A View from Afar / Commentary

Kljestan, Edu, draft, more — 5 thoughts on the Union

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

With the offseason in full gear, let’s stick with the Five Thoughts routine, some more intelligent than others. Ready? Go.

1) Sacha Kljestan to the Union?

Do the Union need Sacha Kljestan? No.

Will they get him? Probably not. It doesn’t make a lot of sense based on the roster makeup we see now, and they won’t get him anyway if Los Angeles or the New York teams want him, which they probably do. After all, there’s this:

Make no mistake: Kljestan is a good player. Most teams should be glad to have him.

But he doesn’t fit ideally into the Union’s midfield.

Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira occupy two of the three spots in the Union’s center midfield trio. While both can play out wide, it’s become clear that neither should, because it takes them out of the roles in which they most excel. Plus, Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux should be locking down those starting roles if healthy.

The type of player the Union need in that third center midfield spot is a No. 6 type of ball-winner with serious defensive chops and the ability to make the late runs into the box that Nogueira and Maidana don’t make. Nogueira may prefer the role of a holding midfielder in the attack, but he is a deep-lying playmaker as opposed to a true defensive midfielder. He is not going to defensively shield a back line like a true d-mid would. Nogueira averaged less than one tackle and one interception per game last season.

Kljestan could fit the description in an attacking role, but not defensively.

Maurice Edu fit the description on both ends. (And he compliments Nogueira better when Brian Carroll isn’t the third midfielder.)

So too, of course, does Amobi Okugo.

2) Maurice Edu’s long-term deal

Put aside Okugo for the moment. He’s gone to Orlando. So forget the comparisons.

In and of itself, acquiring Edu on a full transfer is a good move. He showed the capability last season to be one of the best center backs in MLS. He was so good at times there that it made you think he was good enough to start there in the 2018 World Cup for the U.S. at age 32. His athletic ability, range and ball skills make him a perfect on-paper choice.

In midfield, Edu has shown in the past he is capable of playing at a high level there. No, he didn’t mesh well with Vincent Nogueira and Brian Carroll, but Cristian Maidana’s presence in place of Carroll completely remakes that trio and its chemistry. The jury may be out on the chemistry of a Nogueira-Maidana-Edu trio, but the talent is undeniably there.

That of course leaves the question of whether the transfer fee and salary will be worth it. As of right now, we know neither dollar figure, although I did confirm that Edu will unsurprisingly be a designated player, which means a salary of at least around $400,000. Last year, Edu collected a $650,000 base salary. It’s debatable whether he’s worth that, but I’ll come down warily on the “yes” side of that equation, if not for last year as a whole, then for his time at center back and the prospect of what he can do going forward.

Would Okugo have produced more bang for the buck? Yes, he probably would have. But we’ve hashed that out already.

With Okugo out of the picture, Edu is a good permanent acquisition.

3) Philadelphia, home of the MLS amateur draft?

Since the Union entered the league, three of the last six MLS SuperDrafts have been held in Philadelphia. The draft is typically held where the NSCAA’s annual convention is held, and Philadelphia has proved to be a more than adequate host for the convention.

But did you know that only one other city with a current MLS club has ever hosted the draft? It was also held in Kansas City, Mo., when Sporting KC played on that side of the Kansas-Missouri border.

No, the MLS draft isn’t as big a deal as drafts in the other four major North American team sports, and it’s not because soccer less popular, but rather because of the other means of player acquisition that MLS has.

Still, you have to think it might be a bigger event if it was held in an MLS city every year.

4) Who will the Union draft?

No idea. They don’t pick till the second round, having traded their first pick for C.J. Sapong.

But it wouldn’t be surprising if the two guys that Jim Curtin said he might trade up for are these two left backs.

5) Random observations
  • Fabinho’s gambling: Did you know that Fabinho ranked third in the league in interceptions (4) per game? Of course, it’s balanced out by him tying for fifth in the league for most times getting dribbled past per game (1.2). That summarizes Fabinho’s defense quite well: Aggressive, makes some nice plays, but always in danger of getting beat in a big way. It’s why the Union need a left back.
  • Albright vs. Curtin, PR ed.: As admirably straightforward as Jim Curtin may be with the media, Union technical director Chris Albright seems the opposite. One PSP writer told me Albright sounded like “the most defensive dude in MLS I’ve ever heard. I almost feel like he has heard so many cliches in the course of his career that he has started to believe … they contain information.” Alas, they contain no such thing.
  • Obligatory goalkeeper joke: You know it’s bad when the top-rated comment on an MLS story about a German goalkeeper coming to MLS is a Union joke.
  • Low expectations: The Union seem likely to head into next season with low expectations unless some big signings are announced soon. That’s not a bad thing, particularly after last season. With their current roster, the Union could finish anywhere from first to last, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock. The team has talent. Curtin has shown he can win games. Of course, he also lost some too. But he’s the kind of guy you can like.
  • Mike Petke vs. Jim Curtin: These guys seem like they could have been childhood friends. They’re so similar. That’s a compliment. If in two years, Curtin can do what Petke did (without getting fired, of course), then he’ll have done a phenomenal job. I think he can do it. Even if you think the Union are a dysfunctional franchise, you can’t deny that the Red Bulls are even worse.


  1. I really like Kljestan and think he can have a lot of success with the Union, but his skill set seems to clash with his mind set. He’s a conservative, defensive minded player (hence the d-mid role), but he definitely struggles defensively at times. His attacking skills on the other hand, are terrific. When he pushes forward, he’s often dangerous, showing both the ability to score goals and create for his teammates. If he were more aggressive, he could be a great attacking mid fielder, but I really think his conservative mindset holds him back.

    That being said, I think he can be a good fit for the Union, provided they have a strong cb who can cover for his occasional defensive miscues (which we do have in Mo Edu). His presence would make the Union a more dangerous attacking team with his distribution abilities allowing Maidana and Noguiera to push further up the field and become scoring threats themselves. Maidana was an assist machine last year, but they contributed only 2 goals each last year, which they should definitely be able to improve on.

    I don’t know what the Union’s prospects are as far as finding an elite striker, but assuming that doesn’t happen (which is how things seem to appear), increasing scoring from the midfield is another viable option and something Kljestan will provide.

    • Yeah, Kjestan plays D Mid for Anderlecht right? So if Edu is a CB we could use him, right?

    • It is pretty odd, isn’t it? That “d-mid in theory but not in practice” thing. I guess we’ll see. Your points are definitely valid and well made. I disagree about his fit w/ the Union (obviously), but heck, I’ve been wrong before, right?

      • I agree that a very good striker and a more traditional d-mid would be a better fit, especially given Curtin’s more defensive mindset. I just think that Kljestan’s addition makes the Union midfield much more dangerous and makes them a better attacking team overall (although again, perhaps that’s not what they’re looking for).

  2. Awesome stuff, as usual, Dan! 🙂

  3. I don’t think Letoux or Maidana are built for 40 game seasons. I’m not knocking either, but I do think that Letoux is at best a 65 minute player at this point in his career and Maidana had fitness issues all season. Going into the season expecting them as game to game locks, i believe, is extremely short sighted. I think they should be deployed as a platoon w/ Wenger on the other side and possibly begin looking for a 4th wing.

    • I think expecting Le Toux to go 90 when he starts is fine. He’s capable of it, in my opinion. I do think, as you alluded to, he shouldn’t be counted on to start every game (league and USOC). Picking spots for him to come off the bench, such as during those weeks with three games in eight days, will help keep him fresh and healthy for the end of the year.
      As for Maidana, I think we saw last year that he is far, far more dangerous when he’s in the center of the field than on the wing. If you want to make the case that he, too, needs some games off that’s one thing. But moving him out wide again is, in my opinion, a fool’s mission.

      • +1

        Le Toux has the motor to play 90 minutes every time out. I agree with squad rotation of course. Hopefully the depth is there to do it. And Maidana, at least based on last year, probably does need to come out of some games after 60-70 minutes for fresh legs. I’m really optimistic that Pfeffer can turn into that guy who can bring fresh legs and some aggressiveness at CAM for 20 minutes.

      • Don’t forget that Maidana spent the initial part of the season with a somewhat dubious adjustment period for life in the U.S.
        He spent this off-season at his new home in the U.S., so this (hopefully) won’t be an issue.

  4. Appreciate the comments on Chris Albright’s dourness— as evidenced in his PSP Interview a while back. That came up in topic after listening to it and some found it to be a point not worth discussing- as well maybe it isn’t- but at least others have noted it. Being a native to the area, one thing that will turn you off to The Fickle Mob, Cassidus- is stock, phony bullshit talk that tells us nothing. We here like to be in the know.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I found the allocation chart positively brilliant and enlightening! It only lacked a corresponding flow chart for bribe money paid into the commissioner’so off-shore bank accounts!

  6. Dan, any idea what, if anything, Muelensteen is doing for this team? I honestly had forgotten he was hired by the Union at all. The introductory press conference was pretty vague and since then I’ve yet to see a direct quote from him or even a single mention of him by Curtin or Albright. Or is he a guy that will begin participating when the pre-season camps begin?

    • No, I don’t have good insight on that. That’s not to say he’s not doing anything, just that I don’t know what it is that he’s doing. I know in theory what he’s supposed to be doing — advisor on the field, with transfers, player development concepts, etc. — but you read/heard the same stuff I did, I think, and I don’t have specific nuts and bolts details on what he’s doing of late. I can ask though. It’s a good question.

      • Does seem strange to think of him as important enough to introduce in a press conference, then not have him do anything. Maybe as the Union make some signings, we will learn of the role he has been playing.

  7. Tannenwald tweeted last night that he’s chasing some big Union rumor. Perhaps thye’ll be unveiling a new striker at the draft?
    I remember a few weeks back the rumors of some high profile Ligue 1 striker they were trying to sign that was apparently favoring a move to BPL or another top league. I haven’t seen any Ligue 1 strikers move yet (or many players at all for that matter) or any rumors floating. wondering if that situation changed? 16 days left in the European window

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