Analysis / Union

The preliminary Union roster build for 2022

Photo Marjorie Elzey

Even as Union fans gear up for a playoff run, the roster-build for ’22 is an impending concern.

If past is precedent, an expansion draft for new Eastern Conference member Charlotte FC will happen shortly after the final whistle of MLS Cup December 11th.That draft has not yet been officially announced. Past ones have used rosters from the just-completed season, so Charlotte will look at Union players from 2021.

Before discussing whom to protect from Charlotte’s expansion draft, the first two questions are, “Who is not returning?” and “Whom do they need to add?”

Not returning
  • Jamiro Monteiro is expected to return to the Netherlands this winter. His sale should yield meaningful money. He has been playing well during the season’s stretch run.
  • Homegrowns Jack de Vries and Cole Turner are almost certainly gone. They have been bypassed by younger homegrown midfielders, are now — or have been — loaned out, and are not coming back for 2022.
  • Matej Oravec is not expected to return from his loan back to Slovakia, either.
  • Aurelien Collin has seen no game minutes this season and is nearly 36. He has been an assistant coach on the practice field setting tone by cheerful, hard-working example, but it is time to move on.
  • Ilsinho is 36, injury-prone, and less effective in games. He remains mythic in club history, and is still the player in small sided practice games whose affiliation switches to the new offense whenever possession changes hands. But his game effectiveness seems over.
  • Anthony Fontana has been in the homegrown pipeline for four years, has been bypassed by younger players, and is a now only a depth piece on the bench. His is out of contract after this season. He may be moved onward, in spite of the need for midfield depth when Monteiro leaves.
  • Matt Real has been a homegrown for three and a half years. Real’s return depends on Alvas Powell who has MLS experience playing both outside backs. Were Powell to return (and the club has an option to bring him back we have recently learned), Real would become surplus because he would block new Homegrown left back Anton Sorenson.. If Powell were to leave, Real might still back up Wagner for one more year. Real is out of contract after this season and was last seen in a Union shirt on the bench against Montreal October 16th. Unofficial comments mention he was not present at the premium season ticketholders’ open practice October 30th.
  • Davo has had only one 18-minute match cameo. Although a striker, the unproven 22-year-old is expensive. He can shoot but does not seem an impact player when practicing, according to one unofficial report. Jim Curtin repeatedly deployed a one-striker formation rather than play him. The evidence whether his loan will become a permanent signing is mixed. He is two years older than the oldest Union II striker. Of course, he is also a better player.
  • Joe Bendik could be replaced by Greg Ranjitsingh for less than half the money. Most recently Ranjitsingh has been a league pool keeper based in Philly, not a member of the roster. But the 2021 team photo given out at the end of the final Union home match shows all four goalkeepers. The addition of Damian Alguera to the Academy and Union II as well as the club’s ability to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 reduces the need to carry four.

These ten players should not be protected against Charlotte’s  expansion draft.

Returning next season

Of the 22 players charted below the ten on the left have guaranteed contracts for 2022. The six homegrowns listed to their right are assumed also to be guaranteed. The five players known to have club-held options for 2022 are to the right of the homegrowns. One probable “Out-of-contract” whom we expect to be described as in “on-going negotiations” is listed on the far right.

 

Already signed or signable for 2022 (21 total) Out-of-contract
Guaranteed Homegrowns Club holds option  (No known option)
Kacper Przybylko Nathan Harriel Alejandro Bedoya* Sergio Santos
Cory Burke Jack McGlynn Jack Elliott*
Kai Wagner Paxten Aaronson Jakob Glesnes
Stuart Findlay Quinn Sullivan Jose Martinez
Matt Freese Brandan Craig Alvas Powell*
Leon Flach Anton Sorenson
Daniel Gazdag
Andre Blake
Olivier Mbaizo
Jesus Bueno

“*” means eligible for free agency within MLS: i. e., 24-years-old or more and five or more years’ total service in the league.

Glesnes, Martinez, and Santos do not have five years of service in the league, while Powell does even though this is his first year with the Union. (The Players Association has released a full list of all those eligible for free agency.)

Sparse positions

To identify the weaknesses in the ’22 squad’s depth, depth charts for the four different shapes used in 2021 follow.

4-1-2-1-2 “narrow diamond”

Striker Striker
Santos Przybylko
Burke ????
Attacking Center Mid
Gazdag
Aaronson
Left Center MId Right Center MId
Flach Bedoya
McGlynn Sullivan
Defensive Center Mid
Martinez
Bueno
Left Back Left CB Right CB Right Back
Wagner Elliott Glesnes Mbaizo
Powell Findlay ???? Harriel
Sorenson Craig
Goalkeeper
Blake
Freese
????

3-4-1-2

Striker Striker
Santos Przybylko
Burke ????
Attacking Center Mid
Gazdag
Aaronson
Left WB Left DCM Right DCM Right WB
Wagner Flach Martinez Mbaizo
Powell McGlynn Bedoya Harriel
Sorenson Bueno Sullivan
Left CB Center CB Right CB
Findlay Elliott Glesnes
???? Craig
Goalkeeper
Blake
Freese
????

4-3-2-1 “Christmas Tree”

Striker
Przybylko
Santos
Burke
Attacking C Mid Attacking C Mid
Aaronson Gazdag
????
Left Mid Right Mid
Flach Def C Mid Bedoya
McGlynn Martinez Sullivan
Bueno
Left Back Left C B Right C B Right Back
Wagner Elliott Glesnes Mbaizo
Powell Findlay ???? Harriel
Sorenson Craig
Goalkeeper
Blake
Freese
????

4-2-3-1

Striker
Przybylko
Santos
Burke
Left MId Attacking C MId Right Mid
Gazdag Aaronson Bedoya
???? Sullivan
Left Def C MId Right Def C MId
Flach Martinez
McGlynn Bueno
Left Back Left C B Right C B Right Back
Wagner Elliott Glesnes Mbaizo
Powell Findlay ???? Harriel
Sorenson Craig
Goalkeeper
Blake
Freese
????

Earlier versions of these charts highlighted that the club should exercise Alejandro Bedoya’s option for another year if only as depth since Monteiro and Fontana will be gone.

At goalkeeper Damian Alguera and Andy Rick are developing at lower levels. If the Union decide to move on from Bendik, Ranjitsingh is less expensive and has been kept around all year.

This season we have seen timing details within the Sporting Director’s template for Homegrown player development.

  • From February into July such players get first-team practices, Union II game minutes, and nerve-settling first team garbage-time cameos.
  • From mid-summer to the end of the season, they get first-team substitutions when games are still undecided, and occasional rotational starts. Some starts go the full 90.

Tanner’s pattern does adjust for injuries, individual foibles, and international absences.

The depth charts highlight three positions of need, two of which will probably be filled from outside the organization.

Center back

Brandan Craig might be ready for first team minutes at center back by late summer ‘22.  But the club will need stopgap or better center back depth from February into July, assuming none of the top three has attracted serious offers from overseas or within the league.

Striker

The Union have had only three proven strikers this year. Recently two have been hurt. The Union have been forced to use single-striker formations since apparently Davo is not yet ready, (unless he has qualities being kept well-hidden from the public as a contract negotiating tool and to protect against poaching).

At striker, when they play two they absolutely must have a fourth and could put a fifth to good use as insurance.

Extending or re-signing Sergio Santos cannot be overemphasized as the most urgent of the off-season’s priorities.

Whether 16-year-old Academy candidate Marcos Zambrano is ready for a first-team Homegrown Player contract as a striker remains to be seen. The truncated U19 tournament in Colombia offered positive hints and his age is right. But fellow potential candidate 16-year-old Nelson Pierre consistently started ahead of him for Union II prior to the Colombian trip where they started together. Pierre has been in the system longer and presumably knows it better.

20-year-old Union II professional Shanyder Borgelin’s chances at a homegrown deal increasingly seem mixed. He understudies Przybylko and Burke much better than he does Santos. He has improved, noticeably so, but the import of Davo challenges whether the improvement has been enough.

Fifteen-year-old Gael Medrano’s age contraindicates a first team deal for 2022 unless another club comes poaching

Attacking center mid

When the Union play in single-striker shapes, they need another attacking central midfielder, especially in the Christmas tree. Whether 16-year-old Academy ACM Anthony Ramirez is ready to be a first-team Homegrown remains to be seen. He too showed intriguing hints down in Colombia.

Almost certainly Paxten Aaronson will be given the opportunity to step into Jamiro Monteiro’s role, so not blocking Aaronson’s opportunity is an organization priority.  Not blocking argues against importing an experienced, expensive ACM. Non-importation would suggest further that Tanner likes Ramirez’s potential.

New Homegrowns

Even if the Union regress from rostering the full 30 players allowed towards their previous custom of only 26, returning numbers suggest that in addition to Anton Sorenson, two to four Academy players may get new homegrown opportunities. So far, we have not noticed that either Academy center back Sam Jones or often-injured Italian pro Gino Portella have thrust themselves into a serious conversation about first-team central defense.

Brandan Craig is already a signed pro at that spot and like Aaronson is unlikely to be blocked, but adding a CB to total five makes playing a three center back system less of a risk. (The tactical flexibility Jim Curtin demonstrated in 2021 is worthy of note.)

The addition of DCM Jesus Bueno and recent public comments by Jim Curtin suggest Craig is now seen as a center back not a defensive central midfielder. Hence the homegrown newbies are likely to be strikers and mids.

Last season the two 16-year-old Homegrown Player signings occurred in November following October’s series of postseason Union II friendlies. It is already mid-November. There has been two friendlies this month against New York Red Bull 2, here on November 8th and at a reserve team of some type from NYC FC in north Jersey on November 13th. Coach LeBlanc has tweeted that Union II’s year is over.

Summary

The immediately urgent need is to retain Sergio Santos.

Given that Jim Curtin is a defense-first coach, the top priority to be imported is a youngish, MLS-ready center back. Brandan Craig will become available to the first team for games in 2022 but will still be fifth at the position in February, April, June and July, not fourth.

While finding a center back is “number one,” finding a fourth MLS-capable, two-way striker is right behind as “number one-a,” because Matheus Davo seems not to have seized his opportunity. The new striker needs to have pace. Young potential homegrown strikers Pierre and Zambrano, and ACM Ramirez will start February and March needing bulk developmental minutes with Union II, even if they have signed homegrown deals.

For Craig, Pierre, Zambrano, and Ramirez, 2022 will be just as 2021 has been for McGlynn, Sullivan, Aaronson, and Harriel. By next September, 2022’s newbies may be ready for meaningful substitution minutes in games that are still undecided, or an occasional rotational start. But even if all three newbies were to be signed, none will be much help next spring and early summer.

Jamiro Monteiro’s sale should generate funds sufficient to buy a CB and a striker. From Mark McKenzie’s not having departed for Celtic and instead getting a raise, we know that the Sporting Director sets his financial harvest targets high and perseveres towards them. WE may expect that “Miro” will bring in meaningful money.

Final notes

2021 will be the first season in which there have been significant departures from the professional homegrown player development pipeline. Turner and de Vries are already gone and Real and Fontana are not far behind. Pipelines avoid blockages.

We never have any idea whether the club receives serious inquiries about its frontline players, so predicting such departures is impossible. Should they occur (besides Monteiro), those players would need replacing in addition to those discussed above.

Here is what a 2022 depth chart might look like were all the guesses hazarded above to prove true. (Note the shift of Jose Martinez to the spot where he plays for Venezuela. Why? He shows more offensive creativity than Leon Flach who has done well as a DCM.)

Striker Striker
Santos Przybylko
???? Burke
Pierre Zambrano
Attacking Center Mid
Aaronson
Ramirez
Left Center MId Right Center Mid
Gazdag Martinez
McGlynn Bedoya
Sullivan
Defensive Center Mid
Flach
Bueno
Left Bacl Left Center Back Right Center Back Right Back
Wagner Elliott Glesnes Mbaizo
Powell/Real Findlay ???? Harriel
Sorenson Craig
Goalkeeper
Blake
Freese
Ranjitsingh

 

16 Comments

  1. MLSNext should factor into what happens with our homegrowns next year as well.
    .
    Last year’s crop got an early look at MLS action partially because UII didn’t have real competition this year – hopefully things will be more organized in 22.

  2. I’m taking an online accounting class right now and none other than Union legend Greg Ranjitsingh is taking it as well. I thought that it was pretty cool

  3. I noticed that the U20 MNT lists Sullivan as a forward rather than a midfielder (not that it matters much after the questionable red card Saturday as he won’t be available tonight).

  4. I corrected my description of Union II’s November games to show that the second match on November 13th was some type of reserve team from NYC FC, not Red Rull 2. I could not read the logo in coach LeBlanc’s tweet and a sharp-eyed reader pointed out that it was light blue and white, and round. My error. Apologies.

  5. I think the chances of all of Martinez, Glesnes, Eliot and Wagner being available are less than 50%. At least one will be sold or move on. I think the chances that two are sold are > none being sold

  6. Tanner in the Morning says:

    The Union have what they need in net and defense if they choose to keep them.

    You will likely see a changing of the guard in midfield, as youth will be served-and key vets will be moved on.

    It is up top that the renovation MUST occur. Much depends on the system they will choose going ….”forward”-but quite honestly I want them all gone & replaced-including Santos!

    They have the cash for a much needed revamp.

  7. In Tanner We Trust says:

    We all definitely want to see a difference maker at striker, hopefully with game changing speed as you mentioned.
    .
    Is Monteiro as good as gone? I don’t know anything about covid travel but wouldn’t his family be able to come to the U.S. by now?
    .
    Monteiro seems the most likely to be sold of the starters, but I think one of the back 4 or Martinez could be gone too. I think at least one of them could generate enough of an offer that would make Tanner move on, especially if it’s Martinez as he may be the only one who can be replaced with people already in contract.

  8. I wouldn’t rule out Davo. Takes a while for young players from other leagues to get acclimated to the team. Przybylko took a while to break in, though I think his was more a case of injury than anything else. Davo could go, but I don’t think it’s a lock.

  9. If you consider the changes in roster asset value as estimated by Transfermarkt, you would get less money selling Martinez and a much lower rate of return on investment that if you sold Leon Flach.
    .
    Flach’s RAV when signed was in the low hundred thousands and is now over two million. It is less than a tenfold increase but is only just below iten. and it would net about a million and three quarters.
    .
    Martinez started higher $660 K and finishes lower $1,650 K.
    .
    Why? Flach is not yet 21 while Martinez is slightly over 27.
    .
    now, that tells you more about transfermarkt’s algorithm that it does about the “actual” value of the player on the pitch in a game.
    .
    But it was a striking contrast.
    .
    Paxten Aaronson has gone from $220 K at the beginning of the season to $1,650 K at season’s end.
    .
    For those denigrating the strikers, Transfermarkt’s algorithm upped Przybylko’s value by $1,100 K, Santos’s by $750 K, and Cory Burke’s by $550 K..
    .
    It is worth repeating that when Chris Albright was being asked about FC Cincinnati’s past roster spending, he mentioned how much they had spent on Brennner — $10 million plays by memory — and was quoted as saying in so many words that that spending on a striker “never would have happened” where he had been before.
    .
    The Philadelphia Union might spend $10 million dollars on player development. My best totally irresponsible unfounded guess is that they are losing four or five million a year on the academy.
    .
    They will never spend $10 million dollars on a player. Such behavior is outside the discipline of their business plan. Thinking that they will ignores fact, now including a source formerly from the highest levels inside the organization.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Great points, I don’t think we can ever expect big numbers like $10M. It seems clear the plan is to get semi-bargains from the 20-25 crowd and sell on for bigger profit. Like Martinez, Gazdag, Glesnes. Now Glesnes’ skill seems most at home in MLS but I think they bought him thinking there was a chance at sell-on profit.

    • Great insight here from Albright. Thanks for this.

  10. John O'Donnell says:

    I think the article misses on a few things and the biggest one is money that Monteiro will be sold for which I believe isn’t significant. He basically tried to leave and no one really seemed interested in him. He’ll turn 28 on Toesday and he has 2 goal with 6 assist playing in what many in Europe consider an inferior league.
    .
    The other thing left out is the success of the Colorado Rapids and two players who moved on from the Union who had a good season for the Rapids. Real and Fontana might bring in more by selling them to a team in MLS than going abroad for nothing. It won’t be the first time as Tanner also moved Jones as well. Most teams will look to copycat the Rapids who basically had six to seven players revive their career this year and produce a western conference title.

  11. I just hope they keep the Elliott-Glesnes pairing. They’ve been so effective for two years now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

%d bloggers like this: