Featured / MLS / Union

You heard it here first…

First off, I write this post with no inside information, only with an optimistic twinkle in my eye because recent developments have led me to daydream of a day when every play made by a Philadelphia Union goalkeeper is not cause for a heart attack.

Joe Hart - Preferred

Across the pond in England, while Manchester City continues to make a mockery of the sport with their over-the-top spending, an old-fashioned goalkeeper controversy is brewing. Following a successful loan spell with Birmingham City, England World Cup goalkeeper Joe Hart returns to his parent club surrounded by great expectations. Many expect the 23-year-old Hart to backstop City’s charge, not just for a Champions League berth, but for ultimate glory in the Premier League as well. Whether he is up to the task remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, Hart’s expected first team status casts into doubt the playing time of last year’s starter, Ireland international Shay Given.

Shay Given - UNION SAVIOR?!?!

Given, known by most for his excellent decade as the shot-stopper for Newcastle United, was welcomed to Manchester City in February 2009 and proceeded, along with the other new recruits, to raise City from a mid-table side to the potential future juggernaut of English soccer.

Amidst City’s upward climb within England, Given also anchored Ireland’s quest for a spot in the 2010 World Cup Finals, only to be cruelly denied by the now-infamous Thierry Henry handball that brought victory to France. Despite his country’s unjust failure to qualify, keepers of Given’s pedigree are rare and having recently cast his further participation with Manchester City in doubt by suggesting that if he is not the starter, he wants to be transfered elsewhere to insure first team action, Shay Given could very soon find himself in search of a new club.

Enter the Union…

Calamity Seitz (Calamity Knighton not pictured)

Union brass have made it very clear that they do not believe they need a designated player to continue the progress of the club. Yet, following Brad Knighton’s horror moment on Sunday, and Chris Seitz’ continued lack of confidence, it does not seem far-fetched to imagine that a well-tested goalkeeper might bring the structure to the Union defense that has been so lacking throughout this inaugural season.

Critics of MLS would complain that at 34-years-old, Given is passed his prime. But given his recent form and the large numbers of keepers playing at an extremely high level deep into their thirties (Van der Sar, Friedel, Schwarzer, to name a few) it is realistic to believe that there could be as many as four or five good years available for the club who succeeds in landing the Ireland veteran.

With each passing match, the doubt and frustration growing amidst the defense cannot be overlooked. The Union are developing into a stylish, aggressive outfit, one that will hopefully continue on the path to helping MLS shed its reputation as a slow, rough-and-tumble league.  But every time points are left on the table and the team’s haul of clean-sheets remains at zero it is cause for real concern.

That is why selecting a proven, veteran goalkeeper, like Shay Given, as the franchise’s first designated player makes so much sense. Defenders with confidence in their goalkeeper can play higher up the field, allowing them to challenge attackers before they can turn, winning the ball in midfield rather than having the point of engagement in a dangerous goal scoring location. Bringing the play higher up the field would allow creative players like Coudet and Mapp more freedom to venture forward and serve dangerous balls through defenses, further increasing the high-pressure already being applied by Sebastian Le Toux and Danny Mwanga.

Given v Henry - Part Deux?

And Union strategy aside, just think of this move from MLS’ perspective, a league intent on forging rivalries would be chomping at the bit in anticipation of the world tuning in to see the next chapter of the Henry v Given saga, as the Union v Red Bulls rivalry would finally have some real intrigue. Don Garber should want to help make this a reality, right?

Of course its a long shot.

Still, we can hope…

5 Comments

  1. Great caption on the Seitz photo. I, like you, wish for a goalkeeper who might be able to, you know, keep goal. But it is the longest of long shots.

  2. Shay Given is great. I’m completely behind a grassroots push to bring him to the Union with promises of feature interviews and a weekly column on the city’s best soccer website.

  3. And an interview on KYW’s Philly Soccer Podcast…

  4. Frankly, they don’t have to spend designated player money at all. Bill Gaudette of the Puerto Rico Islanders would be a vast improvement over what the Union have minding the nets and at 30, they could get a decade of service out of him.

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