Commentary

Everybody should just relax and enjoy the holidays

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

After watching the Eagles flame out of the playoffs in incredibly lame fashion, I felt inspired to write about the next best team in town, which is your Philadelphia Union.

It’s true. The Union is the second best team we have, unless you count Villanova basketball. But that would make Philadelphia a “six for six” city, and the Wildcats don’t even play in Philly anyway.

We know the Sixers are tanking. The Flyers and the Phillies are also tanking, they just don’t realize it. And the longest tenured coach in Philadelphia couldn’t find a way past the Dallas Cowboys and their intolerable fans from Iowa and New Mexico.

This time of the year, which is ironically the holiday season, also tends to be the most annoying for MLS fans. It’s that sort of “in-between” period where not much is happening, and fans (and writers) are itching for transfer rumors or even a done deal. We need something to look forward to, because spending time with our families just isn’t cutting it in late December.

Where are the signings? 

Philadelphia’s lone addition of the offseason is forward C.J. Sapong, but that DOESN’T MEAN THE SEARCH FOR A STRIKER IS OVER!

CJ Sapong

C.J. Sapong is a solid addition to the Union strike force, but the club is still looking to bring in a DP striker. Photo courtesy of MLS.

Sapong won’t be your starter at the No. 9  spot going into 2015. He is an upgrade for Brian Brown and a solid depth-piece who can play any of the “front three” spots in Jim Curtin’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Sapong played in a 4-3-3 at Kansas City, and while the system was predicated on the high press, it isn’t entirely dissimilar to Philadelphia’s shape.

He’ll fit in nicely here.

And don’t worry about trading away the draft pick. The MLS SuperDraft is becoming more and more irrelevant each season. This year, only about eight players in the entire draft saw significant MLS action. Philadelphia hasn’t had a great track record of drafting anyway, so would you rather have the tenth overall pick, or a proven commodity in Sapong?

The Union missed out on a Ligue 1 striker who would have been a perfect fit for this club. I reported a few weeks ago that this guy was interested in coming to Philadelphia, but a bigger team from Europe entered the picture and the deal fell apart. As a condition of passing along the information, my sources asked me to keep the name of the player confidential. I’m sorry that I can’t reveal this guy’s name, but I’m sure it will be made public at some point in the near future.

You will be pleased to know what kind of players the Union are targeting, even if they might lose out to bigger clubs in the end.

I can tell you that the Union are in Europe and South America right now. They’ve been checking out some bigger clubs on these scouting trips, and they are mostly focused on bringing in attacking talent. Finding a starting, designated player-level striker is the top priority at the moment.

Don’t be worried that the team hasn’t made a big splash yet. At this point last year, the Union’s only addition to the roster was midfielder Corben Bone, who was picked up in the first round of the re-entry draft.

Photo by Earl Gardner

This guy wasn’t signed until January 30. Everyone chill. Photo: Earl Gardner

The signing of Cristian Maidana was not made official until January 15, 2014. Maurice Edu’s press release didn’t go out until January 27, and Vincent Nogueira’s deal was completed on January 30. Austin Berry joined in late February.

That’s generally how these things work out.

This year, you’ve also got collective bargaining taking place, so that places uncertainty over the entire offseason. Don’t be surprised if that holds up some moves, or if the salary/DP/whatever information is withheld until a CBA is hammered out.

I also reported the Union’s interest in William Kvist, so stay tuned for updates on that as well.

What about the other guys?

Everybody is talking about Orlando City and all of the deals they have done.

Obviously they are going to be wheeling and dealing because they don’t even have a full roster. They are an expansion club.

They’ve made some nice moves, and they’ve splashed a ton of cash on Kaka, but you can’t compare the moves of a well-funded expansion club to those of an existing franchise with fewer resources.

I know a lot of people disliked the Amobi Okugo trade. I’ve known Amobi for years now, and I think he’s a great young player.

Amobi Okugo - Earl

Time will give perspective on the Okugo trade. Photo: Earl Gardner

But ask yourself this — where would you rank Amobi among defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer? Would you start him over Kyle Beckerman? Would you rate him higher than Ozzie Alonso? Would you play him before Dax McCarty/Matias Laba/Diego Chara/Jermaine Jones/Juninho/Tony Tchani?

Sometimes you have to put things into perspective. I hope Amobi has a good year in Orlando, but it’s premature to say whether or not it was a good or bad trade.

The Union made it clear this offseason that they just don’t have the money that other teams do. Jay Sugarman openly admitted that he is not a “soccer guy”. They outlined a simple plan that included the addition of Rene Meulensteen as a consultant with the aim of hiring of a sporting director in the future.

Jim Curtin is a young coach with a lot of upside. He played in MLS, he’s from Philadelphia, and he understands the city and the fans. Some of you don’t seem to think it matters, but I do. He speaks our language and doesn’t bull**** like other managers in MLS.

There are obvious challenges in Chester. Curtin and Chris Albright are young. There is no general manager and there are few resources. But this team has a good defensive spine and decent core.

What’s the alternative?

Sixers fans can look forward to more second round draft picks. Flyers fans have been told that there’s no need for a “fresh perspective”. The Phillies are clinging to nostalgia, and the Eagles think that Bradley Fletcher can cover DeSean Jackson.

29 Comments

  1. Rutgers-Camden is closer to Philadelphia then Villanowhere

    • Obviously Villanova University is not in Philadelphia (even if they do have a center city evening MBA program). Nova does play a handful of high profile basketball games at WFC as well as big 5 games inside city limits. They are also nationally recognized as Philadelphia’s elite college basketball program, regardless of your opinion. Rutgers – Camden has zero Philadelphia connection on the other hand. In any event, the Union isn’t in Philly so why argue technicalities. Point is, Philly teams stink right now.

  2. What’s the alternative? Maybe sell the team to a soccer guy who will fire Sak? Duh.
    This team is being run as a profit center. So vote with your wallets. Not a penny from me this year. First season I’m not buying merchandise for everyone at Christmas. No season tickets. I bet on them for four years. Now they can win me back.

    • This is exactly how I feel. I will still watch and follow the team vigorously, but I’m not wasting money on them until they win me back.

    • man, 114 is going to be sparse this season………..your the fourth person in 114 that I’ve heard is bailing on season tickets! My family and I had enough and we did the same last year. Still watch and root for them……but……like you said, not a penny more until some serious change comes about!

      • NOT bailing, Sec 114 loyal, 6th year, renewed and love attending the matches, win or lose. But totally understand the angst of everyone. And as with many in “our section”, will cut way back on concessions (gross, tasteless cr*p anyway), no more $9-12 beer, and NO, nada, zilch merchandise, same ole, same ole stuff, waste of money. Heck, where can my son yell as loud as he does at opponents’ corner kicks, and they hear every word? Or all of us laughing when you hear the guys behind us yelling at Boli the Goalie, or for Roger Torrez, or for Freddie Adu like they do? And like the two later former Union players, let’s hope Boli the Goalie is gone by the Colorado match, and management STOPS messing with Zac’s head. He has progressed every year and he’s just starting to catch his stride. Remember the Chicago match, and Boli’s response to the media? Trade him for a world class striker, Nick, or Rene, or whoever the hell is really in charge. Doop!

  3. Thanks for the rare breath of sanity. A little perspective is always nice, but too often in short supply.

    It is hard watching other clubs splash cash around, but long term who know how it will work out. I find it hard to believe that Toronto’s spending spree of a year ago improved that club’s financial health and improved their long term financial stability. i am very interested to see what happens with Orlando. I have some experience with that market and finis it difficult to believe it is capable of generating the revenue neccesary to maintain that kind of spending.

    This team now has a decent core of players to build on and seems more stable than it has been over the last four seasons. the glass is already half full and as we come into January may indeed be fuller.

    • Totally agree. All of our key moves were made after January 15th last year, and with this core all we really need is a world class striker. CJ is not that, but great depth and to push the others for playing time. Questions I have is now that Amobi is gone, why do we insist upon playing Mo out of his real position? He is NOT a Center back. Can Austin return to his better days an fill that role? Is Carlos coming back, or still desires to play closer to home? I sincerely hope both come true so Mo can play with Chaco and Vinny and create an awesome midfield that few teams can rival. Doop!

  4. Thanks for the rare breath of sanity. A little perspective is always nice, but too often in short supply.

    It is hard watching other clubs splash cash around, but long term who knows how it will work out. I find it hard to believe that Toronto’s spending spree of a year ago improved that club’s financial health and improved their long term financial stability. i am very interested to see what happens with Orlando. I have some experience with that market and find it difficult to believe it is capable of generating the revenue neccesary to maintain that kind of spending.

    This team now has a decent core of players to build on and seems more stable than it has been over the last four seasons. the glass is already half full and as we come into January may indeed be fuller.

  5. It was exciting to hear of opening day 2015 for March 7. Now the Union has 74 days to, hopefully, get the needed pieces in place to raise the excitement level going into a season to that of 2004 for the Eagles or 2009-2010 for the Phillies. Union brass please get it done for us fans.

  6. ” Would you start him over Kyle Beckerman? Would you rate him higher than Ozzie Alonso? Would you play him before Dax McCarty/Matias Laba/Diego Chara/Jermaine Jones/Juninho/Tony Tchani?”

    Tough call, however, none of those players play for the Union either.

    Would you rate him over Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud? I do.

    • John O'Donnell says:

      How about Maurice Edu? I have a feeling that’s who he was truly competing against. It only makes sense if we bring back Edu that he plays in the midfield. Curtin likes White and what he can do on the back line. White with Valdes makes more sense cap wise than Edu as a DP playing defense. It leaves you Austin Berry and probably Richie Marquez as backups, which is way more cap friendly for the rest of the roster. Berry should push White for playing time and Marquez should have a shot at the roster this year after spending last year in Harrisburg.

      With a team on a budget, this give you more resources to spend on a quality striker. The core of the team is pretty much in place and one quality player up top can make this a team that reaches one of the top six spots in the East next year. Which is the goal stated by Jim Curtin. We might love players on a bad team but we’ll love a winning team more.

      One question you might ask now is who would you rather have on the team now, Roger Torres or Vincent Nogueira? Amobi was a nice player but in the end he wasn’t a difference maker on a winning team. You can always replace a fan favorite on a losing team, besides Amobi brought in a good quality MLS veteran to this team, Al L. O’Cation has played a big role on many a team in MLS and I hope he has a little left to make the players around him a little better this coming year. Come January if they sign a striker who can give you 15 goals next year, it will be a good trade. Let’s see what January brings.

      • Edus salary is actually $1.2M, Stoke picks up half, so the real question is Edu 6 times the value of Okugo? I’d argue he isn’t. He can take over games but just as likely to disappear. I’m not overrating Okugo, but we’re all working on the assumption that 1)Union get Edu back and 2)they can negotiate a more favorable salary. Edu as a CB is not good value, not at 660k or 1.2M.

      • Great points John, I agree 100% with your defensive assessment. The Okugo / Torres analogy may be more apt for the fans’ reactions, than for their actual values, but again, good point. By all accounts Okugo is a great young man and i think he has a bright future. He had a disappointing season last year and was seeking a new contract for more money. He had plateaued with the Union. Not great either as CDM nor CB. Good luck to him with OC. We can do better though.

    • +1 (Scotty)
      .
      ‘Irrelevant’ was the first word that popped into my mind when I read that paragraph. John’s got it right; it’s more about comparing Okugo to Edu. But even then, Edu’s already in his prime at defensive midfield (CB is another matter), and costs twice as much as Okugo. Even at his peak, Edu is only slightly better than Okugo is presently; so all in all, I’d still rate Okugo over Edu.

    • Scotty……I thought that was the most depressing part of the article…..it certainly exposes a part of the pitch that needs work. I think Nogs/Edu/ Madaina can battle with any of those interior midfields. But as you hinted at………once you start putting Carroll and Lahoud in the mix…….we have problems!

  7. The alternative would be to keep the good players that you have and try to find someone who will take the players that you don’t favor. Right now, this team is stuck with some very expensive bench players and just lost 2 players that were great for their value. That is the wrong direction. And that is why the fanbase is unhappy with the management of this team. It’s not always about the shiny new toy…

  8. I can’t relax.

  9. I remember feeling exactly like this at this time last year as well. It wasn’t until the tail end of January that the anticipation really started to build, and by March, I’m ready to go all-in on the next Union campaign.

  10. Please enlighten us: how will the fact that Jim Curtin is “from Philadelphia” and “understands the city and the fans” help the Union qualify for the MLS playoffs in 2015 and beyond?

  11. Relax you say?
    .
    Enjoy the holidays you say?
    .
    Eff that noise. I’m gonna get all Veruca Salt on you … I want my offseason signings, and I WANT THEM NOW!!!

  12. On point. Am I the only one who thought Okugo wasn’t stellar at CM? Thought he had something special at CB, enough to warrant USMNT notice, but he refused to play there. Edu showed better consistency at both and willingness to do what it takes to win. I hope Amobi does great in Orlando and reaches his potential but if we resign Edu and Allocation $ bring a good ST, we will be praising Curtin come playoff time.

    • Okugo is a good player, but I am with you. Not better than Edu at either position. Tough loss for mostly sentimental reasons.

      • …And financial reasons. Edu is without a doubt better than Okugo, but not so much better to merit more than twice the salary plus a transfer fee. The Union seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for funds, and I don’t think it helps the cause to throw away a promising, young, inexpensive player in lieu of a DP who earned the title on salary alone, and not merit. The choice always seemed to be between Okugo and Edu. If we could only keep one (which turned out to be the case), I think most fans would have chosen to keep Okugo, and with good reason. However, if the FO can negotiate Edu down to a non-DP salary, I would consider the choice the right one.

  13. So, the Union are already active in Europe and South America at the big clubs??? Seriously ? With all respect to Jim Curtin, which player from a big club is going to come to work for a 35 year old rookie coach? I would understand it if this club paid him $5-6 million a year, but, we all know that isn’t happening.
    So, why target big clubs? Is it just to fool us saps into thinking ‘oh well, they tried to get X from Bayern, and Y from Man U, oh and they missed out on Z from Barcelona. So they are showing ambition’
    BS!!
    We need to shop in our market, find another Maidana, or even a Giles Barnes, someone who was nowhere near EPL standard, but looks a world beater in MLS.

  14. its fantastic site man.. i am very glad to see this.i am fan of this sport.i like your site very much.you provide a great knowledge about soccer

  15. what are the chances of me seeing Sapong but thinking Edu and seeing Edu but thinking Sapong as they bear resemblance to each other.

  16. “Don’t be worried that the team hasn’t made a big splash yet. At this point last year, the Union’s only addition to the roster was midfielder Corben Bone, who was picked up in the first round of the re-entry draft.”

    Given that all the Union have done in the intervening year is prove they don’t know what they’re doing or even who’s really in charge, “look at where they were last offseason” doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.

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