On the surface, the Union’s signing of Jamaican right back Alvas Powell makes plenty of sense. The 26-year-old is the kind of seasoned Major League Soccer veteran who upgrades any team, with 149 games played over seven years with Portland, Cincinnati, and Miami.
Powell won a MLS Cup with the Timbers in 2015, making him just the second player in the Union’s locker room with a ring. He already knows this club well: He’s been training here for a while and is a national team colleague of Andre Blake and Cory Burke. And he signs as a free agent after a short spell with Al-Hilal in Sudan.
The usual rules don’t all apply with the Union, though, given how much they value playing their young academy products. They have a good one at right back in Nathan Harriel, a 20-year-old with U.S. youth national team experience and 36 games played in the USL for the club’s reserve team.
Signing Powell clearly blocks Harriel’s progress. But Union manager Jim Curtin signaled Thursday that Harriel needs more seasoning before he’s ready to play in MLS.
“Nathan needs games with Union 2,” Curtin said, referring to the reserve team. “I think he has made steps forward, and he gets better each day. But we saw an opportunity to add a little bit more experience at that position.”
» READ MORE: Why Paxten Aaronson’s Union debut was no fluke
Beyond that, it’s fine to focus on the upside of Powell’s arrival. When the Union resume their season on June 20, they’ll play three games in seven days: at Atlanta, home vs. Columbus on June 23, and at Chicago on June 26. Squad rotation will certainly be in order.
And while this summer break has given everyone some rest, starter Olivier Mbaizo especially earned it. He played every minute of 10 of the Union’s first 11 games, and all but 11 minutes of the other one.
Powell can deputize at a few other positions, too. He played centerback growing up, and would fit fine as a late-game sub to play right wing in a 4-2-3-1. (Especially while Ilsinho is recovering from surgery on a groin injury.) He registered six goals and nine assists in Portland, where he played his best soccer before being taken in consecutive expansion drafts by Cincinnati (2018) and Miami (2019).
”You know the quality that he brings. You know how valuable it is to have a player that has almost 200 games under his belt already in [the] league,” Curtin said. “I was joking with him, ‘I want Alvas from the Portland days,’ and he knows exactly what I mean by that. ... He spoke to me glowingly about how easy it was to fit in this locker room, and the players have been really open and embraced him.”
Martínez going to Copa América
A week after earning his first national team cap, José Andrés Martínez got the biggest honor of his career when he was named to Venezuela’s squad for the Copa América, South America’s championship tournament for national teams.
Venezuela opens the tournament Sunday against host Brazil (5 p.m., Fox29 and Univision), then faces Colombia (June 17), Ecuador (June 20), and Peru (June 27) in the rest of the group stage. As the top four teams in each five-team group advance to the quarterfinals July 2 and 3, Martínez is likely to be gone for quite a while as he plays in the global spotlight.
He’ll at least miss the Union’s three games in June. After that, the Union visit Nashville on July 3 and the New York Red Bulls on July 8, then are off until the 17th.
Venezuela’s squad also includes former Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta, and six other players currently in MLS: defender Ronald Hernández (Atlanta); midfielders Yeferson Soteldo (Toronto), Cristian Cásseres Jr. (New York Red Bulls), and Junior Moreno (D.C. United); and forwards Josef Martínez (Atlanta) and Jhonder Cádiz (Nashville).
Curtin praises McKenzie, Aaronson
Like the rest of the American soccer community, Curtin was thrilled that Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson shone on the big stage during the U.S. national team’s recent stretch of games.
McKenzie played all four, including every minute of the Concacaf Nations League semifinal and final; Aaronson starred in Wednesday’s 4-0 friendly win over Costa Rica with a goal and a highlight-reel dribble.
“Mark went through the hardest moment as a centerback, you know, where in obviously a highly competitive game, he made a mistake,” said Curtin, a former centerback. “All great players make mistakes, and I think the biggest measure of a great player is how you respond to a mistake and adversity in the most hostile environment that there is, a game against Mexico.”
McKenzie then played the first half of the Costa Rica game and got a strong endorsement afterward from U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. He also got strong backing from across the sport after receiving racist abuse on his Instagram account in the wake of the Mexico game.
“He dealt with a lot off the field, and the absurdity that goes on with racism still in this country and this world — a whole other discussion, for the ridiculousness that he had to deal with as a young athlete,” Curtin said. “He handled it in such a mature, intelligent and brave way. That makes you proud as well.”
Aaronson didn’t play much in the Nations League games, though it’s no bad thing being No. 2 behind Christian Pulisic on the depth chart. When his time came Wednesday, he stepped up.
“I know that there’s even another level that they’re going to go to, and that makes me excited,” Curtin said of his former players.