Technical staff multitasking: 2024’s Union roster

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Of necessity Ernst Tanner and the technical staff multi-task. Simultaneously, they develop current academy players and identify new ones. They prepare to sell players to Europe. They maximize first and second-team achievements in the current season. And they plan next season’s squads.

Now that both continental and national glory is off the table, the in-season achievements’ focus turns to maximizing league performances,

The match away to Red Bull on Saturday was the 16th of the season. Minnesota last night was the 17th. The Union are fully beyond coach Jim Curtin’s threshold for being exactly what their record says they are, a contender for an away game playoff. It also means the technical staff group must bear down on the first team’s roster for 2024.

Estimating the 2024 roster, as it stands

Three charts follow. The first presents needed explanatory errata.

These seven, starters or first choices off the bench, are not guaranteed contracts for 2024.

Player (7) Age R A V* 2024
Kai Wagner 26.2 €5.0 m Free agent
Olivier Mbaizo 25.7 €1.5 m Free agent
Jose Martinez 28.7 €2.0 m Option available
Leon Flach 22.2 €3.5 m Option available
Julian Carranza 22.9 €5.0 m Option available
Quinn Sullivan 19.1 €2.0 m Option assumed
Damion Lowe 30.0 €0.6 m Option available

*Transfermarkt uses Euros (€) not U. S. Dollars ($) as its currency. On Thursday, May 4, 2023, a Euro was worth 1.10 U. S. dollars, so multiply each number by 1.1 to convert it to dollars.

Roster Asset Value, aka RAV, is the Transfermarkt algorithm’s estimate for what price each player might bring on the open market. At its best it is only a rough idea.

Inter Miami CF announced Damion Lowe’s contract January 16, 2022. It was guaranteed for two years with an option for 2024. Since the Union’s announced no contract adjustment when they acquired him last January 25 and there has been nothing since, the contract Miami announced should still govern.

These 2024 contract decisions are already made.

Player (11) Age R A V* 2024
Andre Blake 32.5 €2.5 m Guaranteed
Jack Elliott 27.7 €3.0 m Guaranteed
Jakob Glesnes 29.1 €4.0 m Guaranteed
Daniel Gazdag 27.1 €6.0 m Guaranteed
Jack McGlynn 19.8 €3.0 m Guaranteed
Mikael Uhre 28.6 €4.0 m Guaranteed
Nathan Harriel 22.0 €0.6 m Guaranteed
Matt Real 23.8 €0.3 m Guaranteed
Not “first-off-the-bench” reserves
Andres Perea 22.5 €2.5 m Guaranteed
Richard Odada 22.4 €0.3 m Guaranteed
Nelson Pierre 18.1 €0.05 m Guaranteed

These 2024 contractual uncertainties remain.

Player (9) Age R A V* 2024
Chris Donovan 22.7 €0.3 m Free Agent assumed
Brandan Craig 19.1 €0.2 m Option assumed
Jesus Bueno 24.1 €0.3 m Option available
Joaquin Torres 26.3 €2.0 m Option available
Anton Sorenson 20.3 €0.15 m Option available
Jeremy Rafanello 23.1 €0.175 m Option available
Holden Trent 23.8 €0.05 m Option available
Special circumstances – age
Alejandro Bedoya 36.0 €0.3 m
Joe Bendik 34.0 €0.15 m

Aside from the first point addressed below, comments focus on the seven players in the first chart only. Save for Chris Donovan, the other uncertainties are all resolvable through option decisions.

The captain (Alejandro Bedoya) and the quasi-coach (Joe Bendik) will be treated gently with full respect as has been the Union’s practice with players of long service and loyalty. If they are judged still able and willing to contribute, their non-monetary wishes will receive full consideration. Their salaries will not increase.

Kai Wagner will play a major role in deciding his future with the Union. If he is determined to leave, he is a position to do so. Raising his children in Germany may matter to him and his wife. Family considerations deserve full respect and acceptance. Whenever in the past Jim Curtin has discussed the left back’s future with the club, he has represented the Wagners as happy in Philadelphia.

The future’s timing depends on Europe’s summer transfer windows. They can be expected to open between mid-June and the first of July. Wagner had not had an injury-free, spectacular start to 2023 until last night in Minneapolis-St. Paul. But he is a quality, scarce commodity as a two-way left back.

Jose Martinez can be under club control for 2024 if the club chooses to impose it. His age means he faces his last opportunity for the final, big, long-term contract that creates comfort for his next phase of life. The examples of Sergio Santos, Jamiro Monteiro, and Kacper Przybylko demonstrate the Union’s hesitation to commit time and money to players who have reached their ceilings and are turning thirty. But none play successfully as a single six enabling his side to deploy two strikers. Martinez is key to the Union deploying its favored tactical system against heavyweight opposition. Whether a successor exists within today’s pipeline seems under evaluation. The names to watch are Jesus Bueno and Richard Odada.

Julian Carranza can also be under club control for 2024 if the club chooses to impose it. 2024 would be the last year he can be a Young Designated Player rather than a full-blown DP. Since he will turn 24 during 2024, he will no longer qualify for the roster category in 2025. That will change his  career path, and how the change will develop remains murky.

Little has been reported about the Argentine’s ambitions to play elsewhere. Until he joined the Union analysis was focused simply on him getting to play. If he continues to play well in 2023, European opportunities may well beckon. He offers defensive pressure as well as scoring.

Like his fellow German Wagner, Leon Flach has not had as positive start to 2023. Unlike Wagner, the club could bring him back for 2024 by exercising an option. There was a report of something medical about his pelvis. The information makes sense of his not being treated this year like the ironman he was last.  There have been sketchy past tangential speculations that he may want to return to Europe.

Were Martinez or Jack McGlynn sold onward, Flach’s return would become highly important.

Olivier Mbaizo’s play against LA FC’s striker Denis Bouanga at Subaru Park on April 26 drew the highest of compliments from his coach. He deserved them. The Cameroonian shut out the hottest goal scorer in Major League Soccer. But his play six days later in the city of Angels did not deserve equal compliment.

Consistency is Mbaizo’s issue. He allows himself to be baited. His physical athleticism is superb. The consistency of his mental concentration is not, a circumstance known since his 2018 arrival to Bethlehem. We have no way to judge whether Tanner and Curtin are losing patience with him, since a lengthy benching would reduce his roster asset value. Benching did improve his play last season.

The right back will be a free agent come December. There were clear expectations last fall that he might not return to Philadelphia, but nothing developed. The club has insured itself against his departure by extending fellow right back homegrown Nathan Harriel’s contract through 2025 with options for 2026 and 2027.

Like Wagner, Mbaizo’s situation may depend on developments during Europe’s summer transfer windows. He is from the francophone portion of Cameroon, so francophone leagues are possible destinations in addition to English-speaking ones.

When healthy, Damion Lowe has been fully interchangeable with starting center backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes. He shut out Club Atlas’s most dangerous goal scorer at Subaru Park. He spelled Elliott away against Red Bull in the recent 1-0 clean sheet kept against Red Bull. He started in the Open Cup match away to Minnesota last night. Of the two offseason additions to the club’s depth who did not receive changed contracts as part of the move, he is the more likely to get one.

His presence has allowed the club to give center back prospect Brandan Craig more experience with Union II rather than throwing him into the fiery forge of MLS play before he is ready. Remember that 2023 is only Craig’s fourth playing center back.

Exercising the 30-year-old’s 2024 option would make a great deal of sense.

Quinn Sullivan has been treated as the third striker in consecutive recent games. He brings top-notch energy and defense to the role. When he started against Red Bull in Harrison, he repeatedly threatened the green space the energy drink defenders leave behind them while they press. Someday he will score, but so far there is no evidence he will do so as frequently as the departed Cory Burke.

His Homegrown contract was announced back when the organization kept Homegrown contract information as closely held as the U.S. President keeps his nuclear launch codes. He was signed in November of 2020, and his roster category changed a year ago from the supplemental reserve slots to the supplemental senior ones, presumably reflecting the $ 36 K pay raise discoverable in the relevant Players Association salary guides. Transfermarkt’s algorithm estimates his roster asset value at 2 million Euros, or very roughly 2.2 million U. S. dollars.

He holds dual citizenship for soccer purposes, Germany being the second, and there have been vague past reports of interest thence. He fully satisfies the most basic physical requirements of ground coverage, sprint speed, and sprint frequency, and the mentality ones of courage, boldness, determination, and on-pitch IQ. But he is not a proven scorer at the MLS level.  More of his U-20 goals have come against overmatched lesser markers than not.

If he breaks out in Argentina at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup, he could end up in Europe. The move probably would not happen until next winter, unless the acquiring club’s offer both significantly surpasses Ernst Tanner’s judgment of his value and offers Sullivan the right growth opportunity that would create further Union profit from future sell-on clauses.

Sullivan would have to be replaced immediately for the Union to survive their summer schedule. Jeremey Rafanello would be competent as a space filler, but he is not a reliable scorer for the second team. Nelson Pierre and Jose Riasco are each at least a year away from MLS play. Only last night did Chris Donovan hint at jumping from being a good MLS NEXT Pro goal scorer to an MLS-level one.

Most likely the first team salary budget is completely spent thus hindering replacing Sullivan, so any departure is unlikely to be immediate.


  1. soccerdad720 says:

    Thank you Tim! Excellent analysis.

  2. Excellent information.

Leave a Reply

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


%d bloggers like this: