Should They Stay or Should They Go? Projecting the 2019 Philadelphia Union Roster

We at Philly Sports Network decided to take a quick look back at the Union’s 2018 season and a look forward to 2019.  Which essential players should be retained and which ones are we OK parting with next season?

Without a Doubt, Stay!

Borek Dockal, Andre Blake, Alejandro Bedoya, Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Cory Burke, Fafa Picault, Keegan Rosenberry

This is the core group the Union should keep together if they have any intention on improving their club record 50 points from 2018. Dockal, this season’s MLS assist leader, won’t come down to just performance. The Union will have to pay a hefty sum to the Chinese club he is on loan from, Henan Jianye, in order to retain his services. The phrase ‘hefty sum’ and Union has never gone hand-in-hand but let’s all hope for the best here. Blake is an easy equation since he is signed for a few more seasons.  Even if he wasn’t and demanded a reasonable raise it’s a no-brainer for him to continue in-goal. Bedoya is one of the team leaders and his passion, experience and veteran presence inside and outside the locker room, is essential to this club succeeding in 2019.

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The center back duo of Trusty and McKenzie greatly disappointed when it really counted this season, but both have shown the ability to be one of the best pairings in MLS. I think another season together will show great strides from these two.

The double-digit scoring tandem of Burke and Picault is a must for a club that’s historically had trouble finding the back of the net. If they demand to double their salaries, I’m fine with Picault at $300,000 and Burke at $150,000 for next season. That won’t create as much of a hole as Sapong’s raise to $500,000 in 2018-19.

It’s been an every-other-year affair for Rosenberry. Playing every minute and one of the best rookies in MLS in 2016, to the coach’s dog house and missing more than half of the team’s games in 2017, to playing almost every match in a solid 2018 season. You can say his 2019 is TBD, but I’m leaning towards another quality campaign.

Better Off with These Guys Around

Jack Elliot, Ilsinho, David Accam, Derrick Jones, John McCarthy

Elliot is the insurance policy for both Trusty and McKenzie if either gets injured or struggles in the upcoming season. He’s shown he can be a solid starter for stretches and can put some pressure on the them should they hit a slump.

I don’t know of another player on the roster who made the most of his time on the pitch as Ilsinho did this season. He found a home on the right-wing and then as a super sub. His $300,000 salary is well worth the chaos he creates for defenses, whether as a sub or spot-starter.

Accam was the splash of the off-season and the Union are married to him for $1,250,000 per year through 2020. He no doubt was the biggest disappointment this year, managing only one goal in thirteen starts, but all Union fans hope that sports hernia was the cause of his struggles. If healthy, there’s no reason Accam can’t add double-digit goals in 2019.

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Ilsinho has been a great change of pace off the Union bench

Jones needs to get more than a handful of starts in this upcoming year, partially because of the slow defensive mentality displayed too often by the Union midfield. It’s no secret that coach Jim Curtin is not a fan, and it will be interesting if both or just one are in Chester come March.

McCarthy is a fan-favorite and for good reason. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and more often than not has come through when called upon. When Blake is absent due to international breaks or injury, I’m more than comfortable with McCarthy minding the Union net.

Vets with Reduced Roles

Haris Medunjanin, C.J. Sapong, Ray Gaddis,Warren Creavalle

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I was not thrilled earlier this season after learning the Union had exercised the 2019 option on Medunjanin’s contract. It’s really been hit-or-miss with him since late-summer last year. I understand he can deliver a great ball and is a leader on and off the field. But, there were many too many times this season and last, when he looked a few steps behind while defending and too many occasions delivering a ball directly to an opposing player, or no one at all. I think he would benefit the Union more next season as a part-time starter.

Like Medunjanin, Sapong is also under contract for 2019. He significantly under-performed this year, going from a career-high 16 goals in 2017, to only 4 this past season. Regardless of what the coach says he does on the field other than score, when you are on the wing or at a forward position, that’s exactly what you need to do – score! I’m fine with him filling in as a spot-starter here and there, but the Union can do better in their starting eleven.

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Ray Gaddis – most starts in Union history, solid citizen, gives it his all. But again, the Union can do better. With Matt Real waiting in the wings, Gaddis should be relegated to a back-up role. I’d rather him stick around than not.

Call it an affinity, but I want Warren Creavalle to stick around too. He can continue in his current role as a veteran back-up defensive midfielder. He catches a lot of slack, but he is simply a quality guy for the locker room and the training ground.

Younger Guns with Bigger Roles

Anthony Fontana, Matt Real, Olivier Mbazio

If Dockal doesn’t re-sign, Fontana will be the man at the 10. If Dockal does remain with the Union, Fontana should at least be a regular in the 18.

Currently captaining the U-20’s, Real has established himself as one of the best young defenders in the USL, and will no doubt be starting in place of Gaddis at left back come March.

Mbazio, in albeit one start with the big club, played an outstanding match at right back against a tough Sporting Kansas City squad. It’s more than likely he will start next season at Bethlehem, but should definitely see more time by mid-season in Chester.

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Fans are hoping to see more of Anthony Fontana in 2019

Time to Show Us Something

Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers, Richie Marquez

In 2018, Epps made 13 appearances, including 8 starts for the Union. I can’t see those numbers going up unless he makes some dramatic changes. I believe he has talent, but he has appeared gun-shy too often when a scoring opportunity presented itself.

Herbers’ Union career has been on a downward trend since his rookie season in 2016. Injuries and lackluster play has seen his playing time diminish in MLS with more of a focus on the Steel. I still think he has the best cross into the box from the right-wing on the roster, but that probably won’t be enough to change his status with the Union.

Marquez showed toughness and decent closing speed on tackles for a big defender in 2015-16. The problem now is Trusty, McKenzie and Elliot are in front of him in the center back pecking order. Also, the Union are unlikely to sign their fourth best center back on the roster to the $150,000 salary Marquez had in 2018. He must stay healthy to have any chance of sticking around.

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Marcus Epps must show a will to take the big shot

Time to Move On

Fabinho, Jay Simpson

We will all miss complaining about Fabinho. It seemed to be all or nothing each start with him, but more often disappointing. He’s seen his playing time decrease each season from 29 starts in ’16, to 21 in ’17, to only 8 this season. He will turn 34 at the beginning of the 2019 season and we wish him the best. As harsh it sounds, no one player might epitomize the Union’s history of futility than Fabinho.

The moment in the sun for Jay Simpson came in being named MLS Player of the Week after starting and scoring twice against Sporting KC. Unfortunately, these were his only two goals of the season. In two years with the Union, Simpson has played less than 700 minutes, scored only 3 goals, and has “earned” well over a $1 million. That’s just too expensive for a team on a budget.

*We of course base these groupings only on the current roster and not on new players Sporting Director,Ernst Tanner, might add in the off-season*

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Peace out Union fans!