Union still look strong despite key departures

 The roster still looks strong, even without McKenzie and Aaronson. It’s not a flashy one, but it’ll get the job done, and that’s just what Jim Curtin wants.

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Joseph Loverdi

It looks like the Union have finally found a new center back in Scot Stuart Findlay.

If there’s one thing sports fans hate about the offseason, it’s just the general boringness of it all. Sure, your team may make some roster additions, but besides that, we’ve had nothing to really say about the Union besides, boy, are they going to look a bit worse than last season. 

 Selling Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, arguably the team’s two best players, will have a major impact on the attack and defense; Aaronson’s technical ability and passing brilliance formed the fulcrum of the Union attack while McKenzie’s mix of defensive prowess, pace, and passing formed a link between the defense and midfield. 

 And the Union haven’t been active in the transfer window either. There’s been a lack of concrete rumors linking the team with players besides Argentine center-back Nicolas Demartini, who currently plays in the Argentinian second division for Temperley, and Uzbekistani attacking midfielder Dostonbek Khamdamov, who recently moved to Emirati side Al-Alhi. 

 I think Demartini could be a good add as an Argentine youth international who could replace McKenzie’s speed at the center-back slot, but the Union already have a replacement in MLS-proven Jack Elliott; he took a back seat to both McKenzie and Jakob Glesnes last season, but he’ll reassume his starting spot. I’d also like to see 6’4” man-mountain Cole Turner and maybe even 16-year-old Brandan Craig get some game time this season. 

 Khamdamov could’ve possibly filled Aaronson’s shoes, but why bring someone else in when you’ve got another Aaronson to fill the old one’s role? That’s right; Paxten Aaronson, the younger brother of Brenden, is one of 5 Homegrown players that are set to make their debuts in the first team this season (the others being Craig, Nathan Harriel, Jack McGlynn, and Quinn Sullivan). He plays the same position of attacking midfield (although I could see him filling in on the wing if need be due to his speed) and has been hyped up as a more than worthy successor to Brenden; however I anticipate a competition between him and Anthony Fontana (who actually scored more goals than Aaronson last season) for the starting role. That’ll be an exciting one to see, and could possibly prompt manager Jim Curtin to switch formations to fit both players in if they perform well.

 Other than those two real gaping holes, the Union still mostly look the same. Andre Blake remains as keeper; the dynamic forward pair of pace (Sergio Santos) and power (Kacper Przybylko) that combined for 19 goals last season is in place; the backline still boasts Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, and Ray Gaddis; and El Capitano (Alejandro Bedoya), El Bruja (Jose Andres Martinez, who recently extended his contract) and El Lutador (Jamiro Monteiro) form a menacing midfield. Throw in decent backup players (GK Matt Freese, LB Matt Real, ST Cory Burke, and wily veteran Ilsinho) and you have a very decent, top-tier MLS squad.

 One player I’m hoping to see more of, and someone who I think could deputise for Martinez if Cole Turner transitions to center back full time, is Slovakian utility player Matej Oravec, who can play holding midfield, center back, and right back. Oravec has played 0 minutes in a Union shirt, so he’s essentially a new signing, and a good one at that; he came over as one of Slovakia’s best young players (and a nominee for the 2018 Golden Boy, given out to Europe’s best young player), having shone at Dunajska Streda, and a $1.1 million price tag is nothing to scoff at. Let’s hope he gets a chance to show us what he’s about.

 The roster still looks strong, even without McKenzie and Aaronson. It’s not a flashy one, but it’ll get the job done, and that’s just what Jim Curtin wants. The season starts in April, and I personally can’t wait to see how it plays out.