For Pete's Sake

What the Rosenberry trade tells us

Photo: Earl Gardner

People love to grade trades.

Understandably so! It’s a fun exercise, allowing fans and media to put themselves in the shoes of a club’s decision-maker and evaluate how much the move helped — or hurt — their team.

Often, though, there’s not enough information to adequately evaluate a trade, like trying to grade a paper without knowing what class it’s for.

The Union’s surprising trade of right back Keegan Rosenberry to Colorado Rapids in exchange for allocation money is the sort of move that’s tough to pin down immediately.

With new, aggressive sporting director Ernst Tanner promising changes in the way the team plays and more roster moves in the coming weeks, the Rosenberry trade is only one piece of what seems likely to be a busy offseason.

But while it might be impossible to give this trade a letter grade in the moment, there’s a lot we can glean from the club’s decision to move on from their starting right back.

Keeping in mind that it might take months or years to properly evaluate this trade for Philadelphia, let’s break down the possible risks, the potential rewards, and what the move teaches us about Tanner’s approach.

The risks

The main risk of the deal is almost too obvious to write down, but we have to start there: the Union suddenly have a huge hole at right back.

When you think about the positions where the Union needed an upgrade at the start of the window, right back might be the last one that comes to mind.

But instead of a steady, above-average contributor in Rosenberry, the Union’s right back depth chart now consists solely of Olivier Mbaizo, a 21-year-old Cameroonian who spent most of last year with Bethlehem Steel. (Total MLS appearances: one.)

Even if the Union re-sign their longest-tenured player — Ray Gaddis — in the coming weeks, the club will certainly enter 2018 weakened at the position. Gaddis is an average MLS defender who offers somewhere between next to nothing and nothing on offense, and the peak years of his career are behind him.

The other risk is that the Union have sold low on Rosenberry. At his best, Rosenberry has flashed the potential to be one of the best right backs in MLS. His passing ability and offensive instincts were key to the 2017 Union’s success — just look at how much the team’s attacking play tilted to the right side of the field, or how Ilsinho seemed unleashed whenever he could play a two-man game with the young fullback. He also just earned a call-up to the USMNT’s January training camp for the second time in his career.

Rosenberry is a local product and was one of the most popular players on the team (possibly even the most popular). If Rosenberry flourishes in the high altitude of Colorado while the Union struggle to replace him on defense — or fail to reinvest the funds they got back in real talent — the Union’s disheartened and disenchanted fan base will have another reason to tune out.

The rewards

All of the above being said, there’s a decent case to be made that this trade might have real rewards for Philadelphia.

The first is the fat pile of MLS funny money that the Union pried away from Colorado. For a club with limited resources, $300K to $400K in allocation money over the next two years is nothing to sneeze at. If Tanner has quality players targeted who will need real salary investment to acquire, the money could reinforce the squad at multiple positions.

It’s also worth considering a different view of Rosenberry’s long-term place in the side. At 25, Rosenberry is near the peak of his growth — and might even be considered old by Tanner’s standards, coming out of the European development system. It’s no secret that Rosenberry and manager Jim Curtin had tensions in the difficult 2017 season. And with just one year left on his contract, the Union faced the possibility of giving Rosenberry a major raise or watching him leave the club.

The real unknown in all of this is Olivier Mbaizo. The young Cameroonian played well enough in his one MLS start, and the reports from Bethlehem Steel are that he showed real promise over the course of 22 appearances.

If Mbaizo can give you 80 to 90 percent of Rosenberry’s production over the next three years at 60 percent of his salary, it’s a win for the Union — and a well-calculated transaction by Ernst Tanner.

The importance of being Ernst

Every move the Union make this offseason is a tiny window into Tanner’s mind.

After nearly three years of Earnie Stewart’s leadership, Union observers are now trying to glean as much as they can about a man who has a very different operating style.

The Rosenberry trade makes one thing quite clear: Tanner isn’t afraid to be aggressive and unsentimental. Trading one of the Union’s most popular and consistent contributors is a bold move, especially without an immediate corresponding move to announce. When combined with the Sergio Santos signing, Tanner is also getting his business done much earlier in the offseason than his patient-to-a-fault predecessor.

The move also demonstrates a certain amount of business sense. Stewart rarely made moves inside MLS — either incoming or outgoing — and rarely got value for players who were no longer in the club’s plans. (See the unceremonious release of Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro at the end of the 2018 season.)

Tanner, on the other hand, is willing to stake his tenure on a major calculated risk — attempting to get good value for a proven player in the hopes that the returns will strengthen the side elsewhere.

One of the questions with Tanner’s entry into MLS is whether he would be able to master the league’s deranged internal player allocation mechanisms. The trades of Fabian Herbers and Rosenberry suggest that he’s getting the hang of it pretty quickly.

While the trade teaches us more and more about the Union’s primary decision-maker, it doesn’t complete the picture of an offseason still very much in progress.

What we don’t know — and won’t know until the first 10 games or so of the 2019 campaign have come and gone — is whether Tanner’s first offseason will make the grade.

27 Comments

  1. I’m sorry but who was our LB that was burned for Houston’s first goal?

    I’m sick of this mindless attitude that Gaddis is a good defender simply because he is fast. He is not. He gets beat as much as everyone else. Just because he has enough speed to run someone down a couple of time a year people want to put him in the All Star game.

  2. Bill Baltrus says:

    Looks even worse now that he got called up to USMNT January Camp. Tanner better pull off a miracle at right back

    • Called up and having a future with the MNT are two different things. Also, MLS players are the only players available during the January window

  3. We still never replaced Jordan Harvey!! I’d like to think the Union we going to get better not be satisfied with 80% compared to last years right back.

  4. The part that strikes me about this article the most had nothing to do with the trade. It was noticing that Rosenberry might be the most popular player…or maybe not. For a team to not know who its most popular players are (either with fans, media, other players, etc.) is a sign of a team searching desperately for a star and for a system.
    .
    But that said…I can’t imagine that this move was made in a void, and that it was done with the sole intention of getting rid of KR. That is too much money to just sit there in case it’s needed. There was a purpose to this, otherwise you hang on to Rosenberry and you resign him at a reasonable rate for a quality right-back.
    .
    If this was done as an unconnected move, then just fire everyone. But I can’t see that being true.

    • That’s an interesting point. I do think the Union are really hurting for star power, and have ever since they traded Le Toux. Even at the end of his career, he was beloved by the fans.
      .
      Now, who is there? Andre Blake is amazing, but keepers are rarely “stars” in the way attackers are. Alejandro Bedoya is the club’s highest-paid player, but I don’t sense that Bedoya has the relationship with the fan base that a guy like Le Toux had. (It’s tough for me to judge, because we all have our individual preferences, and I find Bedoya to be a tough guy to like.)
      .
      I hedged somewhat on calling Rosenberry the most popular player because I don’t have evidence to back that up. (Lawyer by trade.) But he was undoubtedly well-liked as both a local product and someone connected to the community. That element will be tough to replace.

  5. I was very impressed with Mbaizo when I saw him play last season. Add Mbaizo and Santos to our starting line-up and that is a serious speed upgrade. I don’t think these moves bode well for Haris and I would expect to see a lot more of Jones next season. It will be interesting to see how we transition from a possession system to a more pressure system of play.

  6. el Pachyderm says:

    Tells me… Ernst Tanner ain’t fucking around, tells me.
    .
    for 10 years, I’ve been greasing my navel watching this team do NOTHING for months and months.
    .
    Works or Not… who gives a shit. PROACTIVE v REACTIVE.
    .
    I’ll take the proactive whip, mace, talk dirty to me tie me up in leathers….(oh wait- never mind) every time.

  7. Outside of the box says:

    3-5-2 Coming?

    • Jesus, if it IS coming, then this was really a mistake, because Rosenberry is the best guy you could ever want to play the right wing in a 3-5-2.

  8. I am curious as to whether the plan will be to see if they can sign Ray again, and if so then to switch Gaddis back to the right, either as primary for the position or as backup to/relief valve for Mbaizo. I note that there is a question about the new potential for flexibility in formations, and I don’t know that Keegan would have been an unqualified success with a 3-5-2. His tendency to attack worked with the way that the team wanted to play in the old formation, but no 3 back formation can have a fullback up as far as all of that.

  9. What this tells me is we’ll be playing a 3 back (Trusty, McKenzie & Elliot) and that the team didn’t see Rosenberry as a wing back. In a perfect world, you’d say that the $300K+ allocation money will be used wisely to bring in a quality player. But this is the Union, so the more realistic expectation is that it will be wasted on a player who either (a) already plays a position we have adequately covered (b) is someone we’ve never heard of or (c) a supposedly quality player who then comes to us and does nothing.

    Like many of the others above, I don’t see the value the organization places on Gaddis. I’m pretty much convinced he has the negatives of pictures from an office Christmas party that provides job security.

  10. I can’t imagine The Union made the first call. Not that they were overly attached to Rosenberry but they had so many larger problems to deal with.
    I suspect Colorado may have made the call Ernst looked at his depth chart and decided he could live with this.
    Quick decisive action without an immediate back up plan may be the Ernst trademark.
    That could be a good thing OR it could be a bad thing.
    We’ll see.

  11. This move needs context to be assessed properly. If that money is used well to improve the roster, it looks better. If they’re right that M’Baizo is ready (and worth an international spot), it looks better. In the right now, the team gets worse on the field, losing a player who is popular and was quite effective this past season.

  12. Context matters. Today, we’re a weaker team today due to this move. We lost a starter who was effective (and popular), particularly in the possession game. It all depends on what happens next. If M’Baizo is ready and can play, this deal looks better. If it’s Gaddis again as a starter, I think the deal looks bad. Then, what do they do with the money? Hard to judge until they use (or not use) the allocation money received.

  13. Just noticed that Matt Mahoney’s profile on Linked-in, and it is the former Bethlehem player’s picture as well as listing Bethlehem as a previous club, lists him a a professional soccer player with Sacramento.
    https://www.linkedin.com/in/matt-mahoney-062607a2
    .
    That puts him out of the aftermath of the Rosenberry trade.
    .
    2:30 PM Thursday Dec 20 18.

  14. Players, to be cold, are assets. In the soccer world they seem to be even more so as the potential to sell to the world increases ones value. The Union have limited funds to commit to buying said assets. Thus in order to maximize or increase the value from said assets, the Union cannot afford to leave value/assets/money just wasting away and lying fallow.
    .
    How much time and money have the Union wasted over the years in players that have been over evaluated and over payed? How much money have they over spent on backups? Ernst just took what, 200k off the books, turned it into $300k funny money, so basically turning it into $500k and unlike previous SD’s, I’m sure he’s going to reinvest more wisely.
    .
    There truly are no sacred cows on this team. Players are assets and needed to be considered as such when it comes to the welfare of the club. They are either helping the team to advance it’s goals in one form or another, or they need to be gone. Call it money ball or just smart business sense, but this is how the Union need to operate if they want to have a chance of building value and becoming successful. Be thankful. The Union have taken another step towards sitting at the big boy table. Pray that Tanner stays long enough to see the remaking of this club through. On a day when most of you are panicking and hand wringing, I’m absolutely giddy with excitement. Be at ease my fellow Unionites better things are coming.

    • Um, he also took a position of no need at all and turned it into a position of great need. Which needs to be filled. Which is gonna cost money.

      Now I thought M’Baizo looked pretty good in his one start, but, y’know, that was one start. Assuming we actually have to shell out some of that money to get someone else to play RB now, how much are we actually clearing on the Rosenberry deal?? Enough to make it worthwhile?? I am somewhat skeptical.

      • Read a comment somewhere today that says Tanner is expecting a competition at right outside back/ wingback and that the better player will win it. I would think Gaddis and Mbaizo.

      • I’d argue, and Ernst has already said, he believes they are covered in that position, Mbaizo and Gaddis. There’s Real and Fabi fighting on the left (in theory, though Tanner has mentioned a left back). So how many backs do you want? If that funny money can bring in a winger/forward or help to pay down a pricey #10, is that then not a better allocation of funds? you are letting your heart over rule your head here. Let’s not kid ourselves, Rosenberry wasn’t/isn’t world class. If he was, he certainly doesn’t belong on this squad in any way. Why? Because in any way you shape his value is being wasted at a position of relative strength here and abroad. So even if he isn’t world class, but someone will give more than the value you have in him, and replacing him is a lot easier and cost effective, and then allows you upgrade a different position.
        .
        I do not argue Keegan has value and contributed to the club. He was popular with the fans. Get it. But his contract was coming up, and he was most likely looking for a raise and probably deserves it. The Union cannot afford that luxury. They can’t if they truly want to be competitive. Would it make sense to be spending $400-500k on a right back? Even if it’s a more modest pay raise at like $300k? When you could have a relatively adequate player for $150k or less. The Union need to be smarter financially and I think this is the start. If you wanted this team to spend more wisely this is it.

  15. This move tells me that the fish rots from the head. New Sporting Director, same idiotic penny-pinching philosophy. Unless and until Sugarman is gone, his team will be mid-table mediocrity falsely celebrating USOC contention and the occasional one and done in the playoffs.

  16. You’re a mean one…Mr. Grinch…

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