When Keegan Rosenberry fielded questions two weeks ago about his impending callup to the U.S. National Team, the humble 23-year-old naturally deflected credit.
The second-year right back confessed a desire to return from January camp and extend his experience to his Philadelphia Union teammates by soccer’s peculiar training osmosis. The more that the competition of the national team pushed he and Union teammates Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya, the more he could reciprocate when reintegrated to the Union fold.
Even in absentia, the Union’s newfound American contingent will have a tangential impact.
As the Union open training camp for the 2017 season this week, the absence of three near automatic starters opens wide the doors to competition up and down the roster.
Players report Monday to Chester for physicals. The team will train Tuesday through Friday outdoors at the Power Training Complex in Chester before decamping next week for the team’s Floridian base in Clearwater.
The camp changes are a byproduct of U.S. manager Bruce Arena’s recognition of the Union’s resurgent 2016 season that saw the club end a five-year playoff drought. Bedoya, the club’s record signing last August from French club FC Nantes, had long been a fixture for former U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who was fired in November. Pontius and Rosenberry seek their first caps, Pontius after a seven-year hiatus from his last camp due to injuries and Rosenberry for just the second time at any level of the U.S. ladder.
Back in Chester, their absences leave welcomed voids for players behind them on the depth chart to fill in hopes of stating their cases for expanded roles.
The math is elemental: For the first week of training camp, manager Jim Curtin’s preference in recent years has been three rotating squads of players to balance minutes and evaluate talent. The Union enter camp with 23 players under contract, minus the three Americans, Auston Trusty at U.S. Under-20 camp and the ongoing recovery of Maurice Edu from two leg breaks. That’s 18 bodies, plus 10 at Bethlehem Steel and five drafted rookies, an ample crowd for Curtin to make evaluations. He’ll winnow the squad to a more manageable travel squad for Florida.
The absence of four regulars (and a likely judicious handling of older players like Brian Carroll and Ilsinho) offers ample opportunities to slide a notch or two up the depth chart in sessions. For instance, the two new fullbacks, Dutch left back Giliano Wijnaldum and rookie second-round pick Aaron Jones, will get ample opportunities to show their wares sans Rosenberry.
Intrigue among the deep stores of talent on the wing is exacerbated minus Pontius. Eric Ayuk, who played primarily for Steel last year, will be thrust into a bigger role in what could be a pivotal season in his development. A pair of draft picks, second-rounder Marcus Epps and third-rounder Chris Nanco, should play among the veterans. It also provides an option to evaluate offseason signing Jay Simpson, with the Englishman also rotating up top with CJ Sapong and Charlie Davies.
Midfield, though, will begin as a jumble and a potential location for the club to entertain trialists. (Recall that each of the last two years — Eric Ayuk in 2015, Ken Tribbett in 2016 — a new face on the first day of camp stuck around for the season.)
Excise Carroll, Edu and Bedoya, and the cupboard is bare in an area of weakness down the stretch. That means lots of minutes for Derrick Jones and Warren Creavalle and a bright spotlight on Roland Alberg, who will own the No. 10 role. Fourth-round draft pick Santi Moar projects as the second-team No. 10 at the moment, barring new arrivals.
The tactics here are fluid and subject to influence. Is Alberg a full-time, starting No. 10 in MLS, capable of shouldering the load vacated by Tranquillo Barnetta? Is Alberg a reserve, late-game sub as last year with Bedoya as the incumbent No. 10? Does Bedoya’s future lie at the No. 8, and which is the most likely position to solicit upgrades?
Those questions are all at a very preliminary juncture. The answers, and the set of possibilities for a new season, will begin to unfold Tuesday.