Offseason Issues

A chat about the 2017 Union, part 5

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 last few days, we’ve been sharing their latest ongoing conversation about Philadelphia Union’s off-season. To read the prior posts in this series:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
Peter Andrews:

That’s a very accurate summary of where things stand with the coaching staff, Dan. I think they know as well as we do that patience will be running thin if this team fails to cohere in 2017.

Does this team need to spend money on DPs? It needs more quality players on the roster, no question. (There’s no way a team built around a double pivot of Creavalle and Carroll will be in the MLS playoffs.) And the way to get quality at this stage of the year is to pay for it. Though there’s always some movement within MLS, the Union are essentially sitting out this year’s SuperDraft after trading their first-round pick last year. The Union will need to give something to get something.

Whether those acquisitions are “DPs” need to be in the budgetary sense, I don’t know. The Union need at least two midfielders and a striker. A striker that will make a difference will probably command DP money, but I’m not sure that they’ll need to spend that much to find an impact midfielder. (Vincent Nogueira, after all, was never a Designated Player.) Most likely, those will be players of the type that Earnie Stewart has favored over his career in the Netherlands: young, relatively cheap, and good fits for the system the team plays. (Make sure you check out our friend Kevin Kinkead’s series on AZ Alkmaar at PhillyVoice for more on this.)

I think that’s everything I have on the outfield players and the coaching staff. Who would have thought we could get through an entire week’s worth of roster analysis without touching on Fabinho, eh?

My last question for you has to do with Andre Blake. In his first season as the Union’s full-time starter, Blake earned Goalkeeper of the Year honors, started the All-Star Game against Arsenal, and saved point after point behind a leaky defense. So, not a bad start. Blake has already attracted some attention from overseas, and might be able to fetch the Union a (relatively) handsome transfer fee. That could, of course, finance some other player signings, but it would leave the Union short their most special player. And the Union would need another keeper — John McCarthy is a fine backup but not a player who should be an MLS starter.

So, what would you do about Andre? Is it time to sell him in order to improve the rest of the squad? Or do you enter the new season comfortable in the knowledge that the Union are 100% set between the pipes?

(Actually, I have one actual last question. The Union will get a new change kit this season, ditching the bland-as-hell white strips they’ve been wearing on the road for the last two years. Any thoughts on what color it should be? Personally I think we’re overdue for a light-blue and yellow look.)

Dan Walsh:

What you do with Andre Blake goes to the same thing you do with every player: If you get an offer that significantly exceeds his value and you can adequately replace him, you sell.

That said, you better have a quality starter waiting in the wings, and, like you said, John McCarthy is not (yet) that guy.

That’s Moneyball, the game the Union are playing and the game every MLS club needs to play due to the league’s salary budget/cap limits. The Union talk more openly about that most clubs, because Earnie Stewart is a believer and probably because we (I?) have advocated it so much here at The Philly Soccer Page that we’ve established a media environment in which the Union comfortable discussing it without getting blowback.

However, as I’ve written before, there’s a big difference between playing Moneyball and just being cheap.

The Union need to build a winning team now if they want to maintain fan interest in the club. Otherwise, they run the risk of going the way of teams like Dallas, who have produced one of the most exciting teams in the league but still can’t fill their stadium due to too many years of established fan apathy and the decentralized location of Frisco, Tex.

So yes, it’s time for the Union to drop money on the maximum number of DPs. No, you don’t just spend money to spend money, but there need to be three players on the roster who are worth that higher salary if you want to compete for a title. Ideally, you get them for less than they’re worth too.

Like so, I’d like to see Blake between the sticks for the Union. Blake is a foundation for a winning team. Plus, he may have the shot-stopping ability to play at a big club in Europe, but his distribution needs to improve if he is to play well at that level.

The fan base’s patience for incremental measures has expired. This is year 8. Let’s go already. There’s nothing wrong with the Union signing a little known Dutch left back who is the right age and pedigree to be a good MLS player. But there is something wrong if the Union don’t spend what’s necessary to improve the center midfield and striker positions to the point where this team can compete for an MLS Cup all year.

That’s where we’re at.

I’m cool with the white uniforms — I like them, actually — and I’m cool with the sustainable, long-term strategy. I like building the academy, and I’m a big fan of the Bethlehem Steel initiative.

But no more living on the cheap. We understand the financial parameters, and we’re tired of hearing about them. (And never again have Bethlehem Steel dump their key veterans mid-season if you want fans in the Lehigh Valley to keep coming out to games.)

Jay Sugarman needs to take a seat at the big kids’ table and spend what is required for a modern MLS club, or he needs to sell the club.

The Union stepped up their game big time when they brought in Earnie Stewart. But that was just one step.

Now it’s time to win.

19 Comments

  1. Just.Play.Well.
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    THIS is my Union slogan T shirt.
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    Right next to-
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    In Earnie We…Trust- The Process.

  2. A effing men
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    Im in 100% agreement with Peter an 98% with Dan (the white unis time has come and gone).

  3. As you guys pointed out, Blake’s distribution will keep him here for at least another year. Otherwise, he’d be moving to sit on a bench.
    .
    On a related note, if he was to be sold, I was perfectly fine with Brian Sylvestre. His distribution was just as weak as every other keeper we’ve ever had, except Mondragon, but he was confident and worked well with the back line. JM scares me…he plays panicked. That needs to get fixed, and I don’t know if it can.
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    Oh well…hopefully we won’t have to get to that part of the discussion.

    • There were a few MLS veteran keepers that hit the waiver wire or were exposed, would rather get a Steve Clark than a Brian Sylvestre.
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      As for Blake’s development elsewhere, once he’s sold, I’m no longer invested in his development.

      • pragmatist says:

        I hear ya on the Clark point. I just thought that as we were going through goalkeeper hell, Sylvestre came in and did a better than average job. And I would take him over McCarthy every day of the week.
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        But at the end of the day, GK is the one position we shouldn’t have to worry about. We grow GK’s on trees in this country. It shouldn’t be difficult to find one who is sufficient.
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        The point about Blake is that he earned us somewhere around 10 points last year, and that is something that doesn’t come around often.
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        When he is sold, I’ll follow him. But kinda like tracking players from your college in the pros. Not too much invested, but it puts a smile on your face when they do well.

    • I can’t bring myself to say a guy has NO chance to develop, but right now McCarthy is so VERY far from being an acceptable GK, even as a backup. He simply hasn’t shown any flow or instinct for where the ball is going, and his distribution is abysmal.
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      With a possible FOUR key guys all doing int’l duty stints and missing between 2-8 games each during the season, depth (most glaringly at GK) is going to be a huge issue for this team.

      • I agree with the pragmatist on Sylvestre v. McCarthy (and twice on Sunday).
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        Jones looked decent in the one game we got to see him, but he had a lot of personal entanglements last season and soccer wasn’t his priority.
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        I also agree that the U should be able to find a solid backup without a lot of trouble. My issue is that it doesn’t appear, in the last 18 months, they think they need to.
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        My opinion is, backup GK will cost the team a minimum 2-3 games this season, and with far more certainty than any other area of need.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        I am assuming Bedoya plays the #10, ACM.
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        THE SINGLE GREATEST need AS OF THIS MOMENT IS # 8, box-to-box central midfielder.
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        If my assumption is wrong and Bedoya is not playing #10 but #8, then it is a # 10.

  4. I really think Union fans have every right to demand more in terms of player contracts, etc. This is a big city very much in a “hotbed” of youth soccer between southern NJ and all of SE PA. It’s time to play to win, not manage mediocrity. Union should be the Liverpool of MLS — always competing for a top finish.

    • Liverpool (in the Premier League era – 1992-Present ) have only finished in 2nd place in the table three times: 01/02, 08/09, 13/14 They are much like Arsenal the very essence of mediocrity as far as close but no cigar, but unlike Arsenal, Liverpool hasn’t been able to sustain Champions League places like Arsenal have over the Premier League era. The Union (Academy wise) should be modelling themselves after La Masia, Southampton, West Ham, or Man United. Liverpool are now starting to become very good again, but that’s due more to the fact they have an effective manager over a year in and has stamped his philosophy on them and getting results. If I had to pick a Premier League team for the Union to model themselves going forward (for all of the Defense first babble JC has flouted over these past seasons) would be Conte’s Chelsea (though it burns me to the core to say it). Conte’s Chelsea have all the right parts moving in all the right directions. So defensively sound, yet dynamic and not strangling or stagnant when going forward. They have such bite when going on the offensive, but can transition defensively without any deterioration. If the Union could play that solidly in the back, and have even 1/2 the bite going forward I think we could see some great football this season. Lets see what this roster looks like come March. ** By no means do I think JC can even hold Conte’s jock-strap, I am just saying when JC talks about defense first maybe he should be studying what Chelsea has been doing thus far in the Premier League for some pointers and how to actually game manage, change shape effectively if the starting system isn’t getting results…..I feel that is a tall order, but we can wish in one hand and shit in the other to see which fills up first!

      • I’d pick Chelsea, too, but I was trying to be somewhat realistic. Ha. … I think
        Liverpool in the sense of smaller, scrappy city with a storied football club. And, regardless of results, it’s intentions are to compete.

      • I Am Citizen Insane says:

        Chelsea is Kante and Conte ~ totally unique yet one in the same.

      • Southampton for the Academy.

        To emulate Conte’s system, you also need to have the players at the different levels to do so. Kante and Matic feeding Hazard and Costa isn’t a bad option.

        Mo is in the plans this season as the #6. As is Davies, Simpson. and a couple others as the #9. If Ale can nail down that #10 role, we could be onto something here…Pontius and Fabian will be stalwarts at the 11 and 7.

        Expecting good things in the back from Year 2 of Blake, Yaro, Richie, Keegan, and Fabi/Dutch Dude.

  5. Kudos Gentlemen! There is no way for the Union to sustain in a conference of (almost to a team) big hitters and difference makers. From day one I’ve been on a campaign emphasizing that the Columbus model was good for Columbus but not for Philadelphia. Market size and location make it IMO, impossible… if it’s about winning. The ownership of the Union must be commended for getting the team here. But the way MLS is trending(particularly in the east) it’s a bad idea for Philadelphia to opperated as a 2nd rate out post. By that I mean not being financially competitive with NYC,NYR,TOR,MTL,DC,ATL,ORL,and eventually MIA. As they are currently owned the Union can’t outspend. But, they still need to be competitive. CHI,Columbus,and NE aren’t going to sit pat either. Enter Earnie Stewart and the signing of Bedoya as a start. But it’s just a start. The Union got exposed very badly over the course of the 2nd half of the season. To me it proved that what Jim Curtin was trying to do (along with his coaching and injuries) with the players he had is not sustainable. They need what every team needs and that is difference makers as well as developing a top academy and building up your affiliates. That means spending money on quality DP’s and quality MLS players. The depth Curtin bragged about was not real depth that even he could trust to be difference makers. Having Noguiera wouldn’t have changed the outcome IMO. Teams would have still adjusted to what the Union were having early success with. Possibly if Edu was healthy and was the player we still hope he can be along with Bedoya and Barnetta they wouldn’t have to rely on backing into the playoffs. But the Union didn’t have that killer difference maker. Hopefully the Union machine is in the process of getting what they need. If they don’t heaven help them because I doubt the fan base will put up with much more.

    • Close up shop fellas. We can’t compete. It’s over. Those big salaries in NYR/DC/MTL we will never match. Plus how could we ever place better than ORL?
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      Why be so negative? The red bulls won the conference last year with the same payroll as us.

    • OK…. Keeping an open mind. Not blown away, but I’m keeping an open mind. Right side of 30, good academy pedigree and PL expereince.. .. Hope he turns out to be a BWP

    • Oh, eh, cool.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      First thought – Really? Sigh…
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      Next thought – Really, though?
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      Final thought – 🙁
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      This is where the IN ES WE TRUST comes into play… like HARDCORE

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