New year, new opportunities.
As teams look to strengthen their rosters in the offseason, sometimes they don’t have to look any further than down their bench. Instead of going out and bringing in someone in, they can elevate a current player. New tactics or a year of development and wisdom can take a player from buried on the depth chart to consistent contributor.
Here are five players who, based on current roster makeups and preseason lineups, appear set to gain increased responsibility in 2019.
Miles Robinson, Atlanta United
In the first few games of preseason, Miles Robinson has been with the Five Stripes’ starting group. He’s played in the middle of a three-man backline, flanked by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to his left and Michael Parkhurst to the right.
He’ll have to fend off challenges from new signing Florentin Pogba and perhaps eventually Jeff Larentowicz, depending on Frank de Boer’s plans for Darlington Nagbe in the middle. But Robinson is getting a serious chance to step in to the XI, and looks like he’ll have an enhanced role to play in 2019 regardless.
Olivier Mbaizo, Philadelphia Union
One of the more quiet big moves in the offseason was the Philadelphia Union’s trade of Keegan Rosenberry to the Colorado Rapids. Rosenberry was a top-10 right back in 2018 and received a call-up to US men’s national team January camp.
Yet the Union brass appear to have enough confidence in 21-year-old Olivier Mbaizo, who spent 2018 on loan to Bethlehem Steel, to take over his spot. Jim Curtin may choose to put Raymon Gaddis on the right if Mbaizo doesn’t look up for the challenge in preseason, but with only two right backs on the roster, Mbaizo will get his opportunities.
Another name to keep an eye on in Philly: defensive midfielder Derrick Jones. Preseason friendlies suggest the Union are going to play a diamond in the midfield, creating a least one more central spot for Jones to fight for. It doesn’t look like he’ll start on March 2, but he should be in the mix all season.
Raheem Edwards, Chicago Fire
Raheem Edwards has been a known MLS name for two seasons now, but he’s yet to lock down a starting spot. That looks set to change in 2019. Edwards has been getting reps with the Chicago Fire’s starting XI at left back.
He faces a challenge from Jorge Corrales, but it’s hard to deny that Edwards has more upside of the two. If the young Canadian can fix some of the inconsistencies he’s had over the last two years, he could take over a starting spot on the Fire’s backline.
Cristian Casseres Jr., New York Red Bulls
The biggest shoes to fill this offseason? Those would be Tyler Adams’. The person in charge of attempting it? Venezuelan Under-20 national team member Cristian Casseres Jr.
He spent 2018 on loan to Red Bulls II with the entire mission of, presumably, preparing to fill Adams’ role in 2019. Casseres Jr. has the motor and ground coverage to resemble Adams, but if doesn’t acclimate right away, Chris Armas also has Marc Rzatkowski has an option if needed.
Andreu Fontas, Sporting Kansas City
I feel like I’m cheating on Andreu Fontas since he’s only been in the league for half a season, but he’s worth noting. Sporting KC were willing to part with Ike Opara because they felt they had adequate cover in Fontas, who arrived in Kansas City from La Liga club Celta Vigo.
Sporting made a gamble with the decision to invest in the 29-year-old Spaniard, one of the highest-paid defenders in the league according to the MLS Players Association, instead of giving a new contract to the 2017 Defender of the Year. Fontas has a nice pedigree, but he has a big job in front of him to replace Opara.
For more information on how starting lineups are taking shape around MLS, check out this article from last week on the five positional battles unfolding across preseason camps.