A View from Afar / Commentary

What do the Union need this off-season?

Photo: Earl Gardner

If the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series after 108 years, then nothing in sports should surprise you anymore.

That is particularly the case in Major League Soccer when it comes to personnel moves.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a player Philadelphia Union “revealed by Union sporting director Earnie Stewart to be a loanee who will be returning to Atlanta. In turn, United reportedly said Kratz is actually the subject of a trade with Philadelphia that can’t be ratified until next month.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Chris Pontius apparently has another year on his contract, due to an option being triggered, despite prior information indicating that 2016 was the final year of his contract.

Stuff like this happens all the time in MLS, perhaps the least transparent of major team sports in North America when it comes to player movement.

And nothing the Union do this off-season should surprise you.

Head coach Jim Curtin will likely remain in his current role, based not merely on sporting director Earnie Stewart’s praise of him but also possibly bolstered by the cover of enough fan support to justify it.

Andre Blake could get sold if the right offer comes along, but that offer ought to be really, really good for the Union to surrender their most valuable player.

Everyone has a price. Every position could see a new starter next year (perhaps except right back).

Not that each one will. If Pontius is back, he’s a guaranteed starter at left attacking midfield. Richie Marquez is likely to return at center back. Alejandro Bedoya will start somewhere.

Otherwise, it’s all up for grabs. Here’s the rundown, position by position.

  • Striker: If the Union have the pre-Copa America break C.J. Sapong, then he is a starter. If they have the Sapong of the last two months, then they need an upgrade. And since Sapong’s confidence looks an awful lot like Andrew Wenger’s from last year, the Union need a proven goal-scorer here.
  • CAM: Expect Bedoya to start here next season, though his flexibility means he could also see time at right attacking midfield or in the No. 8 box-to-box role in center midfield. Roland Alberg is a wild card, but his performance didn’t match his $377k salary this year.
  • LW: Pontius, if he is in fact back.
  • RW: If Ilsinho returns, he and Fabian Herbers should compete for this spot. However, Ilsinho’s performance didn’t match his $478k salary this year, regardless of what his talent is, so either a pay cut or a player departure are probably on the horizon.
  • CM/No. 8: Wide open. The Union likely need to sign someone, unless they want Bedoya to play here again. A healthy Maurice Edu is a possibility, as is Bedoya, but each of them would ideally fill the other two center midfield roles.
  • CDM/No. 6: Also open to changes. The Union have three defensive midfielders on the roster: Edu is an injury question mark, Brian Carroll played well and could return, and Warren Creavalle was a good substitute and spot starter here but probably isn’t the long-term answer as a starter.
  • LB: Fabinho deserves a lot of credit for his 2016 season. The Union could still use an upgrade and don’t have a left-footed backup.
  • RB: Keegan Rosenberry has this locked down. Ray Gaddis is an underused asset who should have value on the trade market.
  • CB: Marquez at one spot. The other is a question mark. Ken Tribbett and Josh Yaro have shown they’re good enough to be on the roster, but neither has locked down the other starting slot. The Union should bring in at least one new center back. The question is whether he will be starter-quality or depth-quality.
  • GK: If Andre Blake returns, then maybe nothing changes. The Union could sign a veteran backup, but they did that this year with Matt Jones, a former regular starter in Portugal’s first division, and Curtin still preferred John McCarthy as the backup.

Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said Wednesday that Walter Restrepo, Cole Missimo, Taylor Washington, Matt Jones, Anderson and Kratz will not return. The first three will be released after their contract options were not exercised, Jones and Anderson will depart after fruitless loans, and Kratz will depart via the lesser known but oft used MLS transaction type known as “suspicious mystery.”

The leaves 22 occupied roster spots, including Tranquillo Barnetta’s departure for Switzerland.

Charlie Davies and Leo Fernandes are out of contract. Fernandes probably wants a fresh start after another season stapled to the Union bench followed his successful 2015 loan stint, and he could depart via Re-Entry Draft or other means if the Union let him. (If New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese gets the top job for Minnesota United, look for him to try to acquire Fernandes, who was the NASL Young Player of the Year last year while on loan with the Cosmos.) Davies is a variable, having gotten little opportunity to demonstrate his post-cancer capability this season.

Stewart has a full off-season to remake the Union in his image. Let’s see how he does.

42 Comments

  1. “Roland Alberg is a wild card, but his performance didn’t match his $377k salary this year.”
    He was second on the team in goals…

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      And he cannot affect the run of play at the end of an MLS season. Cannot. The visual evidence is in front of you. He was a useful soccer player against a 10 man side, over two months ago. Since, nothing.
      .
      Statistics reflect what happened in the past. The do not predict how anything will react to changing future conditions.
      .
      At the end of a season, the game is much faster and its intensity is much higher. That’s true from HS to the pros.

      • I think Alberg is what he is, a CF/second striker. What he isn’t is all the ways Curtin tried to play him. When Alberg just went out and played he was successful. Unfortunately we have a mediocre, unimaginative and tactically rigid coach so maybe it’s easier to replace Alberg with whoever best fits Curtin’s “vision”.
        .
        Although I’m reminded how many commenters here wanted to wait and see how the Aaron Wheeler CB experiment would turn out, somehow technical players with some modicum of success aren’t afforded the same honeymoon period.
        .
        We celebrate mediocrity and “effort” and are baffled by players who have skill. We should bring back LeToux and his first touch and wave goodbye to Ilsinho. Bon voyage Vincent, hello Alejandro.
        .
        What happens next season if they can’t make 6th again in that crapfest of a division with an expansion team? Another year of excuses?

      • This is a case I’ve heard made on behalf of Alberg (and Ilsinho). And it may be a fair case to make. The part of it I never hear is how their proponents think they should have been deployed.

        So … how?

      • .
        Rebut…. lets start by moving on from innumerable crosses as a means of trying to generate goals.
        .
        then… we can begin to discuss proper roles and how to best utilize clearly talented players.
        .
        which not incidentally brings us full circle to the manager question as well.

      • I’m not a formation philosopher, but to me, you play to a players strengths. Bedoya isn’t a 10, he wants to drift to the right. Ilsinho wants to cut inside. Why force them apart?
        .
        If you had a 4-4-2 diamond
        Alberg – CJ
        Ilsinho
        Pontius – Bedoya
        Edu (shudder this needs to be fixed)
        Backline/Blake

        You could get your most technial and attacking players on the field at the SAME time. Not at the 65′ when down a goal, but the whole game. Then if you wanted Herbers as a change of pace guy it works. Otherwise, who the heck does CJ “holdup” play for? There wasn’t another attacker. Alberg and Ilsinho’s crime is that they’re attacking and creative players who don’t play defense. So what. We ragged on Carlos Ruiz because he looked “lazy” but he was dangerous. The two most dangerous attacking guys we have are somehow the ones most likely to get shipped out. Their fault of Curtin’s?

      • Bedoya played the 10 for his last team. It really comes down to how you want each position to be played, which I believe a lot of people on here do not agree with what the coaching staff wants. But it doesn’t make 1 right or 1 wrong, just differences. I think we will be able to figure out a lot more once we see who comes in this year and who stays.

      • Fucking spot on ++.

      • Good discussion here! Thanks for weighing in, everyone.

      • Well Le Toux got results while Ilsinho got gifs made. I’ll take the results personally. Although I do like Ilsinho and wouldn’t mind if he came back.
        .
        Also, Alberg was not always successful when he went out and played. There were multiple times he started the game and was literally absent. I’m not sure what to make of him at this point honestly.

      • I think you’d find many players aren’t “always successful”.
        .
        Yes, LeToux got results. He worked hard and played his heart out. His first touch is/was/and always shall be criminal and beyond defense. It’s not as bad as Cruz’s, but it’s pretty dam bad.

      • By not always successful I mean he had a great run which condensed with a total midfield switch and then literally did nothing once that was figured out. He rarely impacted the games and barely got on the ball. I forgot he was even playing a lot of the time. Now I’m not saying that’s all on him or he won’t get better but he was extremely hot and cold.

      • @ A. – Sorry to cherry pick your words.
        .
        I’d also say the Union were similar, disappearing for long stretches of the season, getting points in bunches against subpar competition, but we’ve officially defined the season as a success and wildly beyond any reasonable expectation! Why not Alberg’s 7 goals? CJ promised he’d score or create 20, can we excoriate him for delivering only 50%? Now there’s your Invisible Man.

      • No comlaints about your Sapong assessment here. I like CJ as a backup along the front line and spot starter moving forward. But Alberg was anonymous too, and Barnetta rarely was in the same position.

      • I love this… same goes for Leo as I elucidate below.

      • I agree. Alberg ultimately just doesn’t fit the system. He’s not a playmaker like Barnetta. He liked to slink around the box waiting for a chance to score, making him seem much more a striker than anything else. Without the benefit of seeing training sessions, he seemed to me an intriguing choice as a center forward, would be good as a second striker ina 4 4 2 or 3 5 2, but it’s pretty clear the Union are tied to the 4231 and that’s it, Alberg is an odd man out.

      • .
        Roland Alberg’s gift is finding a sliver of space at just the right moment for a pass that seldom comes.
        .
        See rebut to Dan’s comment up-line.
        .
        It is my opinion that a formation run with a healthy Noguiera and a healthy Barnetta and Ilsinho and a striker in Alberg may have produced a totally different brand of game by season’s end… with the caveat from the sidelines to stop whipping in every freaking ball.

      • I agree with your last few lines. I’m resigned to watching hoof and pray in the 4-2-3-1. Go deep and hope for a set piece off the right noggin. Not sure who will be delivering those set pieces next year but I’m sure Jimmy will be all over it.

      • It’s funny because the criticism of Alberg is “he doesn’t do anything when he doesnt score!” but that is LITERALLY the exact same thing as Pontius.

        Pontius disappears for games at a time. He rarely contributes to build up play. But like Alberg, he’s capable of showing up at the right moment and firing home a goal. Yet we love Pontius at 400K but not Alberg at 350k?

      • I wouldn’t say he does nothing. there were plenty of times where he was tracking back and providing cover. It my not be pretty but he did it, which is what I think the coach asks, and Alberg is very loathe to accomplish. I can see the call for Alberg as a second striker or alone up top, but not as a winger.

      • What I like about Alberg is that he has that desire to put the ball in goal. He’s not afraid to shoot, which has been a recurring problem for other players on the roster. Alberg can make his own space. Alberg is probably a better pure goal scorer than Pontius, but I think Pontius does more defensively, but I’d like to keep both.

      • Pontius scores, plays solid defense, wins a lot of key headers, is involved in the passing game, and helps combine for successful overlaps by the left back.

        Alberg does one of those things.

  2. Do the Union protect Gaddis so they can get more in a trade? If so, is it likely that Minnesota will try to grab Fernandez in the expansion draft?

  3. The 18-24 month window I gave the team is nearing its first full turn of the calendar.
    .
    Oh my how important this offseason and next season is.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Gaddis has something you cannot coach, speed. There are circumstances where matching speed with speed is awfully convenient.
    .
    That said, Restrepo leaving says Erik Ayuk moves up the depth chart. And Ayuk is an international. That matters because for the expansion draft, if I have understood the press box summary of its rules correctly, the Union must protect 3 internationals. So, Ayuk could compete with Gaddis for one of the eleven spots.

    • I always thought that Gaddis’ speed made him better against slower players because he could catch up and had extra room for error. Once he went up against similarly speedy players he was constantly left in the dust.

    • At first OSC, I thought you’d slipped off your meds. Why would the Union protect Ayuk? Also, why would they protect Gaddis?
      .
      But your point regarding the Intl spots is muddied by the fact that 2 of the U’s intls are also GenAd and auto protected. So if I interpret the rule that they protected Yaro and Herbers, adding Alberg and Ilsinho makes 4. No need to save Ayuk.
      .
      But as we bemoaned all year, there really isn’t any depth on this team, so the challenge isn’t wailing about who will we lose, it’s can we even get to 11 players worthy of protecting?
      .
      Blake / Bedoya / Pontius / Alberg /Ilsinho /Rosenberry/Marquez /CJ/Fabinho makes 9. That gives you 2 spots for mcCarthy / Creavalle/ Ayuk/ Gaddis/Tribbett. So pick the 3 you care least about, would you care if 1 left? Me neither. I would dare either squad to take Edu (no DPs arent auto protects except where there’s a no trade clause)and his $750k.

      • It’s MLS, so who knows. But I think you’re misinterpreting the rules. GA aren’t so much auto-protected as they are ineligible, as I read the rules.
        .
        That said, I agree with leaving Edu unprotected and effectively dare a team to take him – even if they’re taking him as a later trade chip with another team, so what?
        .
        All that said, I suspect Gaddis is the player we lose, if anybody.

      • Not interpreting so much as parroting:
        Generation adidas players who have not been graduated at the end of the 2016 MLS Season and Homegrown players on a Club’s Supplemental/Reserve Roster at the end of the 2016 MLS Season are automatically protected.
        .
        Note, not automatically ineligible, but protected.

      • It’s worded differently here: http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/09/13/mls-releases-expansion-draft-rules-atlanta-minnesota-prepare-2017
        .
        “Each current MLS club will have the ability to protect 11 players from selection. Additionally, Generation adidas players who do not graduate from the program at the end of the 2016 season and Homegrown players on a club’s Supplemental or Reserve roster will not be eligible for selection.”
        .
        And from here (which seems to be the source of your quote above): http://pressbox.mlssoccer.com/content/2016-expansion-draft-rules-and-regulations
        .
        “Clubs are restricted in the number of international player(s) that they may make available. Clubs may make available a number of international players equal to their total number of international players minus three, provided that if a Club has three or fewer international players it may not make more than one such player available.”
        .
        The intent here, to me, says a team may protect no more than 3 internationals, assuming they have 4 or more. The Union do (Alberg, Ayuk, Ilsinho, Herbers, and Yaro; plus, technically at least, Barnetta and Anderson.)
        .
        So here’s how I read all of that, in total. The Union have to submit a list of 11 players to protect. That list does not need to include GA players (Herbers, Yaro) or homegrown players (Trusty, Jones). Because they have 4 or more international players, their list of 11 can include no more than 3 international players.
        .
        Again, this is MLS. So who knows what the intent is. Maybe they fully intend to consider Yaro and Herbers “protected” which means they can only submit one additional international player. I don’t think that’s the intent, but I’ve been wrong before when trying to translate from MLS to English.

      • You’re reading it inversely. They have to protect a minimum of 3. There’s a sliding scale chart further down that link page, not the press release but the actual rule, defining exactly that.

      • Hmmm…
        .
        “Clubs may make available a number of international players equal to their total number of international players minus three…” (The rest of the quote I pulled doesn’t apply, so I cut it.)
        .
        So, counting Barnetta and Anderson, who are technically still on the Union roster even though we know they won’t return, they have seven internationals. So they can make available seven minus 3, or four internationals. And if we go by the chart at the bottom of my 2nd link, it says a team with seven internationals must protect a minimum of 3, and “may make available not more than” 4.
        .
        But the question really is how to interpret the GA / Homegrown status in relation to those counts. Does Herbers and Yaro being GA mean they only have to protect one more? Or are we supposed to ignore Herbers and Yaro completely and treat the Union as having 5 internationals (protect 3, make available 2)? And most importantly, do the same rules apply to the Union as to Seattle, LA, and NY-squared? Or, do they have seven, have to protect three, but two of the three are pre-determined?
        .
        Those seem to be the potential interpretations to me. I read it as “treat the Union as though they had 5, ignoring Yaro and Herbers; so protect three and make 2 available.” And if that’s the case, the two you make available are obvious: Barnetta and Anderson.

  5. How about moving Bedoya to the 10 and slotting in Derrick Jones at the 8? If Edu is healthy, big if, and plays the 6 I think it would be the best thing for Jones to be flanked by a current and former national team player to help ease his transition into MLS.

    • I wouldn’t mind if they went this route. Obviously they need to bring in a decent player at CM regardless but the question is if that’s a starter quality or just really really good depth quality. I could see the off-season going many different ways and I have no idea which would be the best.

    • Absolutely possible. I think Jones will be in Bethlehem to start next season, but who knows?

  6. You forgot Derrick Jones in the mix for the CDM/#6 role. I wouldn’t mind a midfield of Bedoya at the 10, Edu at the 8, and Jones at the 6. But “wouldn’t mind” doesn’t equal “my preference.” I’d still favor moving on from Mo Edu if we can find a good fit for the #8.
    .
    Edit: Looks like I should refresh and read all the comments before typing. Jason beat me to the Derrick Jones point by 6 minutes…

  7. I love coach Savarese…. so Dear Leo… If Gio calls again… go go go.
    .
    And if you wind up in Minnesota with him and you wind up playing stellar- we will know beyond question….

  8. If you want this team to improve you need to get rid of Ayuk’s, Ceravalle’s, Tribbett’s and any players that play at USL level. They should not be on MLS rosters.

  9. Lucky Striker says:

    What do they need? About everything.

  10. Aren’t we being a little premature writing off Edu? I
    don’t think it’s rational to give up on him without current knowledge of his physical and contractual status. He has/had the
    skills to offset the losses of Noguiera and Barnetta. There aren’t a whole lot of names on that roster that can complete that sentence;let’s hope it can happen.

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