A View from Afar

The Union go bottom-feeding, but did they find a gem?

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Perhaps you feel underwhelmed.

The big name striker to be signed by Philadelphia Union is … a guy who spent the last two-plus seasons playing in England’s fourth division. And before that, an unimpressive half season in Thailand. And the Union probably paid a transfer fee to acquire him, considering his English contract hadn’t yet expired. This for a guy you’ve never heard of.

Look a little closer though. The Union have unearthed in Jay Simpson an intriguing player who could flourish in MLS.

In 2008, League 1 fans voted the Arsenal youth product as the league’s player of the year during his first professional season. He spent most of the next five years as a regular in England’s second division, including a year in the Premier League, before making an ill-advised move to Thailand for the highest salary ever in Thai Premier League history. It didn’t work out. He limped back to England to join Leyton Orient and spent a season bouncing between striker and the wings while the club ran through four managers and got relegated.

Then last season happened.

Given the opportunity to start regularly as a striker, Simpson scored 22 goals in his first 29 games in League 2.

That spree ended after Leyton Orient replaced their manager in January 2016 with former EPL stalwart Kevin Nolan, who joined as a player-manager. Once Nolan took on a starting attacking midfield role behind Simpson in addition to his managerial duties, Simpson’s scoring prowess cratered. He scored just three more goals the rest of the year and asked for a transfer. He finally got it after a non-productive first half of the English season, with Leyton Orient staring at relegation again.

League 2 isn’t exactly MLS quality, and paying a transfer fee for a marginalized League 2 player raises some questions, notably how much was paid and whether this is really the level of player on whom the Union want to spend their transfer allocation money (TAM).

But 22 goals in 29 games is quite a strike rate. The only thing that will matter is how Simpson produces in MLS.

Some have made comparisons between Simpson and New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, a former EPL washout and League 1 standout who blossomed in MLS. Like Simpson, Wright-Phillips was also a regular in England’s second division, but he produced his best seasons in England in League 1.

With Simpson’s arrival, it seems fair to say that fans’ hopes for a big-name striker signing have been dashed. With Simpson, C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies under contract, the Union are unlikely to sign another striker. Simpson can play on the wings, but the Union have some quality players there already.

Now, will the Union instead drop substantial money on a midfield signing? If they don’t, this off-season may be a disappointment for many Union fans. The Union have a couple weeks before training camp to add new faces, and the day of the MLS SuperDraft is often a big day for player movement even aside from the amateurs turning pro. Still, the Union are not exactly a team with a track record of adding big names.

The acquisitions of Simpson and left back Giliano Wijnaldum are more in line with what you should expect: Players with experience in quality leagues but who have flown beneath the radar for one reason or another.

Wijnaldum spent three seasons as a regular contributor in the Dutch first division, and Union sporting director Earnie Stewart knows him well from their time together at AZ Alkmaar. But Wijnaldum has had trouble breaking through as a regular starter, and if he wins and keeps the starting left back job in Philadelphia, it’ll be his first time as a pro.

You know how soccer is though. A player who is a bad fit with one club can be a perfect with another. Maybe all these guys need is the right opportunity. Statistics do not necessarily equal talent, particularly in soccer, where overlooked gems can be found in all sorts of places.


  1. this is what you get, when you mess with us.
    -not gonna lie- find the title a bit off putting.
    Otherwise, spot on.

  2. The problem is that see headlines like ManU and Man City are planning a bid for Kyle Walker and Danny Rose together. These are the types of rumors that fly in other leagues.
    Here, we are relegated to diving into research about the players being mentioned. This doesn’t mean they are not quality players, but we (as a league) pull in many unknowns. And we (as a team) don’t have many known quantities to rely upon.
    I’d love to see a high-quality midfielder added to provide service to Simpson and CJ. Being similar players, to some degree, they can platoon, preventing the 2nd half swoons that both experienced. Both dealt with roster changes and likely exhaustion.
    But I really just want to get these guys to camp and see what we have. Hopefully we add more quality to the roster. But I’m just getting antsy to see what we have, and to get Bedoya and Mo a full healthy offseason, as well as work in the new guys.

    • TBH, I know very little of almost anyone other MLS clubs are signing. I recognize some of the Saprissa players from stints served in CONCACAF games against the US in WC Qualifiers, but that’s it. Every other club is signing Latvians and Estonians from oddball leagues in Eastern Europe. MLS is not going to be the future home of Chicharito and I doubt very much even Schweinsteiger’s going to take a retirement deal with Chicago. Personally, I’d like to see us looking more towards South America for talent, but let’s see how well Stewart can do in the lower divisions of Europe.

      • MLS has been mining South America for a while now. I like this approach of looking towards the lower levels of Europe for some players. I posted yesterday that Dele Alli was playing for MK Dons 18 months ago. Now he’s being mentioned as the biggest Summer Transfer to Real Madrid.
        It comes down to scouting, and putting the player in the correct environment to succeed. I have NO idea if that is how this will turn out with either of our signings, but you can point to transfers as more of an art than a science.
        Every year, there are bombs that cost $30M+, and there are success stories that cost <$5M. You need quality scouts…and a ton of luck.

      • I agree. I think a lot of people worried about this signing underrate lower divisions in England and overrate MLS. I think average MLS is probably about League One. Best MLS Teams might be mid table Championship on a good day.

        What could be good by a pragmatic approach is that you end up with better consistent quality across all positions, rather than blowing your cash reserves on one guy. That strategy can work a bit in the NBA but not on a football pitch where you can bring a guy like Kaka in and you still have a team that can’t succeed. I think it might be better to have 4 $300,000ish players than 1 guy for 1.2. Would be great to have all 5, but there are these goofy money rules in this league.

      • +1. And I don’t think there’s a huge difference between League 1 and League 2 honestly.

  3. He never put in a formal transfer request.
    And as far as a transfer fee, I believe he was in the last 6 months of his deal. Clearly wanting to move on and without hope of resigning him, I imagine the Union got him at a pretty good bargain.

  4. 2017 goal be more optimistic-
    Maybe this means they will hold onto Andrew Blake!
    At least it wasn’t Rob Green!
    I’m sure PPL field is now fully recovered from all the lacrosse and rugby games

    • I hope it’s recovered from that loser ass, minor league “metal” concert, ’cause that’s how Mo broke his leg again (catchin’ the seam of a turf repair).

  5. I mentioned this yesterday, but I think it is worth repeating: the Union are trying to succeed in MLS 2.0 despite the fact that the rest of the league has graduated to MLS 3.0.
    This team is destined for continued mediocrity until Sugarman sells the franchise to Graham. Unless the Union make a splash for a DP midfielder, this off season was a complete and utter failure. I’ve waited 7 years. I’m not waiting longer and hoping that we become FC Dallas. Without an unparalleled youth system, the only way to succeed in this league is to go the DP route and Sugarman is not willing to spend that type of cash.

    • It takes time to develop an “unparalleled youth system” It took FCD some time to start developing their own players, but it seems like you have your mind made up. Sorry to see you leave the ranks of Union supporters, but best of luck to you.

      • He’s not going anywhere lol

      • You are correct, sir.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        Truthfully I think he’s finally arrived as a true “PHILADELPHIA” Union fan. The Honeymoon is over.

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        I’m not sure what made you think I’m leaving after I’ve stuck around for the past 7 years.
        Regardless, I think we agree on one thing: building an FCD-esque youth system takes a significant amount of time and talent.
        In the time it took FCD to reap the rewards of their patience, they lost all of their fans. Even in cup finals, that stadium is less than 40% filled.
        You may not agree with my frustrations, but it is a common thread among the Union fan base given the last 7 years. They need to either: (1) start winning; or (2) start showing some ambition. If they do not do one of those, the downward spiral of attendance is going to continue.

      • It was this part that made me think that:

        “I’ve waited 7 years. I’m not waiting longer and hoping that we become FC Dallas.”

        You should stick around. I’ve been a STH from Day 1 and glad that I’ve stuck it out. Stewart didn’t take this job and not expect to succeed. He’s a smart and very serious man who wants to do something special here.

        All that I know is that I wouldn’t bet against him being successful.

      • Me too. Slight misinterpretation.
        Dallas also suffers from other circumstances, such as the prevalence and preference of Liga MX among their fan base. I think it’s unfair to compare the two clubs when one has had twenty years to develop [and destroy] support. The initial years of that club, admittedly in the earliest MLS years, were actually successful. The Union, however, started strong, nosedived, and have skipped along the lesser half of the table for almost our entire existence. This season could have been great but we lost a keystone, our goalscorer couldn’t execute, and a franchise player suffered two unlucky injuries.
        It’s been seven years but we’re finding our feet. We won’t be sliding Aaron Wheeler from CB to ST in this upcoming season. Freddy Adu won’t be in the gameday eighteen. There will be no shiesty Algerian goalkeepers.
        Truth be told I’m more disappointed in Curtin’s unwillingness to alter his gameplan after Noggy left and CJ went weeks without scoring than I am with the underwhelming signing. I have expected this team to be an underdog who makes those signings but underdogs also have to find ways to win. Jim failed in that respect in the second half of last season.

      • Dallas sports fans also suck. A point which should not be overlooked.

    • Red Bulls and Dallas won the conferences and they have the same salary as us. Colorado came in second in the tough west and the difference in salary between us and them is 1 Tim Howard. Please get over MLS 3.0. It is clearly still MLS 2.0 and unless more DP slots are added it’s going to stay that way. MLS is setup to create lots of competition. You have every right to think the Union should be better or whatever, but the league isn’t passing them by.

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        Respectfully, I believe the past year has demonstrated that it is a new ball game. TOR, SEA, POR, LA, NYC, ORL, ATL, CHI, RSL, COL, etc. have gone out and spent millions to acquire and pay players. Coupled with added TAM, the definition of a DP has effectively changed for most MLS squads. Someone making $750k (Edu) is no longer a DP – their salary is paid down to make room for someone making millions. In the past two transfer windows, we’ve seen a combined $30 mil + spent to acquire players. We might have the same number of DPs, but the financial game has changed. And, in that sense, the Union are being left in the dust.

      • Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of the lower salary teams keep on winning conferences. Just because they are spending money doesn’t mean they are getting better. The Union are spending more money now too. It’s not like they are sitting on their hands. It’s not like they are done making moves this offseason, there are a bunch of roster spots to fill still.

      • Toronto made MLS Cup because they have three DPs, and spent to upgrade their defense in the 2015-16 offseason. Seattle won MLS Cup because a talented team went out and signed Lodeiro. I don’t see the Union ever making similar moves under current ownership.

        There is no Diaz on the Union roster, and you are praying as a Union fan that Bedoya/Simpson become Kljestan/BWP. Good luck.

        The rules of the game have changed and the Union are not adapting. Your two best field players left the club in 2016. Who is replacing them?

    • I’m not sure that Graham will be the savior you think. He’s already a minority shareholder. It’s not like they can’t dump money into the team. He definitely has a good head on his shoulders, but it’s not like he has Arthur Blank money.

  6. Here’s to hoping that we bring on many more quality players.

  7. Richie The Limey says:

    “League 2 isn’t exactly MLS quality” – speaking as someone who has actually watched a TON of League 2 football (have you, Dan?) as well as MLS I think they are actually at about the same level. If you sprinkled in ‘DP’ players to League 2 it would be EXACTLY like MLS standard. There is no way that the likes of Ken Tribbett, Michael Lahoud, Leo Fernandes, Garfan, Danny Cruz, etc. would ever get a game in League 2.

    • You got me, Richey. I haven’t watched a ton of League 2. Because it’s a 4th division league.

      I have, however, watched my share of the Championship and Premier League, and I think it’s fair to say that most MLS clubs are at the Championship level. So we disagree on this. Danny Cruz got games in Norway’s first division. Do you think League 2 is better?

      • Richie the Limey says:

        League 2 is actually a really high standard nowadays and it does bother me some when folk say it is a lower league when they haven’t even watched any. It’s not just the individual skill of the players but also how organized they are combined with their knowledge of how to play the game – the mental side is like a thousand percent higher than most MLS teams ESPECIALLY defenders. There are lots of high quality players in that league who would walk in to any MLS squad if they had a trial. It is definitely better than Norway’s 1st division. TBH if a Championship team really tried their best in a truly competitive game they would batter any MLS team by five goals or more, I am sure of that. This past weekend Saw Plymouth and Cambridge play really well against Liverpool and Leeds respectively. If you watched the Plymouth game you can’t tell me that they are below MLS satndard – I’d honestly say it is about the same.

    • You don’t think adding key quality players such as Jordan Morris, Ozzie Alonzo, Ivanschitz, Clint Dempsey, and Loderio make a huge difference? Saying we’re the same except we have superstars and they don’t means we’re still overall the same…um no. Yea maybe our depth players are similar but freaking Clint Dempsey would massacre league two and get promoted, massacre league one and get promoted and thus why I think MLS is more Championship level quality.

      • Richie the Limey says:

        The thing is that League 2 defenses are organized, disciplined, experienced mentally, and physically tough. Sturridge, Lallana, Firminio, and Origi didn’t do much against Plymouth so why you think that Dempsey would destroy them I’m not entirely sure. Football is more of a team game as NYCFC and Red Bull proves. You can’t just stick even three top class players in and think they will automatically dominate, so… Um no.

      • It is a team sport indeed. I’m glad you mentioned that. Unfortunately you don’t seem to know a lot about the UMSNT. So here’s the rub. Clint Dempsey actually played in the Premier League, and had success too! In his prime he was one of the top goal scorers there and nominated for best professional player in all England! If memory serves I believe he scored as man as 17 goals in the premier league that year. And as for his form nowadays, you only have to look at his international career to see that this last year he EXPLODED with goal scoring and easily had the best year of his career so he’s still on his game and definitely could be playing in the premier league. You don’t think he couldn’t better in League Two?Combined with Loderio who was a key player for the best team in the all the Americas, arguably the best D-Mid in MLS, a multi time MLS defender of the year in chad Marshall, a young goal scorer that was courted by a bundesliga team (Morris)…yea they would wreck any league two team. I know you must be a homer who watches all their games and so imagines they must be the best, but I’m telling you, the talent in MLS is definitely higher. To say because they’re more “organized” they’re better, as if MLS players learned how to defend from their old aunt Jenna. These are PROFESSIONALS with PROFESSIONAL coaches coaching them. Cmon man. A slight edge in organization to League Two just to pacify you, and a huge edge in talent to MLS. MLS wins.

      • Richie The Limey says:

        A huge edge in talent to MLS? I am not so sure about that. I hear ya re. the likes of Dempsey and I would also add Brian McBride (who I thought was a fantastic striker, particularly in the Prem). Maybe we can meet in the middle and go with League 1 standard? If you take the top 10 from League 1 they would easily hold their own against any MLS side.

        And being organized is a HUGE advantage to any side defensively (just watch the lower level teams in a tournament that are organized and disciplined, helloooo Greece at the Euros).If MLS talent is so superior why aren’t more American players going to Europe to make sheds more cash? Even in the Championship or League 1 they are going to make way more than the paltry sums the Don allows them to earn here.


  9. Has there ever been a more fluid designation than “MLS quality”? The 2010 roster couldn’t carry the team bags of the 2016/17 roster. Sure, the outlying players trodding down Beckham Boulevard plot out way over mean, but the overall rank and file quality is much better.

    So whether he’s been playing the same or worse competition doesn’t matter anymore. Can he play this competition? And if we don’t get a real CAM to feed him, will it matter anyway?

    • We think our depth was bad this year (and it was), but it was also a ton better than the year before.

    • “And if we don’t get a real CAM to feed him, will it matter anyway?”

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Watching the highlights it is obvious Simpson can finish… but he was fed a lot. A CAM is an absolute must.

      • Just to get the rosterbators going,
        if Edu is healthy, he’s strong enough to be a sole CDM in a 4-4-2 diamond.

        Simpson/Davies – CJ/Herbers

        Pontius/Alberg – Ilsinho – Bedoya / Herbers

        But since his health is a major roster ? mark, no idea how this jumble fits.
        Its like all the left over puzzle pieces from the game closet ended up in the same box.

      • If I remember correctly, we tried Ilsinho at CAM last year and it was not a particularly successful experiment. I could be wrong, but I thought he performed better on the wing.
        I’m not offering an alternative lineup with that info, just throwing it out there for consideration.

      • Maybe there was one game preBedoya/postNogs where Barnetta played in Nogs’ role? I think that was more of an experiment in survival not can Ilsinho be the CAM. Since he always cuts inside from the wing anyway and Bedoya drifts outside, might as well start them there.

      • Except your manager and GM have said come he$$ or high water we play a 4-2-3-1. You have 3 strikers making over $200k, only one of whom will be on the field in his natural position at on the field at any given time. Edu wants to play box to box, so who is shielding your CBs? Plan works if you sign a true CDM to upgrade over Carroll/Creavale, not so much with Edu. And I can’t see Ilsinho making it thru a full MLS season playing 75+ minutes each match at CAM.

        Some of the midfielders currently on the roster need to be moved to free up roster spots/$$ to acquire players who actually fit the formation the club says it wants to play. Too many guys who play the same position and tweeners on the current roster.

      • Yes. We need a CAM on the level of Sacha Kljestan. In my opinion it’s the weakest position in MLS and it is where teams should be spending as much as they can.

    • Real Cam Newton says:

      Wait, who am I supposed to feed now?

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    I love soccer and try to watch as much as I can, but I am not going to act like I know anything about a League 2 player. I’m not against the signing. I was a little chapped yesterday, but I am absolutely on board with ES, and what he’s trying to do. I don’t care if I’ve ever heard of the guy or guys brought in… and most of the time I haven’t. I’ll support, as most of you will – I assume.
    The Simpson signing does have a lot of upside, and it didn’t cost a ton of “real” money. I think the shock of realizing they are most likely not signing a #9 DP that pissed me off. I think this season we as fans really felt like this was the year we may get that big #9, since it is so obvious we need one.
    What will make me mad though, is in like a month or so when we read about how “the Union just missed signing ‘insert bigger name here'”… cause that ALWAYS happens.
    I’m ok being the type of club that doesn’t sign the big DP, but we as a club have to do more to compete in MLS. As fans of THIS team… we deserve it. And to be clear I am not saying Simpson can’t make us better… I am just saying it’s a bigger leap to assume he will, than if we signed that big DP.
    Sometimes I ramble… hope all that made sense

  11. Here is a good article:


    Really, the more you read and hear specific nuggets, the better I feel.

    “However, if they want a striker that works hard for the team and brings others into play, then Simpson is their man.”” (quote from a UK journo)

    A striker who can participate in possession oriented offense? Yes plz.

    “Jay is a very skillful player and if he gets a good supply of quality crosses and through balls he will score a lot of goals” (quote from a UK journo)

    Someone who can put away those Fabinho crosses CJ was always a step behind? Yes plz.

    “The thing that jumps out to me, though, is those four goals where he is able to create his own shot.” (quote from Kevin, based off highlight video)

    Has the skill that is the biggest and most glaring weakness in CJs game? Yes plz.

    The more I hear about this signing, the more it feels like ES did his homework and found the very specific player who will fit our style, for very very cheap.

    • I agree. And lets not pretend that you have to spend a bunch of money to get a good striker in this league. MLS is full of really good players at what we assume his salary will be. He won’t be Villa or Giovinco, but hopefully this means they will spend money on the midfield instead. MLS team building is still really about resource management.

  12. Very low likelihood we adapt and change formation under Curtin. Simpson will sink or swim as a lone striker with or without a 10 to feed him.

  13. SK Bartholomew says:

    Having trouble getting excited about the coming season, and this signing doesn’t help. Here’s hoping he isn’t locker room poison like that other club-hopper, M’Bolhi, or underwhelming, like Aristeguieta.

    • I’ve been critical in other posts about the Simpson move, but the one consistent thing LO fans and British media (the Philly Voice article by Kevin K) seem to say about Simpson is that he is a real team guy, and that the fans will love his work ethic. And I do think character and intangibles matter a lot to Earnie and Jim when evaluating players, so I’m hopeful this is one area we won’t have to worry about. I really only care what guys do on the field, but it is always much easier to root for them if they are good people off the field as well.

  14. Paul Goings says:

    Two words: Grant Holt

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