A View from Afar

Le Toux’s return, Wenger’s rise, Curtin’s future

Photo: Earl Gardner

A few MLS thoughts from across the pond, and then some. Live from Italy, it’s … me.

Yes, Virginia, Sebastien Le Toux remains a very good forward

Sebastien Le Toux may be the most underrated player in MLS.

I offer that to those of you who have been babbling these last couple of years about him being overrated.

All he does when he plays forward is score goals. It’s not that complicated. Yet people foolishly write him off over and over again, as if his 2010-2011 performances were just flukes. They weren’t.

Since Jim Curtin took over as interim manager, Le Toux has netted 10 goals and 6 assists in 13 games, including U.S. Open Cup matches, and nudged his way into the league’s top five scorers.

On paper, he is still playing the right wing in a 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1, however you want to label it).

In practice, he is playing more centrally like a second striker, coming in from the right side in an unbalanced attack. The space Le Toux vacates on the right midfield flank is generally filled by fullback Sheanon Williams bombing forward. On the opposite side, you have Andrew Wenger and Danny Cruz playing the role of a more traditional inside-out winger, with Ray Gaddis as the more stay-at-home fullback.

This is why the Union could trade Jack McInerney, whether it’s how John Hackworth envisioned it or not. There was always Le Toux as the fallback, and now he is finally back in the role in which he belongs. Hopefully, no managerial genius tries to move him again.

Andrew Wenger: Good things come to those who wait

It wasn’t Andrew Wenger’s fault that he got traded for Jack McInerney. But Wenger arrived in Philadelphia with high expectations just the same.

One great game doesn’t mean he is suddenly a superstar, but he has been playing better since Curtin moved him out on the left wing.

When Wenger entered MLS as the league’s top draft pick in 2012, there was a debate over where he should play on the field. He had played both striker and center back in college and midfielder in high school. The only thing people could agree on was that he was a good soccer player.

What Curtin has done in moving out Wenger to the wing is take the pressure off him. Wenger may wear the No. 9 jersey, but he is no longer expected to be the team’s primary scorer. This allows him to focus on other aspects of the game and just play good soccer without constantly pressing for goals. The goals will come when it’s natural, as we saw with his brace Sunday against San Jose, not when Wenger presses it, as we saw in his earlier stretch at center forward.

Whether left wing is Wenger’s best position remains to be seen. However, he most certainly is an intelligent, athletic soccer player who needed some confidence and a comfort zone. Maybe now he has it.

Curtin quiets the coaching search

There hasn’t been much talk about the Union’s coaching search lately.

The Union have gone 8-2-3 in competitive matches under Jim Curtin’s stewardship, so why there should there be? The team is winning. They have earned a spot in their first ever tournament final. The Union look every bit as talented as everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season. Isn’t this the whole point?

Recent history makes it tougher to keep Curtin in the role after this season. John Hackworth didn’t impress enough people to keep his job as manager this year, and he was an assistant coach turned interim manager turned full-on manager. That works against Curtin.

So people want someone else. An outsider. Someone with a more famous pedigree. Rene Muelensteen, Owen Coyle and John Harkes are all reportedly among the 12 candidates on Nick Sakiewicz’s (not so) short lis, with the smart money on Muelensteen.

But if Curtin keeps winning, how do you not keep him on for next year? If the Union win the U.S. Open Cup and make the playoffs, how is that not a successful run in the end? How does that not get Curtin the job?

Make your argument in the Comments section below — if you have one. I don’t.

Colorado (maybe Columbus) seeking CB — trade Berry?

A few teams are likely in the market for a center back, and Austin Berry is collecting dust on the Union bench with some residual trade value. It might be time for a change of scenery.

Drew Moor’s season-ending injury hurts Colorado’s fading chances of making the playoffs, and they need a starting-caliber player to replace him.

In Columbus, they just pulled off a fantastic bit of business by selling Giancarlo Gonzalez for nearly $5 million after buying him less in February for just $500,000. Credit Gregg Berhalter for some great scouting on a player he coached against in Norway. But now they could use a replacement during their push toward the playoffs.

Berry’s time in Philadelphia has been a disaster, as he has been plagued by injury after injury. Ethan White has snatched the open center back position, at least till Cristian Maidana fully heals and forces a reshuffle in midfield that could bump Maurice Edu or Amobi Okugo back to defense.

Either way, Berry’s prospects in Philadelphia don’t look good. A move elsewhere could get him a fresh start.

The Union have till the Sept. 15 roster freeze deadline to make a move. By that time, rookie center back Richie Marquez could be done with his loan to Harrisburg, with their regular season over by then and the USL Pro’s first playoff round completing on Sept. 14. His regular availability for selection could make a Berry trade a bit easier to make. (Yes, the Union could recall Marquez at any time, but they have clearly — and probably wisely — chosen to get him regular minutes in Harrisburg this season.)

MLS Live and me, abroad

I just want to point that out MLS Live is awesome and allows me to watch most MLS matches while overseas, and ESPN and Fox better not break the damn thing when they assume more control of the league’s online broadcasts in the near future. No league in the world offers anything comparable, to my knowledge.

You’ll also note that my regular column now has a title. Do you like it, or does it suck? (Don’t answer that.) Either way, it reflects the approach of this column: How things look from a bit of a broader, farther perspective. Maybe this column has always been like that, but now … I got more mileage and better food here.

But you apparently can’t get Serie A games on regular TV here in Italy. Seriously. For the national sport. In 2014. It’s just another reason this league is on the way down while MLS is on the way up.


  1. I guess you can watch Montreal Impact games. That’s almost like watching Serie A, isn’t it?

  2. I like Berry. Unfortunately for him he was injured by a cheap shot in first homegame against NE. If he is traded to Columbus I don’t want allocation money I want some of that real money.
    A View from a far is good. To bad An Idiot Abroad is taken.

  3. Not the zippiest column title…. I might go for something with more pop: “The Long View” “Long Distance Rundown” (Yes reference, anyone?”

    Whatever, the contents are good, and that’s what counts. This team has gotten fun to watch, last Sunday, especially.

    I, too, share your fears about MLS Live…. This leagues biggest obstacle is getting in front of more eyeballs and relegation to third-tier specialty cable channels doesn’t seem great to me. I would love to subscribe to an online service that carries all league games — no blackouts — but I doubt that would get the league the kind of many they can get from exclusive contracts with Comcast/Disney, etc.

  4. You might be cheating slightly on Curtain’s record since I think the PK win counts as a draw. Still, it is impressive, especially when you look at the fact that both losses involved freak own goals. And the Houston loss was 3rd game in a week including two in August in Texas. At this point I think Curtain stays until the end of the season and base the decision on how the team does the rest of the way.
    they need to be a little careful about trading Berry. Colorado is fine, but they still play Columbus twice in the last nine games. Don’t want him to burn them.

    • Exactly. What would we get for Berry anyway? We need a backup fullback option with Fabinho injured (I’ve given up hope for a starting-quality left back).

  5. I completely agree with you that if the Union win the Open Cup and make the playoffs, there’s no way you can’t call Curtin’s short stint a success. However, just for fun, I’m going to try to make the argument that that shouldn’t necessarily get him the job.
    Obviously, Curtin has hardly put a foot wrong thus far. By keeping it simple tactically, benching the really-not-good-enough Fabinho, picking sensible lineups and making logical substitutions, he’s got the Union firmly back on track. His candor in interviews has been refreshing, and he seems like a genuinely decent guy who is invested in the club.
    All of that is great in the short term. The problem is that over the course of an entire season, inexperience tends to get exposed. Curtin has done a great job getting the players on board and playing well for this last stretch, but will he be able to successfully make tactical adjustments, manage egos and manage injuries over the course of an entire season?
    Obviously coaches have to get that experience somewhere, and thus far Curtin seems game to the task, but as Union fans we should be wary of handing the reigns over permanently to a guy with half a season’s head coaching experience. They did it before, and look how that turned out. Another mid-season firing is just not an option for this club right now, or at least it shouldn’t be.

    • +1 Erudite.

    • The Chopper says:

      We will see in time what happens. One thing that sticks in the back of my head is that Curtin has the same type of pedigree of many of the successful 2nd generation coaches in MLS.

      In recent years, former MLS players like Curtin who had good carrers with quality clubs and coaches and went on to become assistants have a much better track record of head coaching success in MLS then coaches from outside.

  6. I couldn’t agree more about MLSlive. I live outside the Philly TV market so other than the occasional national game or CSNphilly game it’s my only way to watch the Union. If it moves to ESPN3 that will put a lot of people who are willing to pay for MLSlive out in the cold.

  7. Had United hired Ryan Giggs I’d say so be it let’s try the inexperienced coach again. Fact is they brought in a world class coach to mentor the future king. I like Jim Curtain and commend him but imagine there is sooo much for him to learn. I would like to see the right and quite excellent coach brought in to mentor Curtain for awhile until said coach decides to move on. The Union don’t need their 10-12 year coach yet, they need the one before the 10-12 year coach, which in this case, would be the first good coach they have hired. Phew.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I agree. Keep Curtain on as an assistant, something I believe he said he would be open to doing, and bring a guy in with some real pedigree. Continue to let Curtain learn and grow, and when the time is right, turn it over to him. I have to believe that turning the team around like this is more than just beginner’s luck.

    • Joel – you’re usually so spot on, but it’s hard to advocate for something and use Manchester United as your example in their current state 😉

      Dan – glad to see that you’re still getting to watch a lot of MLS in Italy. We are really spoiled in this country for the amount of soccer that we can watch every week from MLS and around the world.

  8. Dan I like the title and I hope you keep it. I would also like to remind you of how much everyone liked Hackworth when he first took over too. He had the same sort of effect on the team. He galvanized them after Nowack’s disastrous exit. Things can go terribly awry after the honeymoon period is over. If the season goes the way you hypothesize, Curtin must be considered but they’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well.

  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    Not to be a bummer, but I thought MLS Live was being replaced by putting the games on WatchESPN, starting next year?

  10. John O'Donnell says:

    I like Curtin but there is no reason to change anything until the end of the season. I agree that if he leads the team on a successful run, then he should win the job. Hackworth had a nice little run and they gave him the job before the season was over and the team faded in the end. Learn from that mistake and let’s see how far we get. I’m not for hiring a coach because of experience, unless it’s filled with championships. He might have a lot bad experience, so I think that is a little overrated.

  11. I agree with you about Curtin; results are what matter. Of course the same “why do you want to replace a guy who is doing great” argument could/should have been applied to Mcmath, but that didn’t stop us from getting a 3rd goalie with a better resume. We will see how that works out.

  12. Not “View from a Ferrari?”
    Curtin may be a future great manager – he’s done well in the tasks at hand; but as for becoming manager of this team after the season, I fear that his boss will have too great a say in vision, personnel & strategy for my taste.

  13. I think Curtain has earned the job through the end of the season…I like the thought of grooming him into the job with an experienced manager to learn from. I also don’t think its ” beginners luck”… He seems to be making the right moves for the team…so let’s see!

  14. We would be really stupid to hire Muelensteen. He has no pedigree. I would only get rid of Curtin if we go downhill before the end of the season.

  15. Sak was clear, the only reason that Hackworth was fired was because we, the fans, “demanded it.” It was a public relations move meant to show that the Union were committed to winning.
    Since we’re winning now with Curtin, I imagine the drumbeat is a little more quiet. I still hold that the manager doesn’t make as much of an impact as we typically think.
    So, if Sak wants to drop a bunch of cash on Mulensteen to give the fan (and team) more confidence, then that’s ok by me, but I think Curtin should be kept as the primary coach with Mulensteen in a more traditional manager role. That way when Mulensteen leaves after 2-3 years, Curtin steps into the lead with a little more experience under his belt.

  16. by the way Dan – I’m expecting to see a column in the future about your first visit to Stadio San Paolo. That was a (soccer) life changing experience for me. Hope all is well in Napoli – remember she’s like a beautiful lady with ugly feet – don’t look down.

    • Genius. Stadio San Paolo tops my list, well almost. First I would go to Turin, see Juve play in that new cathedral.

  17. Old soccer coach says:

    We don’t read column titles, we read authors. There are columnists who are worth reading because of the content they produce, the access they seem to have, their source development. Editors like column titles; do column consumers really care? Please keep us informed about the MLS Live situation. You have a clear need to stay on top of it, we will benefit from your work. I will not renew until the matter resolves. I suspect I am not the only one grateful for your efforts on this matter.

  18. My preference right now is to keep Curtin, but don’t believe we need to be in a huge hurry to do it just yet. Let’s play out more of the season and see if this positive trend continues. I’ve written before that it will be very difficult for the U’s front office to go with another relatively inexperienced assistant-turned-interim manager. If it does flame out in a year or two, they’ll never hear the end of it. But this feels different than the Novak to Hackworth change a couple of years ago. The biggest change there was probably getting actual water breaks during practice, and removing a miserable dictator. With the change to Curtin, there’s been an effective philosophy change (organized D, counterattack with pace), an effort to put players in optimal positions, improved substitution patterns, etc. I think there’s more to it than just the usual interim manager temporary bump.

  19. Apparently that “international search” Sak announced after firing Hackworth meant looking at one ex – Impact coach. None of the “short list” candidates has any track record of success at the professional manager level. He must think we don’t pay attention.

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