As the March 1 deadline to cut the Union's roster down to 30 players looms, the team started making moves Wednesday morning. Two players are out the door: midfielder Alex Mendoza and left back Damani Richards.
Both players came to the Union with pedigrees of consequence.
Mendoza spent the last few years on the roster of Mexican powerhouse UNAM Pumas. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pa., and grew up in the City Islanders' acacdemy. So his signing on January 24 helped give the Union's roster another shot of local flavor.
But Mendoza's preferred position, central midfield, is the one where the Union have the most depth. Roger Torres, Michael Farfan and Michael Lahoud all were ahead of Mendoza on the depth chart – and that's before you get to defensive-oriented players such as Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll.
Richards' departure is a bigger surprise, given the Union's lack of depth at left back. The Union announced the Trinidadian's arrival on January 19, the day after the SuperDraft.
His impending arrival was cited as one of the main reasons why the team didn't draft a left back – and in particular, why they passed on Louisville defender and Holland, Pa., native Greg Cochrane.
"The chatter of us needing to draft a left back was laughable," Union mananger John Hackworth said last month in a letter to fans on the team's website. "We'd already reached an agreement with Damani Richards, who was on trial with us for the last month of this past season."
Hackworth proceeded to call Richards "a true left back and we feel as though he had more potential to be developed than any left back we saw in the draft. Yes he's young and we need to develop him, but this is a player with international experience, who is extremely gifted athletically."
Gabriel Farfan's status as the Union's starting left back was never really in doubt. But Richards' failure to make the roster dents the team's depth at the position. SuperDraft pick Don Anding appears to now be Farfan's backup. The Northeastern University product's speed and strength make him a fine fit for the role. Though Anding's tactical polish isn't quite there yet, that can come with time.
I can't help thinking, though, that some of the left backs that the Union passed on this winger – such as Cochrane and Tyson Wahl - could have helped make Farfan an even better player. If Farfan could get up to a left midfield position, I think (and others do as well) that he'd be able to show off a wider range of skills.
Hackworth has used a diamond midfield-based 4-4-2 formation a few times so far in this year's preseason. While the attack has at times failed to spark, the midfield has looked pretty good in that setup.
Here's an idea of how the Union lineup might look with Farfan in midfield:
Now here's a lineup I could see Hackworth rolling out on Opening Day:
If Hackworth decides to stick with the 4-3-3 he used last year, we might see this:
(When I first wrote this post, I had Farfan as the central playmaker and Torres on the wing. I like this lineup more, though - and it actually makes a lot of sense on the whole.)
I'm sure you've noticed that there's no room for Jack McInerney in any of these lineups. I've said for a while and right now I'd stand by the view that if you're going to put the best forwards out there to start, Le Toux and Casey are the best choices. McInerney's pace and instinct make him an ideal "super sub" to get extensive minutes in the second half.
The ultimate judgment, of course, rests with Hackworth. He'll address the media tomorrow in his weekly press conference. Perhaps we'll find out more then about the Union's roster moves.