Out camping: Five positional battles to watch in the Union preseason
|The question of Roland Alberg's fitness for the Union's full-time No. 10 job |
will be tested this preseason. (AP)
Of the 18 players in the squad last October for the Union’s first playoff game in five years against Toronto FC, 17 remain with the club. Ten of 11 starters’ jobs are preserved from last season, Tranquillo Barnetta the lone exception. I don’t even have to check past figures; that’s surely unprecedented for a club where roster churn has been the norm.
As I wrote Monday, the Union have the best of both words. They have the prestige and tangential benefit of three players prepping for the season with the U.S. National Team in its January camp, three who are certainly among the 10 given starters. Fewer regulars means more opportunities to see the contestants for the other slots on the depth chart battling it out.
So let’s look at the five positional battles sure to play out in camp this week and in Florida next month:
Roland Alberg vs. Expectations. Lest you think the Union have everything figured out, consider that one battle dictates several others. (I needn’t remind you how many returning starters Columbus had in place before last season, do I?) Parse the roster and the Dutchman is the only player you’d consider a No. 10, lest Alejandro Bedoya moves up into that spot and somewhat out of position. Doing so leaves the current reserve corps at the No. 8 remarkably thin. So getting Alberg to consistently play the 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system that the Union show little taste for changing is vital. Alberg proved last year he can play excel in spurts; if we allow the benefit of the doubt in his acclimation period to MLS, then the hypothesis to be proven is that he can be for the Union what Barnetta was last year.
Fabinho vs. Gilliano Wijnaldum. To dub this Fabinho’s job to lose would disrespect the work the Brazilian did last season. More apt is that it’s Wijnaldum’s job to win. Earnie Stewart put it bluntly: Wijnaldum didn’t come to MLS to sit the bench. And while Fabinho wasn’t necessarily the weak link in a defense that leaked 56 goals in 35 games last year, his left back spot is as logical a place as any to start searching for reinforcements. Read more »