06 May 2015

Musical Goalkeepers: Who will man the net for the Philadelphia Union this weekend?

I'm calling the Philadelphia Union's Saturday game against the Vancouver Whitecaps for The Comcast Network (7pm ET). Preparing is proving no easy task, in part because of the Union's traditionally fluid, currently almost vaporized goalkeeper situation.

Here are the goalkeepers currently employed by the Philadelphia Union:
1. Zac MacMath (23yo) - on season-long loan to Colorado Rapids. MLS roster rules confirm "the player must remain with his new club for the entire MLS season."
2. Raïs Mbolhi (29yo) - was advised to take leave from club after posting 1.80 GAA while starting first five games and making key mistake late in 2014 season. Returned to training on Tuesday.
3. John McCarthy (22yo) - had started last five games before suffering a concussion in training on Tuesday.
4. Andre Blake (24yo) - No. 1 pick in last year's draft was recovering from torn left meniscus, then tore right meniscus in training on Tuesday.

So Tuesday's training session was, it's safe to say, eventful. Head coach Jim Curtin, trying to maintain his team's confidence despite a 1-6-3 start, agreed that, "You can’t make it up. The timing is beyond crazy. I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in one training session. I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in a season, let alone literally 45 seconds apart."

Consequently, the Union have one goalkeeper available for Saturday's game, and it's Mbolhi (pictured above), who just about everybody in North American soccer expected to leave MLS as soon as the summer transfer window opens in Europe.

Yet Curtin did not name Mbolhi his starter on Wednesday. The Union need to acquire another goalkeeper immediately, and given the uncertainty of head injuries, the newcomer may be with the club for the long term. So Curtin might give the new guy the start, rather than go with Mbolhi.

Who are the options?
These are options that are clearly available or have a tie to the Union already. I would expect Philadelphia to also explore trade possibilities within the league.

1. League pool GK - I have been able to confirm that Major League Soccer employs a pool goalkeeper this year, but I have not been able to confirm his identity. MLS teams are allowed to call up pool goalkeepers when they are limited by injuries, and this would be the simplest and easiest solution. But it would also be a temporary one.
2. Brian Sylvestre (22yo) - A Floridian who began his pro career with, ironically, the Vancouver Whitecaps before spending the last two seasons with the Harrisburg City Islanders, Philadelphia's USL affiliate. Sylvestre is an amazing athlete at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, and impressed in last year's Open Cup loss to the Union, which was Curtin's first game in charge and which I called. Lot of connections here. Always honest, Curtin admitted that Sylvestre "was the first one that came to mind," but he is the current backup for the Carolina RailHawks, who do not list a third goalkeeper on their roster, so that might require some sort of transfer fee. Still, he has MLS experience, knows the Union, and is a good long-term signing.
3. Brian Holt (26yo) - A Philadelphia backup during the 2014 season, Noble would be able to step back into the group relatively comfortable, but like Sylvestre, he is a backup for an NASL team, the New York Cosmos. He's one of four goalkeepers on the Cosmos' roster, however, so this could be a simpler loan or transfer process. He's listed at 5-foot-8.
4. Nick Noble (30yo) - The starting goalkeeper for the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union's USL affiliate, Noble has the most MLS service time (3 seasons with Chicago from 2007-09) of any player on this list. He is a known commodity to the Union, but I'm not sure they see him as enough of an answer to make a transfer. If MLS allowed Philadelphia to acquire Noble via loan, his odds increase.
5. Kristian Nicht (33yo) - Veteran German backstop began the year with the NASL's Indy Eleven. He was first loaned, then transferred to the Montreal Impact for their CONCACAF Champions League run, then was released by the Impact shortly after. Since no new deal with Indy has been announced, he could be a simple addition. But as a 30-something who could take up an international slot, I'm skeptical.
6. Kyle Renfro (24yo) - "The best goalkeeper in the ACC" in 2012-13, according to scouts, Renfro is one of two backup goalkeepers for Harrisburg and would seem closer to being an MLS prospect than ...
7. Ciaran Nugent (23yo) - Signed with Harrisburg after playing five years at Lehigh due to an injury that cost him his senior season. Both he and Renfro have dressed for USL games.
8. Andrew Verdi (17yo) - Just kidding. Although Verdi, one of the Union's top academy prospects, has trained with the club this week to give them an extra body, I don't see this happening. He's only a junior in high school, has committed to the University of Michigan for his college career, and is not ready to play in a pro game.

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