For Pete's Sake / Season Previews

Questions we’ve already answered

Photo: Ryan Griffith

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece of PSP’s season preview on Philadelphia Union. Read the other posts of the season preview here.

Time in the offseason is a funny thing.

In reality, it’s been merely four months since the Union’s last game. It’s been less time still if you count from the crowning of… (checks Wikipedia)… ah, yes, Toronto FC as the MLS champion.

Yet somehow those four months felt like forever, every day as long as a life age of the Earth.

With the excitement of a new season and a new team in front of us, it can be hard to remember exactly what we were talking about when 2017 came to a close.

Most of PSP’s season preview this week will be forward-thinking — how will the Union perform this year? — and speculative — what can we project from what we know?

This piece will be an exception. Before plunging full speed into 2018, it’s a good time to go back to PSP’s season review series from last year and take a look at the questions we did get an answer to this offseason.

Would Jim Curtin return as the manager?

It seems like a foregone conclusion now, because Earnie Stewart declared at his post-season press conference that Union manager Jim Curtin would coach the team for a fourth full season in 2018.

The answer wasn’t so obvious in October.

Seventy percent of voters in a PSP reader poll said that Curtin should not return, and a number of PSP contributors agreed. Commonly cited reasons were Curtin’s tactical inflexibility, questionable personnel decisions, and the regression of the young players. Curtin’s defenders cited his personal character, his youth, and the poor construction of the roster overall to argue that he deserved another year in the job.

For what it’s worth, Curtin showed that he’s willing to give minutes to young players this month in Clearwater, as it looks like Auston Trusty and Anthony Fontana will be opening day starters. How he will incorporate David Accam and the theoretical presence of Borek Dockal into the side, and manage a very young backline, require in-season evidence to evaluate.

After two straight 11-14-9 campaigns, the pressure is on the Union as an organization to improve on that record this year. There is no question that Curtin will get his chance to show that improvement.

Whether he will achieve it remains to be seen.

Would Roland Alberg or Ilsinho be back?

The peerless Adam Cann took a look at Roland Alberg and Ilsinho, the Union’s primary No. 10s last season, and concluded that “Philly’s creative hubs were neither creative nor hubs.” Their status was a prime question heading into the winter.

Alberg left for CSKA Sofia not long after the season ended, leaving a legacy as one of the most infuriating players ever to wear the Union shirt. For every sensational long range goal, there was a petulant red card. For every hat trick, there was infighting with teammates over penalty kicks. Alberg’s general unwillingness to speak on the record didn’t help endear him to the fan base, even if Alberg’s Twitter likes suggest that he fell in love with the Eagles, at least.

Ilsinho can’t really count as a “question answered” at this point. The Union did re-sign him after declining his contract option, suggesting that his new salary number is more favorable to the club. And until a No. 10 puts pen to paper, Ilsinho remains set to take the bulk of minutes in the middle of the park. But a nagging injury has the affable Brazilian sidelined right now, and Union fans are Czeching Twitter every minute to see whether a new midfielder is walking through the door.

Would C.J. Sapong build on a career-best season?

2017 was the best year of C.J. Sapong’s career.

A campaign that started with an expensive replacement taking his starting spot ended with Sapong setting a team record with 16 goals. Inconsistency, however, has plagued Sapong’s career, so more evidence that C.J. could sustain his form would alleviate concerns over his future performance.

The Union’s season ended just weeks after U.S. Soccer’s colossal failure in Trinidad cost our nation a spot in the World Cup. In the two caretaker friendlies since that match, Sapong has been a bright spot, distinguishing himself from the other options in the player pool and earning plaudits for his performances.

Sapong, who turns 30 at the end of this year, is in his prime. That the Union moved only for depth at his position this winter (hello, Cory Burke) shows the confidence the team has in him.

Would the Union invest in Andre Blake?

The Union have one undeniable superstar in Jamaican sensation Andre Blake.

Since finally taking the starting job at the end of 2015, Blake’s performances for club and country have been spectacular. The man’s shot-stopping abilities are simply too good to believe sometimes, and after a Golden Glove performance in the Gold Cup it seemed that the Union might cash out on their one blue chip. Some PSP writers thought so, too.

That move never materialized, thanks in part to some wacky rules governing British work permits, and the Union instead signed Blake to a multi-year contract extension in January. Salary data isn’t available, but it’s likely that Blake is now one of the highest-paid goalkeepers in MLS.

This doesn’t mean Blake won’t eventually make a move across the Atlantic, of course. And it doesn’t mean investing heavily in a keeper is necessarily the right move. But the often-cheap Union had the choice to move Blake before making him a franchise cornerstone. Instead, they decided to pay for talent.

Would Fabinho finally be fired into the sun?

Hah, are you kidding? Fabinho will be on the Union until the literal end of time.

Believe it or not, the Brazilian left back is now the Union’s second-longest tenured player, behind only fellow fullback Ray Gaddis. For a player who has been seen as replacement-level for most of his career to become what his manager now calls “captain material” is quite a journey.

That doesn’t make him any less frustrating to watch, and many wondered whether this offseason would see a new starter emerge. But Giliano Wijnaldum headed back to the Netherlands after never clicking in a new country, and youngster Matt Real couldn’t seize the position away in training camp.

Left back is Fabinho’s job to lose. As it always will be.

11 Comments

  1. Peter, last sentence of the sixth paragraph, “before plunging full speed into 2018*” (says 2017).

  2. While I always have, and will continue to enjoy Fabinho sun rocket jokes, he’s turned out to be a pretty solid contributor. I’m more concerned about the rest of the D (righting the RB situation, a new young combo at CB, and a midfield group that’s talented but light on defensive chops).

  3. Czeching Twitter – Love it!
    Been doing it myself several times a day for same reason.
    Really excited to see what CJ can do in 2018 with a real #10 and speed on both wings.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    Funny I think is was Charles Boehm who stated on twitter…”its been only 40 days or so since MLS ended and MLS begins,” as if it was a good thing.
    .
    I politely reminded him, if you missed the playoffs you haven’t actually played a ‘meaningful’ game in over four months and thats assuming your team was in it till the end actually competing for a playoff spot. I’d argue Philadelphia Union hasn’t played a meaningful game since mid October…which is almost 5 months and is simply unacceptable. But hey, the schedule and playoffs work great. and while we are at it, lets model soccer after all the other US Sports and continue to reward the mediocrity with top draft picks and the like…. SMH.
    .
    –strangest thing, he didn’t respond.

  5. I checked on Alberg at CSKA Sofia. So far he has played 1 game and scored 1 goal. If only Curtin had played as a second striker….

    • Alberg played as a mid in name only. Dude played as and was deployed as a second striker here. Unfortunately all he could do consistently was shoot when the ball fell to him anywhere near goal and nothing else.

    • A goal per 126 minutes was his average at the Union. SO 1 in 1 is similar.

  6. Curtin still needs to go (he’s only giving minutes to the youngsters because preseason). Hopefully Ilsinho is a moot point (and is at this point due to injury). CJ is the best. Blake is the best. Fabinho still needs to be blasted to the sun, but is getting better (might be moot due to injury).
    .
    All that being said, getting psyched for next Saturday!!! … and then a two week break. Then the game against The Crew!!! … and then a two week break.

  7. Oh Fabinho… I look forward to another maddening summer! smh…

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