A View from Afar / Commentary

5 Union & MLS thoughts

Photo: Earl Gardner

Five thoughts on Philadelphia Union, MLS and the soccer world at large.

Ready?

Go.

MacMath to … Colorado?

With Zac MacMath’s loan to Colorado, he now joins the only team in MLS that managed their goalkeepers (almost?) as poorly as the Union did last year. The Rapids’ merry-go-round of national team prospect Clint Irwin, since-traded ex-cop Joe Nasco and rookie Jon Berner looked like an absolute mess behind an injury-depleted back line that was even more of a mess. Colorado head coach Pablo Mastroeni juggled goalkeepers and lineups during the season and then threw his players under the bus for the media when they failed to perform.

Yeah, that’s a stable situation for MacMath.

With another team, one would expect MacMath to back up Irwin, who is top class when it comes to MLS shot-stoppers, at least when he’s on his game. But with Mastroeni showing that he is perfectly comfortable benching Irwin, don’t be surprised if MacMath earns himself a few starts this season. Then again, few things would surprise from Mastroeni, a coach who demonstrated awfully quickly that he could make some strange decisions and then blame his players for the results.

As for the trade itself, the deal is a creative one. Certainly, it’s the first time I’ve seen a conditional trade based on a loan. (Anyone recall one I’m forgetting?) Colorado will send the Union a second round pick for a one-year loan of MacMath, and it will become a first round pick if they make it a full-on transfer.* Credit both clubs for that idea. It seems fair to both sides. Further, the loan leaves open the intriguing possibility that MacMath could return if Rais Mbolhi concludes the critics of his transfer are also critics of him. (Most are probably not — I’m not — but that distinction could easily be lost to many.)

MacMath remains just 23 years old and has over 100 MLS starts. The prowess he showed on penalty kicks in 2014 gave a sign of the type of clutch goalkeeper he could continue developing into. For Colorado, it’s a risk worth taking. Irwin looks good enough to potentially warrant overseas interest, provided that his back line stops exposing him to firing squads. If that happens, MacMath could be the man the Rapids look to as a full-time starter in another year or two.

As for the Union, some might have hoped the Union would get more for MacMath, but that was unlikely to happen with every team in the league knowing the Union had to part with a goalkeeper. The Union had no leverage at the bargaining table.

The Red Bulls’ “inexplicably stupid decision to fire Mike Petke”

If you look at the Wikipedia page for new New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis, you’ll find this gem:

“In one of his first moves as sporting director, he made the inexplicably stupid decision to fire Mike Petke who had led the Red Bulls to the conference final the previous season and the Supporters’ Shield the season before.”

Naturally, it’s totally accurate.

Petke’s firing is absolutely mind-boggling.

Here you had a guy who was praised by fans for his hard-nosed approach as a player and coach. Petke is a local guy who could actually speak the language of his own fan base. And most importantly, he led the club to their first ever trophy in 2013 with a Supporters Shield and then took them to the conference final in 2014.

Sure, go ahead fire him.

Even Philadelphia fans had to like Petke or at least give him grudging respect for a rival. (PSP named him Philadelphia’s “Rival of the Year” in 2013.) If you’re not sure, listen to this interview he gave to the Philly Soccer Show last year.

The Red Bulls must have felt threatened with potentially losing their status as the worst run soccer club in the New York area. Fortunately, this move should secure that to a degree, although let’s be honest, it’s going to be tough to match NYC FC after the Frank Lampard debacle.

Petke wasn’t the most tactically daring of coaches. He is an ex-defender, a pragmatist who focused on winning games and and going with his gut, regardless of what anyone said. He didn’t back down from Thierry Henry, and he even benched Tim Cahill, a move that may have contributed to his firing. He wasn’t perfect, but he was certainly quite good.

Petke should be on the short list of any MLS team that fires a manager this season, and he certainly should be a top prospect as an assistant coach.

Are the Union lagging behind others in the off-season?

The Union have yet to bring in any new off-season acquisitions. With the exception of C.J. Sapong, all we have seen is departures, with Amobi Okugo and Pedro Ribeiro going to Orlando and MacMath to Colorado. Meanwhile, clubs like Chicago, Portland, Columbus, and Los Angeles have been loading up.

Is it time to panic?

No, it’s not, although you probably considered it (or at least threw your hands up in disgust) after the Okugo deal.

Last year, the Union were similarly quiet at this point. It wasn’t till Jan. 9, 2014, that PSP broke the news that Cristian Maidana would sign with the club. That deal went through a week later. News of Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira emerged in relatively quick succession.

So the Union have time, although that time slips away more quickly than one thinks. Training camp is scheduled to begin at YSC Sports on January 23.

If the Union don’t have some moves in the works by now, then yes, perhaps worrying is in order. Right now, all we know is that we don’t know of potential deals.

What do the Union actually need to add?

Then again, do the Union really need the same quantity of big acquisitions that they needed last year? I would argue that they do not.

Last year, they needed to fully revamp their midfield. At this point, they have done that.

The biggest question mark that remains is whether Edu will return to the club after his 2014 loan, and if he does, will it be as a center back or a defensive midfielder?

Edu’s future will set off a domino effect. If he does not return, the Union need to fill both starting positions. At center back, that potential replacement could already be on the roster with Ethan White and a healthy(!?) Austin Berry likely to compete for the job. Remember: Berry was a good center back before his star-crossed injury parade of 2014. At defensive midfield, there is Mike Lahoud, a good rotation player who has yet to lock down a starting role or, of late, stay healthy. (If Brian Carroll returns as a starter, a segment of the fan base will revolt.)

The second biggest question mark is striker. That’s only the second biggest because, well, everyone knows the Union want to add a big name there, and if they don’t, they’ll go with Casey and the current crew of backups.

For those who want to root for a rich team …

Let’s close with this thought for the day.

Those who bemoan the Union’s status as a team that behaves like a small club despite being in a big market, there is this counterpoint:

Would you rather have owners like the Red Bulls and NYC FC?

New York has two plastic franchises. What a shame.

NYC FC could have been something great. Instead, the club has embarrassed MLS and American soccer with the Frank Lampard debacle, and they have yet to even play a game. They had better sign someone like Mix Diskerud, because they need to clear the bad tastes in everyone’s mouth quickly.

Sure, Union fans might say, “Does it have to be either/or?” No, it doesn’t. You can find great team owners in Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Columbus, and probably Los Angeles and Orlando too.

But it’s certainly a cautionary tale worth heeding.

32 Comments

  1. If Okugo and Edu wind up leaving the Union (less there is a glitch in the machine I do not understand with contracts/loans and the like), sadly I will depart with them- back to my Cosmos roots. Because then it is just as likely Danny Cruz will be the starting winger for 2015 related to his work rate, and my great concerns of ineptitude heading towards the offseason will be fulfilled. I will have been a fortune teller, a soothsayer and the Union will have proven to me beyond doubt the club is a bona-fide-fluster-cuck.
    .
    I’d rather hitch the wagon to Raul.

    • Don’t forget the Carroll starting in midfield prospect

    • I just feel bad for all the supporters and SOB’s who get emotionally jerked around the way they do by this club. Its not right for what should be one of the better clubs on the East Coast. The clubs in the Pacific northwest and LA seem to do everything right……..and we, well you know. ITs sad the more people are going the way you are dude……me included.

      • ebradlee10 says:

        I’d argue it’s not much different than the other major sports teams in this city…Over the years they have effed up royally. This just hits a little closer to home.

      • It does hit closer to home. I, like you and many that post here……..are probably born and raised “soccer rats”. We have been waiting for a club to call our own since we were kids……and this is what we get? As Joel put it….a fluster cuck. I saw the writing on the wall last year and pulled my 3 season tickets. And to the clubs credit, they pestered the hell out of me for months wanting to know why? Then I gave them hell! I was shocked at the disconnect between them and us. Ebradlee, your right…it is soooo Philly!

    • Union did not get my season ticket money for 2015. I share Joel’s opinion on the current and potentially future state of this organization. If 2015 goes as poorly as I think it might, Union will not even get my attention in 2016.

    • If the Union come back with the same BS load of talent and excuses as the last few years (and I do mean the likes of Carroll,Cruz,Fabhino …etc starting or getting significant playing time) they can go FO! I reside in NY as a transplanted Philadelphian. I will find another team to support , either NYCFC or the Cosmos. It is embarrassing to have this team represent the Philly market. If it’s the same crap from the Union then I hope they fail like Chivas USA so Philly can get a real MLS franchise. We were so excited at the city hall rally. I hate what the Union have done to this fan base. I am sick of this cheap 2nd rate organization. Philly does not deserve to be in position to have this type of pathetic representation. I try as hard as I can to remain hopeful but I am sick of wondering if this organization will amount to anything. I watch other teams making moves while everything Union appears slow,secretive, sneaky and cheap. We can never get excited about the possibility of signing a Henry, Gerrad, Cahill, Keane..etc. Philly is never even mentioned as a possible destination. I’ve tried to live with the so called philosophy of this feckless organizations way of acquiring players, but I’m sick of it. I can’t even pretend anymore. The Union have a lot to show me this 2015 and if it smells remotely like the business as usual stench then I am done!
      My best wishes to PSP(the absolute best) and all of you fantastic posters.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I will never support another team, especially the jokes up in NY. The Union aren’t where I want them to be, but they are going into their 6th season. Everyone needs to relax a bit, and support the club, in whatever capacity you want, and not tear them down.
        .
        I’m a lifelong Philly resident and sports fan… chill Nega-delphia… chill.

      • John O'Donnell says:

        Makes you think that we’ve turned in to the biggest bunch of bandwagon jumpers when every time something goes wrong we threaten to cheer for the new shiny team that does it right. I can still remember just six years ago we swore we cheer for a team if we could just get one. It’s a sad day in Philadelphia when you go and root for a team in New York in the second division. What next? Don’t buy tickets or merchandise but if you just want to be a bandwagon jumper, I hope you enjoy your days at James M. Shuart Stadium. By the way you can’t even get a beer on game days. Have fun.

      • For the record, John, I’ve been a fan of the New York Cosmos since I was a little boy- early 70s and was thrilled when they were brought back. Were you even alive then sir?
        .
        Second. Dan has written an article. I have responded. That’s all. You don’t have to agree or even like my point- but I am not a bandwagon jumper. Period. The End.
        .
        My commentary is in regards to the foolishness that would, IMPO, surround losing two of the best HDM in MLS in 2 months- that would in essence show me this team is bass-ackwards. Hyperbole John. Its what makes the english language and this whole Blog fun.
        .
        and now I will pull out my retro 1980 New York Cosmos track warm up jacket and freeze my ass off outside just to spite your comment. 🙂

      • I prefer the squad that predated the Cosmos……the NY Generals. My pops was drafted by them, before he played for the Atoms.

      • Sorry I don’t go to footy to drink beer……I can do that anywhere……is it a bonus, sure. I guess you have to drink to watch these guys, DUDE! I know you hate that word…lol! I think the Union in the front office calls the beer they sell ” the opiate of the masses”….just keep um drunk and they won’t know any better! Its not being a bandwagon jumper, its called not paying someone to have the wool pulled over my eyes! I expect better……you should too!

      • Hell I haven’t had a drink in 10 years so the beer part is moot for me.
        .
        I just like to kick and scream and pontificate and throw around false threats and generally stir shit up in the absence of anything real to complain about- save the Alberta Clipper outside.
        .
        I love The U. Nothing would make me happier than “Lauding the Magnificence” of the choices the club makes. When that day arrives, hopefully soon, I pray, I will be one of the first to comment to the positive. Till then, with the shit they have pulled the last 5 years- I RAIL ON.
        .
        It’s not Neg-a-delphia, One Man Wolfpack- Its cynicism and the cynicism has been earned from my POV -in the way of repeated lashings by a poorly functioning club in a footy sport that occupies my every thought. Vision. Plan. Philosophy. Show me one and I will shut the hell up.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I don’t think he (John) was implying he has I drink to watch soccer (or maybe he was I don’t know?!), so, to me, you’re statement is unnecessary. I think the crux of his argument, and mine, was that there are WAY too many people who are ready to just jump ship for another team because we aren’t LA or Seattle. We are supporters, not just fans. Like John said, if you don’t want to buy tix or merch, that’s fine, but it’s kind of crappy to see so many fair weather fans.
        .
        If you want to root for NY go for it. It’s your loss.
        .
        And if you liked them since the 70’s (before I was alive, yes) then more power to you 🙂

      • No one is in a position to know a thing about me or how I support my Philly teams. I have been driving down from NY to see the Union since they opened at the Linc. I am a passionate diehard Philly fan and anyone who knows me would laugh like I did with regards to some comments. I’ve gone to some Sixers and Flyers games this year so I’m comfortable in my own skin and don’t judge other fans. I will go to NYCFC games or Cosmo games instead of making my usual trek if the Union ownership continue to treat the Philly fan base as if all we deserve is a 2nd rate product.

    • If you hitch your wagon to Raul, I’m pretty sure that wagon is going to move very slowly 😉

      • For sure George but I bet he’s going to score a bazillion gols against the likes of some of those squads. Where’s Raul? I thought you had him? I thought you he him!

  2. I thought there were actually 2 draft picks involved in the MacMath deal. Union gets Colorado’s lowest 2015 2nd round pick now, and will get their highest 2016 1st round pick if the deal is made permanent.
    .
    At least, that’s what the team’s site says. So, really, who knows?

    • You know, we read the same thing, and I interpreted it a different way. In retrospect, you might be right. It’s worded in such a way that either could be right. We’ll follow up with the Union and find out. Thanks for pointing this out.

  3. You can argue that Union don’t need to make a quantity of big acquisitions. I will argue very strongly to the opposite.
    .
    This wasn’t a playoff team last year. They showed a brief flash of competency until teams figured out Curtin’s system and made adjustments. Since then, we’ve lost Okugo, Ribeiro, and Macmath, all who made contributions last year, and replaced them with Sapong, who pretty much just replaces Ribeiro. This team desperately needs a striker. Casey and the current crew cannot get it done over a whole game, let alone a whole season. We need a left back. We currently don’t have one. If Edu doesn’t come back, we DESPERATELY need a defensive mid, and if he plays CB, we desperately need one anyway, because Lahoud is simply not an MLS-quality player. We need better depth at a lot of positions.
    .
    This team was not a playoff team and let alone a championship contender. It needs serious talent infusion. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

    • Oh, I was just saying they didn’t need as many guys as they did last year. They definitely need help. I highlighted the big ones. They could definitely use a left back too — yeah, I left that out — but I think they can get by again with Gaddis and Williams. Not ideal, but can be done.

      As for Lahoud, you’re just completely wrong. He is most definitely MLS quality. Maybe not a starter, but certainly good enough to contribute in the league.

      • Westmont Union says:

        I think it’s fair to say that as the League gets even better next year (just look at the incoming players that are being signed versus last year), we are going to be seriously exposed if we don’t make at least 4 quality signings (quality being defined by Nog level talent). We need a LB, CM, Winger and Striker. I am banking of Edu being back, and Berry being healthy and ready to fight to get his ROY form back.

        Adam S, Sapong is twice as good as Ribeiro, so I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when the season starts.

        Overall, I’m not panicking yet but if January 20th comes and we haven’t announced at least two signings, I’ll start to sweat

      • Yeah, that’s probably the right time to start sweating. 😉

      • +1.
        However, your objectivity is clearly not a Philadelphia-esque trait!

  4. screw ny

  5. kingkowboys says:

    I am concerned that though we do not need a large quantity of big acquisitions, we need a large quantity of quality acquisitions. Sapong was one.
    .
    We need to add quality depth to this team. Players to push our starting 11. Pretty much every position except RB and GK this applies to.
    .
    We have LB, CDM, and ST as our thinnest positions IMO. A better younger CF option is needed. The CDM spot needs to be clarified or filled. Lahoud is not good enough to be named starter without beating someone out. Finally LB can be improved. I think there is more lost that realized without a true LB on our team. It certainly unbalances our offense.

  6. Andy Muenz says:

    Hopefully at the very least, loaning MacMath out freed up some cap space to make another deal.

    • You’d think it would considering he made $120k last season and he will be in an option year at the end of this one.

  7. Good piece. Agree very much, particularly on the needs of the club this year compared to last and that I’m way happier a fan of the Union than what’s going on in NYC. At least our team isn’t named after an energy drink. IT would be like supporting “The Philadelphia TastyKakes.” Good God! If I were in New Your I’d give up on MLS at this point (though tbh, I’m really not that outraged by the Lampard thing — everyone with a brain saw that coming a mile away when he started to score goals for Man City.)
    — Like I said elsewhere, I fully expect this team to contend for a top four spot in the east and will hold the team accountable if it fails to improve. I don’t see that as setting myself up for disappointment. I’ll get disappointed if and when I have a good reason to be.

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