Thoughts on the Union’s reported roster moves this week

Photo: Michael Long

Some quick hit commentary on Philadelphia Union’s roster moves this week. Ready? Go.

Chris Pontius — for $420k a year? 

A few points on the Union’s reported acquisition of Chris Pontius for what is probably a nominal amount of allocation money. First, on Pontius himself:

  1. Pontius can be one of the league’s best attackers when healthy, and at 28, he should be in his prime. In 2011 and 2012, he seemed to have made the leap to elite MLS player.
  2. Pontius is rarely healthy. Since that 2012 season, he has played in just 51 of a possible 102 regular season games.
  3. Trading for Pontius and picking up his reported full $420,000 salary is a bad move if Pontius is on a multi-year contract. If When he gets hurt again, particularly if it’s a long-term or lingering injury, the Union could be saddled with another fat contract for another unproductive player.
  4. If Pontius is in the last year of his contract, it’s a more defensible move. Yes, you’re paying him probably more than you’d like, but if he doesn’t perform to his price tag, you can cut him loose or renegotiate a lower salary at season’s end. If he can somehow stay healthy, you could have yourself one of the league’s best players filling a position of need. It’s not a bad risk to take if you have room in the salary budget, even if Pontius doesn’t take a pay cut.
The impact of Pontius on the Union roster

How does this impact the team more broadly?

  1. Pontius logically slots in as a starting left-sided attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3.
  2. That means Tranquilo Barnetta doesn’t, except if when Pontius is injured.
  3. Barnetta would slot in at central attacking midfielder, which means ….
  4. Cristian Maidana could be on the way out. Despite ranking second in the league in assists this season, Maidana has always appeared to have a somewhat skeptical manager in Jim Curtin. Then again, Maidana’s $200k salary is affordable even if he’s not guaranteed 30-plus starts next season. Maidana fared all right as an inverted right-sided attacking midfielder, but he remains a natural No. 10 who likes to flare out to create from the wings.
  5. The Andrew Wenger at left wing experiment is probably over. He played very well there for half a season. And then last year happened. Where does he belong on the field? Somewhere. Is it time for a fresh start somewhere else, with someone who brings fresh eyes to his skill set? Maybe.
  6. The arrival of Pontius doesn’t necessarily nix an Alejandro Bedoya acquisition. They play different positions. Treat Bedoya as still a possibility, albeit a longer shot than it once was due to Nantes trying to keep him.
Pontius vs. Neagle

Now, would the Union have been better off trying to get Lamar Neagle, who D.C. United acquired from Seattle after trading Pontius? He’s certainly cheaper.

However, Neagle’s best position is probably striker. He played on a wing in Seattle largely to accommodate Clint Dempsey’s place in the lineup in Seattle, and if he was a good enough winger, Seattle may have kept the hometown boy at a salary of just $165k.

The Union didn’t need a striker like Neagle. They need an attacking midfielder like Pontius — a healthy Pontius, that is.

On the anticipated departures

News on anticipated departures was reported this week (mostly by PSP contributor Kevin Kinkead at CBS Philly), with Steven Vitoria and Ethan White the most notable names on the list. Here’s a quick assessment of each:

  • Steven Vitoria: There was no way Vitoria was returning on a $400,000 salary, no way the Union were dropping a transfer fee to acquire him full-on from Benfica, no way it was good for him to storm out of the locker room while his coach was still talking to the team, and no way he slotted in as a starter if Maurice Edu is to return and play center back. (Richie Marquez is a guarantee for the other center back spot.)
  • Fred: A nice player in his prime and good guy to have around, but he is well past his prime.
  • Antoine Hoppenot: Curtin never rated him. Could he return to Bethlehem Steel FC? He’s good enough, and he has produced in MLS before. Has his quirky personality rubbed some the wrong way?
  • Eric Bird: The rookie center midfielder got hurt and never made an impact. He could get a USL contract with Bethlehem.
  • Zac MacMath: Colorado chose not to make his loan permanent, so he returns to the Union and is reportedly out of contract. Someone should take a shot on him. He has shown flashes that he can be something in this league. But Philadelphia isn’t right for him at this point. Too much history and baggage.
  • Danny Cruz: Cruz is reportedly going to continue trying his hand in Europe. Good for him. Wish him well. He played hard for the Union. There is no place on the current team for him.
  • Ethan White: The Union have reportedly declined his option, but don’t be surprised if they try to bring him back at a lower salary. He is error-prone, but he’s a decent backup center back option who Curtin seemed to like.
Then there was Nando

We’ll have to wait and see what the contract and transfer details will be for Fernando Aristeguieta, who reportedly will return to the Union after spending this season on loan from Nantes. It’s a good decision, provided the Union can get him at a much lower salary than he received this season ($350k). He plays hard, slots in well as a backup target forward to C.J. Sapong, and puts himself in good positions to score. If only his finishing was more consistent.

Either way, he’s the type of guy you like to have on a team.

Who made these moves?

The outstanding question, of course, with all these moves was who was making them. That question presses the most because of the acquisition of Pontius, for whom the Union probably had to give up little. Just the same, the deal will surely polarize opinion if he spends much of the year injured. (Not much of a powerful statement there though, is it? It’s Philadelphia, and there’s an Internet; everything that goes somewhat badly polarizes opinion.)

Earnie Stewart hasn’t officially started his new job as general manager yet, but it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t in the loop. Anything else amounts to the teenagers throwing one last party before the parents show up. Then again, that makes for a great mental image, doesn’t it?


  1. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    Nice thoughts Dan, but we have a ways to go. If there is one last party before the parents show up, then I expect a cherry bomb in the neighbor’s mailbox because this roster will be completely blown up by the time March rolls around!

  2. Lucky Striker says:

    On Pontius:

    put me down for option 4 Dan.

    I’ll roll with all 6 options under “impact”

    As to the movers & shakers on the deal, yeah….it was a house party until adult supervision gets home.

    Jimbo was after him for the last 2 years.

    Now; as to the Houston trade thing…….

    Ricky Watters called.

    Would love Bruin, but will settle for Torres and Sarkodie should Chaco be departing.

  3. My only comments to this read are this….
    Yup, this puppies for real alright.
    It was an accident. You know what happens.
    Accident my ass Gary! My parents are coming home – Chet’s coming home. They’re gonna freak out.
    They’re gonna shit egg rolls.
    Oh and thank you for questioning who was making the call on this deal… I tend to think it was Lisa.

  4. Really while everyone wants to know who is pulling the strings on this trade, does it really matter. The team is making trades which I like, but they still need to make the right trades which I don’t think this was regardless of who did it.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Is this a parable Doc?
      Sure matters to me…. everything this team does matters to me.

      • Yes, I would say it is. However, which moral is to be learned may still yet to be determined. Such as have patience, be tolerant of differences, appearances are often deceiving, example is more powerful the precept………the list goes on and on.
        While I am sure most aspects of the team matter to all of us. At the end of the day isn’t the goal to see a team we are proud of winning and winning things like the MLS cup, supporters sheild, us open cup.
        Whether Curtin makes a trade or Stewart if the ultimate goal is being reached none of us will care who did it, just that it was done.

      • Fair argument Doc… and strictly for the sake of arguing further…. I just want to know if this move is in line with the ultimate goal you speak of (the how absolutely matters to me), which with the flux in leadership – it is challenging to be convinced, and the only way we can know that is if the new Sporting Director made it… because going forward every move should be in line with his vision, plan and philosophy.
        I think it is a question worth investigating and the reason I keep hammering on it is because I want someone within our media corp to ask the damn question when the time comes.
        We have 94.1 and 97.5. We have The Big Ragu. Harry. Howard. et al literally putting the GM of the Eagles feet to the fire and the players…. because they hear and sense the discontent and concern from the fan base.
        … all we Union fans have, really – is this blog and one or two others.
        We are the voice. I want to know that Earnie Stewart pulled the strings on Chris Pontius.
        Best case scenario… The question is asked shortly. The answer is affirmative Earnie Stewart made the decision. Case closed…..and I can move on to … belaboring how our Union is going to produce the first World Class HG player… because my Vision. Plan. Philosophy argument better have been put to rest with his hiring.

      • I think you’re are going to hear that it was a group decision in some way or another. Something along the lines of ” We’ve had interest in Chris all along. A Deal came to the the table. It was a player we all knew. Earnie knows. And we all agreed…” yada yada yada. I don’t expect it was all Earnie, but I’m sure he put his stamp on it.

      • Ultimately I do not think this trade is in line with the goal and I think that it was not Earnie pulling the strings as they have clearly said more than once he will start Jan.1. The only way this trade is a win for me is if you unload Pontius for a bigger and better deal to Colorado who also want him. The one other way I can see it is if its the last year of his contract and you did this in order to have cap space to resign Barnetta at seasons end. Ultimately right now though I don’t like it regardless of who did it.

      • I have a wait and see attitude at this point. There’s going to be a good amount of wheeling and dealing this off-season. The final team won’t truly be known till the day before kick-off, if even then. I’m just trying to enjoy the fun of it all.

      • I’ll reserve my overall judgement for the beginning of the season and the quality through 10 games at least. However from this year I really think this team needs to be put together sooner rather than later so they can integrate and work on their style of play.

  5. Could be wrong, but what I’ve read of the Pontius contract situation is that $420,000 is his OPTION salary for this year. I’ve never heard of a 2-year option in MLS, so my assumption is that there will be an option for 2017 at the end of next season, which could be declined, or he will be out of contract.
    My point is that it does not appear that the Union would be left holding the bag on Pontius for 2017 if he doesn’t work out, which in my view makes this a perfectly defensible move. Sure he makes a lot of money, but the Union have cap space to play with this year, he fills a position of serious need, has good experience, and if he stays healthy (which, admittedly, is a risk) could be a real impact player.

    • Yes, this is my understanding as well. This is a one year “let’s see if he fits” roll of the dice. More expensive than I would like, but considering the position he plays has been a black hole for years, he’s MLS-proven, and American (save an international spot that we are short one of as well) then it’s quite acceptable.

  6. take Pontius only if it is his final contract year – salary drive seasons can do wonders for health. If he’s so snakebit that even that won’t matter, it would further inculcate the Philadelphia sports milieu we inhabit.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Snake bitten. The logical word consequence in all permutations of use for choosing me in your emblem and crest…then proceeding to play like one without a head for 6 years. Maybe we figure it out soon, eh boys?
      eastern massasauga ‘pit viper’ rattlesnake

  7. I’ll chalk it up to “transition,” but why is the club still mum 72 hours after the leak on the most significant roster move of the off season so far? In the holiday spirit, I’ll even speculate that this was a calculated decision to affect other moves the Big Ern regime wants to make and not the Keystone Cops routine that so often described the FO’s handling of such matters under the former CEO. But we should expect much better soon in both the strategy and the messaging.

  8. I do not see any positive with hiring ANY player, so injury prone, to hope he’s healthy to rationalize his $alary…?! REALLY?! We need goals, not ‘hopeful’ goals. I sincerely hope Mr. Stewart did NOT sanction that…

  9. Let me pose a much larger question: is there truly such a thing as an “injury prone” player??? Or is a string of injuries in an individual player simply a manifestation of bad luck?

    There are many concepts in sports which we take for granted but which, upon in-depth, Bill-James-style analysis, prove to be non-existent. As one example, there are analyses showing that there is no such thing as a “clutch player”, who performs his best in big games; insofar as anyone does so, it’s a function of chance fluctuation around his overall performance level.

    I am not aware of any analysis of the concept of “injury prone” players, but as a physician, I’m not sure that I believe in it. Now, if you tell me that a guy has one PARTICULAR injury that always nags him or worsens, that’s plausible. Otherwise, it may just be luck. In which case picking up one of the most talented American attacking players in MLS is a fine move as far as I’m concerned.

    • Good question. Where would you put Pontius who I believe had a bad hamstring injury, followed by a calf injury? Could that still be a particular injury (musculature problem)? Bad body chemistry? Overtrainer?

      Disclaimer: the sum total of my medical training is playing Operation as a lad. I could never get that shin bone out- that was a toughie. One of these days I’ll get it…

    • Yes, there are definitely injury-prone players. Plenty of them throughout sports history that we could ID. Pontius is one of them. Some guys just can’t stay healthy.

      • Dan, I question whether that is truly an “injury prone” player, or just an unlucky player. There are no data to settle this argument at present, so your assertion — like mine — is pure speculation.

  10. Also, Dan, I am not so certain that Pontius slots into the midfield. He’s a genuine finisher, and he’ll get into the box. I wonder if he would possibly slot in as a left wing forward in the 4-3-3.

    • Yes, that’s how I was referring to him. Left forward in a 4-3-3, or inverted winger on the left, or whatever you want to call it.

  11. I’d still like to see a move-by-move +/- in terms of $$$ for the Union. Example, when they clear out Vito, White, Fred, Hopp etc how much is that saving, how much roughly did they start the off-season with by getting rid of M’Blowhole and Carlos Valueless? I feel like they are starting out with a +$420K for Pont, but – Twice that for just these roster cuts? How much is Barnetta making?

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