The Philadelphia Union are still in the market for a center back.
But with the start of the regular season just two weeks away, Union manager John Hackworth seems less eager to make that acquisition than might be expected.
One reason for that is the emergence of Richie Marquez.
A third-round pick in January’s SuperDraft, Marquez has already beaten out rookie center back Kevin Cope – who, along with fellow second-rounder Robbie Derschang, were cut earlier in the week – and is closing in on a roster spot with the Union.
If he does make the club, it would be quite the achievement for someone who was playing Division III soccer at the University of Redlands just three months ago.
“Let me just say that Richie has been one of the biggest surprises in camp,” Hackworth said. “He is a young player that not a lot of people knew about coming from a D-III program. At Redlands, he played for Ralph Perez, who is a good friend of mine and a little bit of a mentor. He gave us the heads up that he really thought Richie had potential and so far we have absolutely seen that. He has good size. He’s got excellent speed. He is strong. And he plays pretty simple.”
After a sterling career at Michigan State, Cope initially seemed like the likelier bet to make the team and provide the Union with some much-needed defensive depth. But despite coming from a much smaller college program, Marquez began turning heads at the MLS Combine and has continued to show that he belongs in the league throughout the preseason.
“Kevin, we really liked in our scouting, but we knew that we were not going to be able to keep both Richie and Kevin,” Hackworth said. “And the reality is that Richie had a better part of the preseason than Kevin did.”
Still, even if Marquez does make the team, he will be one of just three center backs on the club, joining starter Amobi Okugo and fellow newcomer Ethan White. And that’s the reason Hackworth feels like he needs a more experienced center back to start alongside Okugo.
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At the same time, because he’s liked what he’s seen out of Marquez and the others in camp, the Union manager feels like he can be “picky” about who they’ll sign – although the process has still taken a little bit longer than he had hoped.
“My timeline was about three or four weeks ago,” Hackworth said. “I say that jokingly, but we have been looking everywhere to try to find the right player for our team.
“Again, we are pleased with the guys that are in camp. But in reality, is that exactly where we want to be? No. We are trying to find that person and we are looking very hard. But we are not going to make that move unless it’s the right player.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.