Union

Maybe Union fans got what they asked for

Photo by 215pix

Ask and ye shall receive

Philadelphia fans are vocal. They show up when their teams win and show up even louder to demand changes when their teams don’t. For years, the Union have fallen short of success, missed on big signings (or not made them at all), and delivered supplemental content to fans without the match-winning substance to make any of it palatable. Every step of the way, Union fans made their wishes known. After a disappointing 2017 campaign, most of this blue-shirted bunch had three big requests for ownership heading into the offseason.

  1. Shed some ill-fitting players and their equally mismatched contracts
  2. Replace those players by spending money and truly upgrading the team’s attack and…
  3. Play the kids!

There were other rumblings, of course: For a veteran centerback, though the team’s experience with Anderson Conceicao and Steven Vitoria should dispel that notion; for a designated player-level striker, but the same rule goes for what happened with Jay Simpson and Fernando Aristeguieta… and then what to do with C.J. Sapong? For a proven left back, but Jordan Harvey will never return and (you heard it here first) Fabinho will start for the Union at left back until Auston Trusty’s future children start at center back next to him.

Believe it or not, the stoic and infuriating, Andy-Reid-impersonating, all-but-silent Union front office gave fans exactly what they asked for. Really, it’s worth writing twice.

The Union gave the fans what they asked for.

1. So long, farewell

Players leaving Chester for greener pastures, retirements, Dhani Jones-style globe-trotting, or “Eat, Pray, Love” journeys included:

  1. Maurice Edu: The Captain, the face of the franchise, the man who missed consecutive seasons with injuries and no clear path to return. Edu’s time at Talen will be remembered for his U.S. Open Cup final goal against Seattle, but it will always have an asterisk next to it for what could have been.
  2. Roland Alberg: The mercurial Dutchman is back in Europe with Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia. His goals per minute may have been astronomical, but so were the number of headaches he gave to his teammates and Union fans.
  3. Brian Carroll: Carroll earned every minute of his hero’s sending off, having missed most of 2017 but having steadied the Union as much as any player before him. Today he’s still calm, cool, collected, and rocking an Italian watch worthy of Andrea Pirlo.
  4. Chris Pontius: When a Union winger is “due” for a goal (see: Andrew Wenger), fans know his time in Blue is short. As a result, Pontius is back home in California and will wear Galaxy white in 2018.
  5. Giliano Wijnaldum: Fabinho held his spot most of 2017, forcing the Dutch left back to Bethlehem or the bench. Giliano is back home now with Dutch side Willem II.
  6. Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu: the 2009 U.S. Men’s National Team stars had different paths in coming to the Union, and despite one’s squad-anonymity and the other’s surprising success, both find themselves out of soccer.
  7. Ilsinho: Still in Blue, just a slightly less green shade of it. The Union renegotiated the Brazilian’s contract, but fans will have to wait a few months to learn just how much of a deal the team negotiated.

The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. – Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”

2. Enhance. Enhance.

By saving themselves $3 million dollars or so in salary, the Union had money to spend. That money didn’t burn an immediate hole in their metaphorical pockets, though. The Union’s season ended in October, but it took until January 19 for David Accam to put pen to paper.

Cynical observers will point out that Accam was brought to town without spending any of those suddenly saved dollars. Instead, his transfer was realized using stacks of Monopoly Money and Chuck-E-Cheese tokens (GAM and TAM, respectively). Readers of the bestseller, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” will remind those observers that a best practice for growing and maintaining wealth is understanding how to leverage debt, or how to use other people’s money first. You can bet Jay Sugarman has read that book.

Accam represented a savvy move by the Union brass and a step in the right direction. It was only one step, though. For fans, the offseason had a genuine win/loss binary (or at least one of pass/fail) in the form of a true central attacking midfielder. No matter what else happened, without a CAM the offseason would have been lost.

Then, with the hands of the Union fan “Doomsday Clock” nearing midnight and the calendar turning from February to March, Stewart found Borek Dockal, a 20-something, internationally capped, Champions League veteran, escaped from China to Chester.

Box checked.

Play the kids

Anthony Fontana will start for the Union on Saturday. He’s 18 and an Academy product.

Derrick Jones was 19 when he did the same in the season opener last year. He’ll make time in a crowded midfield.

Adam Najem is 23 and will certainly see the field, impressing in the preseason in possession.

Marcus Epps, only 23 years, will use his creativity and guile to push his way onto the field on the wing.

Erik Ayuk is 21. Jack Elliott is 22 and will start every match he’s healthy. Mark McKenzie is 19. Matt Real is 18 and will spell Fabinho at left back. Auston Trusty is 19 and seems to have the inside track at center back. Keegan Rosenberry is 24 and has earned his spot on the field again.

Josh Yaro and Richie Marquez, certain starters just a year ago, are the old- and odd-men out at 23 and 25, respectively.

The kids, as the song goes, are indeed alright.

Summary

The Union did what their fans asked of them. No more, no less. Whether that was enough is for another article.

Certainly it all could’ve happened sooner, but the season only starts when the offseason ends. Almost every big winter signing in Union history has happened late, and the Union only have two matches in the next 30 days. Like the hit song goes from famous fictional band, “Sound Mound” (in Episode 15 of Season 5 of the NBC hit show, 30 Rock)…

It’s never too, it’s never too late for now.

And “now” is the time to see whether what Union fans wanted was what the team really needed.

22 Comments

  1. I also asked for a new coach… so, not everything 🙂

  2. Nice one Chris.
    .
    Is this the season where the Union become less Union-like? I’m really hoping so. I will admit that I’m getting more and more excited about the season. This is a bit refreshing after being a Grinch for so long. I’ll also admit to the nagging thought that this is still the Union and I’m prone to flinch before a punch has even been thrown.
    .
    But hope springs eternal as the saying goes, and I’ve had enough grumpiness to cover a lifetime. So for the next few days I’m just going to enjoy and be happy.

    • There’s new season smell in the air! Lets hope the boys give us something to cheer about this year. The offense definitely has the most potential we have ever had. Would love to see 10-15 more goals this year.

  3. I’m not sure this is true in the format expressed. All are true individually, but I can’t remember anyone saying play the kids in a vacuum. What I heard, and agreed with, was play the kids because the team wasn’t in playoff contention by August (not being mathematically eliminated is the soccer equivalent of saying I could get a date with Chrissy Teigen. Just because she hasn’t specifically said no doesn’t mean it would actually happen).

    I think general sentiment was more of an if then statement. If the team is garbage, why not play the kids?

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I’ve long argued for a pipeline that had nothing to do with wins and loses. Play the kids— in order to sell.
      .
      I’m a long term developmentologist though.

    • I get that sentiment, and it was true last year. I think my goal was to say, “If you consider yourselves the club that develops young players, then get them on the field for meaningful matches from beginning to end.”

  4. I think this is accurate, Chris. At least for some of us.
    .
    I have personally felt like this team really needed an identity and purpose regardless of results. If we grind out 45 points this season and miss the playoffs, but compete with a good mix of home grown talent and play an attacking style with conviction, I’m quite happy with that. At least for this season. What I don’t want to see is us get the same results by driving our 30-year-old mid-fielders into the ground by July.

    This is Stewart’s master plan. It’s just taking longer than most of us — me included — have had the patience for. He’s trying to build a system that produces a steady stream of Fontanas, Reals and Trustys who can than be sold to Germany and the Netherlands. In order to do that, these kids have to play.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Absolutely.

    • pragmatist says:

      The Sixers plan has its flaws and its critics. But at its core the idea was to gut the roster of bloated contracts and ill-fitting players and start all over again. It’s not exactly a match, but that is similar to what the Union have done here. They have removed the pieces that don’t fit, along with the unnecessary contracts, and they have started to build from the bottom.
      .
      We’ll need to wait on the results, but this is probably the first true season (to me, anyway) that we’ll get to assess Earnie. How do the youth produce? How did you fill in the edges? Is this a foundation for the future, or just another ill-fitting chapter?
      .
      But if you take a step back to view the forest, you see a design that is an acceptable starting point.
      .
      Not that anyone wants to hear a theory that sounds like we’re in yet another year of a rebuild, but it is what it is for now.

      • Yeah. Now’s the time to assess Earnie’s plans and also to assess Curtin’s ability to manage accordingly. In one of the interviews with Stewart this week, he said he’s impressed with Curtin’s “modern football mind.” I’m willing to take him at his word and see what Curtin can do with this squad this season.

  5. pragmatist says:

    Quick update: Charlie Davies announced his retirement today. As long as he and his family are healthy, he’ll do ok. Still amazing what he went through. I just wish he could have gotten back to USMNT form for us!
    .
    Happy travels, Charlie.

  6. What is the deal with Ilsinho? Why do we have to wait a few months?

    • pragmatist says:

      That was in reference to his salary. MLS doesn’t release salaries until summer (June?). So we won’t know how much they saved on his salary until then.

  7. Two other notes about the fan wish list for this year vs. what the FO delivered:

    We all wanted Blake locked down for the long haul. The FO delivered on this. Not as exciting as a new player, but a solid and critical move for the Union that should pay dividends down the road.

    We also wanted the additions to arrive for the beginning of training camp, not on the eve of the opener, since we have seen the how long it takes players new to MLS to become acclimated to the team and league. I realize there were lots of difficulties prying Dockal away from his Chinese club, but from what I’ve gathered from various interviews and media reports, the negotiations for Dockal only started a few weeks ago, whereas they should have started months ago.

    • Sources to those interviews and media reports?

    • pragmatist says:

      Accam has been here the entire time. Trusty has been locked in at CB all of preseason. Everyone else is in and (mostly) healthy.
      .
      Yes, it would have been much better to have Dockal in 2 months ago, but by all accounts, dealing with Henan was a nightmare. Maybe Henan didn’t even consider it until late January or so, but the Union could have been pressing since November. Hard to know. Earnie plays things very close to the chest.

  8. santo bevacqua says:

    I truly believe that the Union have combined a team of hungry young players with experienced players, this balance will make the team difficult to beat…..Curtin will bring this into fruition…..doop doop doop.

  9. Bedoya’s speech on December 11th 2018…
    .
    Philadelphia!
    If you love the Union, let me get a “hell yeah.”
    CROWD: Hell yeah!
    If you love the Philadelphia Union, let me get a “hell yeah.”
    CROWD: HELL YEAH!
    I’m going to take a second to talk to you about underdogs. I know Haris and Andre just talked about this, but I don’t think it’s been beat home enough.
    Jay Sugarman, upon buying this team, relinquished of all control pretty much in this organization … He was in New York where I didn’t see him for over eight years.
    This offseason, when he made a decision to spend, he came out of there a different man. He came out of there with a purpose and a drive to make this possible. And I saw a different Jay Sugarman. A spender.
    Jim Curtin.
    When Jim Curtin was hired, he was rated as the worst coaching hire by a lot of freaking analysts out there in the media. This past off-season, some clown told him that he was the least-qualified head coach in MLS.
    You saw a driven Jim Curtin, a man who went for it, went for it … in the MLS Cup … with a trick corner. He wasn’t playing just to go mediocre. He’s playing for a MLS Cup.
    And it don’t stop with him. It does not stop with him.
    Fabinho was told he was too old, didn’t have it anymore. Before he got hurt, he was the best freaking left back in MLS.
    Big CJ was told he didn’t have it.
    Fafa Picault ain’t good enough.
    Josh Yaro is too small.
    Ilsinho can’t lay off the juice.
    Fabian Herbers can’t score.
    Richie Marquez didn’t go to a Division I school.
    Eric Ayuk don’t got it.
    Haris Medunjanin’s too slow.
    Raymon Gaddis ain’t got it anymore.
    John McCarthy can’t stay healthy.
    Jay Simpson can’t score.
    Cory Burke can’t score.
    Warren Creavalle can’t pass.
    Anthony Fontana’s too young.
    Keegan Rosenberry was drafted too high.
    Matt Real ain’t got it.
    Adam Najem can’t fit the scheme.
    Derrick Jones can’t fit the scheme.
    Marcus Epps can’t score.
    David Accam can’t defend.
    Borek Dockal can’t defend.
    It’s the whole team. It’s the whole team.
    This entire organization, with a bunch of driven men who accomplished something. We were a bunch of underdogs. And you know what an underdog is? It’s a hungry dog. And Earnie Stewart has had this in our building for three years — it’s a quote in the locker room that has stood on the wall for the last three years — “Hungry dogs run faster.” And that’s this team.
    Bottom line is, we wanted it more. All the players. All the coaches. The front office. Chris Albright. Everybody wanted it more. And that’s why we’re up here today. And that’s why we’re the first team in Union history to hold that freaking trophy.
    Any of you know who the biggest underdog is? It’s y’all, Philadelphia. For 8 years, y’all have been waiting for this. You want to talk about an underdog? You want to talk about a hungry dog? For 8 years you’ve been starved of this championship.
    Everybody wonders why we’re so mean. Everybody wonders why the Philadelphia Union aren’t the nicest fans. If I don’t eat breakfast, I’m f–ing pissed off.
    No one wanted us. No one liked this team. No analyst liked this team to win MLS Cup and nobody likes our fans. And you know what? I heard one of the best chants all season long, and it’s one of my favorites and I hope you learn it too.
    Because I’m about to drop it right now.
    You know what I got to say to all those people who doubted us, all those people that counted us out, and everybody who said we couldn’t get it done?
    What my man Haris just said: F– you!
    SINGING: “No one likes us. No one likes us. No one likes us. We don’t care. We’re from Philly. F–ing Philly. No one likes us. We don’t care. No one likes us. No one likes us. No one likes us. We don’t care. We’re from Philly. F–ing Philly, No one likes us. We don’t care.”

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