We caught up with Eugene Rupinski from Brotherly Game and asked him three questions ahead of the next match against Philadelphia Union:
1.) Andre Blake and Keegan Rosenberry have been two of the breakout stars of the season so far, and even made the All Star roster. What does it mean to the fans in Philly to have such a great young talent?
Personally it gives me great hope for the future of the club. The club model has always been that they wanted to develop young talent right here, and I think you're starting to see that with both Keegan and Andre.
Andre was drafted in 2014 and has managed to become one of the (if not the) best goalkeepers in MLS, and there's speculation that because of his play that he will attract European suitors. Keegan is a product of the Union's Academy system, and even though the Union were forced to draft him instead of signing him outright as a Homegrown Player, he's proof that this system works.
The Union also just signed Derrick Jones via the Homegrown Player mechanism, and Jones is the first to go from Academy to Bethlehem Steel FC (the Union's USL affiliate) to the first team. This shows me that the system is working, and I feel like once you have a strong Academy and USL team capable of molding young talent while providing them invaluable minutes, you will eventually reap the benefits.
2.) The departure of Vincent Nogueira has left very big shoes to fill in Union's midfield. Who needs to step up most in that position to see the season through?
Right now it's Tranquillo Barnetta, but he's a 10 by trade so it's understandable that he's struggled at times at the 8. The hope is that once Maurice Edu is healthy again that he'll be able to come in and take that 8 role, however he's more of a 6 by trade and there's no expected timetable on his return. So right now the Union are in limbo at the 8 position.
The fans have been really hoping for a new signing to help push the club over the hump, and a replacement for Vincent would be just the thing to help that. Unfortunately though there's been no rumors or anything from the Union camp to indicate anyone is coming, so we'll see if anyone is brought in before the summer transfer window closes.
3.) The Union are only seven points behind their last season's total, and are sitting pretty in third place in the East. What are the biggest factors in the turnaround from last season, in your opinion?
The culture of the club has changed with the arrival of Earnie Stewart. Gone are the days of taking fliers on whatever goalkeeper catches someone's eye. Now players are evaluated and scouted before they're signed. The Union are run like a professional organization from the top down, and it's showing on the field. The offseason preparations, the team bonding exercises, the added training sessions - these are all paying dividends now. The Union have hit a bit of a skid, but the MLS season is a grind and this team is built to withstand that grind.