Earnie Stewart - close-up in 2016
USA Today Sports

Tenorio: Union's Earnie Stewart goes 1-on-1 on roster build, youth movement

The Philadelphia Union put their final piece in place Wednesday when they announced the acquisition of attacking midfielder Borek Dockal as a Designated Player on a one-year loan.

Dockal, who joined the club from Henan Jianye in the Chinese Premier League, fills an important need for Philadelphia at the No. 10 spot, a weakness the Union have been looking to address for some time. 

Philadelphia were more aggressive this offseason, sending $1.2 million in allocation to the Chicago Fire for winger David Accam, who recently signed a deal that will pay him well above the maximum budget charge, before moving to sign Dockal.

“For us it’s one bucket of money and we try to look at it from the perspective of what’s best for our roster,” Stewart told MLSSoccer.com. “That’s how we looked at it. It starts with the allocation from our ownership, Jay Sugarman, making money available to do these kind of things. Yes, that’s different from the past, and it has helped us to bring these types of players in.”

Stewart said the Dockal move has likely ended the roster building process for this season, barring any changes needed as the season plays out. The Union also announced they bought Accam’s cap number down with Targeted Allocation Money

While that has led to speculation about a potential imminent signing to fill the final DP spot, the move to buy down Accam was administrative as much as anything else. 

It makes fiscal sense to buy Accam down with allocation funds and avoid a $150,000 charge for a third DP spot, while also setting the Union up to receive a chunk of allocation money at the end of the season for having two DPs. 

Signing Dockal also finalizes a plan that has its origins in 2015 when Stewart was first hired as sporting director, but one that was also shaped at the end of last season, when the Union finished in eighth place, eight points out of the playoffs.

The Union will give significant playing time to several Homegrown players this season, a step Stewart said was the natural progression after many of them played significant minutes in the USL over the past two years. 

Union academy product Derrick Jones is in line for a bigger role in 2018 | USA Today Images

Center back Auston Trusty, 19, left back Matthew Real, 18, midfielder Anthony Fontana, 18, and midfielder Derrick Jones, 20 are in line for potentially major roles this season. Center back Mark McKenzie, 19, has also signed a first-team contract.

Stewart said he knew last year was a bit too soon for the players and so the team made some short-term decisions to bridge the gap ahead of this year’s youth movement. 

“We’ve had a lot of investment in our academy from our ownership group and we’ve reached that moment when we have to let kids go,” Stewart said. “We feel this is the right time. It’s been two years since we had USL and guys like Derrick Jones, Austin Trusty, Fontana, Matthew Real have played valuable minutes at the USL level and now we need to know their level in MLS and the only way to find out is to play them. That’s who we are, that’s our DNA and I think it’s great.  …

“How we looked at it when I was at AZ Alkmaar [in Holland] was, if they are talented and they have the right ingredients and right coaching and the right minutes at a good level like USL, they will swim and swim fast. … The time has come to throw our kids out and see if they swim. I’m sure a lot are going to swim.”

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