Offseason Issues

A chat about the 2017 Union: Part 3

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: PSP writers Peter Andrews and Dan Walsh get along. They both like soccer. They also disagree a lot. We figured some of those email conversations might make for interesting reading. If not, at least Peter is witty enough to make us laugh. Over the next few days, we’ll share their latest ongoing conversation about Philadelphia Union’s off-season.

Peter Andrews:

I find your lack of faith in Roland Alberg disturbing, Dan. My last point on this: if, as you say, he doesn’t fill a role in the very specific formation that the Union intend to play, why did Earnie Stewart sign him at all? The Union, one hopes, have a scout or two who would have said something if he was not a fit for the system.

There are, as I see it, three possibilities:

  1. Earnie Stewart did not accurately scout Alberg before signing him, and Alberg’s talents would never fit into the 4-2-3-1.
  2. Jim Curtin is not a sufficiently adept coach to maximize Alberg’s talents within the 4-2-3-1.
  3. Due to a combination of suspensions, squad depth, and a transatlantic move, Alberg never had a proper opportunity to find his groove in the 4-2-3-1.

My argument is that (2) and (3) are much more likely to be true than (1) is, which suggests that Alberg deserves more time to fit into the team. And that matters because I’m not convinced that Alejandro Bedoya is going to be (or should be) the Union’s No. 10 — at least, not in the same way that Cristian Maidana or Tranquillo Barnetta locked down that role.

Bedoya has not regularly played as a CAM anywhere in his career. Certainly that’s not where he played at Nantes, with the USMNT, or in Philly last year. You’re absolutely right that he’s best as a glue guy, and can play off the right wing. I also don’t think he’s most effective as a No. 8, though he gives you tremendous value covering there.

So maybe the best option is to go piecemeal at the two attacking positions up for grabs. The Union have 180 minutes per game to give to a No. 10 and a right winger. Start Alberg at CAM when he’s hot, or Ilsinho or Herbers on the wing when the matchup dictates it, and plug Bedoya into the other open spot. You’ve got the flexibility to attack different teams in different ways while getting your best players on the pitch.

Depth has been such a weakness for this team for so long, and now the Union finally have it. They should use it. You observe, correctly, that trying new personnel combinations presented a severe challenge for the Union in 2016. I don’t know whether the coaching staff is able to coach a team that utilizes its depth and individual personnel to attack different opponents. But they need to try, because a team that only plays 14 guys, each of them only in one position, is never going to win MLS Cup. (In case it’s not clear, I think this is really a make-or-break season for Jim Curtin. We can certainly discuss that in due time.)

As for the rest of the midfield, you have to figure out where Bedoya goes first, and then build the squad from there. The next steps look totally different if you put him at the 10/wing or at the 8. Assuming, as I have above, that you slot him in at the 10, the number one signing this January must be a box-to-box midfielder. I don’t care who it is specifically. But there’s no reliable player on the roster with that skillset whose talents are not best used elsewhere on the pitch.

As for the 6: I think you try to upgrade there, but it’s not as big of a priority. You can get a season out of a Carroll/Creavalle platoon there if it comes to it. Maurice Edu, unfortunately, cannot be considered part of the plans at this point. His injury history is too checkered to rely on him this season. If he gets healthy, he’s a tremendous bonus piece — more talent is never a bad thing. But for 2017 he’s just a shiny coat of paint on the building, not part of the foundation.

That’s a lot of talking. Here’s my proposed midfield depth chart:

Pontius (Ayuk) — Bedoya (Alberg) — Ilsinho (Herbers) (Bedoya)

New No. 8 Signing (Bedoya) (Jones) (Edu??) — Creavalle (Carroll) (Edu??)

Am I nuts? (If so, how?) How would you put together the 6-8 positions? And (note the extremely obvious segue), is it irresponsible to talk about the No. 6 position without figuring out who the heck is going to play center back?

Dan Walsh:

Are you nuts? Well, you have your moments. Not many of them, but you do have them.

The Union probably already have their starting center backs for 2016. Meet … the same guys as last year.

And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.

As Adam Cann smartly pointed out recently, do you jump ship on the young guys in year 2 after suffering through all the pain you knew you’d experience in year 1? I think not. Take away the Toronto games, and Ken Tribbett looks like a good young center back. Take away aerial duels, and Josh Yaro looks pretty good too. Give each more experience at the MLS level, and maybe, like every quality player, they learn to compensate for their failings. Tribbett learns to take smarter angles to compensate for his lack of top line speed. Yaro learns the dark arts — or how to play defensive midfield — to compensate for his lack of height. And maybe one of them develops into a top center back.

Could they sign a veteran center back? Sure. There’s been talk of that, and they certainly need to add a fourth center back to the roster. But I don’t expect them to dump serious money on a starter there.

As for Alberg and Bedoya —

I think they’re going to treat Bedoya the same way they did Barnetta. After a couple of knee surgeries, Barnetta wasn’t the same quick winger he was as a young player, but he made an excellent No. 10. At 29, Bedoya isn’t getting younger either. Could he play on the right wing? Absolutely. All we know is he’ll play somewhere, and I can’t really make an argument for where he should play because it depends entirely on who the Union can add to the roster.

As for Alberg, I think Earnie Stewart signed him for a simple reason: The guy has talent, and Stewart was willing to bet that Alberg would sufficiently mature to make good on it. So I agree with your assessment, that points 2 and/or 3 are more likely to be true than point 1. The thing is that Alberg has been through this with other clubs before. Curtin may not be the guy to get the best out of him, but who has so far?

Either way, Herbers has to see the field regularly, and if Alberg and Bedoya are starting at two of the three attacking spots, then Herbers is a rotation guy at best. That’s not good enough. He needs 2,500 minutes next year, and he’s earned it.

But let’s get back to Curtin. You think this is a make-or-break season for him, and I agree.

Do you think he’s capable of taking the next step as a manager? Or, to put it more simply, does he have what it takes to take the Union to an MLS Cup? Would you have retained him after last season?

34 Comments

  1. I want to believe that Alberg has something provide because cannons make for fireworks, but I think Dan’s got some points about the guy.

    I do see Alejandro as our number 8. He works hard, he tracks up and back, connnects passes. As a 10, he’s a little disappointing. I always think of the 10 as the guy who entertains us with his soccer and Bedoya doesn’t really have highlight reel skills on the regular.

    The question that emerges from this dialogue is this: Can Curtin take this current motley band and make them a tribe of kings? It is his job but it’s not an easy one.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      May I reference Bedoya’s chip against Toronto in Toronto? The has made highlight reels.
      .
      And in general, the departed national team coach was playing him at the #10 in fall against Caribbean minnows last year. Kleijstan subbed him off before the tour de force with Pulisic on the cricket ground, wherever that was.
      .
      My own guess for the miniscule worth that it has, is that he is the #10 because he will do the defensive work the high press high line counterattacking system requires.

  2. What is the absolute latest on Edu’s recovery? Anybody?
    edit: on the 4th of Dec. he IG’d a pic of the leg cast saying “counting down the days.”

  3. #2 is where all of this circles back to, if Curtin can’t get the best out of this formation, this group of players, then he’s not the guy. It’s like poker, the best hand doesn’t always win. Aces lose. You make the best of what you’re dealt.
    .
    I looked on the certificate fluff piecesas “well, good, Jimmy’s resume got updated.”

    • You could also look at it this way: How many coaches in MLS could do better with the roster he’s been dealt? More than 5?
      .
      I’m not saying that Jim’s going to take Pep’s job when he steps down at City, but it’s not like Jim’s been handed a band of all-stars during his tenure.

      • Arena / Mastroeni / Pareja / Schmid / Schmetzer / Vermes / Marsch / Viera / Bielo / Vanney / Kreis / Cassar
        .
        Probably – Heaps. Porter / Berhalter

        .
        Samesies – Olsen / Pauno / Robinson / Cabrera/ Kinnear / Onalfo /

        .
        I guess a shorter list would’ve been – who can you name that he’s a better coach than?

      • Arena’s not in MLS. 😉
        .
        You have 10 on the “definitely” list, which might be a bit high. But even if it’s accurate, you’re saying that less than half of the coaches in the league could coax more of this roster. That should tell you where Curtin sits in the league.
        .
        Again, he’s not The Special One, but he’s not an abomination, like he seems to be treated around here, either. He’s an average coach in his 3rd season.
        .
        On top of that, is there someone that we would be able to get that would be better? Maybe Sigi. That’s about it. Otherwise, you get an old MLS retread.
        .
        Maybe give the guy a year of a consistent roster, without losing his single, most important player in the middle of the season, and then we can see what he can do.

      • I’ve come to the same conclusion about Curtin. He’s middle of the pack at best. I was willing to give Curtin the benefit of the doubt his first season about the roster and with it’s lack of depth and quality. As for last year, he had upgrades and some depth. He choose not to use them. I understand Restrepo and Fernandes and CO. weren’t felt to be up to snuff. But one or more of them could have played during that 2 month plus swoon.
        .
        I think this team needs better. Where and from whom does this come from? Not my job. Stewart gets the big bucks for a reason. I also think a MLS retread would not suffice.

      • Sigi was so great this year when he lost his star players. Vanney couldn’t do crap with star players before this year. I just don’t know how you can say without a doubt even half of those guys could do better. maybe you probably list should have been the long one but honestly who knows?

      • I guess you could cherry pick the most recent results if you’d like. Sigi got fired. Arena didn’t win the cup. But, these are guys who have won, which is something Curtin never has. His single greates attribute is still he’s probably the lowest paid coach in MLS.
        .
        Am I unfair on Curtin? Maybe. What was more unfair was putting someone so obviously not ready in the seat. I am just floored by the willingness to accept mediocrity from the Union. This fanbase is so ready to offer excuses of why we can’t win that last year’s 13th will feel like the glory days. .
        Demand better. Do it today.

      • I’m not really disagreeing totally, just saying it’s really hard to say these coaches who have the best rosters in the league could manage a team that didn’t have as much talent.

      • pragmatist says:

        I’m actually gun-shy about the organization’s hiring history. I hate the idea of simply “fire this guy” without having some idea of what is next in line. With our luck, we’ll get someone who is even worse.
        .
        But if there is someone in mind who will be better, then yes, you always make that move.

      • Good list. I’d knock Cassar off it though. Maybe Schmid too.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        I’d remove Marsch on grounds of superior talent.
        .
        Sparky Anderson of the Big Red Machine always pointed out that the lineup he had was pretty easy to win with, if anyone else is old enough to remember him.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        He hasn’t won though. Lost twice in the playoffs now with a favored team. Montreal didn’t think they had much to worry about when they played them.

  4. Definitely agree this season is make or break for Curtin. He’s gotta get this team into the top 5 (or 6) and keep it there, or we need someone else.

    • I agree, but I’m always worried about the “someone else.” It’s not like MLS is a breeding ground for world-class coaches.

  5. Dan I’d argue Derrick Jones needs 2,500 minutes before Fabian Herbers.
    .
    .
    Regarding safety of the manager. I’d feel much better if what I heard from the SD this time or so last year was this is how we are going to play… make it happen- maybe behind closed doors this is the case but if cohesion of vision philosophy and plan is the goal.. i want that cohesion coming from the guy who has played all over the world, played for the NT and has built teams (clubs) successfully before.
    .
    This always seems to be my jumping off point and area of hesitation with the language being used.

    • by the way… that’s cohesion of vision philosophy and plan across the entire organization from 6 year olds to Futures, Juniors, Academy, Steel and First Team… seems this entire thing is being built around how Jim Curtin wants the team to play and that scares the mighty hell out of me… cause what if he’s not the guy and gets shit canned… is the next guy going to come in and dictate terms to the Philadelphia Way (whatever the [email protected]#* that means). I Am Citizen Insane.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        you have understood clearly and precisely what the sporting director said when he spoke on the point this time last year, roughly.
        .
        By the by, such clarity and precision of understanding does contradict a claim of insanity, it seems to me.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        What happens if Ernie leaves? I thought the first conversion they had said it all. Now it’s the beginning of year two and Ernie is starting to add more pieces.

    • If Jones wasn’t able to outshine Warren Creavalle after the call up in training (and is there more of a “he trained well this week so he plays” coach than JC?) last season, the thought of penciling him in now is terrifying.

      • I Am Citizen Insane says:

        Respectfully disagree completely…
        .
        … if Bedoya is on field and Maurice Edu is on field and Chris Pontius is on field~ Derrick Jones will have plenty of veteran leadership for his baptism. Once again you can either play or not.
        .
        IMO it is truly that simple.

      • I disagree to agree

    • We’ll revisit that 2500 number in tomorrow’s piece. 😉

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Jonesy needs 2,500 minutes.
        .
        I have every confidence he will get them.
        .
        I strongly suspect he will get them in the beginning of the season on the pitch at Goodman at Lehigh. He will do so until he proves he can maintain possession against and then can beat double teams.
        .
        He will first have to prove that against his teammates in practice, who incidentally are MLSers not USLers.
        .
        He will figure it out sooner or later. I would expect it might be priority one in his Individual Development Plan for 2017.
        .
        Then he has to debut. Probably he will not debut as a starter. If he does well in his debut, a start might not be far behind if the opponent is right, both team and individual matchup.
        .
        WE should hope to see all this unfold his year, touch wood.
        .
        They do try to not set up their kids to fail. They want to realize both the dollars and the sweat equity of their investment in him.
        .
        if all goes well in the future, he will be sold on for a high price, and be replaced by the next player in the queue.
        .
        Our brief is to enjoy while they are here and we can.

  6. Alberg and illsinho forever

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    I know this has been talked about before MULTIPLE times… but is it so far fetched that Yaro could transform into a #6? You sign a CB and Marquez is the other. Edu and Yaro are your back up at CB? I don’t know… it’s not the best idea, but I just see Yaro, with the head injuries, lack of height, very good distribution ability, and an already defensive oriented mind… as a perfect #6

    • I been for this since they drafted him. Big Jim says no. He sees him as a center back.
      .
      The concussions are also a big concern for me and I think the move to DM would offer some protection. What is more important would be his speed in the mid. I fancy Yaro becoming our own Kante running around snuffing out fires before they even smolder.
      .
      I’m afraid they are just dreams though. Now where’s EA’s FIFA 17…

    • Not far-fetched at all. I agree with you. Let’s see how he does in year 2.

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