Fans' View

Fan’s View: Next man up

Photo: Paul Rudderow

One of the most difficult moments for a fan is seeing a favorite player move on, particularly ahead of their time, while he seemingly still has so much to give. As much as we may tell ourselves that we’ll always support our team, we still identify more with some players, pull for them just a little bit harder, and are that much more disappointed when they’re traded, released, or if they opt to walk away.

In the Union’s relatively short existence, the team has already had a handful of surprise departures, ranging from odd and suspect (Danny Califf and Sebastien LeToux trades), to disappointing and curious (Sheanon Williams trade), to frustrating (any fairly functional player for mysterious amounts of allocation money), and most recently heartbreaking (Nogueira returning suddenly to France due to personal health reasons).

As a fan, we frequently hear about how professional sports are a business. Player movement is part of the game, and a very real one in MLS, where transfer windows and salary caps hover overhead. As youth coaches, we often remind our players that it’s a team game, and regularly remind our players to step up and “pick up” a player who’s struggling or injured. In some cases, teams need to adjust and adapt to replace productive players who were both popular in the locker room and well loved by fans. Our 2016 Philadelphia Union are living proof that with sound planning and management, “next man up” can be executed really well.

Sheanon Williams to Keegan Rosenberry

Sheanon Williams was a relatively unheralded young player who not only stuck with the Union, but became a starting right back. He had the speed and skill to get involved in the attack, brought plenty of bite and attitude on defense, and his long throw-ins were greeted loudly with the “Boom” chant. Williams seemed to be a leader on the field and represented the team frequently at fan events. He quickly became a favorite player of mine. His trade to Houston was met with disbelief by many at the time. Many argued that he was more valuable right over Ray Gaddis. Others expressed disappointment at yet another deal for allocation money and no clear outcome that would improve the team.

Flash forward to present day, and Williams’ roster spot is now held down by surprise No. 3 pick from the MLS Super Draft, Keegan Rosenberry. While a left back seemed to be the big need going into the draft, the Union appear to have made a brilliant decision to grab Rosenberry, and have been rewarded with a player who may now be the frontrunner for MLS Rookie of the Year. The departure of Williams opened up an opportunity for a talented young player to jump in and thrive.

The Nogueira departure

Vincent Nogueira arrived a couple of years ago as a former captain of FC Sochaux, brought on board to address what was a relatively ineffective Union midfield. He immediately raised the technical skill level of the team and proved adept at collecting the ball from the Union’s defensive unit and transitioning into the attack. As the Union surrounded Nogueira with an increasing number of more skilled teammates, Nogueira’s abilities were further accentuated. He is arguably the most talented player to wear the navy blue and gold in the team’s seven-year existence.

Nogueira is a pure joy to watch, and combined with a first place start to the season, it was all the more shocking to see the breaking news that Nogueira and the Union had mutually agreed to terminate his contract. The fan favorite would be returning to his native France for undisclosed personal health reasons. Devastating news as a fan, out of concern for the team we love and an individual player we had come to admire.

Just like the Williams trade though, Vincent Nogueira’s departure opens a door for another player to step in and thrive. Roland Alberg, an Earnie Stewart import, had only seen limited minutes early in the season, but now is being given a chance to really make an impact. With a great run of form in both MLS play and the US Open Cup, Alberg looks to be a key midfield piece going forward, and effectively softens the blow of Nogueira’s sudden departure.

As a fan, I suspect I’ll always become attached to favorite players, and subsequently feel let down and disappointed when they move along. But it’s encouraging to be so clearly reminded that there are others waiting in the wings, or who perhaps haven’t even arrived yet, who will step into the spotlight and push our team forward. With new management in place and a philosophy and plan in place, it’s much easier to trust and believe that all will work out. Next man up.

11 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I would add one other to the list of surprising departures, the man who led the Union to their first playoff appearance, Faryd Mondragon.

    • Fair point. I considered mentioning Mondragon and Okugo, but felt like Mondragon leaving wasn’t as surprising given his age, and that the writing was on the wall for a while with Okugo (though I always liked him).

  2. For me personally, it’s too soon to look for Nogueira’s replacement. I know it’s time to move on, for me and the team, but i’m just not there yet, almost 2 weeks later. It was just such a shock, unlike any we’ve ever seen in the club’s short history (or am i forgetting something?). I’m just not ready to get on the “Nogs who??” bandwagon, just yet. At least with some (most) of the other departures we’ve seen at the club there was writing on the wall or they happened in the offseason, that sort of thing. You knew they were going to happen. Yes Nogs was injured quite a bit more than usual this season and Yes the impending return of Mo Edu would have introduced some uncertainty as to Vincent’s place on the team going forward. So i suppose the timing was rather serendipitous… i don’t know… I’m just not there yet and i have no idea how to get back to where i was before any of this shit went down. No more “fan favorites” for me, for sure. I’m done… 🙁

    • I completely understand the sentiment. Nogueira is easily the toughest departure to handle. He’s fantastic to watch, clearly was a key piece in elevating this team to where they stand today, and then there’s the unknown personal health issue. The sudden nature of it all makes this one a tough one. I wouldn’t say I’m over this one either. I’ve had a bit of a realization that in the longer run, very few players are irreplaceable, and a well run organization is able to adapt, reload, and compete.

      • I took Okugo harder… but Vincent right there.

      • That surprises me since you’re all about aesthetically appealing games. Would think that means vince was way more your style.

      • for sure… and understandable… I am an unabashed Okugo fan though- guy would be an MLS All-Star and playing (dig dig)… still bitter the manager screwed him.
        .
        From the beginning, sticking with him. Stubborn am I.

      • No, he played in Orlando and then was benched and traded, then he sat the bench and was released by SKC, now he sits the bench in Portland.

        MLS has outgrown Okugo. The talent in the league has vastly improved since 2010.

        Carlos Ruiz was suddenly jettisoned from the Union in July 2011. Right after he started to round into the form and the Union’s offense began to click. After the trade that team was never the same.

        Also don’t forget everyone’s favorite LeftBack Jordan harvey being traded for garber Bucks out of the blue that same season as well.

      • This is probably the first time I’ve been excited to figure out how to watch french league 2 games, that’s how much I enjoyed having nogs here. His style of play and vision are fantastic. But despite that, I’m still overwhelming thrilled with the direction of our team to the point that I’m kinda glad it happened. Alberg getting his playing time is a direct result of this, and the team has been immensely fun to watch despite the goals conceded. I’m just glad “next man up” is working for once here.

      • From what i can tell, Ligue 2 matches were on bein sport this past season (15-16) but i don’t know about the upcoming season. I’ll settle for highlights if i have to. Better than nothing 🙂

      • Thank you, Scott. I’ll get there eventually…

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