A View from Afar

The transfer window opens, the Union take stock

Photo: Earl Gardner

Five thoughts on Philadelphia Union and the summer transfer window. Ready? Go.

Summer transfer window opens

The summer international transfer window opened Monday for Major League Soccer clubs, giving them a one-month window during which to reload and retool.

Historically speaking, this window has never been productive for the Union. In fact, it’s been pretty disastrous.

(Update: Goodness, how did I forget the Tranquillo Barnetta signing as a good thing? Massive oversight. Barnetta is proving a fantastic signing, as I wrote two weeks ago, easily the best summer transfer acquisition by the Union.)

  • In 2014, Rais Mbohli arrived to like a wrench to the head of the Union’s chemistry. They spent a year recovering from it.
  • In 2012, Bakary Soumare arrived off the heels of a knee injury from which he never truly recovered. His planned signing helped influence former Union head coach Peter Nowak to part with former captain Danny Califf.
  • In 2011, the Union sold Carlos Ruiz. Wait. That was pretty good.

This year, the window could actually produce some solid reinforcements for once. Yes, that may be what the eternally naive optimist might say, but it’s also what someone would say after paying attention to Earnie Stewart’s activity during the off-season. Ilsinho, Roland Alberg and Matt Jones were all very solid acquisitions from big name leagues.

Who could they bring from abroad? Let’s be honest: Anything here would be speculation and little more, because it’s an awfully big world with lots of footballers in it. Panamanian international left back Roderick Miller is a name that has popped up, but so have half a dozen others over the last few months, and most of those others have already signed elsewhere.

So rather than focus on international speculation, let’s keep it simpler.

What do they need?

The Union have been a solid side thus far this year, but the last few weeks have laid clear where they need help. None of it should surprise.

  1. Box to box center midfielder: The Union don’t have a single one who is healthy now that Vincent Nogueira has returned to France. A double pivot of Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll will not suffice, and Tranquillo Barnetta’s adjustment to a No. 8 role isn’t perfect either. Maurice Edu could fill the role once he returns, but he has been out all season and offers no guarantee. Even when healthy, however, he has never been the type of player to be an offense’s engine, which is what this role is for the Union when it functions at its best (i.e. Nogueira, Barnetta).
  2. Backup target forward: There has been no like-for-like replacement for C.J. Sapong when he has been out. This was a gap we identified when the season started, and his recent injury demonstrated just how much the team changes without him. Fabian Herbers has shown some pretty good signs, but those signs also demonstrate he isn’t a No. 9.
  3. Left back: Yes, Fabinho has significantly improved over the last 12 months. But he still effectively flips a coin before each match to decide whether he’ll make smart decisions that game or not, and he lacks the speed to keep up with fast wingers.
What can they offer for trade within MLS?

The Union have some depth, but they don’t have enough to be able to part with any of it unless they also bring in replacements.

Ray Gaddis: Gaddis is a proven, quality starter within MLS, the top backup at both fullback slots for the Union, and someone who lost his starting job to a guy who may start in the All-Star game. However, the Union can only afford to part with Gaddis if they sign another fullback in the transfer window. They don’t have another reliable backup at either fullback position. Josh Yaro could probably play some right back, but there’s nobody for left back. Anderson is a center back who could play left back if needed, but he looks like a one-year-and-done loanee for 2016.

Herbers, Tribbett, Jones: Beyond that, there isn’t much other teams would want that the Union would part with. Fabian Herbers and Ken Tribbett may not be regular starters, but don’t expect the Union to part with either. Matt Jones signed with the Union probably expecting to compete for the starting goalkeeping job after Andre Blake moves overseas, which could happen as soon as this winter, based on his play thus far.

Maurice Edu: Maurice Edu is the one name that could intrigue other MLS clubs, but with him coming off an injury, it would be a major risk for any team to take on his salary right now.

Allocation money: So basically, as with many MLS clubs, the most attractive trade bait is allocation money.

What’s available within MLS?

Here are some notable names that come to mind. The Union could probably acquire any one of these if they dropped the right amount of allocation money.

  1. Dillon Powers, CM: The 2013 Rookie of the Year is now stuck behind Jermaine Jones. He is a legitimate No. 8 box to box player. Of course, the Union have had mixed luck with former rookies of the year. Sapong turned out well. Austin Berry is playing for his hometown team — in USL.
  2. Mix Diskerud, CM: Diskerud is a tweener between No. 8 and No. 10, but it may be the Union could use that. His salary is DP level, but with a rich team like New York City FC, don’t be surprised if they’re willing to eat part of Diskerud’s salary to clear the rest from the books.
  3. Patrick Mullins, ST: Mullins has netted 10 goals in 2,439 minutes over two and a half seasons, or about a goal every two and a half games. That’s not a bad ratio. It’s not great either. But he’s shown definite signs of quality and can play some solid hold-up. This is another young NYC player who just can’t get significant playing time under Nelson Vieira.
  4. Zach Pfeffer, CM: Too soon? Really? He’s currently on loan to USL-side Charlotte Independence. Maybe they’d like to send him back.
  5. Juan Agudelo, ST: Agudelo can’t seem to hold down a starting job in any one city, and New England’s logjam at striker is even fuller now that they’ve acquired Kei Kamara. He is still just 23 years old though, and he is one of the most talented American strikers out there. Talent does not always equal productivity, however. Still, with all those big names at striker, New England has to part with one of them, and they desperately need help in defense, where the Union have a couple of solid backups.
What will the Union actually do?

Your guess is as good as mine. This is Earnie Stewart’s first season. Trends are still developing.

Still, don’t expect them to sit pat. The Eastern Conference is ripe for the taking, and this looks like their time to seize the moment to close the gap between what they have on their current roster and what it takes to actually win a conference title.


  1. Edu for Mix.

    I just don’t see Edu bombing up the field being a good fit for the Union.

    If Mux can do the Box to Box while occasional delivering the final pass that could be the answer.

    This will also never happen

    • To be fair, Edu had a habit of bombing up the field as a centerback.
      All kidding aside, Edu is not a creative type like Nogueria and Barnetta but he has shown the ability to get forward. He just does it differently in that he is looking to get on the final ball rather then playing the set up pass.

    • God no. I’ve watched mix since he arrived in nyc, and I’m thoroughly unimpressed. Let’s get over the fact that he got capped when he was younger and showed promise. He’s lived up to almost none of it. There’s a reason he’s excess at nycfc.

  2. pragmatist says:

    Whatever they choose, can we all please move past Zach Pfeffer? Godspeed, kid. Just not here. I’d prefer not to fall into a recidivist hole.

  3. Patrick Mullins please!! I’d also take Mix!

    Also, can we send Matt Jones to Colorado and get Mac Math back? Matt looked hella shaky in his start…

    • Matt Jones is here on loan. Can players on loan even be traded per the rules?
      I doubt it since his rights are owned by his parent club, Belenenses.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Actually, that’s a good question. I believe that they technically can, since MLS (and not the club) owns the player’s rights, and I think it’s actually been done once before. But I don’t recall the specifics and haven’t had time to look it up yet. (If someone else does, please share here.)

        Mind you, I don’t think they’d him. Just tossing his name out there as someone who could have value.

      • Good point about the loan rights being owned by the league and not the team.
        I just can’t remember it being done before. The rules do not address things one way or another that I can tell: http://pressbox.mlssoccer.com/content/roster-rules-and-regulations
        I feel like if it is allowed there might need to be a mechanism of approval from the parent club since often loans happen for development/playing time purposes.

  4. I’ll be upset if Gaddis is traded (barring a huge return, obviously). He’s fully capable backup and both fullback positions, which gives the U salary and roster flexibility.

  5. This is such a tough call because there are no massively obvious holes to fill like previous years. I would tend to go with a little different thinking than what you lay out here. Rather than looking for some backup depth/spot fill-ins, I want a starter. I want a clear upgrade, one who makes the current starter be a great depth option. I would say either LB, RM or ST.

  6. What’s most shocking about this whole article is that Agudelo is still only 23 years-old. Would love to see Mix moved to Philly; salary be damned!

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Take Juan in a Philly Heartbeat…..
      Mix Diskerud is not the answer. What does he do that says difference maker. I don’t see it. Mediocre player at best… and for the price, no way.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Aguedelo fits the Earnie Stewart criterion of resale value. Mullins might as well, but less likely so because of foot speed. Dillon Powers fits, too.

  7. No thanks on Mix. What has he done lately? And he’s more of a 10 anyway. We’re fine there with alberg and Barnetta there.

  8. Zizouisgod says:

    Donde esta, Cubo Torres? Sure, he’s not a target forward and makes a lot of money ($575k/yr), but can you imagine how his movement would look as part of an attack with Ilsinho, Barnetta, Alberg, Pontius, etc?

    Aside from Mix, I really like those other players a lot (especially Powers), but I just can’t see an Eastern Conference team like NYC trade a guy like Mullins without getting a lot of allocation money in return. I would rather let Stewart and Albright use those resources to bring in players from outside MLS.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      I thought about including Torres on this list, but he’d fit Philadelphia about as well as he fits Houston, which also plays a single target forward. In other words, not well. But good question just the same. He’s available and talented.

  9. Never been impressed with Mullins. Diskerud was voted the most overrated player in MLS by his own peers. I’d rather wait for Edu to come back. Dillon Powers or Juan Agudelo — now you’re talking. But I am not excited to give up anyone on the roster to do so, other than Herbers, and I’m not sure what we could get for him. I do not want to trade Tribbett or Gaddis, as I am just getting used to the idea of having depth on the backline for the first time in Union history.

    Can’t we just, y’know, bring in some guy from overseas without making a trade??

    • If I remember correctly, the Union currently have all 7 of their international roster spots filled.
      So to “bring in some guy from overseas” some sort of roster/status move(s) would have to be made.
      Possible moves are:
      1) Someone gets a green card – I believe Herbers or Yaro said something about working on a green card in an interview
      2) Make a season-long loan that would temporarily remove an international player from the roster – Ayuk would be the likely player but I’m not sure if this can just be done with BSFC or if it has to be another team completely disconnected from the organization
      3) Trade for another team’s unused international spot
      4) Trade, sell or terminate the loan of an international player – Anderson would be the possible loan termination
      5) Ask the MLS to make up new roster rules – this method only works if you are LA, or a team from NY

      • John Ling says:

        re #5: Or Seattle. They can also make new rules and Don just nods in agreement…

      • Jim Presti says:

        or Toronto… where the hell is that flow chart again

      • Now that Nogueira is gone I believe there is one open international slot. Only positive that I see from losing him IMO

      • Jim Presti says:

        Nope. Nogueira had a green card

      • Current listed internationals are:
        Conceicao, Yaro, Alberg, Barnetta, Ilsinho, Ayuk, and Herbers

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Anderson unfortunately is a wasteful use of an international spot.
        Can’t get everything right though I guess.

  10. Please dear god no to Mix. Has anyone ever seen him do anything that resembles being worth a 750k price tag per season?
    Young talent with upside speaks to agudelo but will he be content with his role on this team?
    Mullins would be a solid add as on a low salary and shouldn’t cost much.
    Really need a box to box midfielder more than anything else and that should be prioritized imo.

  11. Old Soccer Coach says:

    If they were to trade Gaddis, they could consider signing Ryan Richter from the Steel. If you look at the organization as a whole, he is the #3 right back.
    Is he as good as Gaddis? Gaddis has superior pace. Richter is better in the air. Richter reads USL very well concerning when to get into the attack. How that translates to MLS we have no idea. Certainly the pace of play is much faster.
    Given the Paul Brown-like use of exactly the same style and game procedures throughout the organization (see Massillon, OH middle school football in 1940 allegedly)Richter could easily be slotted into first team practices to evaluate his credibility as an MLS right back. [Now we know why practices are not open to the public, would give away intelligence useful for predicting future move possibilities.]

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Great point on Richter. Overlooked by me because he’s not technically on the Union roster. He actually wasn’t bad for Toronto, in my view.

  12. Assuming Mo is good to come back early-mid August and be in full form by Labor Day, I don’t see the need for a box-to-box MF when we would have a spine of Edu, Barnetta, Alberg, and CJ / Fabian. Any team in this league would kill for that. Plus, Mo will be extremely fresh for the playoff push and subsequent tournament. BC and Creavalle backing up the 6 and 8 with Alberg’s ability to play the 8 and Barnetta to play the 10 is more than enough depth.
    If it were me, I’m looking to add depth at the CB position because of our youth there. I’m also looking to add the strongest transfer player at the 7 or 11. Pontius has played a ton of minutes so far, and his history does not bode well for continued health throughout the remainder of the season. Ilsihno is creative, but he’s a defensive liability (different than Seba, but still a liability) and is overweight. Also an injury waiting to happen. Leo and Restrepo have not shown enough, given there limited chances. Area of need.

  13. John Ling says:

    So, for discussion let’s say the Union acquire a new #8 – who doesn’t really matter. Let’s also assume that new signing will play. What’s the lineup? Blake; Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; ???, New Guy; Barnetta, Alberg, Ilsinho/Pontius; Sapong.
    I think that would be the best option overall to get the best players on the field. I’m not sure who the #6 would be – Carroll or Creavalle, Edu (in theory) when he’s healthy. Can Pontius play on the right, or is he strictly a left-sided player? If not, can Barnetta (or Alberg) play the right? Either way, you seem to lose one of Pontius or Ilsinho from your starting 11. I’d lean toward losing Ilsinho and move him to the bench, given his fitness. I’d rather have him give me 30-40 minutes at the end, against a tired defense, than try to milk 60-75 out of him as a starter who doesn’t always want to play defense because he’s too out of breath to run back.
    Other thoughts on how to get a Best 11 on the field with a new guy in the #8 role?

    • Here’s the question the front office needs to answer with curtin: do we believe we can turn barnetta into a box to box playmaker? If yes, then this excersize gets much easier. Barnetta lies deep behind alberg, pontius, ilsinho and sapong. Edu (or BC) plays the DM role, and the defense stays as is. If not, then we need to shop. We have to believe alberg and barnetta need as many minutes as possible, and ilsinho makes the most sense next to them (technically sound, occupies defenders better and allows barnetta to run and alberg to roam into free space). Problem with that is we need increased finishing from them and our strikers. there’s a good reason pontius leads the team in goals still.

      • Barnetta might not be here past this year. Which the club needs to factor in for long term vision. Alberg is here 1 to 3 more years after this year.

      • interesting and sobering thought. And you could be correct. But he’s an attacking player in his early 30s. Attackers, as a general rule, get hit by father time first. That’s not to say he can’t reprise his role at a new position and extend his usefulness on the field. But we’re toward the end here. I don’t see him going back to Europe, except maybe home to the swiss league. There’s a reason players finish out their careers here. The USA is a nice place to live once you’ve retired in your mid 30s.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      I actually see a three-man rotation of Alberg, Pontius, and Barnetta at CAM and left AM. Barnetta and Pontius both have extensive injury histories, and Alberg doesn’t have the fitness to go a full 90 on a regular basis yet. (Again, this is all provided they get a new #8 — Edu or someone new to the roster.)

      • John Ling says:

        That’s an interesting idea. Can Alberg play on the left, or is he only a center-of-the-field kind of guy?

  14. Mix could be a fit for the right price. He has played the #8 role before. He also has some upside, and potential resell value too.
    Agudelo would be a coup, depending on what the Revs would want for him (maybe an allocation order spot, so they can re-sign AJ Soares???). Agudelo can play up top and on the wings as well. He definitely fits the mold of an ES signing.
    I still think they should go for a young Central Defensive Midfielder to eventually take Carroll’s spot full time at some point. BC7 can’t turn back the clock forever, can he? Creavalle is good as a spot starter, but he’s too mistake prone (see Houston game in waning moments……).

    • Earnie Stewart often talks about the Union “style of play” and how in the off-season they developed a template for each role on the field and what attributes they were looking for at each position. Based on that, I believe Edu will play the #6 role when/if he finally gets healthy. I don’t think he has the passing or smarts to play the #8 role as the Union want the position to be played. Barnetta and Alberg are both better suited to play the #10 role. I don’t think we have anyone on the roster that plays the #8 role with the total template of skills that the Union are looking for at that position. That to me has to be the number one priority. A starter #8. After that I would look for a possible new starter at left-back, and another target striker to back-up / push CJ.

  15. Juan would be a solid, solid pickup. He’s making over 400k up in NE. I wonder if we could whistle him off their books, considering Kei’s their guy nowadays.

    • That’s going to be the holdup. Can we cut some of that salary off? I like juan. I’m not sure I like 400k worth of juan. Believe that Earnie likes his money ball and will likely look at that figure and either a) find a way around it or b) walk away and go after someone else.

  16. Lucky Striker says:

    Don’t see anybody moving. They have progressed to “almost a 2-deep”. Seems counter-productive to tear it apart.

    Assuming Edu returns at some point, the columnist has the 3 other positions of need correct. Everybody knows it by now.

    Of the names mentioned in MLS, Powers and Agudelo would be potential answers……the USMNT’er with the hip problem at Werder would’ve been ideal pre-injury.

    I have no idea what’s available around the globe at DM/metronome……. but E-Stew had better find somebody that’a a better fit to add to the mix than…….Mix……….

  17. Juan Agudelo would be great

  18. MikeRSoccer says:

    Only player I would want within MLS is Dillon Powers. Lower salary, doesn’t take up an international roster spot, fills an immediate need, and would not be surplus to requirements once our injured players return.

    Outside of MLS, I’m hoping Earnie goes back to the Eredivisie. Looking at teams similarly situated to ADO Den Haag (Alberg’s old team), here are some #8s and #6s that look like realistic options. By realistic, I mean that they are not lighting the league on fire, i.e. cheaper and teams would be more willing to let them go.

    The #1 name that I think would be a realistic & fantastic signing is Thomas Ouwejan. He is a AZ youth product. Primarily deployed as a #8, but can play as a #6 and apparently even as a LB in a pinch. He is 19 but is not getting playing time. Sounds like someone an old GM might be able to call up and get his old team to part with him (or even loan him). I can’t think of a better signing than a young, inexpensive player who Earnie is familiar with and who can play in the #8, #6, and potentially push Fabinho.

    Janio Bikel
    Grego Breinburg
    Marvelous Nakamba
    Joris van Overeem
    Aschraf El Mahdioui
    Kevin Jansen
    Danny Bakker
    Hector Hevel

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I love the moxie in naming a child, Marvelous.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Great list. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thomas Ouwejan is a great target and his pro level debut against Bilbao was at LB so that’s encouraging. Janio Bikel is a starter for a mid tier side, might be out of our price range. Gregor Breinburg is appealing for his #8 qualities and apt left foot (I like this target a lot). Unfortunately Marvelous Nakamba’s future is a bit brighter than MLS. Joris van Overeem was inked till 2020 and looks like an important piece going forward at AZ. Aschraf El Mahdioui is intriguing; I’m always going to give a former Ajax kid a look. Kevin Jansen, Danny Bakker, and Hector Hevel seem like good targets with a club we’ve established a good relationship with (ADO).
      Good list, good possibilities. Nakamba would be a dream but he has EPL suitors. El Mahdioui could be picked up for cheap; low risk, potentially high reward (very Earnie-esque). Breinburg is my #1 on this list, despite being one of the higher valued guys.
      Thanks for putting this together, Mike, the research went well with my first cup of coffee.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Well done, Mike.

  19. Lloyd Sam being shopped for allocation. 2016 guaranteed compensation is $240k.

  20. I’m ready for Balotelli’s arrival.

  21. The Little Fish says:

    I’d rather NOT trade within mls relinquishing our assets to do so. I’d rather sign an int’l (preferably from the Dutch league) and a striker would be my strong preference.

  22. Dan Walsh says:

    How did we go through 50 comments on this post and nobody pointed out that I forgot Barnetta as a good mid-season signing, in contrast to the prior bad ones??? Thanks, guys. 😉

    Massive oversight. Just an absolute “I’m raising a two-year-old boy and therefore not as smart as I used to be” moment.

    This post has been updated.

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