“Winter is coming”: Philadelphia Union faced with a long list of offseason issues

Photo: Earl Gardner

This time last season, the Philadelphia Union was still alive in the playoff race.

John Hackworth was still in charge, and a less-talented team had a chance to sneak into the postseason with a combination of results that included a win in the season finale against Sporting Kansas City.

That didn’t happen, and last year’s squad finished in 7th place with 46 points.

It’s hard to believe that a team that now includes Vincent Nogueira, Maurice Edu, Carlos Valdes, and Cristian Maidana will finish with fewer points than a 2013 club that was bogged down by bad contracts and a struggling midfield.

This team deserves a lot of credit for digging itself out of a horrendous hole, qualifying for a cup final, and turning a miserable spring into an entertaining stretch run.

But the Jim Curtin-inspired surge is over, and a laundry list of issues faces this team in the winter.

Each of these topics deserves its own column, and we’ll get around to that. For now, here’s a brief look at what lies ahead.

1. Who is the coach of this team?

Nick Sakiewicz says that Jim Curtin is the guy.

So why is there still no official announcement?

Curtin has had the job pretty much locked up, but the media reports that came out a few weeks ago were premature.

Ask yourself this: Why was the first person to report the news on the Union payroll?

By the way, Rene Meulensteen is still in the picture as a possible executive or general manager.

2. What is the front office and technical staff setup?

The firings of Hackworth and Rob Vartughian left gaps in the technical staff that were filled on a temporary basis.

Will B.J. Callaghan stay with the senior team as goalkeeping coach? Will he continue with the academy? What role does Mike Sorber play going forward?

Chris Albright’s role as technical director is still vaguely defined. Albright was key in the return of Carlos Valdes, but it’s unclear how his duties interface with that of CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz. Sakiewicz has played a role in player-personnel ever since the dismissal of Peter Nowak, and the club has not had a bona fide general manager in its five years of existence.

3. Maurice Edu’s loan

Do you keep Edu around? Does he want to stay? Does he play in the midfield or in defense?

4. Brian Brown’s loan

I’m not sure we saw enough of Brown to determine how good he really is. He should start and play 75+ minutes in these final two games.

5. Amobi Okugo’s contract

When this squad was fully healthy in September, Okugo was on the bench. He didn’t see the field in the U.S. Open Cup final.

Amobi has been bounced around during his Union career, playing midfield, then defense, then midfield again. His future is contingent on the Edu loan decision.

6. Expansion Draft

The Union lost Alejandro Moreno and Shea Salinas in 2010. Justin Mapp was taken away in 2011.

Two more players could be gone by the time Christmas rolls around.

7. MLS Superdraft

For the third time in six years, Philadelphia will draft in front of its own fans.

Last year’s draft was seen as a success on paper, then played out as a failure as the season progressed. This time around, there will be extra scrutiny placed on the home town team.

8. Zac MacMath’s future

If Zac doesn’t go, Andre Blake needs to be moved.

The current goalkeeping situation can’t continue into 2015.

Photo By Earl Gardner

Zach Pfeffer, Cristhian Hernandez, and Jimmy McLaughlin have played just 128 combined minutes since the 2012 season. Photo: Earl Gardner

9. The kids aren’t alright

Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Cristhian Hernandez have not seen legitimate minutes since signing their home grown deals in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

If your young home growns are not seeing the field, then how do the academy kids break through? Is there a backlog of youth, or was the previous regime simply incorrect when it identified this talent?

10. Collective bargaining

Keep an eye on this, because it will decide the future of the league.

The new CBA will include a salary cap increase, and the teams with a lot of money will push the league to get this number as high as possible.

It means that “smaller” clubs like Columbus, Philadelphia, Colorado, and New England will be stretched to keep up with Seattle, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

Some owners want a larger cap. Some don’t. The players want free agency, but the league doesn’t.

And with two more teams entering the league, plus a new TV contract, the league certainly does not want a work stoppage. The players have the power in 2015.

11. New teams

New York City FC and Orlando City will enter MLS next season. They already have players on the roster who command a higher salary than the entire Philadelphia Union budget. Kaka’s $7.17M salary, for example, is almost twice the Union’s entire payroll

The financial disparity will only get worse when Arthur Blank’s Atlanta team enters the league. David Beckham’s Miami team, if it can land a stadium deal, will also be capable of splashing cash and attracting talent.


  1. Another interesting aspect for the offseason is the dispersal draft for players under contract with Chivas.

    • That’s really only going to be interesting for one team, and that’s if Cubo stays in MLS. Besides, if the Union somehow got first pick in the dispersal draft, they’d take Kennedy.

      • Torres is, obviously, the big prize. Kennedy is no slouch, though, and he’s an asset a lot of teams will want. Looking at their roster, they have some other interesting-looking young players – but Torres and Kennedy are the big prizes.
        So from a Union perspective, yeah, it’s Torres or bust. Doesn’t mean the process won’t be interesting.

      • So, if you’re OCSC, do you take “hometown” boy Zac MacMath in the expansion draft (or backroom handshake deal), or Kennedy in the dispersal draft?

      • Good question. MacMath is sort-of local to Orlando, makes less money, and is younger. All pluses. But Kennedy is the better keeper *now*. So for Orlando, there’s a good chance Kennedy is the better choice – assuming they’re looking to compete Year 1 (which I would assume is the case, with Kaka on the roster already).

      • kingkowboys says:

        I thought Torres was technically on loan from Chivas Guadalajara? I don’t think he could be included in a dispersal draft.

      • Good question. Does the loan have a purchase option? If so, who has that option – the team or the league? If there is no purchase option, the Union could (if I understand) still put in a transfer bid with Chivas de Guadalajara, yes? (Though granted, that would likely be *very* expensive just to get into a financial realm where CdG would consider it.)
        Another question regarding Chivas: While looking at who was on their roster yesterday, I saw that one player was acquired by trading a 2016 2nd round draft pick. Oops. If it’s a 2 year hiatus, Chivas won’t have a 2nd round pick in ’16. So that’s another aspect of this hiatus the league needs to consider.

  2. I’m not sure how raising the salary cap would hurt smaller teams or maybe I just don’t understand the mechanism of the league’s single entity and salary cap. I was under the impression that every player received their paycheck from the league and not from their team. If anything I would thinking raising the cap would help smaller teams more than bigger teams because it would allow them to pay higher salaries without opening their pockets. Am I missing something here?

    • I think the idea is that the larger teams would continue to spend to the limit while smaller market clubs would be forced to keep up. Though spending above the cap doesn’t seem to be a major obstacle (see Kaka), so there’s that, too.

    • Teams with more money to use will now be able to spend more money. Teams like Philly, Columbus, New England and others will now HAVE to spend more just to keep up with that, potentially stretching the wallets pretty thin and not allowing them to afford higher price players. The same thing happens in MLB, although with the proper approach to youth and development you can overcome that (see Pirates, Orioles and Royals).

      • But it doesn’t matter if the salary cap is $3.1 million or $6 million – the league pays all that money, not the teams.
        Where the CBA can affect the Union – and other more, er… fiscally responsible teams – is if the number of designated players increases. That’s someplace where Seattle, Toronto, NJPC, NYCFC, and LA can indeed use their deep pockets.

      • I wouldn’t be so quick to include the Red Bulls in that group. A team which historically had their full allotment of DPs chose not to use their 3rd slot this season. If rumors of the Red Bull mothership trying to sell the North Jersey team are true, then it seems like they’re tightening the purse strings.

      • The league pays the players, so one would assume that the team then pays the league. It’s not like the teams’ initial expansion fee would be able to indefinitely cover the players’ salaries, even if you add licensing rights fees that the league collects (at least I wouldn’t think so. If the licensing fees could actually cover the salaries, then I’m left wondering why the Cap wasn’t increased already). The money for the players doesn’t come from nowhere. I’m not sure if each team automatically pays the whole CBA cap limit and then takes the hit in the difference between the cap and the actual roster salary, or if the team just essentially reimburses the league for whatever salaries they accrue. In either case, it doesn’t matter. There will still be more money spent. The larger market teams will reach the cap, forcing the smaller market teams to stretch their wallets (or in Sak’s case, not stretch the wallet and just produce a really shitty team comparatively. We know he and Jay are just in it for the profit).

    • I think salary cap increase actually helps smaller teams, since it’s paid by MLS. Increasing number of DPs helps bigger teams, but at the same time raises profile of the league. I hope salary cap goes up to at least 5m and 4th DP slot is added for domestic (US/Canada) player.

    • The league does a regular cash call to the teams. Teams provide cash to the central league coffers. The league then pays the players. Technically, the league is the entity cutting the paychecks, but the teams are also paying the players too, albeit indirectly, through this mechanism.

  3. In terms of a General Manager, what exactly would their role and responsibilities be? Is it the same as that of GMs in the NFL (basically between CEO and Coaching Staff)? Are there other GMs in MLS?

    • GMs in MLS are a relatively new thing. Yes most teams now have/are working on getting a GM and or some from of an executive staff

  4. My criteria for roster change is simple. We are too old and too slow in too many positions on the field. We need more “goals” in the squad (i.e. people who can actually score). If we stick with a 4-2-3-1 then that’s great but our central striker needs to be more mobile and our midfield 3 all need to be able to contribute and score goals. I’d look for players who are (1) young, (2) fast, (3) strong, and (4) skilled. Which means good-bye to Casey, Carroll, Fabinho, and Cruz (who although young, fast and strong – is not skilled). Okugo or Edu stays, pick one (not both). We need (at a minimum) a starting left back, starting striker, back-up striker, and back-up midfield wing-players.

    • Cruz has been an effective bench option and spot starter. No reason to get rid of him.

      • Sorry, sieve!, but Erik is right about Cruz. The Union need players with skill throughout the lineup, and Cruz simply doesn’t meet that standard.
        At this level, being able to run hard and dive is far from enough to justify a roster spot. If a player can’t offer more than that on a consistent basis, then he must be replaced.

      • He has been pretty effective in his limited role. Is he a starter? No.
        Is he a good bench option to run at defenders late in the game? Yes.
        Do you really think the Union are going to sign anyone better at his price?

      • Do I think there are better options than Cruz out there (that won’t cost a fortune)? Yes.
        Do I think the Union leadership are capable of identifying and making the best use of such players? That’s a much tougher question.

      • Agree!

  5. So who is a lock to be here next year?

    Beyond that I’m not so sure.

    • I’m not even sure Valdes should be on that list.

      • I am.

      • Have to keep Carlos. Once he rests and gets recharged/healthy, he will be fine.
        Though he has been tough to take at multiple points since coming back.

      • Valdes has not been himself this season but he will be fine in the spring.

      • I would be happy to have him back. I just think he came back after the WC as his ‘thank-you’ to the Union for the loans, and that he’ll be gone in the January transfer window.

    • DarthLos117 says:

      Add: Chaco, Nogs, Williams and Okugo to that list.
      Okugo aint going anywhere. He aint worthwhile Europe ready. He gonna get a fatty raise to stay here.

      • Bet you a sausage and pepper sandwich he lands in Germany.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Your Okugo man love glasses interfere with your ability to realistically evaluate his talent. He wouldn’t start in Portugal let alone Germany.
        I take that bet.

      • I almost asked to get in on that bet. I love me a sausage and pepper sammich. But, while I’m quite sure Okugo won’t be here, I’m not so sure he ends up in Germany.
        So, Union vs Germany vs the field in regards to Okugo’s services? I’ll take “the field.”

      • He is on the field in second devision Germany.

        Belgium too. And Belgium has traditionally been a good jumping off spot for US players.

      • Thanks Sieve. I didn’t say Bundesliga Premiere Darth.
        I said Germany which at the Secondary Bundesliga level is better than MLS.
        and again, I know really good when I see it- regardless of ManLove.
        I hope he ballasts this sinking ship asap- you bet- course in about 3 years when he’s playing first team in a UCL Qualifier I will crow- I told ya so.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        I think this comment actually shows how poor you are at assessing talent.
        Somehow, Okugo is supposed to go to second league Germany and light that up and in three years play in Champs league.
        Look at Geoff Cameron. Clearly leaps and bound better than Okugo. Made it to Primier league but not Champs league team.
        Yedlin is the most likely next American at this time to play Champs any time soon.
        From my point of view, best case scenario for Okugo and his career is for him to stay in the MLS. Find a competitive MLS team, make the USMNT and prove he can play at international level then transfer to quality side. I just dont see this happening. I dont believe he has shown enough to warrant any of this.

      • Hey Darth. I’m given to romanticizing the truth. Hyperbole in english literature. Searching for anything to make me feel good in these bleak days of shit soccer here in Philadelphia. I stand by my position regarding Okugo’s ability- the CL deal is the exaggeration. Wasn’t the sausage and pepper part enough to make you realize it’s in fun. Jeeze Louise- have a sense of humor.

      • Chaco and Nogs are strong maybes.
        Williams and Okugo I am not so sure.

        I take that back. I think Okugo is at the House of Lederhosen right now checking out the latest styles.

    • I’d add Ribeiro to the list. I don’t see the Union giving up on him so soon. I’d like to Williams, Okugo, Nogueira, Maidana, and Edu (as CB) return, but don’t think any of those are locks.

    • My “definitely returning” list is:
      Le Toux
      My “probably returning” list is:
      My “I’m shocked if they’re here” list:
      Everybody else falls somewhere on the spectrum between lists 2 and 3.

      • I think we take Casey back at an extreme discount and he becomes our old man player coach/ Punch defenders in the head after the 70th minute option.

      • Casey took an extreme pay cut to come here in the first place. Not sure he’ll take another.

      • True but making $100,000 beats sitting around

      • M’Bohli in expansion draft, sign MacMath and Blake long term…

        Let it go…… Cruz, Lahoud, Carroll, Fred, Hoppe

        With a tear… Casey, Fabinho, LeToux


        MacMath (Blake is Addias generation, no need to protect)

        I’d play a 4-3-3

    • Screaming at the top of my lungs from Section 114 the last 5 seasons………………. Leave M’Bohli open to the expansion draft… He will NEVER make it in the MLS or with the Philly media. Sign Zac & Blake, long term!!

  6. What did we do to deserve this team 🙁

  7. old soccer coach says:

    When two of your keepers are both active internationals, why do you NOT need the third one? Management deliberately created the situation. Management has slowly begun to increase the budget as time has passed, management has been competent in running the none technical aspects of the franchise, with some good and some not so good “technical” decisions. It is entirely possible that they have a plan of some kind which their Soviet-like secrecy policies impede our knowing. There is not yet a Ray Didinger or a Jim Salisbury in the press corps covering them. Would that there were.

    • The league could, at any time, decide to stop playing games on FIFA dates. If Chivas is taking a couple year break and they finally have an even number of teams, that would remove the ridiculous need for at least one team to sit every week of the season. I don’t know how that affects the schedule, but remember someone did a mock up a few weeks back of one with open FIFA dates. That would pretty much end any problem with having 2 international GKs. Maybe the Union have some inside knowledge on it.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    I hope Nogs stays. We need his skill. I hope Chaco goes. His money can be better spent on a striker. But if he stays I wouldn’t be upset.
    I will admit that I am scared of any plan Sak has after what I have seen for the better part of our 5 year existence.

  9. First sign winter is coming: Sak blowing hot air today.

  10. #9 is my biggest pet peeve with this team . . . We don’t play the younger kids we have and the ones who are really good are looking overseas and we will never see in Union uniforms (Pulisic, Steffen). Meanwhile you have guys like Zardes, Fagundez, Rowe, Yedlin, Teibert, Hamid, Trapp, etc . . . not only signing as homegrowns but playing and getting significant starting minutes with their respective teams. It’s like The Union are just completely disregarding this channel. I mean it’s almost 4 years later now and Pfeffer has played a grant total of 8 games for us . . . that’s just ridiculous, especially for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 3 years! They should be signing a minimum of one Academy player a year and bringing them thru the system. Hell Orlando just signed two kids and they just joined the league, we’ve signed three in five years of existence. It’s just pathetic. Meanwhile we have guys like Corben Bone and Fred taking up valuable roster spots. To what end? Start signing and playing the young kids and if you don’t think they are good enough, then you need to re-evaluate your academy system.

    • You basically said everything I wanted to say regarding this team. The academy NEEDS to start becoming more of an active priority, rather than just a spoken one. Pfeffer has proven himself on the U-20 national level, so why only give him three games this season and then dump him? Come on, he has some tremendous technical ability and could play at least a bench role for this team. The lack of depth is criminally bad, and guys like Pfeffer and McLaughlin can help with that if they are given chances. The future is very bad if the youth that is being brought up by this team gets shipped out or given no votes of confidence. Those two, Hernandez, and even Steffen (who was within their system) continue to get alienated. The youth pipeline MUST start getting used more effectively. Perhaps one of the worst, and most hypocritical, areas of this team thus far.

      • Agree completely. I don’t see why we would give a roster spot and game minutes to Fred when imo Pfeffer could have just as easily filled that back-up CAM role.

      • He certainly would offer at least as much as Fred.

  11. Nowak can’t be fixed. Curtin should start as many of these kids as possible Saturday. That’s the message. No Casey, LeToux, Noguiera, Maidana, Edu, Valdes, Okugo or Gaddis. Tells them times changed. Alternatively, be Nick Sakiewicz. Please boycott Saturday. It’s hard but it’s for the greater good.

  12. I think one thing is missing on this list, the need for a lethal striking talent up top. Thought Brown would be something close to it and yea he hasnt played a ton since coming to the U but from what i have seen of him as a starter and sub this season doesnt make me feel comfortable hes the fix. We need a Robbie Keane type player to really take this group to the next level. Fix your depth probably with youth and continue to strength the first team without losing a lot of the talent we already have in the offseason. Le Touex, Maidana, Valdes, Nogueria, Gaddis, White, Okugo, and Casey should all be kept. In my opinion Williams is overrated and at times a liability with his lack of good passing and slowness recovering back on defence. Cruz, Fabinho, Carroll, Hoppenot, Berry all should be sent away this offseason and use that cash on a striker. Dont think the Edu loan situation is as crucial as people think. i believe Okugo could fill in that role perfectly. plus hes much younger and less expensive. Save the cash for waht we really need.

  13. Screaming at the top of my lungs from Section 114 the last 5 seasons………………. Leave M’Bohli open to the expansion draft… He will NEVER make it in the MLS or with the Philly media. Sign Zac & Blake, long term!!

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