Players to watch

Players we watched: end of season edition

Photo by 215pix

As the MLS playoffs begin to heat up, Philadelphia Union and their emotionally bedraggled fans again find themselves huddled around a metal trash can, warming their collective hands and talking about things that might have been. This off-season “hot stove” routine is a familiar one and today’s topic is the final installment in a PSP series entitled, “Players to watch.”

Oguchi Onyewu

Onyewu signing for the Union was like giving someone a winning lottery ticket for a birthday present.

It was a surprise (who’s the guy with the hat?), it was the thought that counted more than anything (bring in a truly experienced veteran to make your weakest position better), the cost was minimal (Onyewu once gave up his full season salary at Milan after missing a year because of injury and signed here for $65,000 this season), the return was phenomenal (he was 7th on the team in minutes played and a valuable part of the team’s culture), and the goodwill could last for a long time.

For more on that, see Tuesday’s post about the 2017 season’s pleasant surprises.

*Author’s note: Onyewu’s option for 2018 was declined by the team yesterday in a statement. The center back will only return with a new deal, and the market for his services is now better than it was a year ago.

Grade: A

Derrick Jones

Derrick Jones had a lost season for Philadelphia Union. Though he began brightly, featuring in nearly every minute of the first quarter of the Union’s season, he was all but gone from the team after a June red card against Red Bulls. His numbers weren’t great, but his potential was abundantly clear. Fast forward to the season finale — Jones sat in street clothes behind the Union bench, a bystander like every other fan, occasionally scrolling through his Instagram and enjoying the sunshine while we all watched another summer pass by.

It’s difficult to say he had a lost season in all metrics, though. His trajectory was substantial enough to merit a call up to the U.S. National Team for the Under 20 World Cup. There, he was an unexpected substitute in the team’s first match, a defensive rock thereafter, and a huge part in a side that nearly made the semifinal.

To say he should have had more minutes with the Union first team is a clear understatement. Where he might have fit in that first team is less clear. With a shake up already under way, the Union have a chance to figure out how to solve both problems before the start of 2018.

Grade: B

Haris Medunjanin

Haris Medunjanin is on a short list of truly skilled Philadelphia players, game-changing talents who always seemed too good to be true on otherwise weak Union sides. That list includes a diminutive Frenchman who could somehow play triangles with only himself and one other teammate, an Argentinian with a never-ending penchant for the final (left footed) pass, a Swiss captain with the world’s manliest man-bun and enough fire in his belly to drive a steam engine, and maybe even a California kid who hit the greatest chip in Philadelphia soccer history.

An even more diminutive Colombian, one who was strong, opportunistic, and clever on the ball but never fit the nonsensical “Philly tough” narrative, might be worth including too, but this is the common thread:

For each of these player’s special gifts, the team never seemed to find a way to maximize them. When Medujnanin puts on the shirt of some second division German team next season, Union fans will lament what might have been.

Grade: B

Fabian Herbers

By injury, salary, luck, or favor, or perhaps some conspiracy of “All of the above,” Herbers’s preseason potential to build off of a surprising 2016 never materialized. His most memorable contribution in 2017 was one that left Michael Bradley in the dust and gave the Union an early draw against the best regular season team in MLS history.

On a team that will again be rebuilt, Herbers can add some movement and vision that was often lacking.

*Author’s note: Herbers’s contract option was declined, too. His Generation Adidas deal was expiring, though, and the team will enter negotiations to keep the winger.

Grade: Incomplete

Alejandro Bedoya

Is Bedoya the best player on the Union? Is his absence in Trinidad (and the edge that he brings) the reason why the U.S. National Team crashed out of World Cup qualifying? Is he constantly played out of position on both teams?

Maybe the answer to all three question is “Yes.” Union fans can’t seem to agree. Union and National Team coaches, fans, and former stars can’t seem to either. Bedoya remains the highest paid player in Blue and Gold — he makes the runs that matter and does the dirty work that goes unnoticed.

In the eyes of too many, however, he seems to be the extra piece left after putting together some Ikea furniture: everyone knows it’s important, but no one knows where it belongs.

Grade: A, maybe B-, maybe no one knows

10 Comments

  1. Atomic Spartan says:

    Well played! This team needs IKEA to be their next shirt sponsor.

  2. Loved reading these pieces, Chris, thank you.
    .
    Derrick Jones was in civvies against Orlando in part because he had played the full 90+ Friday night in Louisville for the Steel in the playoffs.
    .

  3. Bedoya is a terrific player — just not the guy who can carry a team. Toronto discovered the same thing when they signed Michael Bradley… and were still mediocre at best. It wasn’t until the following year, when they signed Jozy and Giovinco, that they turned into a powerhouse. Don’t blame Ale for Sugarman’s thriftiness (and Stewart’s failure to get us a #10).

    • I don’t blame Ale for anything. I do blame Stewart for spending DP money in a position that already had DP money spent. Especially when that position is one filled easily by thrifty spending, not DP money. All that being said, I’m glad he’s here. He’s got heart and work ethic and as said above does all the dirty work and many things that go unnoticed. Non of this team’s and organizational problems can be laid at Ale’s feet.

      • Yeah, Ale is worth every penny the spend on him. He really should be the anchor to 2 significantly higher priced attacking DPs though.

    • I made the Sixers’ analogy a couple of weeks ago that Bedoya is like Iguodala – a great player, but not the top star on your team. If he is the 3rd best player on your team, you are in a very good position.
      .
      Problem is that, like Iguodala, the Union tried to make Bedoya the centerpiece. Wrong answer…

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        I think this is valid. If Edu was healthy, Nogs stayed, and some combination of Rosenberry getting better, Herbers staying fit, or Alberg figuring it out happened, the Union are an elite team.

  4. I think Derrick Jones can easily fill bedoyas position so I’m niether glad or disappointed that Bedoya is still here. Personally, I wouldn’t mind trying him out on the Wing. I think Jones is unique because he has the ability to have a strong and successful defensive prowess and he can also get forward as well. I don’t remember Bedoya or Medunjanin having this kind of impact in the middle. If we do not see Derrick jones getting a ton of minutes next year Curtin will be hearing the Boos bright and early.

    • I disagree he could easily fill Bedoya’s positions. Bedoya is a much better player than him right now and there would be a significant drop off. Now if you want to argue Jones in the middle Bedoya to the wing I could get on board with that.

    • I’m no Bedoya fan, but Jones can’t carry Ale’s boot bag from the bus.

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