Featured / Union

There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us

Do You Know Who I am?

Stars. Americans love them. Ask the random 12-year old soccer player who Seydou Keita is and they will assume you’ve landed from another planet. Inquire as to the status of Owen Hargreaves’ recovery and they’ll look at you as if you have nine heads. Tell them you’ll get them a Massimo Ambrosini jersey for Christmas and they will spit in your face amidst chants of “MESSI MESSI MESSI!!!”. Point is the casual fan, like the 12-year old, is excited by star power. What do the three names above have in common- they were instrumental in helping their respective teams lift the Champions League trophy the past three seasons. Obviously, those teams also had Messi, Rooney, and Kaka on them. So, who will be Philadelphia Union’s talisman? Here are some old rumors and some tasty new nuggets . . .

You've Heard of Me, Right?

Raul Gonzalez, Real Madrid

His resume speaks for itself: all-time leading scorer in Champions League history, all-time leading scorer in Spanish national team history, all-time leading scorer in Real Madrid club history; Raul is undoubtedly one of the greatest strikers in world football history. Unfortunately, at the Bernabeu these days, that’s exactly how he’s treated- as history. A relic. A fading icon. An aging mascot. The return of Florentino Perez and his Galacticos Pt. II  project, Raul has fallen out of favor and out of the plans of Chilean architect, Manuel Pelligrini. The addition of Ronaldo, Benzema, and Kaka, coupled with the emergence of Gonzalo Higuain has relegated Raul to 10 minute cameos and run-outs in Copa del Rey throwaways. His contract runs through the 2010-2011 season, but could the Spaniard be ready for a move stateside?

He might not have the explosive pace of his 20s but he still knows where the goal is. Considering Philadelphia Union’s front two are composed of a Sounders reject and the sporadic Alejandro Moreno, I think Nowak would jump at the chance to add a player of Raul’s class. Three months removed from his 33rd birthday, Raul could be highly effective in MLS for at least two to three years. Look at Juan Pablo Angel- he couldn’t buy a place in the starting XI at Villa Park then came to the Pink Cows and ripped it up to the tune of 45 goals in 72 appearances. Considering he’s two years younger with a far more impressive pedigree and goal scoring record, what would Raul do against Easter Conference MLS teams?

However, considering he has a year left on his Madrid contract and would likely opt for a move to a secondary tier, the possibility of joining Nowak and Hackworth’s Philly crew isn’t very real.

Likelihood- 4.

I Put Asses In The Seats

Clarence Seedorf, AC Milan

If you tuned into this past weekend’s Serie A match between Milan and Chievo Verona, you’d know the 33 year-old Dutchie has still got it. He smashed a 94-minute winner into the top left corner of the net from 22 yards to bring the Rossoneri within one point of leaders Inter. Clarence Seedorf is the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs. His creativity, vision, and technique have brought him to the world’s most prestigious clubs: Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter, and Milan. Twice named to the UEFA Team of the Year, Seedorf is one of the classiest midfielders to ever play the game.

Could Philadelphia Union use his services? Absolutely. The need for a creative midfielder is apparent. Fred has battled injuries and inconsistency for the past two seasons. There’s a reason why DCU cut him loose. That’s not to say that he can’t return to his former dynamic self but he’s nowhere near the level of Seedorf.  Imagine him threading passes onto the path of a Mwanga diagonal run? Or pinging 40 yard crosses to Zimmerman, lurking by the corner flag? Sure, he’s a year older than even Raul but his role doesn’t require him to be a box-to-box midfielder but rather sit behind the two strikers and simply create goalscoring chances.

Signing Seedorf would be a coup of the highest order. He is truly world class. His professionalism and approach to the game would be contagious in the PPL locker room. However, it’s a big ask. Considering Nowak and co. would be competing with teams with far bigger purse strings from more accomplished leagues- Russia, Turkey, etc., the likelihood isn’t great. But he has publicly expressed an openness to coming to America.

Likelihood- 5.

I'm In a Gillette Ad For God's Sake!

Thierry Henry, Barcelona

Thierry Henry is a legend with Arsenologists everywhere. To every Gooner, he is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Arse. 174 goals in 254 appearances, Titi is the third-leading goal scorer in Premier League history. The focal point of the Invincibles, Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League campaign, he was the maestro of Highbury but not in Wenger’s plans for the Emirates. Shipped off to the Camp Nou in the summer of 2007, Titi never quite hit the high notes in Catalonia. He did bag some very important goals, however, in Barca’s 2008-2009 trophy-laden season. But hoisting six trophies doesn’t seem to be enough for Barca fans and, more importantly, the patriarch of Catalan football, Johann Cruyff. The Dutchman has made it quite clear that Henry isn’t pulling his weight, and along with Toure Yaya and Rafa Marquez, could be making his exit this summer.

Titi is exactly what Philadelphia Union needs – a player with pace and technique and most importantly, a guy who can bag goals in bunches. The best part about his game is that he doesn’t need great service. You wouldn’t necessarily need a Scholes type player threading him passes for him to be successful. He creates space for himself and his teammates on his own. He drags defenders out of position, most recently in Barca’s 3-nil thrashing of Valenica this weekend. Sure, little Leo filled up the scoresheet with his umpteenth hat trick for the Blaugrana but it was Titi who allowed him to run at defenders one on one by dragging markers out of the lanes. Nowak would be salivating at the thought of the Frenchman torching defenders on the PPL touchline.

While Henry hasn’t made a secret of his future MLS plans, it would seem a move to Red Bull New York is more to his liking than a trip south on I-95 to Chester. But consider this- not every rumored MLS transfer target can land in Harrison, New Jersey. You can’t have Angel, Henry, and Raul all on the same team. And we know Philadelphia Union have the financial means to get a deal done. Will Henry’s avowed love of Central Park preclude it from materializing? Possibly…

Likelihood- 6

Custom Built For Philly

Mario Balotelli, Internazionale

Ah, the first target not born in the 70s . . . Mario Balotelli is a massive talent. Born to Ghanian parents in Palermo, Sicily, Mario, like his name suggests, is Italian. But tell that to the throngs of idiotic Juve fans unfurling banners that read, “There’s No Such Thing As A Black Italian”. Every time Super Mario laces up his boots he’s faced with this abuse. He suffers the racist chants and the vitriolic songs. He was once enjoying a night out with friends in a Rome pub when a group of morons began pelting him with bananas.  He apparently responded calmly. Despite this constant marauding, Mario Balotelli loves Italy and loves being Italian and wants nothing more than to represent his country of birth in South Africa 2010. Yet Lippi, the manager who moves at the mercurial pace of Vatican II, has decided to go with the old guard, fossils from yesteryear. I won’t claim overt racism here, just an unwillingness to recognize that the times they are a’changin’ (ok, last rock music reference of the day, I promise). So why would Balotelli want to remain?

Philadelphia Union could conceivably match his wage bill at Inter, which is probably around 20 thousand euros a week. We could make him the focal point of 4-4-2, attack-minded side. He has the frame for the American game, 6’3″. He has the pace. He has the power. Of all the European prospects and rumored transfer targets, Balotelli fits the MLS mold the most. Let’s face it, this isn’t La Liga. There isn’t a high priority placed on technique. In many ways, MLS is the American college game on steroids. It’s Route One Football- balls over the top to target men who dish to attacking midfielders. It’s set pieces. It’s counterattacks. It’s not hundreds of mini-triangles. It’s the American way — big, fast, and strong; for better or for worse. Well, Balotelli has these attributes in abundance. He is one of the fastest men in Serie A, if not the fastest. He has an absolute cannon for a shot and is steadily becoming the league’s most feared free kick artist. He could step in and easily be the MLS leading goal scorer. Nowak and any coach would be tripping over themselves to sign him.

Unfortunately for the Union faithful, a move stateside seems unlikely. This man, despite the perceived lack of reciprocity, loves Italy. He loves Italian football. And despite his recent spat with Inter manager Jose Mourinho, he loves the Nerazzurri. It would take a serious hard sell to bring him to Philly. But isn’t he just the kind of character Philly sports fans love? Unbelievably gifted and unbelievably flawed…

Likelihood- 3

I've Been to the Linc, Now How Bout PPL?

Ruud van Nistelrooy, Hamburg

So many names:  Horseyface, Van the Man, The Flying Dutchman. It doesn’t matter how you say it, Rutgerus Johannes Martinus van Nistelrooy is one hell of a player. He can score with the right, with the left, with the head. He can score from set pieces, the penalty spot and is always a danger from open play.  He is one of the most feared players in and around the six-yard area. Ruud van Nistelrooy is a classic #9.  Simply put, he scores goals. Lots of goals. It doesn’t matter if the shirt is Oranje, Red, or Royal White, he will find the back of the net. And then he’ll do it again. And again. All the guy does is score.

Coaches love goalscorers. Nice guy or maniac, priest or pedophile (I know, I know…), it doesn’t matter to a coach if you’re scoring goals. It’s not much of a stretch to think Piotr and his staff would flip if they could land RVN.

Only problem is his still-burning European ambition. You’d think after winning everything in three countries he’d be sated enough and could make the switch to MLS. And maybe he might, but it probably won’t happen this year. His contract with Hamburg runs through June 2011. And taking into account the fact the German giants lost striker Ivica Olic to Bavarian powerhouse Munchen last summer, the thinking is that deal could be extended beyond next season.

Likelihood- 2

Practically a Philly Institution

Freddy Adu, Aris Thessaloniki (Benfica)

Has an American star ever fallen so far and so fast as Freddy Adu? He is one of the very few American soccer players to transcend sport and make waves in the mainstream media. The others being Mia Hamm, Alexi Lalas, and, to a lesser extent, Landon Donovan. Americans love a prodigy, a whiz kid.  Freddy Adu, breaking on to the scene at the tender age of 14 and lifting the MLS Cup in his first year as a professional, is now persona non grata in US Soccer.

Now in his third loan spell away from Benfica, Adu finds himself left out of Aris’ recent, 18-man Greek Cup squad and with but a glimmer of hope in making Bob Bradley’s final World Cup roster. Could it be time to place tail firmly between legs and march back to MLS? Granted, considering the archaic player rights rules (don’t get me started…) Philadelphia Union might have to deal with RSL or whoever owns his US rights, but could it be worth it? He might be  the future Jack McIerney right now- a speedy, creative type to run at defenders and make things difficult for MLS defenses.

The big question is whether or not Nowak would be willing to put himself through the media circus again for a largely unproven player. It’s possible Roger Torres, the Colombian on loan from America de Cali, could be the “Freddy Montero” of 2010 and therefore make the necessity of signing another attacking midfielder less apparent.

Likelihood- 1

Anyone you’d like to see all wrapped up in Union blue and gold? Share below…


  1. Peter Idler says:

    So what is up with your anti-Catholic slam (about Vatican II) while correctly criticizing the bigotry suffered by Balotelli? This kind of hypocrisy is rampant in our society. Thanks for showing that modern “tolerance” is selective in its outrage. Prejudice against Catholics and other conservative Christians is the last socially acceptable prejudice. What kills me, as a Catholic priest, is that some of the biggest offenders are people who claim to be Catholic.

  2. Uh…anti-Catholic slur? In implying that the Vatican isn’t quick to move with the times? Hardly. And I’m not associating priests with pedophiles, facts are. Pointing out the obvious hardly makes me a bigot. I don’t think I’ve engaged in any prejudice. I didn’t say all priests are pedophiles. In fact, if you read the sentence carefully, I imply the two are polar opposites. e.g.- “nice guy or maniac…”.

    Do you have any soccer-related commentary or just name calling?

    • Peter Idler says:

      You associated priests with pedophiles, don’t kid yourself (I know, I know). Public School teachers and married men with children are factually higher than priests both in raw numbers (of course because there are more of them) but also in PERCENTAGE OF THEIR POPULATION. Those are the facts.
      How about this? You stick to soccer so I don’t have to play anti-Catholic police. hen you don’t have to worry about me calling you out. (BTW you don’t even know what Vatican II did and didn’t do so don’t pretend to be an expert and I won’t pretend to know who the Union’s designated player will be.)

  3. Ryan – nice post.

    Balotelli is the most frustrating player I’ve seen in a long time. Immensely talented, yes. I think you let him off the hook by not mentioning his incredible penchant for on-field acting. He dives, he antagonizes, he goes down faster than… a rock in a high-gravity atmosphere (want to read anything into that one, anti-Catholic police?)

    He is a detriment to most games, despite his stunning ability. Mourinho didn’t leave him out of the squad at Chelsea for lack of talent. But I think there would still be a host of top clubs salivating for his signature if Inter let him walk. The Union would be at the end of a long line.

    I’m always amazed at how the veteran Inter players defend Balo when he makes hideous shows of grabbing his face or rolling around. Captain Zanetti should force the kid to grow up.

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