MLS Offseason preview: How the Union can become a contender


It is officially silly season. A time full of drafts, free agency and the January transfer window. MLS Offseason presents a crucial time for front offices; there are players to get rid of, and to bring in to create a competitive team for the upcoming season. The Union need to do this a head of the 2017 offseason. Here are some ways they can build a contending team for 2017.

There are two ways that Earnie Stewart and the rest of the Union’s front office can bring in new pieces this offseason. One is through MLS free agency; claiming players waived by other MLS teams, and drafting college players through the super draft. The other way is to look abroad for players. Earnie Stewart’s European connections, points to the latter being the direction the Union will move this offseason.

The Union survived the expansion draft; none of their unprotected players were taken by newcomers Atlanta or Minnesota. They also chose not to take any players in the waiver draft or the re-entry draft; both presented chances to add quality MLS players who had been waived by former clubs. The Union can still negotiate with MLS players and free agents, but the real quality players that could’ve signed with the Unionare finding other homes. Like Dom Oduro & Will Johnson, who I would’ve loved to see in the Blue and Gold!  It seems that Earnie Stewart is looking to play moneyball outside of MLS; this is something that has worked in the past, see Alberg and Ilsinho, but what positions is Stewart looking to upgrade? The positions that need upgrades are at striker, a box-to-box midfielder (a number six), and centerback.

The Striker spot is one that requires a Designated player (DP) signing someone who is a true goal scorer, who can also facilitate other attackers in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 formation. CJ Sapong was the starter throughout 2016, but his inconstancy to put away chances is a huge red flag. Someone else can and should come in to make the Union’s attack more lethal.

Kevin Kinkead from Philly voice brought up one name that would fit the bill nicely, and that is Aaron Jóhannsson. The US International is currently at the German club Werder Bermen, and  played for AZ Alkmaar when Earnie Stewart was sporting director there. Could Earnie want to bring in another US mens national team player to lead the Union’s front? He fits the system and could be looking for a new start after an injury ridden season in Germany.

A number six is only necessary if Alejandro Bedoya moves up to the 10 to replace Tranquillo Barnetta, who left the club to return to his hometown club in Switzerland. A player that could fill that role is Maurice Edu. His defensive skills have him penciled in as a number eight, but his athleticism, and willingness to go forward makes him a good fit for that spot. Also the youngster, Derrick Jones could be a great option for this spot; you gotta play the young blood at some point right?

As for a new player being brought into this position, expect Earnie to go after some foreign player who could benefit the team as a consistent starter and not be too much of a cap hit; again see Alberg and Ilsinho.

Centerback is the position that has killed the Union over the past few years; however, Richie Marquez has all but locked down the starting left-centerback spot. That means the right side needs improvement. Don’t get me wrong, I love Josh Yaro as the right-centerback, but if the Union want to be a contending team this coming season they will need a rock solid centerback who can help Richie lock central defense. Edu did a good job of that in 2015, and Yaro wasn’t too bad in 2016; Tribbett falls asleep at crucial times, and should be a Bethlehem Steel player. These players don’t give the Union a lockdown defense that all contenders need.

If Earnie was going to sign one MLS veteran this offseason it should be two-time MLS cup winner Nat Borchers. He may be old, but he is a lock down defender, whose veteran leadership could provide an added bonus. A back line of Fabinho, Marquez, Borchers, and Rosenberry is a defense that could create a contending team in 2017. Also, Borchers and Richie Marquez could become the best bearded centerback tandem in the league. Again, if Earnie wants a new centerback, and wants to play moneyball, then expect an unknown name coming to MLS on a loan stint.

MLS’ offseason is upon us. It is a time to acquire players to revamp the team, and create a contender for 2017. The Union can do this by addressing spots that need upgrades. it’s only a matter of time before new faces are added to the club, everyone just needs to remember to trust Earnie’s process; he knows what he’s doing. He’ll bring the guys into the club that will make a difference; it’ll just be in his own time.

The Union has already waived Matt Jones, Anderson, Taylor Washington, Cole Missimo and Walter Restrepo, and are in negotiations with Leo Fernandes, and Charlie Davies. The club has picked up the options on Andre Blake,  John McCarthy; Fabinho, Raymon Gaddis, Keegan Rosenberry Fabinho and Ken Tribbett; Eric Ayuk, Brian Carroll and Chris Pontius. There is a core of players already with the Union that can play well and get results, as 2016 proved. A few more additions during this offseason could push the Union to playoff participants, to playoff contenders!

Be sure to check Philly Sports Network for more of the latest Union offseason news!



Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports