Offseason Issues

Offseason Issues: What constitutes offseason success?

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Philadelphia Union fans have a long checklist for this offseason — as you can see from these last two weeks of posts on offseason issues here at PSP.

  • Depth across the squad.
  • A resolution to the awkward situations of Maurice Edu, Amobi Okugo, and the three-headed knight protecting the goal.
  • A skilled striker and an actual, honest-to-God left back.
  • And a staff that appears to have the adequate amount of experience, savvy, and manpower to get the most out of this team.

The last of these appears about to be all set, with Jim Curtin named as manager and Rene Meulensteen expected to join the club today as some sort of decision-making person. Or a decision-helping person. Or a person who is getting paid to help the Union win soccer games, perhaps through some sort of alchemic magic.

(That is to say, Meulensteen’s role is still … unclear.)

But the personnel decisions will take time and be staggered throughout an offseason that typically feels much longer than the 10 weeks between season’s end and training camp. The roster might not even be set until deep into preseason, as we’ve come to expect. Look at the late moves in seasons past: of Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver or Austin Berry to his own personal Purgatory.

What would make this a successful offseason?

With this scope in mind, it’s worth asking two questions.

One is very simple and useful as a benchmark: What do the Union need to do to have a successful offseason?

The other is a bit more complex, and you can certainly imagine it said in the voice of a college freshman who has just discovered the potency of certain illicit substances: “But, like, dude — what even is a successful offseason, man?” “Duuuuuude.”

The answer to the first question is simple: the Union need to, at the end of the offseason, appear to have a better team than the one that they had in 2014. This means a squad that addresses obvious problems with this year’s roster, the problems that we’ve been poking with a stick for the last two weeks on this very web site. A squad that appears constructed with a specific plan in mind, with defined roles for certain players while maintaining space for healthy competition, blending veterans with rookies and MLS newcomers with old hats, and with more talent than the year before.

You’ll notice, though, that this simple answer is quite vague. For one, there are about one bazillion different ways the Union could go about accomplishing these goals, given the global nature of football and the absurd number of different drafts and procedures there will be in this MLS offseason.

There’s another reason this answer is vague: It is impossible to accurately judge the success of an offseason on paper.

The true value of offseasons

In professional sports, it sometimes seems like the offseason is trying to swallow the actual season whole. On the NFL Network, every day is an important day for NFL teams — even midsummer, when literally nothing is happening, there’s a new argument over the best offseason signing or a ranking of the 74 best punters of all time or whatever nonsense.

The NBA, a league driven by its stars, spends much of January through July paralyzed by the whims of its biggest players, with the psychodrama of LeBron’s next move competing with the actual games being played.

Soccer is certainly not immune either. Just look at the dramas of the transfer window each year, the endless sagas of where Mario Balotelli will go next to score zero goals or whether or not Arsene Wenger will ever buy a freaking defender. (The answer to that question is no, he will never do that.)

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon here. All of these things are interesting and important to the direction of the franchises that get involved in them. And following the business of the game, the wheelings and dealings, is one of the beautiful things about being a modern sports fan.

But the results that matter are the ones on the pitch.

Winning the offseason — comparing the additions and subtractions around the league, then declaring a winner — matters less than winning the actual season.

Just look at last year’s Union. There is a compelling case that, along with Toronto FC, the blue and gold were the winners of the MLS offseason. Both teams brought in a considerable amount of talent and were expected to ride that new talent to the playoffs.

Yet that’s not what happened. The Union, despite the aggressive action to fix the midfield, were a much less complete team than they seemed to be when they kicked off in Portland. The talent infusion couldn’t make up for the lack of depth at striker, or provide the necessary steel to stop dropping points in the last 15 minutes of each game, or coach the team instead of the overmatched John Hackworth. (Toronto, too, missed the playoffs and fired their coach, though frankly who cares about those guys.)

The point is simple: in league after league, MLS included, winning the offseason doesn’t always translate to success in the athletic playing area.

So we can certainly, at the end of January, pop our heads up and discuss the offseason. Did we bring in Jozy Altidore at striker? How about Greg Garza in at left back? Has Fabinho finally — finally — been fired into the sun? These would all be good things. It is definitely possible to judge whether or not the offseason has created a more talented roster for the Union, and this is a worthy measure to monitor as players enter and depart.

But the tough truth is this:

To find out whether the offseason was actually a success, it’s going to take another full calendar year. Until the 2015 Union play their last game, we won’t know the full story.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    To me, to be successful this off-season they Union need to do the following:

    – Find a true LB who will start
    – Find a true 15-20 goal scoring striker
    – Add some depth off the bench (midfield, upfront)
    – Get something of need for MacMath
    – DO NOT make a mistake and lose someone you don’t want to lose in one these 12 off-season drafts
    – Investigate some of this “alchemic magic” that is mentioned above
    That’s all. Quite simple. HA! Meulensteen’s hiring is a nice start.

    • They’ve mentioned in the past they may loan Blake out to get him some game experience. If they do that and off-load MacMath for something worthwhile, they’ll want to pick up another (cheap) keeper on a 1-year deal as a backup. Even if they don’t get rid of MacMath but loan out Blake, they’ll want to do that.

      So maybe if we amend your fifth point to “DO NOT DRAFT or PICK a ‘STARTING CALIBER’ KEEPER,” I agree completely.

  2. MacMath for Corey Ashe ?? I know, makes too much sense. Houston loses Hall and gains MacMath and we gain a true LB that could help.With Beasley there, they don’t need him.

  3. Philip Narozanick says:

    Why isn’t the locking down of Nogueira acknowledged in this article?

  4. Agree with Wolfpack and Dave above in regards to offseason needs and how to go about achieving them; however, I don’t agree with the statement from the article that a successful offseason is simply fielding a team better than last years’. MLS is constantly improving, so every year, every team fields a better squad than the previous year. Although, this year might be the exception with the expansion clubs entering the league. But any other year, the FO would have to double their efforts in order to finish above the red line: not just by fielding a better team, but by anticipating how other teams will improve, and further improving upon that.
    For example, if we have to trade Williams or Gaddis to obtain a starting left back, then we’ve gained nothing: we’d have no depth at right back. If we lose Okugo, then we need to replace him with a starting quality defensive midfielder (or find a starting quality central defender to replace Edu, and move him back to midfield). If we lose White, Berry, and/or Marquez, then we need to sign some more central defensive depth. So with the expansion draft looming, our depth needs aren’t limited to attacking midfield and striker. We’re going to need to add depth everywhere.
    The biggest issue of course, as everyone else has said, is the striker corps. From the players we currently have on the roster, by the end of the offseason, Le Toux will be our only striker worthy of even the first 18, let alone starting 11. Hoppenot, Wheeler, and Hernandez are just not MLS material, at least not at striker. Casey will most likely be gone, Wenger isn’t a true striker, and Brown is unproven and really just not physical enough for MLS.
    By the end of the expansion draft we will have more holes in our roster than not. So we essentially need to completely rebuild, excluding most of the starting 11.

  5. I agree that we have an excess of GK, but the prob with getting rid of Macmath is that we then have two GK who will be leaving on international duties and since MLS dosnt take off for international breaks that would leave us with who in goal? But then again why would the front office think about these things, F’it just get another GK to add to the mix.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *