Fans' View

Fans’ View: Sobriety check

Photo: Earl Gardner

The Union’s recent off-season moves and the start of training camp have left many of us frankly giddy over the prospects for the 2014 season.

And while it’s fun to ride the high of a verifiable midfield overhaul and dream of beating Red Bull 6-0 (actual dream of mine), there is still the possibility of a sobering early season reality check. While I dare not venture too deep into Negadelphia territory, I will call for some measured attitudes toward the team. All of these lofty expectations (mine included) might be a bit hasty for a team that is still in the midst of a rebuild.

It takes time

Assuming that the Nogueira deal is finalized, the brand-spanking new gleam of the midfield is worth celebrating. Yet we should remember that foreign players can often take a season to acclimatize to a new environment.

Imagine moving to a new country and trying to take care of family concerns, housing, etc., while you’re shipped off immediately to Florida to train with the team.

That can’t be easy, even for Edu, who is finally coming back home so to speak — there are still significant adjustments that will take time off the field to fall into place. Despite their high level of professionalism, even the best talents in the world often take several months before getting comfortable with a new club. We need maintain our support of the new acquisitions even if they don’t light up the league in the first few months.

Defensive concerns

Unfortunately, it appears our midfield bounty has robbed Peter to pay Paul and left some potentially worrisome holes in the defense. It sounds like we are seriously in the market for a veteran CB, but even if we land one despite growing salary cap restrictions, we will still lack a true left back. Additionally, we may have to clear one or two fan favorites off the books before the season starts. There are many potentially fantastic newcomers, but as of yet they haven’t even made the team.

Weary legs

Depth may become an issue. Edu, Nogueira and Maidana are all coming from leagues that have been in full swing since August. While it means they should be fit to start the season, it also means that as we approach the dog days of summer, they will have been trying to maintain that fitness for a full year. Down the playoff battle stretch of September, we might expect a few weary legs. Ditto for Carroll and Casey. A couple of injuries in the wrong positions could drastically alter our style of play.

In the end, I’m just as happy as the next guy or gal with our off-season, but I’m trying to reign in the excitement. I fear for the fan who dreams of us lifting the 2014 MLS Cup if we should happen to fall into middling playoff bubble territory. The psychologist Barry Schwartz once said that if you truly want to be happy, keep your expectations low. If your expectations are lofty, at best, you’ll get what you expected. Keep them low, and you’ll likely be happily surprised.

And, if we should happen to beat Red Bull 6-0? Well, I’ll let you finish that dream for yourself.

20 Comments

  1. thank you

  2. You are absolutely right that the new players will take a lot of time to gel. The results may not be there this year. Hackworth should be given at least two years to prove himself.
    There, I said it.

    • That depends on how this year goes. I don’t think we need to be cup contenders, but we do need positive signs and significant improvement.

      The general agreement among those who weren’t on the “Fire Hack” team last season was that this season will be make or break for him, and that’s still where I am.

      I understand that things take time to gel, but if we go from 0 (or sort of 1) DPs to 3 DPs in one year, I expect to see some pretty significant improvement with all that money spend, be it in results, or style, or both–rebuilding or not.

      That said, things would have to be pretty bad to want to fire Hack this year, as we’d get ANOTHER new coach, with ANOTHER set of expensive contracts on the books, and we’d get to hear last year’s excuses/reasons all over again for another season.

  3. As far as weary legs thru dog day’s if summer . . . remember MLS will take a two-week break between June 12-24. Should be more beneficial to the Union than the top teams as only Edu has the possibility of going away for World Cup

    • And even though Edu’s team was playing since August, he hasn’t been.

      • He was playing in Turkey regularly while on loan, and played with Stoke’s U21 team as well. You can imagine that a guy fighting to see the pitch with the first team is working his butt off and staying fit to do so. He’s a beast of an athlete, so I don’t worry as much about him as the other two, but still, it should be a consideration. Playing for 15 months straight is not easy.

    • We’ll also get a measure of how well Hackworth can rotate his squad, to minimize the ‘weary legs’ in the fall. Last year we saw almost no squad rotation; was it short-sightedness, or was it simply because Hackworth only trusted 14 guys on that squad, and was making do?

    • Good point Shane. I hope two weeks is enough to get them to recharge their batteries and deal with any nagging injuries.

  4. I, and I think may others, appreciate that these moves seem to indicate an actual plan, which was a large complaint from the fan base as recently as a month ago.

    It’s not like Maidana and Nogueira are token “name” signings designed to sell a few extra tickets. They’re players still in-their-prime who fill specific needs to help the team win games.

    Who knows how the season turns out? The team could get a rash of injuries, maybe the tide of red cards turns against them, but this month has shown the Union have a desire to compete at a high level in this league, and that’s all the fans are looking for.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    I don’t think you were negative, but realistic. However, I genuinely don’t agree with the severity of most of the issues you have raised.
    .
    Taking time to gel is legitimate, but MLS is a long season. If they struggle a bit in the first month or so, I believe (or at least I hope) these guys are good enough to get it together after 6-7 games.
    .
    The LB situation was never even a real issue last year. Yes Gaddis is not a true LB, but I would say he was more than serviceable. I while I do agree that we need a “true” LB, and a veteran CB, if deployed correctly, I believe Edu and Carroll can assist in the middle, and Gaddis and can play LB well enough
    .
    We have the World Cup break, and as stated already, only Edu is really in position to go. Those two weeks will come just in time, and I believe give these guys, who yes will have been playing for almost a calendar year at that point, a chance to rest and recharge.
    .
    I think you have raised good points, but I also think the are not as concerning as they may seem to be. I also think we as fans are so very appreciative of the clubs moves that we will be more than willing to give them time to get it together! (ok I wrote that last part while laughing a bit, but you see my point)
    .
    Is it March yet?

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      The lack of a left back was a serious issue for 2013. The Union were unable to attack via the left flank for most of the season. yes plenty of that was down to personnel in midfield, which Maidana can fix, but Gaddis’ inability to overlap up the wing and serve a ball with his left allowed defenses to abandon him and double up on Le Toux, Farfan, Cruz or whoever was playing on the left. The Union are looking to play very narrow through the midfield and thus REQUIRE width to come from their fullbacks. While Gaddis is a good defensive player, his deficiencies on the left side of the pitch are a MAJOR issue for this team.

  6. My main concern is more Hackworth’s tactics and use of players, rather than the player acclimating. I think a good player is a good player, and they’ll be okay. However, if you don’t deploy people correctly there are major problems.

    • I would dispute you on this. The list of players who’ve made international transfers and maintained or elevated their level of play in the first half of a new season is very thin. On the other hand, those that take a while to get going is endless.

  7. The new signings certainly encouraged my ticket rep to chat me up yesterday. I disagree on the depth issue for the midfield. Previous Hack starters now find themselves as the bench Cruz/Daniel/Lahoud. I can live with them getting the spot start now and then, versus 35 straight weeks.

    I can also live with some combination of Gaddis/Fabinho at LB. It’s not ideal, but not the worst thing now that there are midfielders to link up to.

    The CB issue is real, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some combination of one of those mids and maybe the $25K surplus in allocation money sent towards CHI for one of their extra CBs. We will all laugh when it’s Soumare. Laugh I say.

  8. By and large you raise some good points, but I think you’re underselling how deep the Union have become this year. However, I would like to offer some counterpoints of optimism.

    1) We may have a weaker set of defenders, but we are deeper. With Cope, White and Okugo, we have three central defenders who are likely to be squad quality for the first time in the Union’s history.
    2) The left back situation may be better than expected. Gaddis has had more time to get used to playing there, but more important Fabinho has had a chance to get integrated into the team. He could end up being a more solid left back as a result.
    3) Are the Union really going to be more affected than any other club in MLS when it comes to international acquisitions. In general, I think the Union will be in better shape because their acquisitions are younger and all still have to make their careers. This means the toll of a season will be lower and they have every incentive to integrate quickly.

    The reasons for caution are warranted, but there are some mitigating factors that warrant consideration.

    • I totally agree with your points. I was just thinking that a lot of us (myself included) were getting carried away with expectations. Mostly I’m hoping that as a fanbase, we continue to support the team even if they get off to a slow start. I’m in the camp that believes Hackworth should stay for at least this year AND next before we would consider looking for another manager.

      • Fair enough, and you definitely raised some good points here. The CB situation honestly does make me a little uneasy and I think it is the biggest difference between us and the real contenders.

        Also, as far as evaluating Hackworth, I do think he should get the rest of the year (unless he starts doing crazy Nowak style trades), but I think depending on the finish to the year, I would think he should be held accountable. If we finish anywhere below where we did this year, I think there is reason to sack him.

        To be honest, I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed by Hackworth’s decision-making, and thought that unfamiliarity in the 4-5-1/4-3-3 is what lead to the Union only getting a draw late in DC (which killed our playoff chances). I was indifferent to keeping him this year, but think that since we’ve kept him through the offseason, we should give him time to see what he can do with all the new players. However, I do think he should, at minimum, achieve the modest results from last year.

  9. Truly wish I could have been at the open practice earlier in the week, but following the U from afar does not quite allow it.

    I wanted to check in and see if anyone knows any more about the Zach Pfeffer situation. Is he back with the Union or did he stay in Hoffenheim longer? Really intrigued to see how he has progressed. The kid has all the talent in the world, and while I know he is still a teenager, I am getting antsy to see how our first HG signee pans out.

    • He is back training with the team this week, and apparently has put on some size.

      • If Pfeffer is ready to play with the first team, that could be really huge for us. Whether he ends up being a starter or a rotation guy, the extra quality would really be useful.

        Pfeffer’s always looked like he has a good head on his shoulders, but he’s had trouble in previous years with the physicality.

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