More uncertainty at goalkeeper for Philadelphia Union as John McCarthy, Brian Sylvestre battle for No. 1 job

CHESTER, Pa. – During the preseason, John McCarthy and Brian Sylvestre battled for the Philadelphia Union’s third goalkeeper spot.

McCarthy won the job.

But heading into Sunday’s Eastern Conference contest with D.C. United at PPL Park (7 pm ET, FS1), those two will once again contend for a spot – this time as the team’s starter. That’s because the Union have few other options as head coach Jim Curtin confirmed Wednesday that Andre Blake will miss at least six weeks with a torn meniscus and, most puzzlingly, preseason starter Rais Mbolhi will never play another game for the Union despite returning to the club last week following a month-long hiatus.

Mbolhi, who is 1-4-4 with Philly since being signed to a lucrative long-term deal last summer following a starring role for Algeria in the World Cup, is currently earmarked for a summer transfer and completely out of the picture for the Union, no matter how dire their current goalkeeping situation may be.

“He was at training, and I had further discussion with him that he wouldn’t be in our plans and we’d move him in the summer,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “He agreed to that and said he wanted to just continue to train, and I said it would be at a separate time from the team. That’s what we’ve set up for now. All of this is geared toward a move in July.”

When asked why Mbolhi returned to practice last week after Curtin initially told him to take time away, the Union head coach said he wasn’t called back by the team. A Union spokesman later said that a “miscommunication” between Mbolhi and his agent led to the Algerian’s return to Philly, where he’ll train separate from the club until his transfer is finalized.

The same team spokesman said that the Union cannot recall Zac MacMath, who’s currently on a one-year loan with the Colorado Rapids. That leaves only McCarthy and Sylvestre – but there are complications there as well.

McCarthy, who started five straight games for Philly after Mbolhi was initially benched, is returning from a concussion and, according to Curtin, will be “close” for Sunday’s game. And Sylvestre was only acquired via a short-term loan with the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks, which the Union are now looking to extend. The loan, as it’s currently constructed, would end before Sunday.

“Brian is a good option for us,” Curtin said. “I think he’s a very good young goalkeeper. He obviously gives you size and a presence in there and he fits with the group. That was kind of the biggest thing for me – he’s a guy that’s very familiar with the group.”

Sylvestre agreed that his familiarity with the Philly players stemming from the preseason helped him come into Vancouver and make seven saves in his MLS debut, offering a bright spot in an otherwise dismal 3-0 loss Saturday to the Whitecaps. And the 22-year-old ’keeper also has experience at PPL Park, making some big stops – including a remarkable double-save near the end of regulation – for the Harrisburg City Islanders in their US Open Cup extra-time loss to the Union last June.

“Whenever I’m on the field, I always give 110 percent,” Sylvestre said. “Believe me, if I go out there, I’m trying to make any save to help the team win. … Giving my best is all I can do, and at the end of the day, the management will make their decision about what they’ll do with me.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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