A View from Afar

The Union just had one of their best weeks ever

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Years from now, we may look at last week as one of the most important weeks ever in Philadelphia Union’s history.

The Union:

  • incorporated their newly signed, highest paid player ever into the team, and then he started his first match and played exactly how everyone hoped he would;
  • signed their first truly homegrown player in U.S. youth international Auston Trusty and, in trading a pair of first round draft picks, showed how they will address youth development in the future;
  • demolished New England 4-0 in a statement game that returns Philadelphia to the conversation as a legitimate MLS Cup contender;
  • and did it all after cutting ties with their most beloved player — and avoiding a fan revolt.

It was a week in which you looked at everything happening and said, “This truly is a new Philadelphia Union.”

Let’s take a closer look at the aspects of aforementioned points that have been less discussed elsewhere.

Auston Trusty: The first truly homegrown Philadelphia player

Trusty, 17, is not technically the first Homegrown Player the Union have ever signed. In fact, the 6-3 center back from Media is the fifth, following Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez, and Derrick Jones.

But he is the first the Union have developed from his preteen years and signed to the first team.

Consider his background.

Trusty first joined the Union Juniors in 2011 at age 12 as part of its inaugural group. This was before there even was a real Union Academy. He later began attending school as part of the first Union Academy class in 2013 and, after playing with Academy teams, stepped up to lock down a starting role with Bethlehem Steel this year. While his play has at times been uneven, he has shown the raw talent to demonstrate he can outgrow his mistakes and develop into a top player. In signing him, the Union convinced him to pass on college soccer and go all in with the Union’s developmental model.

In contrast, the prior Union homegrown players were more akin to home-found players. Philadelphia hadn’t developed them from their preteen years. They were less products and more quality teenage players the Union had found in their back yard. The first three signings — Pfeffer, McLaughlin and Hernandez — then largely floundered upon joining the Union because the lack of a true development system to support them. (Pfeffer was seemingly making the leap last year until he was traded to Colorado.)

Even Jones was identified through his stellar play with Junior Lone Star FC, the West Philly-based NPSL club that draws largely West African players like Jones, who immigrated from Ghana at age 15. With him, it was more akin to recruiting a blue chip prospect already on the path to developing into a professional quality player. He certainly benefited the environment the Union eventually provided, but it was Junior Lone Star who found him and the Union who smartly poached him.

In contrast, Trusty has followed the Union development path as laid out on paper, almost from start to finish. He is the most definitive sign that the Union’s vision for player development is working. It was bound to take time before such a definitive sign emerged, but now it finally has.

Expect Trusty to continue playing with Bethlehem, albeit on loan from Philadelphia, for at least another year. Whether he makes it as an MLS player remains to be seen, but his signing and the performance that justified it show the Union’s youth development system can work.

That’s why the Union can trade first round draft picks

Some might not be thrilled with the Union’s trade of two first round draft picks this month. After all, the Union’s haul of three first round picks this year produced three players who have legitimately contributed to the first team. Right back Keegan Rosenberry earned a spot on the All-Star team as a rookie, Fabian Herbers has shown real quality as an attacker, and Josh Yaro has put in some good shifts at center back. Considering that, why would the Union trade first round picks?

If you think about it, they probably only needed one of those picks though.

  1. Rosenberry could have and should have been signed as a homegrown player. His choice to take summer classes at Georgetown led to him not racking up the necessary time with the Union to be considered a homegrown player, and the Union had to burn a draft choice and trade Zach Pfeffer to get both him and Yaro. To be sure, the Union will never make the mistake of not adequately tracking a player’s eligibility again, but at least they know they can get this type of player in their back yard.
  2. Yaro has proved second choice to Ken Tribbett, a player identified and acquired through the Union’s USL partnerships. Never mind that it was with Harrisburg, rather than Bethlehem. It’s the same premise. Yaro has talent, but the point is that a player signed from a USL affiliate has marginalized a first round pick. Next year’s Tribbett could be Bethlehem defensive midfielder Bolu Akinyode, or maybe it’s someone else. But it will be someone. And that someone may make the lost first round pick irrelevant.
  3. Herbers is a different story. Could they have found a similar player through their USL affiliate, either now or in the future? Possibly, but let’s just say for now he proves the team still can benefit from the draft.

Bottom line: The Union are betting on their locally based player development system. With more teams increasingly doing the same thing, the quality of each year’s draft pool will probably drop year after year. The Union are banking on finding and developing more Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones types than finding guys like Herbers. Sure, you may see Philadelphia trade into the draft’s first round again if they see a guy they really want, but they are clearly valuing their academy and USL options more highly than the draft.

Bedoya is the missing link

Everything came together Saturday for the Union.

  • Bedoya gave them a No. 8 who could bring the ball upfield, hold possession, and provide a hard message foul to opponents, all while staying disciplined enough defensively to protect the back line.
  • Tranquillo Barnetta went back to being a dominant No. 10.
  • The attack clicked again without the defense being sacrificed.

Sure, it helped that New England couldn’t finish and, when they could hit the target, Andre Blake was his usual superhuman shot-stopping self.

But the Union found what they’d been missing since Vincent Nogueira departed in June. And in Bedoya, they may have even upgraded, because he has demonstrated the ability to do something Nogueira never could: Stay healthy.

If they stay healthy, the Union could win it all this year.

62 Comments

  1. ” the Union could win it all this year.”
    .
    You’re killing me, Dan! Nothing starts a fan revolt like heightened expectations!
    .
    This is a team that can play in the conference finals. Anything over that is a gift for a team ahead of schedule.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    .
    Love the article: a few points though. I refuse to accept the thrashing of a team that should be relegated as sign this team is an MLS Cup contender. Just as I refuse to accept a team as piss poor as Seattle even has a remote chance at qualifying for the playoffs. Sorry. Not buying.
    .
    So ironic the young mans name upon who we may trust that the development system is working is : Trusty.
    .
    The draft picks mean nothing to me. I don’t want 22 year old rookies::: EVER again. College soccer as development pathway is a condor~ unless the system is changed…. which it won’t be. Let these gifted franchises pick college players~ whatever, don’t want them. If your kid goes to Pepperdine, enjoy and become a tycoon just not a ‘pro’ soccer player. Academy professional development to amateur college player is the true oxymoron.
    .
    I’ll shit if this team wins MLS Cup…if only because I could not tolerate the comparison to Leicester City. In the meantime more: vision philosophy plan for me please.

    • It’s more the return to form and Bedoya’s apparent fit within the system that drove it that are the signs of a contender to me. (The addition of Davies helps too, obviously, albeit less so.) I thought they were a title contender before Nogueira left.

      Just clarifying. Otherwise, everyone feel free to pile on. 😉

    • I think the draft still has a place, albeit a lessened one. You can still find squad players that you didn’t have to pay to develop (yes, not developed as well as Academy players, but developed enough). You can also find some foreign kids that are MLS-quality but not Bundesliga-quality, who came here for a degree and want to stay for the soccer.
      .
      And, I will glad listen to (and dispute) Leicester City comparisons if the Union do win the Cup.

    • better than Truthy.
      .
      and how could that Rosenberry mistake ever happen? oh, wait. I remember now …
      .
      and Trusty would have been a draft pick by someone had he gone to college. Would be interesting to know how many other MLS clubs have “poached” college bound academy/developmental players. Is it a trend or is Earnie ahead of the curve?
      .
      finally, a chance to win the cup equates to me to making the playoffs, which we should do. progress.

    • I love how our star player who has already completely transformed our team AND put us on the map through media coverage and exposure…is a 4 year college player. Just sayin. I do agree that we’re not MLS contenders just because of that match however, I think we could be as good as we were earlier in the year (perhaps a little better) and that’s good enough for this year for me

      • old model. he is 29 and has been a professional for 8 years. he also skipped the draft and went to europe.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        well said.

      • Now imagine how much further along that 4-year college player would be right now if he had been training with the Union’s senior team and playing for BSFC full-time for the last four years instead of bouncing back and forth between Georgetown, Reading, and the Union Academy.

      • Oops. Thought you were talking about Rosenberry. Now I feel like an idiot!

    • You don’t want any college players? Ever? Would that include the Union’s two young all-stars this year?
      .
      Rosenberry played four years at Georgetown and Blake played three years at UConn. Those two seem to have survived the college experience, just like Bedoya, Dempsey and others did before them.

      • would Dempsey or Bedoya come through college now?
        .
        NBA guys played four years college in the past – does that mean they should now?
        .
        People used to read words written on scrolls of paper or symbols painted on cave walls – does that mean they should now?

      • Last bit made me laugh. You have good points but so does a college education.

      • That’s where SNHU comes into place

      • I guess you and El P wouldn’t want that Stephen Curry guy playing for your favorite basketball team. Three years at Davidson obviously ruined him as a player.
        .
        I’m not arguing that college is the best choice for all young athletes (in soccer or in any other sport). I am saying that it’s foolish to automatically write off all former college players, just because you think they should have developed their games elsewhere.

      • I don’t have a favorite college soccer team besides my own. I mainly go to games with my old teammates to hang with them.
        .
        college is not the best choice for all young people.
        .
        I am not writing off all college players – I am sure they will keep drafting them – the real route to the 1st team is through your own development or transfers of already existing professionals. Taking a college player (as the college game further degrades over time) would be a distant third option.
        .
        players like Trusty can also negotiate for and manage the cost of going to college later. Establish a sort of sinking fund for future college expenses, off balance sheet so to speak so that its there when needed.

      • R3er – You should consider reading the comments of others more carefully before responding to them.

      • I agree that talent is talent, wherever found, and that the source of talent is not an issue as to whether talent exists. apologies if that was in dispute.

      • All’s good, R3er. Thanks.

      • Yea I agree with MSG. I think people reaaaaally underestimate the role talent plays. If you’re talented it doesn’t matter how you develop, you’ll be good

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Are you really comparing college basketballs developmental pathway to that of soccer?

      • I was responding to R3er, who raised the NBA comparison.

      • But I do think that there are different paths to success in all sports, including soccer.

    • El P, Do you literally mean you never want college players ever again or that the Union should emphasize the development of the academy and signing those talented teenagers? I think snagging a kid out of college who fits a need and fits the team philosophy may be worthwhile every now and again.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        If there is a special player who Comes to America toils in a DI lesser known university and works at McDowell’s and for whatever strange twist of grace and fate finds his way to the Union first 18… I’m all for the outlier.
        .
        Otherwise…the pipeline is in place the director has his fingers throughout Europe and I’m just not sure it’s really necessary.
        .
        Maybe I’m too far forward into the future but I really believe college ball will become like high school ball…
        .
        Drafting a 21 or 22 year old player than labeling him rookie when a 17 or 18 yr old has been playing against men seems really odd to me. Not disparaging the educational route… just the educational route as pathway to professional soccer.

      • I’m in agreement with you. Was just curious has to how staunch your position was.

      • The McDowell’s reference is a beauty – and I now have the Soul Glow song in my head. Nicely done!

      • +1!

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        McDowells had the seasame seeded bun, McDonald’s doesn’t.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        Agreed. Well played, El P.

      • Spot on. I think as more and more clubs have academies set up in a similar way as the Union do we will see the importance of the college draft diminish. The only thing I see colleges providing is two things 1) opportunity for foreign players like Herbers who don’t seem to be breaking through at big time Euro. Academies 2)Finding the American talent that isn’t near an MLS academy. I think time will also solve that later problem.

      • John P O'Donnell says:

        The only thing about the academy is its 75 mile territory they are aloud to sign players from. (Wink wink). One day I could see MLS teams recruiting players like college’s do into their high school academies. Until then I don’t see why you would ever want to give up on a way to bring players into the team. Especially since we are seeing a trend of European players coming over here to get a college education. This year seems to be a bumper crop of rookies. I think it might be because they’ve started in an academy and went to college instead of high school or just a club.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Not all 17 or 18 YOs are ready to play with adult male professionals.
        .
        Of all the academy kids who have dressed, One has proven it to me, a second is tantalizing but the sample size is too small, a third has fluctuated a little inconsistently but looks pretty likely, and the fourth I have doubts about at the moment.
        .
        FC Montreal has gone more thoroughly down the youth movement path, and has the worst record in USL from the beginning of LAST season. On the other had the beat Charleston in Charleston just now 3-1.
        .
        Tough to tell.

  3. I agree with El P. that thrashing the Revs doesn’t automatically make the U. MLS beaters.

    That said, his team very easily could win the Eastern Conference, which is far weaker and inconsistent than many expected. Class of the conference: NYCFC? Red Bulls with an injury to every defensive player on its roster? Toronto? Montreal? If the Union click, it’s not unreasonable. And in an elimination game against a Western Conference team, who knows? Crazier things have happened, particularly in MLS.

    My own expectations are still the same. A playoff spot and a competitive run.

    • No, there are still holes and if the injury to CJ keeps him out that depth issue raises its head. I’d feel much better if Carroll came back and Creavalle sat.

      As for your questions – NYC and TFC are better than we are. The key is to finish 4th and host MTL. Going on the road may prove a different story in a 1 game knockout. At home we are much better. And honestly, for most here, a playoff game = a successful 2016. Our first playoff win definitely does.

      • I agree scottymac. I feel better about any missed time for CJ with Davies. And I’ve always been up on Herbers. #6 is our one big hole, but I think we’ll be back in business when Carroll/Edu return. Just got to hold it together in the interim and hope Bedoya doesn’t suffer some freak injury.

  4. Lucky Striker says:

    No, they’re not winning it all. They lack a true 6-even with Bedrock helping out at the 8 for the duration of the year.

    The Edu conundrum is easily solved, but I doubt he cooperates. Listened to the Revs crew comment on this during the game….who sits? Creavalle is obvious, but who else?????

    The correct answer is Tribbett-irregardless of how long it takes BC to get back. That would give Philly the best chance to last at the dance…..but unless “Baby Yaya” proves to be a star from Bethlehem-and Davies has a miracle recovery cycle , Stewart has work to do yet before you can think about making room for anything on your mantle.

    • there is always work to do. remember, Earnie changed players and coaches every year at his prior stops. Its his show, he’s Walter White in a non-dying, non-meth cooking, non-liking how good he is at being evil kind of way – mainly analogous at how clever he is at taking care of his “family”, again, in a non-destructive way.

  5. good article, Dan. it is worth appreciating. while the horizon on this season is still uncertain, the future has a certain one.
    as for where we may land this season: the goals keep coming. we were bleeding for awhile there, but we keep scoring. if you told me it’ll take an all-out slugfest to win a conference, with Blake, i’d say we’ve a decent shot to win the East.

  6. Who is this “Edu” you guys are mentioning?

  7. Old Soccer Coach says:

    A point others have made earlier at the time of the trades worth repeating is that Earnie, Chris and Jim do not expect to be drafting early where those few impact collegians will be taken.
    .
    When is the last time an impact player was taken later than, say, 10th in the draft?

    • Define impact player and the time frame being examined.

      • Impact player = You know him when you see him.

        Time frame = whenever.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Since 2010 and only looking at top 10 draft picks: Nagbe, Kitchen, Rowe, Brown, Powers, Blake Birnbaum, Larin, Alashe. Could definitely make a case for a few more as picking up for specific holes like Farrell, Mattocks, Manneh, or Soares.
        .
        That’s also not including some players that went 10-20 for different reasons.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Misread the original question: Players 11-20 Dwyer, Powers [11], Mullins, Sjoberg. Some cases can be made for a few role players like Kemp or Hairston.

      • Had a feeling you could answer that. 🙂

      • Jim Presti says:

        Not opposed to the draft as an alterative mechanism for obtaining young talent, but in general there is more value in the academy. The ability to develop players as the TD and coach see fit. Plus the off-field professional development.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        I would have said impact” was started and played well from season one ,barring injury, at some point in the season. Someone who improves the side as it plays on the pitch.
        .
        We got three this year, or at least two and a half.
        .
        We got quite a bit of one three years ago, but are only finding it out now.
        .
        Time frame would be within the first three or four years.

    • 2016:
      12th Jonathan Campbell
      .
      2015:
      14th Alex Sjoberg
      .
      2014
      44th Richie Marquez
      .
      2013
      11th Dillon Powers
      20th Ryan Hollingshead
      .
      2012
      11th Matt Hedges (Finlay was 10th)
      16th Dom Dwyer
      .
      2011
      11th Will Bruin
      49th Joao Plata

  8. I was at YSC for (one of? I’m sure there were others) the Union Juniors tryouts in 2011. The fact that even one player emerged from that event as a first-team player blows my mind.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Meaning it’s incredible because of the level of play at the time? Or it’s incredible it’s just crazy to think you witnessed a player at that level, now joining a first team as a professional? Just curious

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