Jim Curtin to manager. Yes, he has gotten alot better under Stewart and Tanner, but he does predate both in his current position with the Union.
    I know the intent of this statement was player-centric, but the mention of the stadium reminded me how long Jim has been the Union’s manager.

    • It is a special treat to be able root for the players AND the coach. We are fortunate fans here in Philadelphia.

  4. Tim Jones says:

    Excellent catch, JB. You are absolutely right.
    I should have remembered that.
    When Nick Sakiewicz’s son graduated from the Academy, his father was present and warmly greeted by Jim Curtin, I have always assumed because Sakiewicz gave Curtin his chance.

    Thank you for the correction.

  5. HopkinsMD says:

    Thank you… I really appreciate the way you presented this and the insight/informed speculation you shared.

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