A View from Afar / Commentary

3 trades, 3 players: Evaluating the Union’s deadline deals

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union just gave up a boatload of assets to acquire longtime friends Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies.

Bedoya, clearly the centerpiece of the moves, is without question a quality player who ups the Union’s overall talent level this year. The U.S. international is a smart, versatile, hard-nosed and effective team player with a legitimate international pedigree, having been a regular starter in the first divisions in Sweden and France. He can play, and his straight-shooting approach off the field should be a good fit in Philadelphia.

Still, the Union gave up a lot to get him, directly and indirectly:

  • allocation money (general and targeted), reportedly $175,000 total, though that figure is disputed
  • a first round pick in the 2017 amateur draft, likely to be a lower pick;
  • discovery claim priority on a player to be named later;
  • their own No. 2 spot in the allocation order;
  • and, indirectly, Sebastien Le Toux, to recoup expended allocation money.

Is it worth it? How will Bedoya and Davies fit in? What kind of impact will trading Le Toux to Colorado have on the club?

Let’s take on those questions.

Where will Bedoya play?

Union head coach Jim Curtin stayed mum yesterday on where Bedoya will play for the Union. In all likelihood, that’s a matter of gamesmanship to make it harder for opposing coaches to scout the Union. It’s a smart move. It’s not unusual for players to occasionally play different positions for a club, but Bedoya did it all the time with Nantes and has done the same for the U.S. national team. During Bedoya’s 2015-16 season with Nantes, he played multiple games at right winger, center attacking midfield, center midfield and second striker.

“We know what his role will be here,” Curtin said Wednesday. “That is clear. That has been laid out. And, again, you look through his career: He’s played as a winger, he’s played as almost a second forward, he’s played as a ten, he’s played for our national team as an eight most recently in the Copa America in some pretty hotly contested, high level games. So he’s shown he has a versatile skill set.”

Expect Bedoya to play the same role for the Union. He could play all over the place over time, but he will most certainly play.

Here’s how that will probably translate to the rest of the team.

  1. Bedoya will probably slot in at the No. 8 center midfield spot in the short term. He makes good decisions, has a high work rate, and looks disciplined enough to keep from pushing forward too much, which should help the team defensively. We could also see him at right attacking midfield, particularly if Maurice Edu returns to the lineup.
  2. Expect Tranquillo Barnetta to return to the No. 10 slot.
  3. Look for Roland Alberg to go back to the bench, probably continuing to see minutes and occasional starts at the No. 10 and possibly even out to the left to spell Chris Pontius.
  4. Walter Restrepo, Leo Fernandes and Fabian Herbers will probably take Le Toux’s minutes out wide. (More on Herbers in a bit.)
What about Charlie Davies?

The Union’s trade for Charlie Davies, which was announced this morning, is fascinating, but not for reasons you might think.

Davies, as most American soccer fans know, looked like the next great U.S. striker until the tragic 2009 car accident that nearly killed Davies and did kill one person in the car he was in. He has never been the same player, but last year he recorded 10 goals and 4 assists in 2,163 minutes for New England and looked to have developed a physical and mental equilibrium that would see him be an effective striker again, albeit not what he once was.

Then cancer struck this year. He just returned to the field last week but was made expendable by New England’s acquisition of Kei Kamara during Davies’s absence.

But his health history is not what’s most interesting about this deal.

Davies and Bedoya have been good friends for years, and they’re likely arriving in Philadelphia at the same time because of that. Both went to Boston College, with Bedoya transferring there and beginning playing in 2007, right after Davies left. Though they didn’t play together there, their connection initiated a friendship that lasts to this day. It’s fair to presume that this connection had something to do with both arriving within days of each other.

On the field, Davies a different type of striker from C.J. Sapong, but he has shown with New England that he can be effective as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 derivative. (New England’s version is more of a 4-1-4-1.) He’ll never be the superstar that it once seemed he could be, but he can be an excellent role player who can spell Sapong and help the team in a playoff run.

What about Fabian Herbers?

The Union’s deadline moves could have a big impact on Herbers, who has looked consistently better throughout the season. The more we see of him, the more we see that he’s probably not the No. 9 center forward the Union need behind Sapong. However, we also see that he deserves minutes. He has good vision, good off the ball movement, a steady presence on the ball, and he knows how to find the net.

Le Toux’s departure could free up minutes at wide attacking midfield that Herbers could take. However, that depends on where Bedoya plays. Herbers’s solid play is part of what makes it seem more likely that Bedoya will play the No. 8.

What impact will Sebastien Le Toux’s departure have on the field?

Le Toux’s departure thins out a crowded attacking midfield group. But I’m not sure it improves it.

Over his time in MLS, Le Toux went from being briefly overrated to being briefly underrated. His $300,000 is a bit higher than it could be, based on what he contributed this year. At this point in his career, he is a good team player who isn’t being deployed at his best position, which is second striker.

Le Toux’s departure probably locks in Ilsinho as the starting attacking right midfielder, at least for now. While Ilsinho has been great for highlight reels, he has not been so good for actual wins and losses. His fitness is questionable. His lack of consistent defensive effort puts extra pressure on right back Keegan Rosenberry, as does his inclination to consistently pinch inward toward goal. He is beginning to seem more and more like a luxury piece. The Union are 4-6-1 when Ilsinho starts and 4-2-5 when he doesn’t.

Down the line, we could see Bedoya at right winger, where he has played before. But the real deal here could be Herbers. Certainly, he should play somewhere.

What impact will Sebastien Le Toux’s departure have off the field?

The Union don’t have any “legends” in their short history.

What they have is a Mount Rushmore of adored and martyred fan favorites that consists of Danny Califf and Sebastien Le Toux, without question the most loved players to ever don the blue and gold.

Unlike his first departure from the Union, this one appears to be based on team building rather than the capricious and vengeful act of a dictatorial manager allegedly trying to profit personally off the team’s transactions.

Perhaps that makes it a bit less bittersweet, but it’s bittersweet just the same. A team needs players that fans love and connect with, and the Union just dealt one. Left behind is a roster full of players with little long-term connection to the team and community, with a few exceptions.

Are these deals worth it?

Neither Davies nor Bedoya is the perfect fit for the Union’s roster holes, namely the need for a No. 8 center midfielder and a backup center forward.

However, they can fill those gaps in the short-term, and potentially well enough for this team to right the course and fight its way back to the top of the conference standings.

As always with MLS deals involving allocation money, you simply can’t evaluate whether it was worth it without knowing how much was spent.

But if they find themselves with a conference title at season’s end, we’ll have our answer.


  1. Lucky Striker says:

    Herbers being given a shot at RAM is an idea long overdue. They couldn’t spare him for a look……until today.

    Thank You Dan, for joining me on the Isle of Fitness questions. There was somebody on the net actually querying how any fan could call the game shape of pros into question. I did it anyway…..didn’t believe them-believed my lying eyes instead.

    Great window for the Earn. Certainly there remain near-term concerns, but when balancing against the clock and the future it looks to be a decent effort toward stability by Mgt.

    I generally despise their F.O.-but credit where due.

  2. These are two great moves. Dan is correct in that the first time LeToux was dealt, it was out of spite. This time, if collateral damage was Seba in order to get Bedoya, that’s part of the business. Good luck Seba, you were a great asset to this franchise for many years. Huge welcome to Alejandro and Charlie.

    I actually think you’ll Fabian get a look this year at RAM, but long-term I think he and Charlie Davies will be the striker options. Look for CJ to be bought this off-season by a team in a 2nd-tier European league. Will offset the allocation $$ spent on Bedoya.

    • We’ll see on sapong. He’s at a crossroads right now and needs to show a bit more scoring touch before he can sign a European deal that will give him playing time. But davies isnt exactly young anymore, he’s probably not the solution either.

    • With all due respect CJ Sapong is not of European quality. He’s 27 years old- boat sailed.

      • The talk is the union already rejected a million dollar offer for him after last season. I expect his value to rise. The question is what place comes with the money and will CJ go there and for how much?

      • Yeah he has suitors for sure. I’m struggling to see him getting significant playing time for any team that would be an upgrade from the union though. It does explain the new contract he signed in January.

      • You’re right in that no one is going to buy CJ with the strategy that was used on Jozy in the Eradivise…to hope he lights it up for a couple years and then sell him. As Dr. Union said tho, they’ve already been offered 7 figures for him. It would be a 2nd tier league for a team that is looking for a powerful target striker.

      • Jim Presti says:

        I want to see Sapong finish out this year’s body of work. Wins balls in the air, positive hold up play, makes smart runs that pulls CDMs and CBs out of position, opens space for his teammates. If he wants to be elite, he needs to put on his finishing boots and knock in a few goals.

      • Europe is a big place. Just because he isn’t Chelsea or Dortmund quality, it doesn’t mean he isn’t Europe quality. He can play in Europe. The question is whether he should. He has a good thing going. Why mess with it?

  3. Wilkerson McLaser says:

    Masterful as always, Dan.
    I completely agree about the roster being not entirely well-fit for Bedoya. I like the guy a lot as a player. I think if he had the desire and/or a better agent, he could have cracked a CL contender in a top second tier UEFA league, or a Europa league contender in a top four competition.
    But I am concerned, again, by the fact that he does not seem to have an obvious place in the lineup. I get that he’s versatile, and that’s great, but opening up a midfield (that was probably one Nogueira away from being playoff-run ready) to tinkering this late in the season seems like an unnecessary risk. I can see him in the no. 8 role, but Bedoya, as much as I like him, does not have the metronomic, high-passing instincts that Nogs brought to the table. Different player, and it could upset what midfield chemistry we already have.
    This is doubly concerning in the event Mo Edu comes back. Mo is *not* a great no. 6. He made his bones as a near world class defensively minded no. 8, but he has never had the positional discipline to play the no. 8 role well (this was why, implausibly, Okugo was such a better no. 6 than Edu ever was for Philly). These same issues make Edu also poorly suited to sitting alongside Bedoya in a double pivot — and Bedoya’s own brief experience in the no. 6 slot was an act of Jurgen’s madness.
    On pedigree and talent, Bedoya is a great get, but I’m not sure he’s worth the outlay for the team we have now, and certainly not worth sacrificing our last remaining active legend, Le Toux.

    • That’s not the end of the world. I for one would be more than satisfied with Edu and BC manning the double pivot with a advanced 3 of Pontius, Barnetta, and Bedoya.
      The ability to bring Herbers, Alberg, and Illsinho off the bench as attacking options shows good depth with lots of tactical flexibility.

    • A couple counterpoints:
      The midfield doesn’t seem to have much chemistry since Nogs left and it’s been pretty disconnected. I’m welcoming an adjustment to the chemistry we’ve seen the last few months, especially someone with Bedoya’s work ethic, commitment to offense & defense, and overall soccer smarts.
      Mo was a great #6 in Europe for a Champions League team and for the USMNT earlier in his career. Looking at it in a vacuum, yes, he hasn’t been an effective #6 for the Union and Okugo was much better. But he hasn’t played on a Union team with this much talent. It seemed Mo felt the need to do too much with prior Union teams, which is not what you want out of your #6. If he can be disciplined and rely on his teammates, I think he will prove a lot of people wrong about effectively playing the #6.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Edu is/was the modern 6. Physical and unafraid to body people. Above average passing range and vision. I think that’s where Curtin and Stewart see him succeeding on the pitch. Especially behind guys like Barnetta, Bedoya, Ilsinho, Pontius, & Sapong. Toss in Alberg, Davies, & Herbers and that is a formidable midfield and forward corps.

    • What midfield chemistry?

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    These moves reinforce the organization’s message to CJ Sapong that he is the first-choice striker.
    Given Jim Curtin’s publicly stated loyalty to the players who got him his job, we might consider the possibility that Le Toux asked for an opportunity to get minutes.
    I agree with the analysis that in the short term it is likely that Bedoya will play the #8. While I hear the points made elsewhere about the power of a large amount of prospective money to induce pleasing speech, there is game tape of him playing there, and it is a clear need, the #8.
    Ilsinho has regressed towards the stereotype of a Latin American flank offensive player. He mirrors the play Walter Restrepo displayed in the preseason scrimmage against Georgetown and in the first game or three with the Steel. The comparison is not a compliment to either man.
    I disagree with critics of Ilsinho’s weight and his conditioning. Compare the tape now to the tape in preseason. The spare off road bicycle tire is gone. And when he recognizes a defensive need, he moves quite fast in a straight line. There is something about his running technique when sprinting that makes me mistrust his balance and agility, but I can’t put a finger on it. The issue is defending is not instinctive. He puts me in mind of David Accam and Kennedy Igbononikue as they were when we last played Chicago.
    Would love to see Herbers get some minutes on the right flank mid. Flowing positional interchange between him and Barnetta is easy to imagine, and Herbers could be taught the defensive aspects of CAM when circumstance and a turn over catches him there.
    That makes Ilsinho a tactical threat off the bench, a role perhaps more suited to his age and limitations. Certainly he is abiogenesis planning headache for the opposing coach if only because the book on him is fatter.

  5. I still see herbers as an option up front. He won’t get minutes ahead of davies now, but he needs to keep working there (or at steel). his movement is every bit as good as most of our team, he just needs to learn to finish (easier said than done).
    Possibly more important than that, what becomes of alberg? Bedoya and Barnetta will get the reps in the short term, and he’s been rather ineffective recently anyway. Do we let him come off the bench or shuffle him out wide?

  6. I’ve seen similar comments elsewhere, but I think it’s worth repeating.
    I hate, hate, hate the stupid @#!$ allocation order rules in MLS, and that Chicago was able to effectively hold us at gunpoint so we could sign Bedoya. It’s ridiculous that the Union had to pay them what is likely an assload of MLS funny money and their first round pick. (Discovery rights don’t seem like a huge deal, but maybe…)
    Mickey Mouse rule for a Mickey Mouse league…

    • Totally agree. It’s supposed to make the league more balanced but I fail to see how it achieves that. All it does is make it more expensive for 1 team to bring in a player.

    • Jim Presti says:

      The funny thing is I only cared about the Discovery Rights. The TAM/GAM is a non-factor – especially when every team passes it around like party favors at EDC.
      The Discovery Rights are stupid but gives a team leverage. TAM/GAM is just MLS Monopoly money from franchise fee buy-ins and tv deals. The best part? MLS makes more and more of it available every season anyhow.

      • *shrug* Getting leverage off their discovery list really isn’t much different from Chicago getting leverage against us because of allocation order. The only difference I can think of: MLS says what proper compensation is for discovery list ($50k, as I recall) but is silent on allocation ranking.
        Both are bullshit mechanisms that need to go the way of the dodo and Chivas.

      • Jim Presti says:

        I agree. But I think the allocation order spot is roughly the same – if the reports of the $175K are to be disputed.

  7. el Pachyderm says:

    The author’s Mt Rushmore of treasured Union players needs to include Amobi Okugo.
    The end.
    The silly-gamesmanship of not telling the reporters where Bedoya will most likely be employed is ridiculous self protectionism. Get a grip and give the damn fans the answer. Too clever… It annoys me… and in the grand scheme of important footy discussions is tiddlywinks.
    In the words of The Breakfast Club of which the manager is part of the rat pack generation…. ” answer the damn question!”

    • My thought on this is they were still negotiating other deals during the transfer window and didn’t want to tip their hand on anything. Curtin has been pretty straightforward in every press conference I can remember so for him to be coy here makes me think it was a direction from Albright/Earnie. I could be off, but it just doesn’t make sense for Curtin to be vague based on his track record.

    • Debated including Okugo. In the end, I think he needs to come back and earn his place on it. There’s a No. 6 size hole in Chester that could still await him next year. Let’s see if everyone can swallow their pride on that one though. I doubt it.

      His future may still be at CB. He’s looked good for Portland so far, but they just stacked their CB ranks big time over the last week.

      • Considering Borchers career may be over…a convenient step in for him… hope he stays but if not he’s simply too good a player and it sucks his career has fallen into this limbo… was the answer at #6 for at least 3 more years…. but hey we got our DP Edu for a mint, and he even became a CB and course missed one of the most important PKs in Union’s short tumultuous history…. or was it two?
        I’ll never move past Jim Curtin’s slight of Okugo… in that game let alone in his career- still a festering wound for me.

      • Edu was a beast that game though. Ethan White at CB on the other hand…

    • brat pack…. damn sniveling auto correct.

    • Of all the things to be upset about, where Bedoya is going to play is kinda funny. We will find out soon enough and it doesn’t change anything.

      • I’m not upset. Annoyed and upset are not bedfellows.
        I’m a happy lark today whistling away my worries… riding on the tender breast of our sporting director’s: Vision. Philosophy. Plan.
        and annoyed at the coyness… which may have even come down form the man himself.

      • Sorry I misinterpreted. The VPP is shaping up nicely. Roster is totally different than a few months ago and should continue to trend up.

    • No to Okugo. I know you love him El P but time has proven he is an average player.

    • I loved the Okugo era, but BC gets a bust on Union Mt Rushmore ahead of Amobi. I think he’s changed enough minds in the last year or so that he’d place a solid third if put out to a fan vote!

      • +1! He’s the other guy I thought about. If he’s still kicking around Philly in 2-3 years, then he’s definitely earned it.

      • You mean of course still kicking around Philly in the house league at CASA, right?
        I jest.

      • Don’t underestimate Casa! Great league.

      • The Union Mt. Rushmore could change drastically in a few months depending on the way this particular team finishes this season. 2 of our last 3 regular season games are against the pink cows. Heroes and villains will arise.

      • The Little Fish says:

        Agree 1000% BC gets a bust on the mountain…!!!

  8. Per Matthew De George at Union Tally who was at training today:
    The Union, Curtin said, are not done in the summer window. Though the MLS secondary window is closed, teams can still add out-of-contract players in the coming weeks ahead of a mid-September roster deadline that is hard and fast. Curtin said, “there are a few trialists that will be coming in for the next few weeks,” primarily on defense. Expect a long-term solution at left back to be one of the top priorities. The Union have one roster spot to play with.

  9. Official: Union sign Bedoya.
    Headline relegated, pun intended, to the second page already. Magic day in blog-o-land.

  10. Jim Presti says:

    Oh man how far the Union has come. Here sign Bedoya – a consistent USMNT starter with a great pedigree – for basically steal. And now we are complaining and debating about where does he start and if it was the right move. I remember years past where Union fans hoped for anyone who could make any sort of discernible difference.
    This club has turned around tremendously in the last 12 months.

  11. John P O'Donnell says:

    So, the smoked has cleared and the Union are going all in for the playoff push. The East should be a blast as five teams are all capable of finishing first. Who have thought that firing an owner could happen and the way this team has changed direction so fast after that one move? Not sure what they’ll look like on the field but it looks like we’ve upgraded the talent on the roster.

    • pragmatist says:

      At the very least, you can’t blame them for not trying, or for being cheap, or for any of their past failings. A full change in the dynamics of the front office.
      Time will tell of its effectiveness, but an objective look at it has to determine that it is certainly a refreshing approach.

  12. You know what position he will play? He will play the quality soccer player position. He is solid, smart and brings it every time he’s on the field. This is a guy who has started just about every game for Klinsmann while Jurgen mixes and matches just about every other position.

    Some Union fans are way overthinking this move and getting far too caught up in 6s vs 8s vs 10s. He’s a baller, a player’s player.

    Thank God the Union held out for Ale and didn’t get stuck with Mix Diskerud.

  13. Union Mount Rushmore = Califf, Le Toux, Mondragon. Fourth is a tough call, I’d say Casey.

    • No, no, a thousand times no.
      LeToux may belong. For now.
      Everyone else listed is our version of John Jay, John Marshall, maybe even John Adams. But none of them belong on Rushmore. That is sacred ground and right now they haven’t earned it.
      If he wasn’t bound for the EPL, I’d save a spot for Blake. But projecting a look back at this team a decade from now, the only guy I can see putting in enough Union-worthy shifts in our shirt is Keegan Rosenberry. And I’m OK with that.
      Oh, and maybe this moment: https://vine.co/v/eAqBrPDqbmX

  14. considering construction on Mt. Rushmore began in 1927 and finished in 1941, isn’t it a bit premature even to consider whether the Union will have a Mt Rushmore? Shouldn’t we wait until about the year 2120 before we look back and decide which of the “founding players” will go on it? and don’t we have to find a native american natural wonder to rename in honor of a New York attorney? And at this point, shouldn’t Earnie be on it? Who has done more? I’ll take my answer off the air …

  15. How can a team that’s never won a playoff game have a Mt. Rushmore? How about we win something, and then start talking about legends.

  16. C. Cordelle says:

    I like what Ernie brings and has done for the the Union the moves make sense. The mind know these have been good moves. It’s the HEART & SOUL that has issues with Seba trade and the fact that it’s feels fans really couldn’t say farewell the way we might have wanted too. In this young organization Seba has given so much he was treated much like the fans were at times by the FO. An always gave his all much like many the supporters and fans that cheered him. Best wishes to our Seba.

  17. The Little Fish says:

    I really like the fact that all our guys are capable of tic-tac passing, and all have field vision. This is going to be friggin’ great. So, so, so psyched…!!!

    Union are with WINNERS of the mls transfer window.

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