The Philadelphia Union is an organization undergoing a makeover. We’ve already discussed the off the field side but now it’s time to delve into the roster.
Looking at the first team roster, only nine players are still with the Philadelphia Union from the pre-Earnie Stewart era. They are C.J. Sapong, Brian Carroll, Richie Marquez, Andre Blake, John McCarthy, Fabinho, Ray Gaddis, and Warren Crevalle. Everyone else has been brought in via the draft and the transfer market as Earnie Stewart works to establish a club culture on the pitch.
This amount of turnover has led to uneven results for the club as they’re currently mired in a 10-game winless streak. But the best days have yet to come for the Philadelphia Union as their massive investment in the academy is beginning to pay off. If you look at the lineup for the past three games one constant has been Derrick Jones.
The young midfielder has put in overall solid displays for the club and outside of his ‘penalty’ surrendered to Jozy Altidore, Jones has yet to make many mistakes for the Philadelphia Union. That in itself is a testament to how the team prepares its youth for MLS. Not everyone can step in and be Keegan Rosenberry who was able to compete at the highest level from day one but with Bethlehem Steel, they don’t have to.
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Jones is the first guy to fully complete the path for a Philadelphia Union prospect. He joined the academy, impressed there earning a contract with Bethlehem Steel. After playing at a high level in Bethlehem, Jones signed a professional contract with the Union and got to experience life with the first team before eventually making his first team debut against the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.
Jones’ path shows that the Union setup can be a fruitful one that will end their drought of Homegrown Players sooner rather than later. Auston Trusty is on the cusp of following Jones’ path with about 4-5 members of the academy/steel roster turning heads for potential professional contracts. Anthony Fontana has to be near the top of that list after the praise that he earned in the preseason before heading to Bethlehem to prepare for their season.
I got a chance to talk to Stewart about this path and Derrick Jones and when asked about Jones’ importance to the vision Stewart said,
"“It legitimizes why we do this. I know the kind of money that ownership has spent and it has to be translated into players and players that can win games at the same time. It’s only one right now but we have a lot of academy prospects that I believe that have a chance to become professional soccer players.”"
The pipeline is a way for the Philadelphia Union to create their own Designated Players in-house rather than needing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to bring in top talent. Now that Jones has made it, all of the other members of the academy also now have an example to follow on how to make it to the first team which is also very important when they may be out on the pitch struggling through training, wondering if they want to stick to it.
The academy isn’t the only way that the team goes about building a culture either. They also carefully select who the signings are. According to Stweart, “Every player that we sign needs to have that Philadelphia Union heart.” This means that they have a blue collar mentality in order to do what is necessary to help the team win even if it may mean that they’ll play out of position to accomplish it. It’s a sign of the club taking after the people of Philadelphia, adopting the grindstone mentality.
Stewart admitted that this isn’t a team that would bring in a flashy player that doesn’t defend and that this also won’t be a club that has three high-priced Designated Players that are making more than the rest of the roster combined. He believes that Alejandro Bedoya is the perfect DP for the team due to embodying the work rate and characteristics expected by the club as well.
It takes a while to fully establish a club identity but it’s clear that Stewarts imprint is being felt through the orgnization. There will still be growing pains, but in time, the identity of the Philadelphia Union will be fully formed and will hopefully end with the club finally capturing long awaited silverware.