Featured / Union

Who’s gonna drive this team?!?

PSP’s Adam Cann and Eli Pearlman-Storch chat about Philadelphia Union’s playmaker situation.

Freddy Adu expressed interest in returning to Europe immediately during an interview with ESPN on Monday.

The money quote from Adu is here: “It would be an amazing opportunity to be able to stay here at Rayo [Vallecano].”

“I definitely miss playing in Europe,” Adu continued, “I always said that when I went back to MLS, I wanted stability, and that I wouldn’t go back until I could play for a top-five league. But if I did get the chance, I’d have to pursue it.”

Adu recently returned to the states after a 10-day training stint with Madrid-based Rayo. The Spanish side have seen two offensive players leave in the January transfer window and are preparing to face the two teams tied with them —Mallorca and Granada—three points above the relegation zone.

Let’s assume…

Adu has only been in Philly a short time, but it’s clear his heart lies across the Atlantic. Whether you think Adu’s poor form with the Union was due to the physical nature of MLS, an ankle injury, or just a another example of the inconsistent form he has shown throughout his career, it appears the playmaker has a lot to do if he wants to make the Union starting eleven, let alone a move back to Europe. Yet, Rayo seems interested.

And with the contract status of Roger Torres still unknown, the Union could be on the verge of losing the two players expected to compete for a spot at the top of the midfield diamond in 2o12.

Let’s lay out and analyze some potential fixes should both Torres and Adu leave:

SuperDraft a playmaker.

Adam: There isn’t much size but plenty of talent in this year’s SuperDraft. If the Union are lucky, UCLA’s Kelyn Rowe, Louisville’s Nick DeLeon, UNC’s Enzo Martinez or, ideally, UCSB’s Luis Silva will drop to #13. Only Silva has the size the Union need to add to the lineup, but DeLeon and Martinez could step into an MLS side immediately. Rowe is more of a wildcard. He has gross amounts of talent but ended the past season coming off the bench; he may be more of a later than a now.

Eli, what do you think of finding a playmaker in the SuperDraft?

Eli: If any of these players is available when the Union pick, they should be acquired, yet it is too much to ask a rookie to lead the attack since the difference between college and the pros is just too great. All four of the guys you mention look primed to have excellent success in MLS and perhaps abroad, but will all take time to develop. In my opinion, none represent the answer for 2012, though all look to be very valuable pieces down the road.

Look abroad. 

Adam: The Union have already mined the international waters for three signings since the 2011 season ended, and with eleven international players under contract the team could be reticent to cause more roster headaches when they already have internal options. Also, there don’t appear to be many great options on the immediate horizon.

Eli, should the Union look outside the league to shore up their attack?

Eli: Honestly, given the Union’s current situation with an abundance of international players, this seems unlikely. Yet, when you look at some of the league’s elite programs, they have used an international signing to fill the No. 10 shirt. Dallas acquired David Ferreira from Colombia, Real Salt Lake picked up the Argentine, Javier Morales, and most recently, Seattle found their creative playmaker, Mauro Rosales, also in Argentina. Unlike Adu or Torres, these are mature, veteran players between 30-32 years of age who are well-versed in setting the pace and tone of a match for their respective sides. But again, given the signings of Josue Martinez, Porfirio Lopez, Gabriel Gomez and Nizar Khalfan, it is hard to see the Union acquiring another international without lightening the load of foreign players already on their books.

Look inside.

Adam: Even without Adu and Torres, the Union have a wealth of talented midfielders who could stake their claim to the playmaker role. Kyle Nakazawa, Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel, Zach Pfeffer and Veljko Paunovic all said howdy to the position in 2011 but nobody on that list is an answer in 2012. Pfeffer may play a bigger role, Jimmy McLaughlin could see a few minutes, and Amobi Okugo could move into a more box-to-box role.

Eli, are you comfortable going into the season with the team playing hot potato with the attacking midfielder role?

Eli: No. I’m not comfortable with that idea at all. Of the names listed above, only Keon Daniel and Michael Farfan have the ability to play consistent minutes as the attacking fulcrum in the center of the park. Nakazawa has proven to be little more than a depth player, Pfeffer’s poor performances have shown that he is still years away, and Paunovic cannot keep up with the speed of play when he drops into the midfield. As for Daniel, I think the Union will call his number frequently to give some size and composure to the Union midfield, but while he worked hard and showed strong possession skills, he did not show off the craft and guile that is required from a consistent playmaker in MLS. Michael Farfan has the tools to fill that role, though after watching the partnership that developed between him and Sheanon Williams, why would you break up such a dynamic duo? Between those two, the right side of the Union formation has the potential to terrorize teams for years to come, and that’s not something with which to tinker. 

With respect to Okugo, I think his impressive showings on the GA trip and in the early Olympic camps have raised a lot of eyebrows. It is clear now that he is seen by many as the best young holding midfielder the U.S. possesses. Add that to the fact that his GA status will definitely expire following this season, and he should see a lot more of the field in 2012. Now that the Union possess five quality strikers, they need to have at least two of them on the pitch at all times, perhaps even three. This could definitely result in a narrow, Chelsea-esque 4–3–3, with Okugo and Carroll behind Marfan, and any two of Martinez, Mwanga, McInerney and Paunovic alongside Le Toux up top. Williams is always going to get forward on the right wing and Lopez appears to be no slouch in that regard either.

Dax McCarty? Trade?

Adam: The Union have lots of young and valuable pieces they could dangle if the right player was available, but who would that player be?

Eli, any vets out there that would be worth a player plus a second rounder?

Eli: As you said in your season review of Peter Nowak, his eyes are firmly and unwaveringly planted on the future. That said, there are very few pieces with whom he is likely to part. Fringe players like Nakazawa, Tait, Langley or Houapeu could be allowed to leave, but honestly, they have very little market value. The only two players of considerable value who I could see leaving are Gabe Farfan and Keon Daniel. In an ideal world, both would stay with the club as they add depth and toughness at multiple positions, but the signing of Lopez at left back and Gomez, who can play centrally or wide on the left side, makes both players slightly more expendable. 

But speculation about a trade would imply that there was a player out there worth acquiring. And the pickings are slim. One name that could interest Union fans is Vancouver’s Davide Chiumiento. The Swiss international, who came up through the Juventus academy, notched 9 assists in 1674 minutes for the ‘Caps in 2011. While the Whitecaps would certainly be reticent to part with one of the few bright spots in a dour first campaign, the idea of acquiring back a younger piece (Chiumiento is 27) and an additional draft pick to help stock their cupboard with more talent could be an interesting proposition for the Canadian club.

Re-sign Fred?

Eli: Only if you pay to fly me down under to pick him up.

Paul Scholes?

Eli: You’ll see Nowak lacing up the boots before that happens.



  1. lol.. Paul Scholes. The game he had was exactly what I was expecting. Tons of turn overs, sloppy passing, and a seemingly weak kick. He should of left the boots hanging 😛

    I know everybody is on the Keon is coming back train, but the matter of when should also play into this. What if we don’t have Adu, Torres, OR Keon next season (or for the first few weeks until Keon’s stupid visa stuff is settled). All eyes land right on Marfan.

    He’s shown great vision, great passing, and even a bit of skill while playing on the wing. He we slip him behind the strikers to play the AM role, he could do extremely well. He has the right mind set for it, he has the necessary skills for it. I think Eli’s not giving Paunovic enough credit in the midfield. He probably has the best vision on the team, which is one of the more useful attributes to have as a central playmaker. I think he plays fine in the midfield and while he might struggle with the pace, he still makes better decisions and passes than most of the players on the team who try the same things he does.

    I think ideally a starting line up (at this point, and without Keon, Adu, and Torres).

    Le Toux – Martinez
    Gabe – Michael

    Unless the Union make a steal in the draft, none of the players we pick up will be starters.

    • As I’ve written before, I have no issue with Paunovic playing as a striker. But I reiterate my concerns with him as a midfielder. He always drops far too deep and does not get enough touches on the ball to be a true midfield creator. I agree that he has excellent vision, but do not feel that, at this point in his career, he has the legs or work rate to run the offense.

      Also, Gomez over Carroll and Okugo. Really? I think theres a better chance that he and Garfan platoon on the left.

      • The only way Carroll is getting into the lineup in my opinion is learning how to play a partnered DM/CM with Gomez. Gomez is a solid defensive mid, and unlike Carroll, he can score. But 2 DMs always has people complaining. And Okugo.. Yea.. Okugo in my opinion isn’t the greatest option as a true defensive mid. Now I think he could be a great partnered CDM, because I think he plays better when he’s pushed up in the attack.
        It’s just me though I mean. I think we have one of the strongest, versatile midfield in the league. We have players who can play central, wing, defense, etc etc.
        I don’t wanna see Gomez at left back, I think Lopez is gonna lock it down. If Garfan touches left back (starting, if he subs on fine) again I might go nuts.

      • I dont see why we wouldnt start Carrol at CDM, in my opinion he was the only consistant midfielder we had last year and he saved our asses many times. The only time I can see him not starting is to give him a rest and get Okugo touches on the ball. And honestly, I’m not the biggest Okugo fan in the world either, but from what I heard, his form on the GA tour and for the national team shows promise, I wouldnt mind him getting some touches to help him grow.

  2. Josh T. of Kensington says:

    Let’s find a way to keep the nifty Columbian and he will learn to drop dimes like a coffee machine drops exspresso.

    • Josh T. of Kensington says:

      And good riddance to Adu. I really don’t understand, based on what I’ve seen, how he has the talent to play in la liga, which either means that he never brought his A game here, or that they somehow think one good game with the national team is more important than ten lackluster performances with an MLS club.

  3. Please dont even mention possibly losing Torres. Thats the short of stuff I have nightmares about!

  4. MikeRSoccer says:

    Do you guys have any idea when the loan contract for Torres expires(ed?)? Long shot I know given how open the Union are….

  5. I dont necessarily think that either Torres or Adu drove the U last season…also could see both elsewhere at the start of next season. Anybody else notice the Union have been shopping mwanga?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *