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And now the off-season really begins …

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

It began predictably, and that in itself was unpredictable, considering the last 10 months.

Philadelphia Union waived Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez and Krystian Witkowski on Monday in the team’s first off-season transactions. It was exactly the type of move a team makes after falling short of expectations: You cut players whose performances don’t match their salaries.

It’s yet the latest sign that, after one of the most unpredictable seasons imaginable, the team has returned to normal and Union management has a plan based in conventional sports common sense.

That’s not a bad thing.

Innovation has its place, but after Peter Nowak’s spectacular five-month implosion of his team and his career (see South Park’s imitation of his — errr, David Caruso’s — career), the Union don’t need clever unpredictability right now. They need stability and a course in which you say you’re going to do very obviously logical things, such as cutting salary to clear space to sign new players, and then you actually do those things.

Gomez is talented and should latch on somewhere, but he didn’t fit with the Union or meet expectations warranted by his salary. Lopez was not the answer at left back — and certainly not in the wingback role demanded of the Union’s fullbacks. Witkowski simply never got on the field after a devastating concussion and has an uphill battle to build a career now because of it, regardless of his talent.

The moves are a reminder that the Union are still cleaning up the roster mess Nowak left them. This may not be the last of it.

Step 2: Find new players

What will be interesting to see is whether the Union try to acquire any of the players made available in Monday’s waiver draft. They chose not to pick any during the draft itself, but like Dallas and probably other teams, they probably saw benefits in waiting till afterwards so they weren’t bound by previously signed contracts. Now, those players are available on a “first come, first serve” basis — almost like free agency, seemingly.

The two most intriguing names on that list may be Bill Gaudette and Corey Hertzog, in part because both hail from eastern Pennsylvania, but also because both can really play.

Gaudette is a proven veteran goalkeeper who was probably a casualty of the New York Red Bulls’ mismanaged goalie carousel. The club acquired him from Los Angeles after starting keeper Ryan Meara went down with an injury and Hans Backe showed no confidence in backup Jeremy Vuolo, another eastern Pennsylvania product. Gaudette made some show-stopping saves behind a porous New York back line, and then he got hurt too, opening the door for newly acquired Luis Robles to step in and impress.

Gaudette has the quality to start in MLS, but he might accept a backup job. The Union could be a logical landing spot, but the question is whether he has the veteran off-the-field intangibles the Union want in a backup to Zac MacMath. In all likelihood, he probably wants and deserves a chance to compete for a starting job in MLS.

As for Hertzog, he’s even more intriguing. Yes, some might say the last thing the Union need is yet another young, unproven striker, but Hertzog is worth considering. The Berks County and former Reading United player never truly got a chance in two years with New York, buried in a depth chart headed by Thierry Henry. He went to Wilmington on loan last year and lit up USL, scoring 11 goals in 20 games and taking the team to the league championship. The Union reportedly tried to sign him as a homegrown player before the 2011 amateur draft but failed to get MLS approval.

The new Generation adidas wrinkle

Hertzog’s attractiveness depends on how MLS rules on Generation adidas players like Hertzog are working behind the scenes. Historically, a player like Hertzog would not have graduated GA after two years, having only played in five MLS games. Apparently, MLS quietly began shortening contracts for some GA players to two years, with options, and Hertzog was freed up when New York didn’t pick up his option.

It appears that a prospective new team would be able to sign him to a brand new contract, untethered to Hertzog’s New York deal. But what other MLS policies remain unknown that could affect it? You never know when it comes to MLS.

The change could impact the Union on other fronts. It may not affect MacMath’s GA status, because goalkeepers have always seemingly operated under a different set of rules. (It’s still unclear if he will graduate, but the Union are likely lobbying for another year under GA, which would keep his salary off the team’s books.) And Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo are still likely to graduate after becoming regular starters in their third season.

But it means Chandler Hoffman might face a situation similar to Hertzog if he has the same contract stipulations.

As usual, time will tell. If one thing is predictable with MLS, it’s that some arcane roster management rule won’t be known to the public until well after it comes into play.

 

8 Comments

  1. Sebastien L. says:

    Bonjour!

    I am available!

  2. Hack needs to make a move that improves on the return from this years draft. Two middle of the second round picks is a coin flip as to whether there will be any help for 2013 available. Either trade a player and swap picks to move into the first round or deal a pick outright and bring in a veteran presence. I don’t think standing pat on our picks will get it done in 2013.

    • I disagree. The last thing we need is another young project. We have enough young players on this team – starters and key backups – that the draft shouldn’t even matter to us.
      All the moves we need to make can and should be achieved by trades/signings. Veteran presence, talented striker. Give me a few crafty signings + a DP over a big name draft pick any day.

      • Agree. The SuperDraft doesn’t have a ton of importance, and it’s really hit-or-miss throughout. You don’t get a heck of a lot of value moving up.

      • SuperDraft is hit or miss because most MLS clubs do a very poor job at scouting the college ranks. Too many teams rely on the SuperDraft Combine as there sole judge of talent. The Union do an OK job of scouting locally, but don’t have the resources/people to do a more thorough job.

        This is where the Reading United affliation is critical. United brings in top college talent each summer. Brendan Burke gets the opportunity to get an in depth look at a player, his skill sets, habits, work ethic, etc. which is then used as the team preps for the draft.

      • As long as we play in a salary cap league with restrictions on foreign player signings and limited new player signings, all player acquisition methods will be relevant. My statement boils down to the idea that we won’t maximize what is available through the draft, trades and all, if we stand pat picking twice in the second round. Ship one to Colorado for Brian mullan; ship a pick and lahoud for pick in the top half of the first round and get an elite defensive prospect – I don’t care what they do with the picks, but bringing in hit or miss projects won’t help 2013.

  3. “If one thing is predictable with MLS, it’s that some arcane roster management rule won’t be known to the public until well after it comes into play.”

    Agree. Are they announcing these things, or do they just assume the reaction will be negative and keep it to themselves?

    • They often keep them quiet because there’s a view that it helps with negotiating leverage in all sorts of areas. That’s understandable. But one thing I actually found a few months back when talking with an MLS spokesman for a PSP piece is that sometimes there are no motivations behind not publicizing them. It simply doesn’t happen, not by any cover-up, but simply by people being people and not thinking anyone would be interested in this arcane stuff — which, for the most part, is probably true.

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