The Union launched their long-awaited off-season housecleaning on Wednesday, declining contract options for 2018 on nine players and announcing that two more are out of contract.
The players with declined options are defenders Aaron Jones, Oguchi Onyewu, Ken Tribbett, and Giliano Wijnaldum; midfielders Roland Alberg, Maurice Edu, Fabian Herbers, and Ilsinho; and forward Charlie Davies. The expired contracts belong to midfielder Chris Pontius, who is definitely gone, and defender Fabinho, who could return.
If they all leave, their departures plus Brian Carroll's recent retirement will clear a whopping $2,981,622.60 off the Union's payroll, according to salary data from the MLS Players Union. That money is expected to go toward signing the kind of big-time attacking players that the team sorely lacked this year, and has lacked for much of its history.
Alberg has already found a new home, Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia.
Edu, a former Union captain, leaves after not playing for the team since September 2015 because of a series of injuries. His paycheck is the biggest one to come off the books: $818,750.
Pontius' departure clears out $431,000. Davies' departure removes $114,684.94.
None of those moves was surprising. Nor were the exits of Tribbett and Davies, who earned lesser sums.
Fabinho might be running out of time at age 33. But Stewart said he thinks the Brazilian left back can still contribute.
Ilsinho could return here if he takes a pay cut from this year's $518,333.33 salary. Stewart said Wednesday that he'd like the Brazilian midfielder to stay. Ilsinho is 32 years old, but still has plenty of skill left in the tank.
Wijnaldum's exit was a surprise. The 25-year-old Dutchman had the potential to be the Union's starting left back next year. Stewart said he was due for a significant raise from this year's modest salary of $78,337.33, and did not show enough consistency in training to be worth the expense.
The move likely clears the way for Union academy product Matthew Real to move up from Bethlehem Steel to the big leagues.
Oneywu was also a surprise, but the 35-year-old's departure gives 19-year-old academy prospect Auston Trusty a better shot at playing time.
Herbers' option was declined because he was drafted in 2016 as a Generation Adidas prospect, which gave him a higher-than-average rookie salary ($135,500.00 this year) that didn't count against the cap. Had the Union picked up the option, Herbers would have graduated from that status, and would have lost the cap exemption. Stewart wants Herbers to stay, but on a new contract at a lower price.
The Union picked up options on 11 players: goalkeepers Andre Blake, John McCarthy and Jake McGuire; defenders Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis, and Keegan Rosenberry; and midfielders Warren Creavalle, Marcus Epps, Derrick Jones, Adam Najem, and Fafa Picault.
No decision was made on midfielder Eric Ayuk's option. He is on loan at Swedish club Jönköpings Södra IF through the end of the year. His situation will be settled later.
Eight players' contracts were already guaranteed for 2018: defenders Richie Marquez, Auston Trusty, and Josh Yaro; midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Anthony Fontana, and Haris Medunjanin; and forwards C.J. Sapong and Jay Simpson.
Dollars and sense
Here are the salaries that the Union will clear off their payroll if all of the players who the Union announced Wednesday are out of contract leave the team. Data are from the MLS Players Union.
M Maurice Edu: $818,750.00 (Designated Player)
M Ilsinho: $518,333.33
M Chris Pontius: $431,000.00
M Roland Alberg: $394,250.00
D Fabinho: $167,759.00
M Brian Carroll: $140,000.00
M Fabian Herbers: $135,500.00
F Charlie Davies: $114,684.94
D Giliano Wijnaldum: $78,337.33
D Oguchi Oneywu: $65,004.00
D Ken Tribbett: $65,000.00
D Aaron Jones: $53,004.00
Alberg, Ilsinho, Jones, Onyewu, Tribbett, and Wijnaldum are eligible for MLS's Waiver Draft if they stay in the league. It is one of multiple mechanisms used to recirculate players who don't qualify for free agency. Davies, Edu, and Fabinho are eligible for the the Re-Entry Draft, which allows teams to pick off players and offer them new contracts before they hit free agency. Pontius is automatically a free agent, as he meets the requirement of being at least 28 years of age and having eight years of service time in MLS.