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Austin Berry trade makes Union a contender

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union just became a conference title contender on paper.

Tuesday’s acquisition of center back Austin Berry fills the biggest gap the club still had.

How much difference does six weeks make? The Union have remade their team in that period of time.

The Berry trade is huge. If you had asked me two weeks ago who I thought the ideal center back acquisition would be — oh wait, you did! — I’d have picked Berry. (Although a fit Danny Califf would be right there with him.*) He’s big, strong, and good in the air, and he looks like a great compliment to Amobi Okugo.

But if you asked me a month ago if Chicago would deal him — oh wait, you did? — I’d have said no way.

What is Frank Yallop smoking thinking?

The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year was the youngest and cheapest of the four players legitimately competing for Chicago’s two starting center back spots. Berry had a better 2013 season than probably all of them. (You can argue for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but statistically, they were about even.)

And yet, Chicago manager Frank Yallop gave up Berry.

Why? He claims it was to get under the salary cap. If so, that’s poor cap management by Yallop, who never should have traded for two Seattle center backs. Hurtado made $190,000 last year, and Patrick Ianni collected $150,000 as a backup. If Seattle is picking up part of salary for either player, I haven’t heard it. Add Bakary Soumare to the mix at more than $300,000 in salary — ironically, the Union will pick up a small portion of that — and it seems bizarre that Yallop would deal Berry. But Yallop cornered himself, with few teams likely to pick up Soumare’s salary, and Mike Magee’s holdout appears to have forced his hand.

We don’t know how much allocation money the Union gave up in the trade, but it’s there to be spent, not horded. And there is the fact that Berry dealt with a shoulder injury during training camp, so perhaps that influenced the trade.

Still, Philadelphia didn’t have to trade Ray Gaddis, despite the fact that he would be the best right back in Chicago the day he arrived. Look for Gaddis and Fabinho to alternate at left back for the Union this season. Gaddis will likely play most road games to give the Union a more defensive look. Fabinho will likely get some starts when the Union want to attack more or add another wide presence on the left side. If you could combine the two, you might have the ideal left back.

The Union answered every offseason question

Berry’s arrival fills the last major gap on the Union. No, the situation isn’t ideal at left back or goalkeeper, but elsewhere, this looks like a team without the holes that were so obvious a year ago.

After each of Philadelphia Union’s last two seasons, I’ve written a column titled, “It’s over. Now what?” In that column, I’ve laid out what I thought the Union needed to do in the offseason to improve the team.

After the 2012 season, here was the agenda and how the Union answered each point:

  • Get older. The Union acquired Sebastien Le Toux, Conor Casey and Jeff Parke.
  • Get a proven veteran forward. That would be Casey.
  • Get your money’s worth. The Union dropped Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez, Freddy Adu and the rest of their dead salary weight.
  • Get some assistant coaches. Jim Curtin arrived, and Brendan Burke went full-time.

After the 2013 season, the agenda again seemed pretty clear. Once again, the Union answered every key question.

  • Fix the midfield. Meet Vincent Nogueira, Chaco Maidana, Maurice Edu and potential guest star Pedro Ribeiro.
  • Spend money. The Union investment team allocated $2 million for new player acquisitions.
  • Maximize your assets — Trade some. Mike Farfan was sold. Jeff Parke was traded. Allocation money was spent. Somehow they kept Gaddis.
  • Change the style of play. Hackworth acquired the personnel needed to deploy the 4-3-3 he wants to play.

Today, the Union can sport a starting lineup and actual depth that seemed almost unfathomable last year. On paper, it’s a quantum leap.

If only they played the games on paper.

How good will the midfield really be? How quickly will Okugo and Berry gel? Is Sebastien Le Toux healthy again, and will he start at right winger over Danny Cruz? Will the forwards score regularly again? Which young goalkeeper gives them the best chance to win?

We’ll find out soon.


  1. Yeah it really was the perfect offseason.

  2. Whoa Whoa Whoa… Simmer down rudeboy
    Playoff team? Yes.
    Contender? Maybe… I dunno.
    While It is great that we filled our most glaring need and got us a central defender, there is no indication that we will have a better back line than last year with Jeff Parke.
    Goalkeeper? Yea, Someone will be goaltending. Who, What Where, When, Why and How are still up in the air.
    Midfield? Should be a great improvement. No reason why it shouldn’t. Remember when Gabriel Gomez was supposed to be a world beater?
    Forwards? Jack should be more consistent. No way Casey gobbles up so many minutes. beyond that Hoppenot? Letoux? Wheeler?
    Hackworth? 4-3-3 You are gonna have to show me on that one.

  3. Somebody is excited!
    The U had an absolutely great off season from a personnel acquisition standpoint…I’m most stoke about Ribeiro
    I hope it translates to on field success…still lots of concerns…where are the goals?

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      It has to be Ribeiro in front of Edu/Nogueira instead of Edu/Noguiera in front of Carroll, doesn’t it? Seems like a total no brainer. Left-footed so he can swap out with Chaco. Big body to effect play in both boxes and has a big shot. Edu/Noguiera could be the best holding duo in MLS, Carroll is incredibly redundant in this 3 man midfield.

      • I agree, I feel like with your lineup we would potentially tear through other teams. I’m not necessarily expecting to see it but I’m glad that it is at least possible

      • Yes he would be redundant in that 3 man midfield…
        …but what if the 3 man midfield was Carroll/Edu/Chaco(or Noguiera/Edu/Chaco)…3 forwards Ribeiro/JacK/LeToux?
        I like the “idea” of Ribeiro in like a Ronaldo role out on the left.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I love the idea of Chaco and Ribeiro playing interchangeably. Especially since it takes young players some time to adjust to the pace of the pro game, he could slide out wide to get some space and a little more time if he’s getting overwhelmed in the middle of the pitch. But it’s hard to imagine a better safety blanket for him to grow in front of than Edu/ Nogeuira. Both want to drop deep and pick up the ball, so he can stay higher and focus on getting in space and creating.

      • Ribeiro is better in the middle- good feel for the game, not a lot of speed.

      • He may/could be better in the middle but does have experience as a forward…guess more on the right side at Reading.

      • Eli, come on, Carroll is playing until he gets injured. Hackworth loves him. The one thing we can say is that when Carroll isn’t tasked with doing the work of two men, he can be very effective. And he’s actually got partners now.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I don’t like this excuse. Edu and Noguiera both do what Carroll does. They win ball, check back and make smart short passes. Not knocking Carroll, just saying he’s completely redundant with both of those two around.

      • It’s not an excuse, just a statement of what I think will happen. I agree that Carroll should no longer start, but he is almost guaranteed to do so, and I like to see the bright side when I can. That bright side is that he has ability when the table is set well.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        The ability to do what exactly? I agree that he will start, and I think because of that, the Union will struggle to score goals. What does Carroll do, with Edu and Noguiera also on the field, that benefits this team?

      • Carrol will provide defensive cover while Edu/Noguiera will win the ball in the midfield and get the ball forward. that is what I think Hackworth thinks.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        You don’t need defensive cover for your defensive midfielders.

      • I don’t think Hackworth sees them as Defensive midfielders. I don’t believe so until I am proven otherwise.

      • Yeah Carroll will have an easier time about it this year but…
        Eli’s point is valid and the more I think about it…the more I want to see Noguira, Edu, Chaco and Ribeiro on the pitch together…Carroll would have to be sacrificed.
        How bout Noguira, Chaco in front of Edu and Ribeiro out on the left?

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        It’s semantics, but I haven’t seen anything that would say that Nogeuira is an advanced player. I look at Portland and hope/think Nogeuira could be a Will Johnson type player in MLS.

      • I see him being successful in this league in a more advanced midfield role.
        Either ahead of Edu and Carroll or with Chaco in front of Edu.
        Going back to your original response about redundancy.
        At least one of the 3 mids (Carroll/Edu/Nog) has to be more advanced.

      • History says that Hackworth leans towards being conservative. I think he will want a Brian Carrol security blanket to put in front of a still gelling back line.

        Add to the fact that Ribero is a rookie and as far as I know Carrol is still that captain. Carrol starts I’m betting money on it.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        It’s not a question of who starts. Carroll obviously starts. It’s a question of Carroll’s presence being unnecessary with the two central midfielders they have brought in.

  4. They certainly have acquired outstanding personnel on paper. But, of course, the Red Bulls do that pretty much every year. And until last year it hadn’t gotten them anywhere at all. And even last year it didn’t get them to the Supporter’s Shield, nor far in the playoffs.

    This is a sport in which the team acts as a whole, living organism — always either more or less than the sum of its parts. So we can’t have any idea of how these guys will gel together until they hit the pitch.

    But all you can do is 1) get the right talent; 2) be on guard for obvious interpersonal issues (e.g. showboats, ball-hoggers, assholes) when you do #1; 3) coach them appropriately. I don’t think there are interpersonal issues with these guys, and I get the sense that Hackworth knows how to manage a locker room, so I think #1 and #2 are taken care of. Guess we’ll find out about #3 very soon.

  5. So if the FO has been filling in every need you’ve listed for the last 2 years, practically dotting the i’s, maybe they’re reading this website. Through all the hubris could they be really listening to the hardcore fan base? Whatever happens this season, and I think they need the first month of the season to gel, and I’m not gonna jump off a cliff if they aren’t great, This offseason has done great things to restore our trust!

  6. Slight edit/addition to the first section to add a reference to the other center back I thought would have been ideal.

  7. Great piece, pretty much hit on what everyone was thinking. Hackworth has two jobs really. 1) acquire the players needed to win and 2) manage the players correctly on gameday (lineup and in game decisions). He clearly have done almost all that he could with number 1. That just leaves number 2.
    Barring massive injuries or a talented player just completely falling apart, this entire season really falls on Hackworth. That’s not positive or negative, just a fact. Can he find a way to get Jack/Casey on the field together effectively? Can he get over his insistence on starting Carroll and Cruz? Can he adjust in-game? We will find out in a couple weeks. I currently have my doubts, but let’s hope he proves me wrong.
    Quick question: would you rather have Carroll or Ribeiro in midfield? Would you rather have Le Toux or Cruz at RW?
    I still personally would rather see a 4-4-2 with Letoux, Edu, Noguiera and Maidana in the midfield and Jack/Casey up front. But I wouldn’t be too upset if Ribeiro got the start in a 4-3-3, it would be exciting anyway.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    And we didn’t have to give up Gaddis to get Berry… still amazing to me.
    This team is stacked and the FO did it’s job. I think another comment really said it best. No one can deny that this team isn’t trying. Honestly my only real fear is the way the talent is deployed by Hack.
    I would rather play a 4-4-2 to start with Connor and Jack up front, and LeToux on the right. But as the season progresses I would rather see a 4-3-3 attacking formation with Ribiero on the field as much as possible.

  9. It seems that the personnel is there to potentially do a 4-2-3-1, or at least until that back line gels. Having Edu and Carrol sit in front of the back four gives a little more defensive presence, but having them both on the field lets Edu push up a bit more when the situations are appropriate. Then, Chaco, Nogueira, Le Toux as the 3 and Jack up top.

    Keep in mind Ribeiro is still a rookie, but he could sub in if he proves ready. 4-3-3 could come later.

  10. Obviously, the jury on Hackworth as a field manager will be out until the conclusion of this season. And that is as it should be. This off season certainly seems to show that he is a smart, pragmatic and capable football professional in the handling of the roster. I am hopeful we will see those qualities in the tactical management. I really can t believe there would be a complete disconnect between his off field and on field intelligence. Some of those smarts should come through.

    The quibbles last year were really about trotting out the same personnel when the results were not coming. John Hackworth felt the options available to him (mostly Klebberson and Torres) did not improve his teams chances for a result. In other words he didn’t think he really had options, so he stuck with what he felt gave him the best chance for a result.

    This year he has multiple options at his disposal in terms of quality players and potential lineups and formations. A smart, pragmatic man avails himself of those options.

  11. Lots of talk here about Carrol and formations but nothing about the strikers. I hope that not all goals dried up in Orlando! Have doubts that they are contender material..

  12. Are You Smarter than the FO? says:

    Remember, this is a long season. There will be callups for younger talent. There is the US Open Cup. Injuries. Suspensions.
    We are spending a little too much time debating an ideal 11 instead of embracing that we have a really useful top 18. When contemplating a season, I generally think of the team having two halves — F/M and D/K.
    As for F/M, I suggest you think about this as a continuum (acknowledging “sidedness”) of Casey / Jack / Vincent / LeToux / Pfeiffer / Ribeiro / Chaco / Edu / Lahoud / Carroll. Those ten should cover the front 6 spots week in and week out, but we all know that Cruz and Daniel will find their way in as well.
    On defense, we are now super-solid and deep, except at left back. And as has been well said before, (i) you can’t have everything in this league, and (ii) left back is really hard to fill in MLS for some reason.
    Now it’s up to Hack the game manager not to screw it up by running Cruz, Hoppenot, and Daniel out there every week.

  13. Eli, I agree completely with hack being conservative and also with the options you mentioned. I do however think that the wildcard here is Gaddis vs Fabinho at left back.

    My two cents…In a typical 4-2-1-3 type of 4-3-3, it is necessary to get your outside backs forward. This is where the play of Carroll to “cover” the back line is necessary. With fabinho on the left the lineup may need it, but Gaddis doesn’t advance into attack on the left nearly as much negating the need for the same amount of cover from the defensive midfield spot. I’d love to see a 3 man midfield of edu, nogueira and Ribeiro but I doubt hack does it more than he has to.

    I honestly just love that now we have options and cover for every position! I doubt this team gels right away but by summertime we should be seeing a really solid product.

  14. This is exactly right. I know we don’t go in for positivity in this area, but with this roster, we have a shot to play for the conference. Now, anything can happen. We have more variables than KC or Houston (I think) but not more than Toronto.
    Who thinks there is going to some fire in Edu’s game after all the Edu vs. Bradley talk. Get em mo.

  15. This will be Hackworth’s Little Big Horn, if he fails to use the weapons availed to him properly.

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