The Philadelphia Union held its final preseason practice under cloudy skies yesterday, but it was the team's first official meeting without the cloud of collective bargaining talks hanging overhead.
Now, the team is focused on finalizing the roster for Major League Soccer's roster compliance deadline tomorrow, but more importantly putting together the definitive starting 11 for Thursday's opener against Seattle.
One player who definitely won't be on the field for the league opener is Fred, the crafty Brazilian midfielder the Union acquired from D.C. United just hours before January's MLS SuperDraft. Fred will serve a one-game suspension from a red-card infraction he picked up in the 92nd minute of D.C.'s regular-season finale against Kansas City last season. League rules dictate that two yellow cards, which amount to a red, are not transferable, but bona fide red cards do rollover.
Albeit one game, Fred will undoubtedly be missed as a scoring threat. The 30-year-old scored 11 goals in 72 appearances for D.C. However, plans are in place to make up for his absence.
"We actually haven't changed too much about how we operated," said Union assistant John Hackworth. "From our point of view right now it's all about roster compliance, which is now a reality . . . we have some decisions to make as far as our roster is concerned, but the majority of what we run and what we do is going to remain the same."
The big question of the day: Who will be the 18 players to travel Thursday? Yesterday, the Union distributed a copy of its current 21-player roster featuring all 10 players acquired in November's Expansion draft, all six college players picked in the January SuperDraft, and newcomers Fred and Roger Torres, the Colombian acquired on loan from America de Cali of the Colombian First Division.
And while the staff kept its motto of keeping player affairs "close to the vest," multiple team officials implied that Chris Seitz will be the team's starting goalkeeper.
"We know with some good certainty who will be in our starting 11," continued Hackworth. "On the goalkeeper front, it's been a really healthy competition, and without giving away too much we are confident that we have the right player to represent us in the back."
Studying the 21-man roster, it could also be assumed that should Nowak stick to his 3-5-2 formation, which captured an MLS title during his time as coach in D.C., then forwards Sebastien Le Toux (formerly of Seattle) and youngster Nick Zimmerman may run up top together. Le Toux, 26, was a scoring threat in all four of the Union's preseason games, while Zimmerman serves as a speedster with solid foot skills who enjoys attacking the opposition head on.
"You go to bed and night and wonder if you're in or what the coaches are thinking, but ultimately you just have to go out there and compete," said Zimmerman, 22, a rookie who appeared in seven games last season for the New York Red Bulls. "This is your job, so you go out there, do your best and hope that the coaching staff sees that."
Whether he starts or not, Zimmerman says having the chance to play serves as a reward in itself.
"The [CBA talks] were always in the back of your mind; wondering if we were going to have a job come Monday or Tuesday was just a hassle," Zimmerman said. "Having that settled now is really a big burden off your shoulders, the ability to be relaxed now and focus on Seattle . . . to be able to take that approach not just to this game, but to the entire season is a great feeling."