Did Philadelphia Union upgrade their backline by trading for Austin Berry?
With the acquisition of Austin Berry on Monday, the Union acquired one of the most reliable center backs in MLS over the past couple of seasons. Since taking over a starting role seven games into his rookie year, Berry has not missed a single minute of action.
That dependability is important to a team like Philadelphia, which has shuttled players in out of that position since their last playoff run in 2011. That season, Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes only missed three starts between them. Since both left the club – Valdes has been on loan at Santa Fe and San Lorenzo – manager John Hackworth has had to get creative, converting midfielder Amobi Okugo into a center back and even playing forward Aaron Wheeler there during recent preseason matches.
Berry looks to be a long-term solution and he comes with one distinguishing characteristic: He's not foul-prone.
Last season in MLS, Berry conceded a foul every 180 minutes. This statistic placed him third among all centerbacks who played at least 1,000 minutes. Compare that to the numbers of former Union starter Jeff Parke: He conceded a foul every 119 minutes. It's a significant difference which should help the Union concede fewer dangerous set pieces.
However, one area where Berry does not match Parke is aerial prowess. Parke is one of the top aerial threats at his position in MLS, winning over 65 percent of his duels. This places him 21st among all players in the league. Meanwhile, Berry won 56 percent of his aerial duels, which puts him slightly above average in this area.
Although two inches shorter than Berry's 6-foot-2 frame, Okugo outperformed Berry here, winning 67 percent of his aerial duels last season.
At the combined age of 47, Berry and Okugo will form the youngest pairing in MLS and the Union will be hoping that they can work together for multiple seasons.
Combine that with either Zac MacMath or Andre Blake at goalkeeper and the Philadelphia Union will have the youngest combined age for center backs and goalkeeper by a longshot. The Union will hope the unit can jell quick with one of the most high-powered attacks in the league awaiting them in their first game: the Portland Timbers (March 8, 10:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE).