A View from Afar / Commentary

Wouldn’t it be cool if …?

Photo: Daniel Studio

Philadelphia Union will host an unusual fan promotion after their game on July 11. You show up to watch the Union’s match against the Portland Timbers, and then you pitch a tent and spend the night on the field at PPL Park. You’ll even get a movie at 9:30 p.m.

Now, how cool is that?

When the Union first thought of this promotion, who was the first person to say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if …?” and then answered, “Camping out on the pitch after the game would be totally cool.”

The Union aren’t the first club to try this promotion. I probably would have loved it as a nine-year-old.

So, in honor of that nine-year-old sense of “Wouldn’t it be cool if …?”, let’s play that game out with all sorts of other things.

Wouldn’t it be cool if …
… The sky wasn’t falling after every loss

The Union lost 2-1 on Saturday thanks to a wonder goal and a deflected goal.

Reaction: Oh God, let’s fire the coach.

How about we not?

Should the Union have put that game away earlier? Absolutely. They outplayed the visiting New York City FC in most aspects of the game.

Should Jim Curtin have inserted his substitutes earlier? Most definitely. Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger brought little to the table, and they were probably sucking wind by the 55th minute.

But the Union’s lack of depth and poor roster construction haven’t suddenly disappeared. Pick someone to blame for giving Thomas McNamara space if you want, but sometimes, a guy just hits the ball perfectly. If you want to rail on Fabinho for letting Patrick Mullins get off the final shot, go for it, but if that shot doesn’t deflect off a player, then Brian Sylvestre has the angle covered.

Sure, that’s a lot of IFs. But that’s the way sports work sometimes.

… The Union had a good plan for fixing their roster this summer

Alas, that would likely entail having an actual general manager, but we’ve been over that before.

The current regime has some clear needs it has to address. Fortunately for them, the center back position has sorted itself out, with Richie Marquez having locked down one position, Maurice Edu manning the other and decent depth behind them in Steven Vitoria and Ethan White. (Even if you don’t like White or Vitoria as starters, they are at least adequate backups.) If Edu presses for a move back to midfield, it scuttles things a bit. But if he does not, here’s what the Union definitely need:

  1. Depth in center midfield. Michael Lahoud has been solid when healthy, but he’s rarely been healthy of late. The Union need someone who can spell Brian Carroll and also play the No. 8 role if necessary. While Zach Pfeffer has shown he can play the No. 8 role for Nogueira, he can’t play two positions at once.
  2. A left back. Same as always. Fabinho is playing well now, but if he has come back to earth by the time the transfer window reopens in July, everyone should expect that he’ll stay on earth. (Unless Union fans build that rocket to fire him into the sun, that is.)
  3. A taker for Rais Mbolhi. The Union need to clear his salary off the books and the roster spot he occupies.
… Jim Curtin had confidence in his deeper bench

Curtin doesn’t appear to like going to his bench. He delays substitutions too long, as previously noted.

But equally significant, he has been hesitant to give some players a chance, often waiting until he had no other choice but to do so. Judging by Marquez’s performance since his MLS debut — when Curtin had nobody else he could play — Curtin may be too gun-shy with untested players.

Can you get burned by putting in a young, inexperienced player? Sure. Raymond Lee showed that earlier this year, and Curtin may have taken that lesson very close to heart.

But that’s part of the game. You can’t expect perfection on day one, although Marquez has come close. Pfeffer is a good example of someone who has gradually improved, but those improvements have been very visible even between his first appearances this season and his most recent performances. (Some critics will beat up Pfeffer for a penalty and a red card. Go away. An occasional handball happens. It doesn’t reflect a player’s overall quality.)

So when your team plays three games in eight days, change something up. Clearly, you run the risk of losing some momentum when changing a lineup that has won consecutive games, but that risk is lessened if you replace one starter (say, Andrew Wenger) with a sub who has been playing regularly (Pfeffer). You also may be better off subbing in Jimmy McLaughlin before the 90th minute.

… The Union hadn’t sent out their midfield depth on loan

Does anybody think Leo Fernandes would be useful now?

How about Danny Cruz?

The Union’s backup wide midfielders are a teenager (Eric Ayuk) and a 20-year-old center midfielder (Zach Pfeffer). When Pfeffer goes in at left midfield, it means the backup No. 10 is Fred, a part-time assistant coach.

Do you think Fernandes or Cruz might do some good now? Yeah, probably.

Did they have room on the roster for each? No.

Each loan posed a bit of a head-scratcher at first, until you looked at the last minute roster logjam the Union were left with under the new collective bargaining agreement. Roster sizes were cut from 30 to 28 this season, which set in motion the late loans of Cruz, Fernandes and probably Austin Berry. By loaning to teams other than the Union’s USL affiliate, Harrisburg, it likely ensured that the receiving team picked up the salary costs for the respective players.

… Antoine Hoppenot played for Philadelphia again?

Can Antoine Hoppenot come out of the doghouse? Yes, he’s been out with a hamstring injury, but when healthy, can he come out and play? Please? (Say that in your nine-year-old voice.)

Hoppenot has made an impact on games before, and it’s not like the Union have that many other options that Curtin likes.

… The Union kept playing well?

Don’t lose sight of the fact that the Union played a decent game against NYC, despite it being their third game in eight days. Yes, they should have won. Yes, NYC isn’t a good team. But don’t go overboard on the negative. This team is coming around. They need some substantial roster changes, but in a weak Eastern Conference with six teams making the postseason, the playoffs somehow remain within reach.

86 Comments

  1. I would add a new left winger to your list of players that the Union need to bring in over the Summer. However, maybe if we bring in a new left-back then we could play Fabinho as a left winger from time-to-time. But clearly Wenger needs to be replaced or at least benched for a time and we have no one on the roster who naturally fits into that position.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      I thought about adding a wide midfielder to the list of needs. Probably should have.

      That said, I’m a lot more patient with some players than many are. I think Wenger can come around.

      • John Ling says:

        Patience aside, there are already options there that mitigate the need for somebody right now. As Erik says, Fabinho is an option. Even if we don’t bring in a LB (Dear Union: please bring in a left back), they can play Gaddis and Williams at FB and still move Fabinho up. I actually think Fabinho could do very well move up to the left wing. It plays to his strengths while minimizing his defensive responsibilities.
        .
        Other options include Pfeffer, McLaughlin (assuming the coach can find some trust in him), Ayuk (even if it means moving Le Toux over to the left), Sapong, and Hoppenot.
        .
        So I think there are options there on the current roster. Those options aren’t ideal, of course; but they exist. I’d rather address the list Dan has above in the article.

      • I agree with Erik – I’d put Left Winger first on the list, higher than your other entries. I agree that Wenger might come around, but at this point we can’t wait for him to do it as a starter; he should do it as a sub.

        Lahoud is about to come back, which gives us 2 CDMs, plus Edu. And we need another fullback just because 3 isn’t enough, but if… IF… Fabinho plays the way he has been — or at least, does so more than he has in the past — then we have 3 solid fullbacks. Our wing play, on the other hand, has been so poor that we need to consider a formation change, unless Curtin puts McLaughlin or Ayuk out there more and they show us something.

  2. No to any combination of Cruz/Fernandes/Hoppenot playing for the first team any time soon. The first two are massive defensive liabilities who aren’t worth any offensive bite they (only occasionally) bring to the table. Hoppenot is a one trick pony, always has been. The longer he played, the more people figured him out: he’s fast, he falls, he draws fouls. Put a smart player on him and he’s effectively useless

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Depth?

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Point, but they had a choice between depth with a clearly known ceiling and the expense of experience, and depth with less expense and unknown, possibly higher, upsides. Jim Curtin’s is learning his own trust levels as Head coach. We kibitzers do not see practices, a clear handicap to our evaluations. As you point out, Marquez has done very well; Raymond Lee not so much.
        .
        As I have said elsewhere, in my own coaching experience, learning to trust the young and inexperienced was an acquired skill, and that was in a school program on a team several levels below the Varsity where such experimentation was actively called for and appropriate. Give Curtin’s some time to learn.

    • I’d take Cruz back in a heartbeat as depth. The guy competes, and wouldn’t have put up with the crapfest we were struggling through for a while earlier this season.

    • Not sure Hoppenot would be of any use, but I’ve never missed Danny Cruz until this season. He could’ve eaten into Wenger’s minutes, possibly in a useful way.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        The difficulty they are having is actually giving Jimmy Danny’s old minutes. I’m sure intellectually Curtin’s knew that change when he sent Cruz away. But for reasons we can only guess, doing it in the actual game is hard for him.

      • OSC, this rings too true. For better or worse, we are stuck with Curtain’s growing pains.

      • Still don’t miss Cruz. Wait. Nope.

    • Fernandes is best suited for the attacking center mid spot. He’s having a very productive season for the Cosmos, and could have been a big help to the Union as a backup to Maidana.

      • I agree. I am inclined to believe we saw his real potential in the beginning of the season last year when he was playing well…then he fell off a bit or was asked to do something that didn’t suit his game or whatever, but he never had a chance to grow a bit.
        .
        Same story with this club IMO… go carry the team…. or play in some random way….opps your not very good… then bye.
        .
        Not saying Fernandes and Wenger are suitable players for the position but Leo is way way more technical than Andrew. Wenger has one idea only with very questionable technique- but was an All American Golden Boy. I don’t get it.
        .
        Ribero is the poster child for this Union Sense mentality.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Ribeiro seems to have found a place as a foil to Kaka. I wonder who snookered them with the interest in Fabinho; we’ll likely never know because the story is embarrassing. It does also need to be said however that we did not have Kaka to provide Pedro with service.

  3. wouldn’t it be cool if… NE traded us lee nguyen for our first round draft pick. i have read rumors that he isn’t totally happy there because they don’t want to re sign him to a bigger contract

  4. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Union started actually signing some of those U-18 Academy kids as Homegrown players?

    • +1.
      .
      I’d forgive all if they signed Raheem Taylor-Parkes (U-16) right now. OK maybe not all, I may never forgive them for not protecting Ribiero.
      .
      Over Macho Grande . . No. I don’t think I’ll ever get over Macho Grande.

  5. Today marks the first time I’ve seen someone ask for Hoppenot. Better right the date down.

  6. Scottymac says:

    Reaction: Oh God, let’s fire the coach.

    How about we not?

    Who are these on then?
    The Union had a good plan for fixing their roster this summer
    Jim Curtin had confidence in his deeper bench
    The Union hadn’t sent out their midfield depth on loan

    I think you make the case for firing Curtin pretty well. Jimmy made this bed.
    42 points in 34 games.19th out of 20 in PPG. Mr Defense First’s team averages 1.56 goals against per game, good for 20th. When will he get better? When Sak and Jay give him resources? Oof.

  7. Wouldn’t it be cool if …
    .
    . . . The Union didn’t have 5 goalkeepers for a position only one player can play at a time
    . . . . or as Dave Chapelle would title it
    .
    . . . 1,2,3,4 . . . 5th!
    .
    Sell M’Bohli for peanuts, and take the difference out of Saks pockets and have a Flogging Day for loaning out MacMath. Cut McCarthy and thank him for stepping in during a difficult time. Sign Sylvestre. and roll with Blake and Sylvestre with no 3rd keeper (pool keeper) to free up two roster spaces to add midfield depth

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Probably need to wait until they are out of the US Open Cup to do this (especially if Blake is not 100%). Sylvestre isn’t available there and I don’t know if you can get a pool keeper for US Open Cup.

  8. Most of those fuckups are on Albright. Hire a technical director/gm and let that guy hire his coach. I doubt anyone in that position would hire Curtin, but I could be wrong.

    • But this is the same organization that hired John Hackworth during a losing streak. And brought in 4 goalies, then got a 5th on loan because they mismanaged the others. And, well, you know the rest.

  9. “You wouldn’t it be cool if the sky wasn’t falling after a loss”…. echoes my sentiments about the past game when marveling about a horse race on Saturday afternoon.
    .
    The Union losing that game sucked, but all in all 9 points out of 15 with a needed break is A.OK with me.
    .
    The question is, in 14 days which Union team is coming back…are we getting healthy, are we prepared to lay everything down and stop with the %ucking around and get busy digging out of this oversized hole?
    .
    They should have buried NYCFC but didn’t and sooner or later NYCFC was going to come good. Unsurprising result IMO… what was surprising was how good that horse is.

    • Scottymac says:

      Another way to look at it is 15 points in 16 games.

      • Fair point and I agree in the macro.
        .
        You know how I feel about the management in general… my argument stands about the coach in specific… but the season started bad for multiple reasons and in the last 5 games, they seem to have turned a corner- in the micro.
        .
        They are just not very good. That hasn’t changed at all. We know that. Your point is insufferable (sufferable?) and absolutely accurate.
        .
        I was just not surprised to see them lose on saturday… and unlike previous weeks when I lambast them for my POV…this week I saw no reason to have a “sky is falling attitude.”
        .
        The story this week was about the Triple Crown for me… oh and the feel good buddy buddy ways apparently of King Leo Messi and The Apache Carlos Tevez.
        .
        If those two boys get on the same page….look out. Higuain is no Carlos Tevez.

  10. Dr. Union says:

    Can I add…….Wouldn’t it be cool if the Union knew how to pull off a trade. There are plenty players around MLS sitting on the bench who could play for the Union. I say Poku for CDM depth he fits it just makes sense.

    • Sapong for a first-round pick was pretty nifty. But you’re right, there should be more things they could do.

      • Dr. Union says:

        Ok I’ll give them the Sapong deal, but so many options are available and i don’t see anyone on this team as untradable except maybe Nogs.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Factor in salaries as you think about. Some of our veterans are highly priced, given the MLS system of rewarding past performance.

      • Your point about seeing Nogs as the only untouchable just gave me the chills. I totally agree. Man that’s scary.

  11. Wouldn’t it be cool if Sak owned up to even one single mistake he’s made, ever?

  12. To me, once the Union work out a deal for MBolhi and clear that cap space, their next move will tell us a lot about this organization. Aside from the cap space they need to put in place a GM who will be responsible for the day to day player transactions and personnel decisions to build this team. Oh hell I’m sorry but when I think of what needs to be done with this team and I think about who’s running it, cold water gets thrown on any hopes I have, but I digress. A GM must be put in place soon.
    Now for the team. Yes when this team is all healthy and issue free they have a chance against most teams in the league and it helps to temporarily quell the angst I have with regards to most things Union. Pretty soon though I again get sick and tired of the realities of the Union. After they put together a string of solid performances and then loose a game they should have locked down, Jim Curtin(whom I like) gives the same lame aw shucks post game press conference. For example he and the guys in the room are disappointed and the reason he made late substitutions he thought the guys on the field were playing pretty good. He had players who were gassed and losing battles way before his first sub. This is a major flaw with Curtin! Andrew Wenger again checked out but he(Curtin) knows Wenger is struggling but he still trusts and has faith that he will work through it. What true professional coach says that BS let alone puts up with it. We need him to be a leader and be a coach not some freaking wet nurse. Andrew Wenger needs to get out of his own head. Sit his ass down and make him earn his way back into the starting lineup. The same goes for anyone else who can’t seem to do what they are put in the 11/18 to do. I have also had it up to my halo with Curtin’s over used cliche’s and talking points. His constant way of saying don’t expect us to do much blah, blah ,blah… I’m the youngest coach in MLS bla, blah, blah; cliche, cliche,cliche;talking point,talking point, talking point. Just coach the damn team and make strategic moves to win the ball and win the game. Rant over!

    Sell this franchise to a competent and financially competitive owner!!

    FREE THIS FRANCHISE!!!

    • wet nurse. good one.

      • Sometimes he can be so wishy washy. His excuses for being weak minded with his substations is maddening and it shows complete tunnel vision a lack game insight and fear. I don’t want to keep referencing Wenger but if he isn’t doing his job and decides to stop making runs and plays then sit him. If the roster is weak then the Union had better address it during the transfer. Right now they need a GM who’s name is not Albright and/or Curtin and definitely not Sakiewicz.

    • But they should hire the GM BEFORE the transfer market opens . . . they should have already hired them (I know I’m preaching to the choir)! Otherwise it’s still “Sak and Co” making the same blunderous personnel decisions again and possibly locking us into another terrible long-term signing that we’ll have to unravel from starting in 2016.

  13. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get to PPL Park by boat? Imagine a shuttle boat (with bar) from Harrah’s to the stadium.

  14. Wouldn’t it be cool if …. the same things we were talking about in 2014 (and ’12 & ’13) weren’t the same things we’re talking about now? (substitutions, a left back, D-mid, etc)

    • Yes it would be great if the Union weren’t “that team.” It irks me to no end. Wouldn’t it be cool if another franchise had gotten stuck with Sugarman and Sakiewic. But here we have it, the 6 years with 3 years stuck on stupid and counting plan for sucking the life out of a top market fan base.

      Sell this franchise to a competent and financially competitive owner!

      FREE THIS FRANCHISE!!!

    • I thought Groundhog Day was a great movie. I just don’t want to live it any more. You are so right.

  15. Here’s my biggest conundrum over the past 5+ seasons: They have routinely done well in identifying young talent in the draft, via Reading United and among other places, but they have failed to fully develop that talent or even get it on the field. That Columbus game would have been a perfect time to get Ayuk or McLaughlin an extended run, all while giving Carroll, Nogs or Madiana a chance to rest for the NYC game. The Crew mailed it in after the Clark error, so they had no desire to battle back, so that was a relatively stress-free environment to get young guys some time, and instead Curtin kept his already tired legs on the field. Players like Fernandes and Cruz I believe have a role to play with this team, yet they are away on loan while other players are taking up roster spots while sitting on the bench. If they’re not good enough to play, loan them away to NASL or USL squads for a full season, or dump them and their salaries and get players who can play.

    • This is because of lack of Vision. lack of Philosophy. lack of Plan.
      .
      Everything comes back to these 3 things.
      .
      Everything is resolved once these 3 things are identified.
      .
      Until then it is haphazard.
      .
      The redundancy of my comments regarding this must be maddening but it is the heart and essence of every argument.

      • Yes you are right. And the frustrating part is that if they had a strong plan from the beginning we could be playing in MLS Cup Final every year. Think about the young players, even vets like Orozco, Jacobson and Harvey, that could be here playing with each other for 5 straight years. Instead they’ve made almost no progress, and transferred or lost at least as much young talent as we’ve gotten. And the long-term vision has to come back to Sac, as he’s the constant through all this.

      • james Lockerbie says:

        It all comes back to money why are we here after five years with roster turn over after turn over? Because the longer players are with the team the more wages they expect to earn. Guys doing well deserved more money sold traded loaned left unprotected. Poor decisions m`Bohli Blake ….

      • My only hope is that Sak’s new long-term vision is him hiding in a PPL janitors closet till the day they sell this team.

      • Nothing maddening about you comments at all. In fact…V.P.P. mean better play and more consistent play from our Union…your elephant brain means that you will not forget V.P.P. should be part of this teams “plan”. Thanks for reminding us!!

  16. (to some beach boys song)
    .
    Wouldn’t it be nice if we were better?
    Then we wouldn’t have to wait so stinking long
    And wouldn’t it be nice to win together
    In the kind of world we belong
    .
    You know it’s gonna make it that much better
    When we raise up the cup and stay together
    .
    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
    In the morning with the team first place?
    And after having spent the day together
    Chant with each other the whole night through
    .
    Happy times together we’re wishing
    I wish that every game was a win
    Wouldn’t it be nice?
    .
    Maybe if we think and wish, and hope and pray, it might come true
    Wow, then there wouldn’t be a team we couldn’t beat
    We could be winners
    And then we’d be happy
    .
    Wouldn’t it be nice?
    You know it seems the more we talk about it
    It only maes it worse to live without it
    But lets talk about it
    Wouldn’t it be nice?
    .

  17. Wouldn’t it be cool if scoring a goal in a scrimmage against Reading United somehow is the tipping point to Andrew Wenger regaining his confidence and becoming a threat when the real game pick back up?

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