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Seven points, seven answers

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Here are seven things you either are or should be thinking about when it comes to Philadelphia Union.

Ready? Go.

Carlos Valdes could start in the World Cup. 

Valdes was the only MLS product on Colombia’s roster in their 2-0 win over Paraguay in World Cup qualifying, and it marked his second start this year for the national team. Maybe it helped that former Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is on the roster and could vouch for Valdes’ quality (Saturday’s first goal in Houston notwithstanding). Or maybe Colombia’s national team staff has begun noticing all the quality their country has exported to MLS.

Whatever it is, Valdes is starting for a team currently in 3rd place in CONMEBOL about halfway through World Cup qualifying, and Brazil is not one of the teams in the mix due to its role as hosts in 2014. At 27 years old, Valdes will still be in his prime in two years. Brazil beckons.

Mike Lahoud gets a bad rap, and so does Keon Daniel.

Mike Lahoud and Keon Daniel each have limitations, but not nearly to the degree their detractors argue.

Lahoud is a pacy, hustling player. He maintains solid control of the ball, and he’s versatile. Don’t expect him to score many goals or add much to the attack, because he won’t. But every team has a place for classy, versatile, selfless players, and Lahoud fits the bill. Maybe it’s as a late game reserve who helps kill the game and a spot starter who can fill in at multiple positions. Maybe not. But don’t pin all the Union’s attacking problems on him.

As for Daniel, he simply does not fit into the 4-3-3 (really a 4-2-3-1) the Union deployed this year. He’s excellent in possession and a good crosser, and he has a hammer of a long distance shot. But he’s not a winger in a 4-3-3, because his instinct isn’t to take defenders on, but rather to maintain possession. He was good in 2011 for a reason: He had a place to play that fit his skills.

Is Roger Torres back?

Torres got hurt early on this year and then buried on the bench. The issue with him has always been that he needs to pick his spots better, but there’s no questioning his creativity.

The Union have two games left. It’s time for Torres to get a start. He’s looked good in recent showings, Freddy Adu continues to underwhelm for one reason or another, and Danny Cruz is playing hurt. What could Torres do with a pair of Farfans in the attacking midfield? You won’t know till you try it.

Is it time to shut Sheanon Williams down?

One minute, he’s sending in a perfect cross to create a Jack McInerney goal. The next, he’s hobbling on defense, clearly suffering the effects of his latest injury in 2012.

When players with lower body injuries continue playing, they often suffer other injuries by overcompensating for the damaged part. Is that happening with Williams, who has struggled with toe and ankle injuries this year? Could be.

There comes a time when you have to say to a competitor, “Rest up, so you can heal and come back at 100 percent later on.” That time may be now. Everyone knows what Williams can do. He has nothing left to prove this year. What’s more important at this point is what he proves next year, and that requires a clean bill of health.

Now starting at running back: Danny Cruz.

Several PSP readers have commented about Danny Cruz’s lead first touch and all-out hustling style. One you love. One you don’t.

The amazing thing about this guy is he didn’t start playing soccer regularly until he was a high school freshman in 2003. On the flip side, he was an all-region running back and three-year letterman in football as a high schooler. So, should it surprise anyone how he plays?

Some point out that he’s a typical American soccer player, full of hustle and athletic ability but short on technique. That seems true. But considering his background, it’s unsurprising, and he is likely still developing at age 22. He may have his flaws, but he’s impressed everywhere he’s played. He has to spend the off-season focusing on his first touch.

The Union need more productivity from their highest paid players. 

People talk about needing good designated players, but that’s not the issue. The Union just need more out of their best paid players, designated or not. Their three highest paid players — Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez, and Bakary Soumare — have fallen short of expectations for one reason or another.

The Union need their big name signings to pay off, and that hasn’t happened since Carlos Valdes signed before the 2011 season. Even that, however, was no big name signing at the time. Few outside Colombia knew who Valdes was.

The model should be players like Houston’s Oscar Boniek Garcia, New England’s Jerry Bengston, Colombus’ Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain, Seattle’s Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero, or even Chicago’s Chris Rolfe. They should be players who are fit, in form, in their prime, good enough for second-tier national teams, but who might not be big name guys and won’t demand a salary above $400,000. In the Union’s defense, Adu, Gomez and Soumare all looked that way on paper, but it hasn’t played out that way.

Jack Mac is one of the most efficient scorers in MLS.

Jack McInerney has scored in a team record four straight games. He has netted eight times in 18 games (1,357 minutes) since John Hackworth took over as manager and inserted the third-year player in the starting lineup. And McInerney is third in the league in scoring percentage at 24.2 percent (minimum 15 shots), finding net on eight of his 33 shots. (Only Alan Gordon and Patrice Bernier have been better, and Bernier’s rate is inflated by going 6 for 6 on penalty kicks.) That’s worth paying attention to.

Union officials have said they feel like they need to add a forward who can stretch the field. Whether that ends up being Sebastien Le Toux or not, people should not dismiss what McInerney has done since June. It’s not just good for a young player. It’s good for anyone.

17 Comments

  1. Lahoud is the definition of a squad player. Good guy to have around, you can play him in a couple different spots in a couple different situations. But, when you are the Union with a roster thinner than Keira Knightley, he plays 90 minutes and that is a problem. And I don’t think the issue is Valdes playing the World Cup, the issue is him heading overseas. He can’t tell me his head hasn’t been turned a bit playing for Columbia. Playing with a guy like Falcao has to get a guy thinking the grass is a bit greener on the other side.

    • Very good point on the overseas prospects. I cut that out to keep this post short enough, but you have to think it’s going to come to mind. I would imagine the Union may get some offers this off-season. It might be hard for them to turn down a good offer with Okugo and Soumare in hand, provided Soumare gets healthy.

      • True, but I’m just as concerned about losing Okugo this offseason as I am with Valdes. By showing his versatility in moving to CB and performing well at such a young age, Okugo is going to attract some interest from clubs overseas as well.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Re: Valdes. Yeah, I expect to hear about transfer rumors for him, but I don’t look at it like a bad thing. Obviously he would leave a huge hole, but that is the way this sport works. We aren’t the EPL or La Liga. If anything, I would be very happy for him and proud we had him first if he does go on to bigger and better things.

      • It would be bittersweet. But, from a cold business point of view, the return money-wise from a Valdes transfer overseas would be quite tidy.

  2. Our boy JackMac stats up and ranks pretty well all around against the league as of yesterday on MLS stats even with his short season:

    W/ties w/o ties
    G 21 10
    GWG 12 5
    G/90m 22 17
    G/90m* 13 12 *>1200 minutes
    SC% 27 13
    SC%* 10 9 *>1200 minutes

  3. BTW, did not know about Cruz’s late start in playing soccer. That explains a lot.

    • Is it really that late? I mean he started as a high school freshman… what is there before that? Rec council? Don’t think many players are highlighting Pee Wee league on their resumes.

      • Yes, it’s late for someone who ultimately becomes a professional.

      • It is really that late. Ages 15-19 are when footballers establish themselves with their academy and break into the senior team or at least the reserves, and basically set up the rest of their professional careers. It is impressive that Cruz is making a living as a footballer with such a late start, but lately I’ve been hoping he’ll be making his living somewhere else next year.

  4. Gordon Strachan says:

    Finally someone said something nice about Lahoud. He’s not just a utility guy, he is showing that he fits well in the double pivot role next to Carroll (4-2-3-1). I still favor Amobi (with a healthy Baky), but its huge to have that guy around, if something happens to Carroll etc in the future.

    Question about Okugo, as he matures can he become our mid-field general? He just sees the field so much better than most and we need help building the play towards attack.

    • Philly Cheese says:

      Union has to play with one defensive mid fielder. Utility guys who just knock the ball around, consistently give up the ball, and foul unnecessarily are a liability to have around. Most of Lahouds passes are backwards with a heavy touch.

    • 1) I totally believe Okugo can be a mid field general AND
      2) I totally think we should play with one DMid, being Okugo.
      Carrol has been great, but I really think Okugo would be an upgrade in every area. I’m thinking 4-1-3-2.

  5. ” In the Union’s defense, Adu, Gomez and Soumare all looked that way on paper, but it hasn’t played out that way.”

    Indicting the Union is their lack of commitment to scouting, which when you compare the size of the technical staffs who uncovered the values you mention to the Union, it’s not even a little surprising the results. While the coaches who have left town get the blame (and deservedly so) for bringing in Fro Lopez, Pajoy and even Adu; the credit seems to be missing for players last year like Paujnovic and Mondragon, who we didn’t make appear magically. Without a solid financial commitment to scouting and building out the FO, there will be no calvary riding to the rescue in 2013, DP or otherwise.

    • Interesting point, re: Mondragon. I considered including him in the post but omitted him, because I actually consider his tenure a failure from a club standpoint — but it’s a more complicated argument to articulate concisely. Had they kept him for two years and he played as he did last year, his signing would probably be considered a success. As it is, his one-year tenure serves as basically a temporary interruption between the relatively consistent problem of the Union featuring young goalkeepers who weren’t yet ready for the job, however much potential they might have.

      In terms of comparing the sizes of those other teams’ technical staffs, how specifically would you contrast them?

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