Union open preseason camp with hungry returning core, intriguing newcomers

Union open preseason camp with hungry returning core, intriguing newcomers

CHESTER, Pa. — There were some new faces out there at the Power Training Complex on Tuesday as the Union officially opened preseason camp. And there were some guys missing because of their inclusion in U.S. national team camp (Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Pontius and Keegan Rosenberry) or visa issues (new additions Jay Simpson and Giliano Wijnaldum).

But as the team gathered on a cold, windy day in Chester before it flies south to Florida for the bulk of its preseason next week, this much was clear: almost the entire core from the 2016 season has returned.

For a franchise that’s often lacked stability, that was reassuring to head coach Jim Curtin as he looks to build upon the team’s first playoff berth in five years — and an early playoff exit that still stings.

“We got a taste of the playoffs last year and we want more,” Curtin said following Tuesday’s training session. “A good core of them have now played in two U.S. Open Cup finals and the playoffs. And there’s a whole ’nother level and next step we need to go to.”

The one big player the Union did lose is attacking midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who decided to end his career in his native Switzerland. But Roland Alberg or Bedoya could fill those spots, and the midfield should be bolstered by Maurice Edu, who’s hoping to return from injury before the start of the regular season on March 5.

Perhaps the best part is welcoming back young players like Rosenberry, Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers — all of whom had productive rookie campaigns last year and are looking for more in 2017.

“I think guys did really well in the offseason,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “I was very pleased with how they came back. From a general sense, you can see it already, just talking to Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro … they’re at a young age but almost veterans the way they perceive themselves and the way they go about their business.”

Rosenberry, too, has those same qualities. But Stewart has yet to welcome in the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up, who’s currently with the U.S. national team in California, along with Pontius and Bedoya. 

Both Pontius and Rosenberry are looking for their first cap when the USMNT plays Serbia on Sunday and Jamaica on Feb. 3. The alternative isn’t too bad either — at least from the Union’s perspective.

“The hope is that they’ll play,” Curtin said. “The feedback we’ve gotten is good. Keegan, it’s his first time going through it. Chris is Chris — a great professional that I’m sure is showing well. And Alejandro is a guy in and around a starting spot at all times for the national team. The hope is they get minutes because it would be a great experience. But if they don’t, then we get them back here and they’ll be confident, flying and fit. It’s a win-win.”

There were plenty of other guys to help fill their void Tuesday with Curtin calling on some youth academy players as well as some from the affiliate Bethlehem Steel to round out training. Perhaps the most surprising addition was Oguchi Onyewu, a former U.S. national team star who Curtin said was just there to keep his fitness level up.

But even if it’s unlikely, Stewart didn’t rule out that the player known as “Gooch” could be signed, especially with the team in the market for an experienced center back.

“Never say never,” Stewart said. “That’s going a bit too far right now. But it didn’t take Jim and myself too long to say yes when Gooch asked if he could maintain his fitness. We’re open to that. I think Auston Trusty will be better for that, I think Josh Yaro will be better for that, I think Ken Tribbett will be better for that, just by being able to stand next to him, talk to him and speak about the game situation.”

On top of signing a veteran center back — Onyewu or not — Stewart is in the market for a new defensive midfielder. The Union also could move to sign Fafa Picault and Adam Najem, two players who are currently on trial. The club appears to be especially high on Picault, who was called into the U.S. national camp as recently as last May. 

“He has a bounce in his step,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who can add pace to our wide areas and has played up top as a 9, too. He checks a lot of boxes of someone we need.”

Whether or not they sign one or both of those trialists, the Union will likely continue to make moves throughout the rest of the preseason, as they’ve done in past years. The difference now is those players will be added to a stabler, hungrier locker room.

“The expectations from fans should rise,” Curtin said. “Certainly on paper we added good pieces, and I think there’s more to come. The roster is still fluid and evolving."

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Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

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Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

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Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.