Commentary / Union

Youth and pride: If not now, when?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

[First off, Shana Tovah to my fellow folks observing the Jewish New Year today! May it be incredibly sweet and way better than the Union’s season.]

Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference hit on a number of topics, namely Andre Blake’s non-transfer transfer saga and who will be seeing time on the field as Philadelphia Union pitifully finish off another bummer of a season.

Thanks to the American sports tradition, the Union, despite their place in the standings, don’t have to deal with relegation to a lower division (which is just fine because you know they’d be in NPSL by now). But unlike other American sports, the MLS draft doesn’t wield the same power as football and basketball, making any “tanking” rather irrelevant and unnecessary. Essentially, there is nothing – beyond continuing to alienate the last remainder of your fanbase – to lose or gain by nosediving in MLS. After all, it happened last year to the Union and here we are again.

Still, the head coach Jim Curtin and the Union seem incredulously reluctant to play up-and-coming youngsters for the remainder of the season.

“In short,” Curtin said according to Union beat writer Matt de George, “Auston [Trusty], Adam [Najem], and Derrick [Jones] will not be playing against Chicago.” Cool, cool, cool. So the Union’s best three prospects, one of whom started opening day of the season, are deemed too green or unsuitable to play a meaningless game versus a foe who will likely be resting their stars.

For the Union, a team so dead-set on pushing their Homegrown and Academy agenda, this is not only illogical, but quite alarming. These three players, plus Anthony Fontana, form what is supposed to be the core of the team’s future. To refuse to give these young players opportunities against MLS talent not only derails the Union’s long-term plans, but very much harms the players’ personal development.

And it is not just a disservice to the team and the players; it’s an insult to fans to put out the same product on the field week-after-week and expect different results. With Ilsinho, Roland Alberg, Oguchi Onyewu, and even Chris Pontius all potentially moving on in 2018, what’s the point of giving them superfluous opportunities to somehow redeem themselves amidst another lost season?

At his press conference, Curtin’s answer was pride – for themselves, the badge, and their job next season. Union fans, feeling new levels of apathy toward their beloved club, aren’t going to buy that sort of coach-speak.

The problem isn’t that the Union aren’t just bad; it’s that they’re really, really boring. There are no breathtaking goals or finishes, few gutsy challenges, and no level of entertainment beyond Andre Blake rescuing points game after game (and we all know how much he wants to be here). Now, without providing any new blood in the lineup, fans deciding whether to make the trek to Chester or tune in on TV, perhaps much like the players themselves, will be asking, “what’s the point?”

If Saturday’s game isn’t the right time to give young players like Trusty, Najem, and Jones an opportunity to play, when is?

19 Comments

  1. Welp, looks like I’ve finally hit the point of no return. I’m done with the Union in any serious way until something serious changes. Namely they start acting like an actual, for-real, professional soccer club and not some wanna be rich guys investment vehicle.

  2. Well written and well thought out. If the coaching staff and front office don’t see this, why are the rest of us sticking around? This isn’t the Phillies trying to hold off on paying someone a full salary. This is just plain stubbornness.
    .
    Next year we will have a new influx of veterans/journeyman/solid but not great foreign players. We will be told to be patient while they gel. We will be told there’s a defense first strategy. We will be told possession is not as important. We will be told there is more coming down the pipe and the front office has big plans.
    .
    We will be reading the same comments and articles this time next year.
    .
    Two major major questions that need to be asked of the team. 1. Who is making the decision to stick to the 4-2-3-1 no matter what players we have? 2. Who is making the decision on who is getting time and who is not. As of now we’re to think that’s Jim Curtin. If so, he needs to go. There’s no way around it.

    • I’m certain the answer to both questions is Curtin. He dictates shape and also the lineup. I think Stewart stays almost entirely out of it. It’s the way it should be, for starters. It’s much easier to hold people accountable when they have actual, demonstrable authority. Stewart strikes me as a guy into structure in an almost military way. Just my strong hunch.

  3. It’s also worth pointing out that they’re not *that* young:
    .
    Najem has played this entire year at age 22. That’s not prospect age anymore. That should be a fully formed player. If he’s not good enough to get first team minutes in meaningless games at this point, cut him.
    .
    Jones has played this entire year at age 20. There might still be some upside there, but if he’s not good enough to get first team minutes in meaningless games at this point, his upside is likely somewhere in the range of, well, Warren Creavalle, who himself just turned 27. If Creavalle is that much better than Jones at this point, just cut Jones and keep Creavalle.
    .
    Trusty just turned 19. I mean, okay, he’s still got time. But he’s making over 100K. That’s the salary of a player who’s already ready to contribute. His salary is twice what Jack Elliot is making, and what Richie Marquez was making when we drafted him, and close to twice what Gooch is making. If he’s not ready to go, either cut his salary or cut him. The Union have already shown their ability to find quality tall CBs in the draft for half the price.
    .
    I guess what I’m saying is that if this is the best the Union can produce from the Academy, just shut it down and spend the money elsewhere. It’s a complete joke.

    • This guy gets it. This idea of “youth” is so far behind as to be embarrassing. Sure we don’t get the golden kids like they do in Europe but that doesn’t me we can’t start 18, 19, 20 year olds like the professionals they are.

      It’s completely destructive for player development and long term club success. I suspect it’s fostered by the silliness of college athletics as the prep model in the US for most every sport.

      If the Union have prospects that are good enough to be prospects but not starters then they are doing something terribly wrong from the get go. Which let’s be honest, would not be the least bit surprising.

      • That’s not just a Union problem but more of an American problem. I mean it’s honestly just stupid to say we should be cutting players who are 19, 20, and 22 because they haven’t broken though the system yet.
        .
        I don’t disagree that more some of these guys should be playing. But saying Trusty is not playing over Gooch is false, he’s behind Marquez, Elliot, and Yaro, all youngish players. At this point Najem or Jones should be playing over Ilsinho or Alberg though.

      • The Union are a top level professional squad. If they’re not good enough to play meaningless minutes at the top level, they’re simply not good enough prospects to have signed to a top level professional squad. Sign them to Bethlehem and sign players who are good enough for the top level to your top level team. It’s that simple. Jack Elliott just turned 22 and we got him in the Draft. If we can get young quality 22 year old talent in the draft and we can’t produce better with the Academy, cut the dreck our Academy is producing and focus on just drafting or signing young, *MLS* ready talent. There’s no reason not to.

  4. I Am Citizen Insane says:

    .
    What I found most interesting was the final quote yesterday which essentially said, the spine of the MLS first team isn’t good enough for these young prospects to be successful.
    .
    A very interesting indictment if you ask me.
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    What’s even more interesting, if the spine of the first team doesn’t have players capable of drawing the best out of your prospects, how does playing DII level players make them better.
    .
    So in one week we read about how teams like Union are going to continue to be and quite clearly are being financially lapped by MLS cash —– then in the same week we read how the youth movement they aim to employ can’t be done. What else is there?
    .
    Quite frankly I’m a bit insulted as though we are being treated like people who are clueless casual soccer fans who don’t know any better.
    .
    At a loss. Very frustrated. Quite literally enough to make one lose the mind.

    • Desacrate through Reverance says:

      I’m insulted as well. I don’t believe ANYTHING they say anymore. They are Sugarmans’ puppets. Curt n Earnie?

  5. On youth: I don’t recall seeing much of Auston Trusty but I’ve seen Adam Najem in action and I’ve been unimpressed. I do not believe that more MLS minutes will make Adam better. At his level, he’ll either get better with more training or he will not. Derrick Jones has looked good to me I really don’t understand why he hasn’t been playing more.
    As for boring Union play: nail head, meet hammer. Against RBNY I was screaming at my television with every soft tap toward the opposition goalkeeper. Say what you will about Alberg, at least the guy knows how to strike the ball.

    • Agree with all of this except w.r.t. Jones. Jones still needs lots of development at Bethlehem and is not ready for MLS, if he ever is (because of his suspect soccer IQ).
      .
      Anyone see that Cup game last night? Salloi is 21 and one of KC’s homegrown players. He scored their 2nd goal last night. He came to the US as an exchange student and looks like the real deal. Why can’t we have young players like that?!

  6. “These three players, plus Anthony Fontana, form what is supposed to be the core of the team’s future.”
    .
    I disagree.
    .
    These three players, plus Anthony Fontana, form WHAT WAS JUDGED TO BE YOUNG PLAYERS CAPABLE OF PRACTICING WITH THE FIRST-TEAM.
    .
    If you look at behavior and break it down into its actual steps, that is all that can be concluded about a homegrown signing.
    .
    WE all desperately want them to be the future.
    .
    But for that to become a legitimate expectation as opposed to wishful fantasy, they have to dominate in the minor league level immediately below the majors while playing against sides loaded with former and fringe major league players.
    .
    Fontana is just beginning that audition, he has had some good games, and at least one not so good one. It is way too early to make a guess.
    .
    My gut says that the first team tried Derrick Jones early in the season in the number 8 role, and is re-evaluating whether he is a number 8 or a number 6. The trouble with the re-evaluation currently is that James Chambers is the best offensive number 6 on the Steel and the Steel are — within the context of being a player development side — trying hard to make the playoffs. Chambers will not be moved save for Mo Edu rehab. Most fundamentally, Jonesy needs game minutes and he was not earning them with the first team, in either spot.
    .
    Trusty is defensively sound as a USL center back. He is a fiery, intense competitor, which I happen to love, and by all reports he works his butt off to fulfill his ambitions. His offensive distribution from center back is still much closer to Richie Marquez than it is to Jack Elliott or Josh Yaro, and that offense is what the Union really want from the CBs I hazard the guess.
    .
    Adam Najem has had some dominant games with the Steel. He has had many more serviceable games with the Steel that he did not “boss” but played an effective subtle role in the center. The first team have auditioned him and he has not dominated but has been a competent sub off the bench. I intuit that he needs exposure to the next level so he can figure it out, and that once he figures it out he will start to have some impact, rather like the way rookie hitters have to get some backlog of experience with major league pitchers before they shine, e.g., a tall white-haired former third baseman from Kettering, OH.
    .
    But Najem, Trusty, D. Jones and Fontana are part of a Steel playoff push that has 3 games in the next 7 days that WILL see significant squad rotation. They will be part of that rotation I have full confidence. The organization’s behavior says they believe those young men will learn more from the playoff push than they will from aluminum splinters in their butts for 3/4ths of the game.
    .
    Final thought. Think about the match ups. Schweinie and McCarty are not cupcake opponents like to build the confidence and serve as effective learning foils. Coaches think abouot that, as rightly they should.
    .
    Lest you dismiss the needs of the Steel with a shallow, “I don’t give a shit about the minor leagues,” the way most of you will, What Philadelphia Major League last place team is going to try to sweep the team with the best record in baseball in about an hour? Sometimes patience pays off.

    • But Curtin didn’t say they were playing with Steel for the playoff run (which I’m ok with) and leave it at that. He called out the players by name and said they had not beaten out the players in front of them, even for a meaningless game at the end of the season. Considering the guys in the Union roster ahead of them probably don’t start for another club in MLS, that is a pretty strong statement.

      While you are correct that the fans want this group to be the future, this is also what the club has sold us – the Academy will provide the core. If that core isn’t good enough, and the ownership won’t spend enough to buy a core (hi Atlanta) what is left?

      • Didn’t Earnie say you need to buy your quality?

        But also not playing the Academy this year does not equal Academy will provide the core in the future.

        This year is frustrating. Trying to keep caring, but EPL is on now and kids soccer is in full swing.

    • >WE all desperately want them to be the future.
      .
      We want them to be the future because we have been told it is the only future the Union have. We have been told that the only way we will compete is through Academy products. We have been told that these four guys are the best the Academy has to offer right now. If the best the Academy has to offer is guys “CAPABLE OF PRACTICING WITH THE FIRST-TEAM”, then the MLS may as well contract the Union, because they have made it clear that the Union will only compete if these guys are actually good players.
      .
      In other words, if these guys aren’t good enough to be more than practice players, the Union have told us that they will suck. People don’t *want* them to be the future. People want actually talented players to be the future. But this is the future the Union are selling.

  7. Matt Thornton says:

    Somehow, Jim Curtin and the Union organization are trying to shift the sports paradigm that dictates improvement when playing opponents who are better than you.

    If the Union can’t find a way to get these young players into the fold after signing them to a contract (which is a strong statement) then its even more hopeless than we all admit.

  8. Just my thought: They’re afraid a 4-0 drubbing at home to a better Chicago team – a team the Union should aspire to be in many ways – because they played their “kids” would be too embarrassing. In essence, when the “starters” lose Saturday’s that Chicago team – it will obviously be WAY worse.

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