A View from Afar

Union quiet so far, Re-Entry Draft approaches

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Nearly two months after their last regular season game, Philadelphia Union have been awfully quiet in the off-season.

Aside from the mandatory, anticipated notices of which players would not have contracts renewed, the Union haven’t hit the transaction wire yet this off-season.

That isn’t unusual for the Union. This team makes most of its off-season acquisitions fairly late in comparison to other clubs.

Not since the 2012-2013 off-season have the Union acquired more than one player before the turn of the calendar.

2015-16: Last year, the Union’s only off-season acquisition before the new year was trading for Chris Pontius, a deal agreed to in November and announced in December.

2014-15: Philadelphia traded for C.J. Sapong.

2013-14: The Union’s only early acquisition was the Re-Entry Draft selection of Corben Bone, who made little impact before departing.

In each case, there were clear reasons explaining the late moves. Before the 2014 season, the Union were working to close a trio of big midfield signings that would (theoretically) remake the team. Entering the 2015 season, the club seemed to have trouble adjusting to the personnel game in the absence of John Hackworth. Going into the 2016 season, new sporting director Earnie Stewart only formally joined the club in December 2015.

But this year, there are no such extenuating circumstances. So what gives? Here are some possible factors:

  1. Mum’s the word: Stewart clearly likes to play his cards close to the vest. There are few rumors because there are few leaks.
  2. International transfer window: The winter transfer window opens in January for most countries. Stewart will probably look to Europe once again and draw upon players who intrigued him while he was in the Netherlands, and because he’ll likely be troving the free transfer market, there is little reason for news of such signings or trials to hit the U.S. media landscape until the usual suspects in the league office and on the agent circuit leak it to their usual, favored mouthpieces.
  3. The first domino has to fall: The Union work on a tighter budget than the league’s bigger clubs, and if there is to be a big off-season signing — likely at striker or in center midfield — its cost will probably determine other moves by the club.

Historically, these delays have posed problems for the team. In 2014, Hackworth failed to figure out how to combine his midfield signings in time to stave off his firing. In 2015, Jim Curtin didn’t know until preseason already started what he had to work with, and he was still figuring it out by midyear. In 2016, the team started very well, but it seemed that the latest off-season additions, Ilsinho and Roland Alberg, were still figuring out their place in the team at the end of the year.

How will this off-season play out? This is Stewart’s full winter season, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Who might the Union take in the Re-Entry Draft’s second stage?

The MLS Re-entry Draft’s second stage is on Thursday, and with clubs free to renegotiate contracts with available players, more could could come off the table.

Several former Union players are available in the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft tomorrow, and you’re familiar with enough with them that they don’t need profiles.

Here are a few players who might prompt the Union to claim them or, at least, offer them preseason trials.

Damion Lowe: Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke coached the 6-3 center back at Reading United and desperately wanted him in the MLS amateur draft three years ago. Lowe failed to win quality minutes with Seattle but, at just 23 years old, could be a nice reclamation project for Burke at Bethlehem. He played 27 games for Minnesota United on loan from Seattle this season, so they know him well and, if suitably impressed with what they saw, could nab Lowe before Philadelphia gets the chance.

Chris Klute: Klute looked like a rising star with Colorado under Oscar Pareja three years ago. Since then, he has cycled through a series of bad situations — out of favor with Pablo Mastroeni, behind Waylon Francis in Columbus — before landing last year in Portland, where he failed to win a starting job. He is another player who spent time on loan with Minnesota United last year, so they will also be familiar with him. Klute is still just 26 years old and a natural left back.

Steve Neumann: The Philly-area product and former Reading United attacking midfielder never won extended minutes in a crowded New England midfield. While a team could definitely pick him up, the 25-year-old may not have shown enough to get a team to commit to a contract offer just yet, which could leave him going on preseason trials this winter.

Conor Doyle: The 6-2 target forward hasn’t demonstrated he can score goals at any professional level, including just one goal in 10 starts in USL last season, but he isn’t bad with hold-up play and keeps getting looks because his size and England pedigree interest teams. The 25-year-old Doyle could make for a decent, affordable backup target forward.

Devon Sandoval: Another guy who could slot in as a backup target forward, Sandoval is an aggressive battler who got a lot of people curious about him early in his tenure with Real Salt Lake. Sandoval, 25, has never shown the ability to score regularly as a professional, but he does a good job of bringing complimentary attackers into the game with his hold-up play. Another potential backup forward, and one who seems like exactly the sort of player Jim Curtin likes.

Olmes Garcia: Garcia netted five goals and four assists in his rookie year with RSL, but once Jason Kreis left the fold, Garcia’s production dropped. He played well against Philadelphia this year. Expect Kreis to consider drafting him for Orlando, much like Sandoval.


  1. I don’t think you are doing justice to Bonesaws impact in his brief time in Philly.

  2. I’m liking Klute here. A natural LB to back up Fabinho and get starts in Bethlehem.

  3. These sound a lot more like guys for Bethlehem. This team already has a backup target forward: CJ Sapong.

    • It is possible at this point that as many as five Academy boys might win starting jobs with the Steel. Too soon to have any real idea.
      RB, LB, DCM, LFM, ACM. Two of those are almost certainties. The next two I would say are likely. The fifth I classify as insufficient evidence. Teaching staff at YSC Academy seem to have have similar expectations of possibility.

  4. …crushed like a bug in the ground.
    Man as it happens here, if you lose your way with a first team- quite literally your career gets stuck in soccer limbo.
    People tell me all the time college college college and I understand, but if you have a player or kiddo that wants to be a pro- as of yet, seems to me a much safer bet, (recognizing the culture shock of course) to go abroad and play in a 2nd or 3rd tier league and see what comes of a career… who knows maybe promote up individually as is argued here or promote up with a club…
    Too many players get jettisoned from a team here and wind up in some strange land of -sorry- your first tier career is over and well- we have nothing yet to offer besides it that can actually earn you a living worthy of the untold thousands of dollars spent and thousands of hours spent developing a craft:: please ask My Dearly Departed as phenomenological evidence.
    I hope hope hope as the game grows– viable 3rd and 2nd tiers grow that can create a sustainable means to an end financial and professionally… which then brings me back to complete a circle of please see @Barroldinho1 (and others) for a legitimate growth story that could work and capitalize on the game stateside.

    • Dude, how many new handles do you have? Are you going to consolidate around one by the time the season starts? Should we have a PSP vote on which one we favor?

    • How many of those guys that play in 2nd or 3rd tier leagues end up having a career at the top levels? It sounds like you’re saying a kid should give up college for minor league baseball, even though 90% of minor leaguers never make it off the bus.
      So, when all these kids realize that they have no future in the first division of some European country the size of Delaware, what do they do with their lives? They had a chance to have someone pay for college for them, which would have given them a degree and a leg up when their careers washed out. Now, they’re just wash-outs because they were ill-advised.
      If you are ok sacrificing the future of a massive percentage of kids chasing that dream, then fine. But there is a logical human aspect that appears to be overlooked in the hopes that something happens to someone somewhere.

      • So a kid chasing a dream is a wash out… in order to have his college education and nice safe happy landing paid for… this is no argument- no worries sir- we’ve been around this c=bloc before to only realize…
        …you and I have to agree to stop discussing this- as I see your point of view. I’ve acquiesced with respect to it before.
        The commentary MY commentary—-is as much about US first tier players in the sea of Nowhere-Ness when their career goes astray for whatever reason as it relates to our growing game – as it is about having an amazing 12-15 year experience in a ‘country the size of Delaware’ chasing a dream… only to find out a you grew up and are just fine…and now have another challenge to face with the remainder of your ‘career’…
        Never at no point do you hear me say—- dream dream dream and everything will be fine… contingencies are just that- contingencies… just as important to discuss those possibilities.
        I guess Pragmatist it all depends on what one considers success doesn’t it… I suppose the worldliness that comes with taking an enormous risk and seeing life somewhere beyond the relative back door, trusting yourself and learning about the BIG BIG world can be considered an enormous success even if you play for an amazing 3rd tier club in France or England or Spain or Argentina- does it really matter if you never walk out holding a kids hand at Anfield?
        Guess what— I played it safe- am I’m damn sure gonna tell my kids and any player of mine with that look in his eye— its okay to choose not to play safe… go on! grip it and rip it!…….. shallow out your swing and blast a 6 iron 213 yards from a side hill bunker lie over a lake to the corner nestled hidden flag of the 72nd hole of the Canadian Open to 13 feet.

        “This is some guts right here.”

      • I’m all for experiences. And if you have the confidence that you can sacrifice a free education for that experience, and then begin a new life at 30, by all means, go ahead.
        My point is simply that the path you dream of for these kids simply doesn’t exist for most of them. And, unfortunately, the NCAA has ridiculous restrictions in place where players lose eligibility when they take a check. The best-case scenario would be to give the players a chance to go overseas, while maintaining their eligibility.
        If a player spends 3 years in the Norwegian 3rd division and realizes he will never progress higher, it would be nice if he could go back to Stanford and now accept the full ride they offered him when he was 18. Instead, the NCAA now punishes those players and prevents them from playing the sport they love, and they stick them with the full tuition bill.
        We could both see our points fulfilled with changes to the NCAA eligibility policies. But, I think we can both agree that this is not likely to happen any time soon…as much as it should.

      • I think the wish is for a second tier that could offer a viable career to a player, so he or she can make a decent living if unable to cut it at a first team somewhere.

      • Everyone wants that. but the first division doesn’t even offer that here for a lot of players yet.

      • And I understand that, and appreciate that. I just don’t see how that needs to be achieved at the expense of an education.
        Steve Neumann is a perfect example. A ton of promise, but now he’s struggling. The top two explanations are:
        1) he never found the right situation
        2) he’s simply not good enough
        If he’s simply not good enough, as much as it hurts the pride, he can still console himself with the fact that he has a degree from one of the most prestigious universities on the planet.
        As far as the “decent living” in a second tier, the minimum salary in MLS is about $52K/year. I’m guessing the lower-level guys are looking are around $30K. Honestly, if I was 23, I wouldn’t scoff at that for a couple of years. But expectations from a league at that financial level have to be tempered.
        I just think the odds of making it to the top are miniscule. It seems a bit ridiculous for us to tell kids to sacrifice their futures for a tiny chance at making it. Chances are, you know early on if you’re good enough. And if you are, teams will find you. It’s not like we’re hiding a generation of Ronaldos at UCLA, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame.

      • It’s a tough choice no matter what. One could argue that your chances of achieving a pro athlete dream are better if you pursue the sport before academics. There’s also no harm in going back to college later in your 20s. In fact, most people who do get much more out of it. I think the true student athlete is a real exception to the rule. for every Jordan Morris, there’s 100 guys who couldn’t manage both. Just look at how many guys go to college to play basketball. Why should they be in a college program? So many are awful students and even if they are, their athletic schedules conflict with their academic in a lot of real ways. I don’t know. These are big questions that aren’t easily answered.

      • Yeah, it’s not a perfect system, by any stretch.
        But sticking with the example, Georgetown is about $67K/year. That’s about $268K these kids were paid to go there. Or they can try to get accepted in their mid-20’s or later and have to pay for that themselves somehow.
        There are many stories of student/athletes who have no interest in the “student” part. But that should be their choice. If you have no interest in being a student, then go play. But if you are a good student and you are lucky enough to get a full ride, take advantage. You’re not killing your chances at the sport, but if you pass on the scholarship, you are digging a MASSIVE hole for yourself if it doesn’t work out (and it doesn’t for a vast majority).

  5. Lucky Striker says:

    There will be 2-3 new starters for this team at best/worst.

    CB…..#8 (temp) and if Blake leaves…..GK.

    Rest of offseason likely involving replacing Restrepo & Fernandes with: “better” Fernandes’ and Restrepo’s. Sapong will start until he dies.

    As such, MLS dumpster diving is a great place to start.

    • I wish I had your optimize I see the team bringing in maybe a winger (that will never be used), A backup striker that will never be used, and one CB that will not make it to first team minutes and will be relegated to steel. I hope that the team proves me seriously wrong and we get a new ST, 8, 6, CB and LB but I don’t see it happening. I’m talking starter quality players at each of these spots too.

    • I wish we would MLS dumpster dive. We USL dumpster dive and scratch our heads at why Ken Tribbett isn’t a match for Giovinco.
      I promise, pinky swear, you will all look back on fondness at the 2016 6th place finish on goal differential.

  6. Atomic Spartan says:

    Does anyone else get angina whenever they read things like “…an aggressive battler who…has never shown the ability to score regularly as a professional,… who seems like exactly the sort of player Jim Curtin likes?” Or am I alone?
    We need a finisher.

    • No, it’s like Sak collecting all the best goalkeeping talent. The battler’s jersey is all but on the rack in the team store.

    • Lucky Striker says:

      “we” do. Curtin doesn’t see it as a need. He values his target more in terms of pressing and setting up teammates.

      Be certain of this:
      If CJ had anything in the tank down the stretch a good number of those “late to the party/near misses” turn into open net tap-in’s-and the Union are openly laughing at your wish for a finisher.

      What the Union should be searching for are guys who play a similar style of game. Ol’ Jimbo be hard pressed to explain leaving those on the bench but for X-rays and breathalyzers.

      Houston can’t wait to be free of Will Bruin. Fans have nothing good to say about him so it seems. He’d help eat minutes here. I’d take him without blinking, but what do I know? Mgt. will no doubt hold out for a midget who will never see daylight.

  7. DAN…. point 1—mums the word, Stewart gives little away. Googling bedoya last week came up with early 2015 psp interview with Sak mentioning attempt to bring him here full year before it happened.
    As much as everyone hated him….did Sak make reporting easier with his eagerness to be in front of a Mic?
    Articles like above are pure speculation that in era of earnie seem improbable.
    .Unlikely you will ever anticipate Earnie despite how well thought out your writing may be.
    That is no slight on you. Merely commenting on his unpredictability. Rookie back line anyone?

  8. MLS is further behind on Union news than we are. We have known the roster moves MLS is just now December 21st reporting as from November 4th for over six weeks.
    My own gut says that the first domino point is the one that matters, because I’m not convinced they’ve got lots of room under the cap. I see one big move for a central midfielder and then lots of intensive domestic ones fill gaps.
    I would fear that Will Bruin might be too expensive for us.
    Remember as we all play capology that they’ve got to lock up Rosenberry while they can with a new deal. They did that with Williams and they did it with Gaddis.
    The new individual limit is $480,625 for a cap charge and there is an extra $400,000 of TAM. That’s one Ilsinho sized salary.
    Unless Earnie trades one or both of Ilsinho and Alberg back into European leagues, we don’t have lots of salary room for many acquisitions.

    • Lucky Striker says:

      Pereira only has one year left on his deal, and is in the process of getting his card. Don’t see him moving as practical at this point.

      Stewart already said Roland ain’t rollin’ back to Europe w/3 years left on the contract….but I remain hopeful that he’ll yet be dealt within the league. He doesn’t fit the formation, is cost certain and has demonstrated value.

      He and Blake remain the likely moves to free up cash, since the anchor that is Edu remains firmly wrapped around Earnie’s neck.

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