You should be happy the Union aren’t signing a No. 10 this summer

Photo: Philadelphia Union

Last week some leaks broke through the Union’s notoriously tight-lipped transfer rumor mill and word spread that Philadelphia were looking at Argentine midfielder Nicolás Martinez. Many fans rejoiced that the front office was addressing a very painful area of need at the central attacking midfield or No. 10 position (last week’s performance by Ilsinho aside). While Martinez was not the high-profile playmaker many hoped for, his highlights certainly showed all the traits needed at the position for coach Jim Curtin’s beloved 4-2-3-1 formation: Heads-up vision, incisive passing, strong possession, and a willingness to run at defenses.

On Monday, a new report surfaced saying talks broke down and Martinez was not destined for Philadelphia after all. Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and Curtin later confirmed the report.


Playoff varnish

The Union are three points and a game-in-hand out of the sixth and final playoff spot. The last third of the season features the hardest schedule in the league. Can the Union make the playoffs with the current roster? Maybe. If they sign an upgrade at the No. 10 will they be a better team? No doubt. But even with a Nicolás Martinez at the helm, the Union are not going to suddenly rise up the table and unseat Chicago, Toronto, or NYCFC, nor are they going to dethrone them in the playoffs. Even if the Union make the playoff cut, they’re not ready to take the next step with the Eastern Conference frontrunners. The season isn’t necessarily lost, but the Union are not going to pull a Seattle and ride a new signing to MLS Cup glory.

If the shoe doesn’t fit

With 2017 again looking like a year of underperformance for Philadelphia, fans want to see something, anything happen. That’s certainly fair, but forcing a player into the fold with just two-and-a-half months left in the season isn’t going to turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity. The wiser move is to wait for and sign the right player over the winter transfer window and bring them into the team in the preseason. If the Union force the issue and sign a No. 10 now, it could set back the franchise even further. If Martinez didn’t work out, his rumored $500k cost would mean the difference between a $500k and a $1M replacement (or hopefully more).

Cash in 2018

Roland Alberg is likely not coming back next year. Maurice Edu’s contract is up. Ilsinho may be on the outs. Andre Blake could be sold to Europe. The Union should be flush with cash and ready to spend in the offseason. The Martinez rumor signals that Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and the Union front office are quite aware of the team’s current shortcomings and actively scouting players. With plenty of salary room opening up in just a few months, the Union should be able to spend big this offseason and bring a truly high-caliber player into the role.

Depth at the 10

It’s highly unlikely that Alberg stays with the team in 2018. Conversely, Ilsinho (also in a contract year) seems to genuinely like playing for Philadelphia and, if he’s willing to take a lesser role, could stay on next season as the perfect depth player as both a winger and central midfielder. With Adam Najem seeing first team minutes and plenty of potential, the depth pieces are already in place to spend big on a No. 10 and have a fallback plan in case of injuries or international call-ups.

Patience sucks, but it’s necessary

After years of pitiful performances, even the most loyal Philadelphia fans are getting sick of the, well, Uniony failures of the team. But now, many of the pieces are seemingly in place to make the Union an actual, verifiable contender. A savvy, true No. 10 partnering with Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin in central midfield would be as good as any trio in the league.

While Union fans understandably want to win now/yesterday, just a little bit more patience may finally see the team’s transformation from laughingstock to contender. Finding the right player, not just the one available today, is surely the right move this season and for the future of the franchise.


  1. I consider myself to be very patient, probably one of the more patient union fans. I don’t buy this argument. I understand that they need to find the right #10, but I don’t understand why they haven’t been able to do that.

    Presumably they have been looking since May at the latest. It has been clear for a long time that this team desperately needs a 10. I’d argue they should have been looking since last fall when Barnetta said he wouldn’t be back this year.
    They should have found someone and signed them as soon as possible. It is known that commonly it takes players time to adjust to the league; why not get that process started now so they will be more well integrated by next year?
    I also don’t buy that they don’t have the resources to do this. Stewart has acknowledged they were considering Martinez which means they have the resources to sign someone. If they can keep their salary under the DP threshold it wouldn’t even cost the team anything. The whole thing just irritates me

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Another thing that was made clear in the meeting referenced in my comment below, is that both McDermott and Stewart believe very firmly that taking the time and care to get the right people is the approach to follow.
      Both were quite firm on the point, Stewart emphatically so.
      Another theme was: develop a plan and stick to it. All three men affirmed “stick-to-it-iveness” from their own past experiences and from best practices in other countries in soccer.
      We were told there is a plan and that they are sticking to it. We were not told anything of the plan’s concrete specifics, but that is not a surprise.
      How long have the following Philly professional sports teams been rebuilding or re-booting? Sixers (the Dark Lord/Colangelo), Flyers (Hextall), Phillies (Klentak), Eagles (Lurie & Roseman/Kelly/Roseman).

      The Union are doing the same in these men’s minds, and they have been at it for 18 months, roughly.
      They are taking what Nick Sakiewicz created out of the dust of nothingness, and for all his creation’s and his own many flaws he deserves credit for that, and they are trying to transform it into something resembling a front-rank European club like AZ Alkmaar, as that is the achievement which clearly Earnie Stewart considers his most worthy.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Patience was certainly the message being sent by Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott, Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, and Academy Director Tommy Wilson Wednesday evening at the Town Hall meeting at the stadium. We were asked to keep details to ourselves, so the concrete evidence offered to encourage us is not yet share-able.
    From hindsight, Stewart telegraphed the GAM $50 K move for an international spot, which memory would suggest is Josh Yaro’s green card, more than likely.
    There was a gentle message from the audience, well-modulated by politeness befitting an invited audience, that it had been eight years for those who are what has been called founding members.

    • Kevin Vernia says:

      Similar to 76ers fans, I have to ask why we should bother paying full price for tickets the next few years until they finally get it together.
      I honestly wish this team could get relegated. I’d be perfectly fine watching our young core develop in USL or NASL and only having to pay $20 or $25 for a seat at midfield.
      Paying more than double that to watch us get our faces bashed in for the next 3 years is a different story.

  3. Oof.
    “The wiser move is to wait for and sign the right player over the winter transfer window and bring them into the team in the preseason.” – No. There is always, always, more talent available during the summer.
    “If the Union force the issue and sign a No. 10 now, it could set back the franchise even further. ” – No. Nope. Not at all.
    Look, I get it. We want to hope. We need to, but that doesn’t mean we suspend our critical thinking skills. Majority of contracts expire in June, so anyone you get in January (or Feb as the MLS window goes), is forcing a move from a team they can’t break into. Edu was a benched cost, Nogs was getting relegated,etc. They prefer January because those depreciated assets feed into the Moneyball philosophy, which only works as well as your ability to ID those assets as under-market. Since we still don’t employ scouts, one can rightfully question this methodology. Coupled with Earnie’s statement re: if you don’t watch training, you don’t know, how do we properly scout players who are in training now and won’t be available for 6 months?
    You were right, there will be budget dollars available and roster spots. What we still lack apparently are the financial resources (and willpower) to purchase players. What does it gain them to free up Edu’s DP spot if they’re unwilling to use it?

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Two quibbles, Scotty Mac, if I may in a friendly way.
      MLS contracts expire in December, and that would govern when an MLS club can create its greatest freedom of resources and opportunity. You are absolutely right when discussing all European leagues, save the Russian one I would guess.
      And, again a technical point, Edu’s contract is not yet expired so we do not know for certain what their actions will be concerning those resources.
      These guys move slowly and carefully with their resources. We have had some experience in the past with the opposite approach, He Who Must Not Be Named comes to mind by way of one example.

      • Right, I was focused on the part about no transfers. There’s a different window for intra-league transfers and trades.
        As for Edu, they already had the third DP spot open, and to date haven’t used it. Not a tremendous stretch to say even with our apparent meager resources we could do more.
        All of this is smoke and mirrors anyway.
        Sugarman hasn’t freed up capital to allow Earnie to bring in top players. Graham has reportedly asked to buy more of the club to do just that but Sugarman won’t dilute his ownership stake. This is a fixable problem that won’t resolve until the expansion rounds are done and the club hits the valuation Jay is looking for to maximize his asset. We’re just along for the painful ride.

  4. “The Union should be flush with cash and ready to spend in the offseason.”

    The FO has shown no behavior to even think this. They’ll spend up to the salary cap and take a flyer on another “project” or “unknown” and when it doesn’t work out they’ll add another year to their current now running on 8 year plan.

    • Sure, but they will be flush with cash under the salary cap. There are lots of players coming off this year that haven’t played at all (Carroll, Edu, Davies) that they could turn into a Barnetta type signing. I’m not saying I’ll be happy with this (it really needs to be at least a Bedoya level DP) but they do seem kinda stuck budget wise for the remaining of this year.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Holding Stewart and McDermott responsible for Sakiewicz’s era — while thoroughly understandable from the frustrated emotion we all share — is a bit unfair, don’t you think?
      The principle of being responsible for one’s own actions is enshrined in the federal constitution of 1787’s prohibition against both bills of attainder and use of the concept of corruption of the blood.
      Firing Nicky Sak meant probably five years to reboot, remediate and rebuild.

      • In my 50 plus years as a fan of all Philly teams,I know that things will get worse before they better. This is why being patient is so very hard. But this team is on the up swing. Ernie Stewart is not Bill Bradley at Swansea. Lets give the new guys a bit of time to actually do their jobs.

      • Kevin Vernia says:

        It took Chicago one season to reboot, remediate, and rebuild. It can be done if one wants to spend the money. But Sugarman prefers to pocket his money made off the team.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Exactly Kevin. Because they spent big money. Something this team clearly has shown and said… it will not do.

      • Actually Kevin, it’s taken Chicago almost 3 years to rebuild. Of course nobody remembers their spoon worthy performance last season, or the fact they hadn’t won a road game in nearly 4 seasons before this year.

    • Spot on Patrick.

  5. Kevin Vernia says:

    I am happy they didn’t sign a guy that wasn’t a fit.
    I am very unhappy that the ownership group isn’t spending sufficiently for us to ever be competitive.

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