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Five thoughts on the Union’s recent player personnel moves

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Five thoughts on Philadelphia Union’s recent player personnel moves. Ready? Go.

Winning the draft, losing the homegrown player game

Some say Philadelphia won the draft. Perhaps.

If so, it’s only because they lost big time on the homegrown player front.

Let’s revisit.

  1. So you traded away Sheanon Williams so that Ray Gaddis can start at right back. (Edit: … and free up cash for Tranquillo Barnetta.*)
  2. Then you spend the No. 3 overall draft pick on a right back, Keegan Rosenberry.
  3. You thought you had Rosenberry as a homegrown player — i.e. no need to spend a draft pick on him — and then you lost him. If the homegrown claim on Rosenberry was in fact rejected because accelerating his summer class schedule meant he couldn’t train with the Union over the summer, it stands to reason that, whether the league’s decision was fair or not, a skilled personnel executive could have been tracking this and suggested that perhaps Rosenberry ought to better balance his professional and academic aspirations.
  4. Later, you trade up in the draft to get the No. 2 pick so you can draft center back Josh Yaro, and then, with the No. 3 pick you reach a bit to take … Keegan Rosenberry.
  5. To get Rosenberry, you kind of had to trade the only homegrown player to ever crack the Union’s regular rotation. If you had signed Rosenberry as a homegrown player, you almost certainly would not have had to trade Zach Pfeffer. (Pfeffer and allocation money were traded for the No. 2 draft pick that became Yaro. Would the Rapids have also accepted allocation money and the No. 3 pick, instead of Pfeffer? Probably. That’s common for trading up in the top four picks, as demonstrated in trades for Andre Blake and Jack Harrison, for example.)
  6. Rosenberry will either be a backup right back or the starter. If he’s the starter, that means the Union will have had three starting-quality right backs on the roster over an eight-month period. (Yes, Gaddis didn’t have the best second half of the season, but he has proved he is good enough to be a good starting right back in MLS.)

Is that about right?

Conclusion: The failure to sign Rosenberry as a homegrown player effectively cost the team Zach Pfeffer, who is actually a year younger than Rosenberry.

Mind you, not that it’s fair that the Union can’t sign Rosenberry as a homegrown player when he clearly has been aligned with their academy for years, while Kansas City can claim as a homegrown player a guy who was playing professionally in Hungary last year. Union coaches have worked with Rosenberry for years, and it’s perfectly reasonable that they should want to sign a player widely regarded as a first round talent.

On the bright side, at least the Union go two deep at right back again. Union fans know all too well that you can never have too many starting right backs.

The football factory behind Conceicao

The Union have signed Anderson Conceicao on loan from Brazilian third division side Tombense. However, don’t think this means they signed some lower division scrub.

Rather, they have signed a player whose rights are held by a football factory that is effectively little more than a means of circumventing FIFA’s ban on third party player ownership. Tombense is backed by agent Eduardo Uram and is generally viewed through the same lens as Desportivo Brasil, a similar operation owned by the now-infamous Traffic Sports.

If that sounds familiar, it’s almost exactly the same thing that happened with Eric Ayuk and Rainbow FC in Cameroon.

Clubs like Tombense treat players like Conceicao almost solely as disposable assets. Since signing with Tombense in 2011, the former Santos youth player has never appeared in a regular season game for Tombense.

Instead, Conceicao has gone on loan to seven other clubs — Philadelphia will be the eighth — primarily Brazilian second tier clubs fighting for promotion. These clubs generally rely heavily on loanees due to lack of funds available for full transfers.

Conceicao also played for Mallorca in La Liga in 2012-13, after the club ran into serious financial troubles, and the club was relegated that season. He then moved to Brazilian club Figueirense, which had just won promotion to the top tier, and played 13 matches for them before returning to Brazil’s second division.

What does this all say about Conceicao, for those who have never seen him play?

  1. He is generally viewed as a reliable starter for top teams in Brazil’s second division.
  2. The Union probably view him as a low-risk, one-year acquisition who will give Josh Yaro time to get up to MLS speed.
  3. Expect him to slot in as the starting left center back, unless Yaro impresses enough in training camp to win the job. (Conceicao has also played left back.)

It’s not a bad rationale, provided you’re comfortable treading South America’s murky underbelly. If you thought that was over because the last of Peter Nowak’s sketchy Latin American contracts is finally off the books, you were mistaken.

Pfeffer’s departure

Reaction to Zach Pfeffer’s departure has been fairly muted. It shouldn’t be.

He finally cracked the rotation last season, despite never having gotten the opportunity to get regular 90-minute live games over an extended period since … his sophomore year of high school? And he played fairly well.

Pfeffer remains younger than every player the Union just drafted in the first round, and he has proved he can contribute on a professional level, which is more than the draftees have. This is not to say he will become a better player in the long run, but it’s enough to indicate some surprise that the Union were willing to part with him.

Then again, they have seen him plenty in practice and behind the scenes. Perhaps the current regime determined his talent ceiling wasn’t sufficient and lost patience with him.

Either way, there are many who would have liked to see what he could do given either a full season starting with Bethlehem in USL or another season fighting to crack the Union’s rotation.

Or at least, they would not have wanted to consign him to the coaching black hole that has been Pablo Mastroeni’s Colorado Rapids.

Walter Restrepo for Mike Lahoud — AND money

The biggest difficulty in evaluating MLS trades and transfers are that the amounts of allocation money or transfer fees are rarely made public. So in the case of the deal for Walter Restrepo, we don’t know whether the Union gave up $100,000 — not likely — or under $50,000, which may be a more likely range.

Suffice to say, the deal for Restrepo brings the Union a player who has consistently impressed at the NASL level and was due for a move to MLS. These are exactly the sort of undervalued players that MLS clubs should look to pick up, much like Real Salt Lake succeeded with Luke Mulholland.

The fact that they had to give up a quality role player and locker room presence like Mike Lahoud can be a bit of a drawback, particularly considering that he has played well when healthy. However, Lahoud has struggled so consistently with injuries that new Union sporting director Earnie Stewart may have earmarked him for departure early on.

The deal, combined with the acquisitions of Yaro and Conceicao, appears to clear the way for Maurice Edu to return to center midfield. If by midseason that doesn’t work out — i.e. the same cohesion problems with Vincent Nogueira remain — don’t be surprise if Earnie Stewart unloads Edu or even Nogueira, who may be the Union’s best player but has also proved rather injury-prone.

What do the Union’s recent moves say about Earnie Stewart?

It’s early, but the Union’s recent moves say a few things about Earnie Stewart.

  1. He doesn’t care what was done before he got here or how it looks. It doesn’t matter that the Union traded away Sheanon Williams or lost Keegan Rosenberry to a homegrown claim. Cut losses, take the hit, get the players you want.
  2. He’s a cold pragmatist. Can Conceicao play? Can I avoid getting screwed long-term by dealing with dubious South American soccer operators? If the answer is yes, then we have no more to discuss.
  3. He plays his cards close to the vest. Stewart gives away almost nothing of substance in interviews. He is skilled at answering questions without actually answering them. Essentially, he’s a good BSer. We have no idea what cards he has left to play, but chances are, there are a few, considering more than a third of his roster is still empty. Expect some interesting trialists when training camp opens, and don’t be surprised if he takes advantage of the closing of the January transfer window for most countries to pick some players who couldn’t get the moves they wanted.

32 Comments

  1. It’s an interesting time, mainly because it appears that Earnie doesn’t care what we think. And thank God for that. He has no sentimentality, which is why Zach is not here anymore. The point is likely correct about the evaluation of his ceiling. With that in mind, why keep him if he doesn’t have a big future? (Although condemning him to Colorado does seem harsh.)
    .
    Had we been granted the Rosenberry claim, there is reason to think that Pfeffer still could have been on his way out. And that could have led to Vincent at 3, as well as Keegan. But, we don’t put a “what-if’s” on the field.
    .
    I’ve been very encouraged with Earnie’s moves. There appears to be a solid plan in place, and it’s a matter of making space for difference-makers. They aren’t here yet, but there is plenty of time. Let’s judge when the international window closes. Until then, I believe in Earnie.

    • Good point, re: Pfeffer possibly leaving regardless. Entirely possible. The endless “What if?s” are why I didn’t go into the Brandon Vincent thing. That could have been an entire column to itself. But you go for the players you like. That’s fair.

    • there will be moves, annually, it looks like based on Earnie’s history with AZ:

      YEAR – In – Out
      15/16 – 7 – 10
      14/15 – 4 – 15
      13/14 – 5 – 7
      12/13 – 8 – 6
      11/12 – 2 – 7

      Trust the Earnie

      • Hopefully not as much turnover after a season or two of rebuilding.
        .
        Remember at AZ they were in a financial hole they needed to dig out of which is not the case here with the Union.
        .
        Also note that in all but 1 year, more players were sold then bought. So how did they have a complete team? Academy, youth. Something the Union are still only now building on with BSFC.

      • Not suggesting I am Earnie Stewart by any means, but when I play career in FIFA, I often unload more players than I acquire as it serves 2 purposes: I need money to acquire new players, and I can unload players who are unhappy or won’t see any time and in turn both pay my regular starters more money and afford high-priced transfers. Now I don’t know the stories behind all those transfers, but I don’t think it’s a problem per se. AZ was usually competitive at least.

  2. Lucky Striker says:

    spot on with the idea that the move will end Nog vs. Mo-rather than Nog/Mo.

  3. “So you traded away Sheanon Williams so that Ray Gaddis can start at right back.”

    That’s not entirely accurate. They traded Williams so they could afford to sign Barnetta, no?

    • If you want to believe that. They went and traded for Crevalle not long after Barnetta. So between Williams salary and Crevalle’s they saved like $60,000-70,000. Plus they had TAM for Barnetta. I could be wrong that 70k was the the deal breaker for aquiring Barnetta.

    • I think it was more that Williams was in the last year of his contract and they wanted to get some value for him while he was still trade-able.

    • All these comments are accurate. Absolutely written a bit too tightly. It was a combination of getting something for Williams rather than nothing, freeing up money for Barnetta and Curtin preferring Gaddis. I’ve added a quick note to the post above.

  4. We had a good draft. No one “wins” drafts. One can draft poorly and the U certainly did not. Enough of this business. Let Rosenberry replace shoddy Gaddis and let us forget dear old Sheanon’s memory.
    .
    Anderson, as I assume we’ll call him, is going to be a capable CB and I commend the signing. I also understand the feelings of people who don’t understand or value factory clubs. They exist, they matter, fin.
    .
    Pfeffer’s departure is sad but with many former Union players I feel it’s better for their career to cut ties with the club that tainted them for so many years (not even going to list the names). The managerial style of CO will kill what’s left of Zach’s spirit but hopefully he can find himself there or elsewhere. He has talent, no doubt, but his size doesn’t help him out one bit. Best of luck, goodbye.
    .
    I keep forgetting about the Restrepo signing and I’m hoping that isn’t an omen for the season. He has a great chance nail down a spot in a 4-4-3 or something of the like. Fingers crossed he can do just that and Le Toux can moonlight as CF depth. I miss him streaking down the center. If Restrepo is half as slick as Mulholland I’ll be a happy camper.
    .
    Earnie has already and will continue to right this ship we all love. I have the utmost confidence in his ability to wade through murky MLS b/s and his wherewithal to land internationals.
    .
    It’s a new day, fellas. Feel that sunshine.

  5. Questions for the group: 1) would Zach Pfeffer have been better off playing in college and entering MLS through the Super Draft (with a degree in hand, or close to acquiring one)? 2) is there a lesson in Zach’s experience for up and coming U.S. soccer players?

    • Yes. Even if you are in an Academy, get a degree. There is a reasonable chance that Zach will be looking for a desk job inside of 5 years (almost certainly inside of 10 years). A degree might come in handy.

      • And that’s the big problem I have with the Rosenberry situation: yes, it makes sense to get a degree, even if you are in an Academy. The league-wide precedent this sets for the importance of academics for Academy players with the potential to become Homegrown signings anywhere, especially ones who want to go to college, is terrible. The problem here wasn’t that Rosenberry and the Union needed to better balance his professional and academic aspirations — the fact of the matter is that he has to miss the second half of his senior year to become a professional soccer player thanks to the schedules of the MLS and USL seasons, so of course he needed to accelerate his summer course schedule in order to graduate. The Union and Rosenberry both did the right thing here, and they both got punished for it. Rosenberry got punished by not getting to sign a Homegrown contract with the club that developed him and that he wanted to play for and had to face the uncertainty of the draft instead, and the Union got punished by having to burn an early draft pick on someone they already should have had in the first place. In the future, no club is going to want to do the right thing anymore after watching how this went down.

      • I think only the Union got punished. Rosenberry made a smart move for his long term future (not like Georgetown is a fluff school) and gets to “follow his dream”. I would have counseled my kid to do the same thing, even if the club was smart enough to say “don’t do that” – doubt that was the case because it was Sak, but who knows. He’ll be fine.

      • Interesting perspective. You made your case well. I think you changed my mind a bit.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        You risk everything for the dream… the education can always come later. I was 35 before I got a college degree worth a damn. College degrees and futbol dreams are untenable companions. Humbly. IMO.

      • Very few go back. Good on you, but you are the minority, unfortunately.
        .
        In your vision, you are condemning many to an uneducated professional life in pursuit of a lightly-profitable dream.
        .
        Dream the dream and reach for the brass ring. But if you fall, you better have somewhere to land.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        It doesn’t matter… You risk everything for the dream…
        .
        The world needs tradesman and journeyman and adult learners and on line learners entrepreneurs.
        .
        College is not the way anymore to the dream of professional futbol.
        .
        Professional mindset versus recreational mindset. Gary Kleiben taught me that.

      • that’s a pretty big gamble with someone else’s life.

      • i agree to a degree but why not set up the system in such a way that a player can do both if it is possible

      • Kyle you can do both…hells bells the offseason in MLS is ridiculous… maybe it takes you 6 years of your 12 year MLS career. If your education as a 22 year old means that much than by all means…
        .

      • The reason we feel so strongly about college as the way to major league soccer is because for the other major sports college is the developmental pathway… clearly that is not the case anymore with soccer… in this country or the rest of the world.
        .
        None of us pooh pooh the 1 and done college kid…the 3 year college drop out for the NFL draft…If NBA, MLB, NFL didn’t have college I imagine most of us would tell the highly talented kid who spent his every waking moment perfecting his craft to chase the dream… college can wait. It’s the risk you have to be willing to take… in today’s day and age with on line learning and community college and and and… I can’t fathom telling a child to take the safe route over their dream.

      • Ironically a google of Gary Kleiben brought me to a bio of a Physics Professor at California State University.
        In all seriousness, I’d prefer a college system that went from September to April, including a winter break. But more importantly I agree with Kyle that system can be improved to allow for both. One thing noticeable about USWNT, plus American football players, NBA basketball players, etc. is that they often speak proudly of their college experience.
        While it was your choice to skip, and yes there are countless success stories of those who skipped or dropped out of college, it would be a great disservice to say only way to be a pro athlete is to forgo school to focus only on the sport.
        Let’s face it, an athlete’s career is relatively short—whether due to injuries, or coach who doesn’t play you because you don’t fit their system, to fact there is always someone faster, more talented, etc.
        I think your dream El P, is a selfish one–you wish travel teams to disappear, for only the elite of the elite to play for only academies straight from teen years through to the point a team drops them in their mid-twenties or they are injured, then you have no more use for them.
        As fans do we not have a responsibility to wish these young men and young women the best with their lives post sports? Or are we simply romans cheering on gladiators who are nothing more than slaves to our fancy?
        It is a side of sports, where people turn the other way at movies like concussion, and stories of athletes going bankrupt or downward spirals post sports.
        And now you would rather take young children(usually under 18) and shove them into a factory like system with no regard to an education or any safety net in case they are injured or fail to reach a 6 figure salary merely for your own enjoyment?
        As you said in another post to someone else that you disagree with much of what he says, El P, I find myself becoming quite uncomfortable reading your posts on youth development, your pro Klinsmann, anti-American soccer players, anti-college, anti-travel soccer views.
        My intention isn’t to offend just offer a counterpoint to what I see as antithesis of soccer development in this country.
        Your views come across to me (my opinion) as very elitist and detrimental to growth of soccer in America.
        Nothing personal, and I am sure you are a great person, terrific dad, etc. Just some of your posts disturb me quite a bit, this one more than most.
        Thank you for reading my rant.

        UnionGoal

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Yeah don’t be the first HG player on a team filled with turmoil that just came into existence. His is a cautionary tale only in as much as that.
      .
      His talent in NY or DC probably translates differently.

    • He’s definitely a cautionary tale. Yes, he may have been better off going to college. But if the same thing happened today, with a USL club to provide minutes, it’s perhaps a different story.

    • Everyone is overlooking the salary aspect of this. These guys are not members of the Big 4 Sports in the US. When their playing days are done, they NEED to get a job. Not because they blew through their money as irresponsibly as someone like Lattrell Sprewell, but because they averaged a normal worker’s salary while they played.
      .
      You can hate on it all you want, but our domestic players need an education so they have something to do when their VERY short playing career is over. You know, something for the next 40 years until they hit the normal retirement age.
      .
      Get a degree. Soccer will leave you quickly.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        See above comment. We have to agree to see this one differently.

      • Thanks to everyone who contributed to this interesting debate on the questions I raised.
        .
        For the record, I would probably advise a high school soccer star to pursue the college route, unless: 1) family circumstances required that he start earning a paycheck right away; 2) the money being offered from day one was too big to turn away; or 3) he simply didn’t have the book smarts or interest needed to attain a college degree.
        .
        While it is true that a young man can return to college at a later point if his dream of soccer glory doesn’t become a reality, the fact is that the scholarship money, admissions preferences, and other benefits of playing college soccer would no longer be available to him down the line.
        .
        On the other hand, as we’re seeing with those coming out of college this year, the opportunity to play at a high professional level in soccer can still exist for the top players even after their college careers have ended.

  6. JermIsMyHomeboy says:

    I feel like everyone is missing a major factor in the Pfeffer trade.

    On a team of 20 players the Union have 9 midfielders. And that’s AFTER Pfeffer left. So while I think everyone has positive things to say about Pfeffer, he just isn’t valuable to the team because of the embarrassment of midfielders currently on the roster. But defensive depth, at any position, is something the Union have been dying for over the past few seasons.

    Not picking Vincent is it’s own thing, but sending Pfeffer to get Yaro was a smart move.

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