A View from Afar / Season Reviews / Union

It’s over. Now what? (2017 edition)

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Another Philadelphia Union season has passed without a playoff win. That’s eight so far – all of them.

Now, the Union enter the off-season with more uncertainty than they’ve had in a while.

Attendance has dropped to the lowest level in franchise history.

Many fans have become apathetic.

At least some players appear to have lost confidence in the coach, as have fans, who booed Union head coach Jim Curtin on Sunday.

The core of the club is even in question. Who exactly are the core players? Beyond Alejandro Bedoya, C.J. Sapong, and Jack Elliott, who exactly will this team build around?

  • Keegan Rosenberry and Richie Marquez went from iron men and contenders for the U.S. national team to benchwarmers most of the season, while Fabian Herbers lost most of the year to injury.
  • Andre Blake looks like an international transfer waiting to happen.
  • Chris Pontius could leave in free agency after being displaced at left attacking midfield by the speedy but inconsistent Fafa Picault.
  • Haris Medunjanin’s presence brought new, on-field structural challenges that the Union never quite resolved.

And who else is there?

Therein lies the problem.

In past off-seasons, the Union’s path ahead was usually clear. Upgrade this position, get rid of that guy, and so forth.

This year, everything is murky, and many fans have lost hope things will get any better.

The team went all year as last October, namely the lack of a reliable, playmaking No. 10 attacking midfielder to replace Tranquillo Barnetta.

If the Union couldn’t resolve a problem that obvious for that long, what can they do now?

So it makes this off-season a bit different. Identifying specific areas to address, as we’ve done in past years, feels like an almost pointless exercise when there are clear institutional problems within the club.

This may be the first off-season where most Union observers want the club to blow it all up and start over, but many are skeptical that Union chairman Jay Sugarman will make significant waves this season.

Could we see a new coach for the Union next year? It’s certainly possible.

When asked after Sunday’s record-breaking what he thought of Curtin, Ilsinho said, “He didn’t help us. We didn’t help him.”

As Rosenberry prepared for another game on the bench on Oct. 15, he offered this red meat to the masses and got suspended for it.

We can all caption that one. (Suggest your caption in the Comments section below.)

Curtin has confronted questions about his job prospects with exactly the sort of straightforward response you can’t help but admire, answering a question from one reporter Sunday by saying, “You might as well just ask me if I’m a human being. Of course you think about things like that. When you guys ask, ‘Do you hear the boos?’ Do you think I have ears?”

Curtin added, “… it’s professional sports. I understand it’s results-driven. I give you credit for asking the question, but I have a decent understanding of where I stand in the organization, and I’ll continue to work to try to get it better and I know it’s not good enough right now, but I’ll continue to work as hard as I possibly can.”

Whatever you think of Curtin, his defenders are right when they say the Union front office did not give him the tools he needed to produce a top club this year. Absent a playmaking No. 10 and institutionally wedded (almost beyond belief) to a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 approach, the Union never had a chance.

So you have to ask whether firing the coach will make any difference for a big market team whose owner spends like his club plays in a college town.

There’s a reason the Union ranked 19th in MLS in attendance this year. Union fans have lost confidence in their club. Sugarman’s club hasn’t merely lost games. It’s lost fans.

Should MLS increase the amount of targeted allocation money per team, as expected, the Union might have zero designated players this off-season, with Maurice Edu unlikely to return — certainly not at a DP salary — and Alejandro Bedoya possibly seeing his salary budget hit bought down with allocation money. Normally, that would seem like a boon, but who among you is optimistic that the Union will make significant, big money moves?

Sugarman and his fellow investors must demonstrate this off-season that they’re willing to spend what it takes to compete at the top levels of MLS. Otherwise, the Union will be left behind in a changing league.

The obligatory list of team needs
  1. A quality No. 10 playmaker.
  2. Productive depth at striker. (Jay Simpson hasn’t proved that he counts in a one-striker set.)
  3. Jettison the dead salary weight and malcontents.
  4. A reliable, two-way left back.
  5. Decide whether Rosenberry and Marquez are team cornerstones or not. (They should be.)
  6. Add a hard-nosed No. 6 defensive midfielder if Medunjanin does not return.
  7. More creative, flexible coaching.
  8. An owner willing to spend sufficient money on top players to legitimately compete for an MLS Cup.


  1. This Curtin excuse making is pissing me off.

    Why are we acting like changing the formation, changing the players the coach DOES have, or trying new things is punishable by death.

    First things first – I agree 100% we do not have good enough players.

    But good fucking god Jim. You are the coach. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TWEAK. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CHANGE. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TRY.

    Change the formation? Took 2.5 years to finally invert the midfield (and only happened when we were out of the playoffs) and it looked good.

    Continuously run players into the ground and refuse to rotate? That needed to happen definitely at striker, where CJ still went many games in a row without being a threat. And I’d argue at CM too where Jones could spell both Bedoya and Medu and keep them fresh.

    Curtin let this team get stale. He let our tactics get stale. And just because we don’t have the money for a Ferrari doesn’t mean he can’t buy some tools and give this clunker a tune up in his garage.

    For the love of god, we had a natural 10 in Najem. Why not try him at ALL? Try Alberg as a false 9 maybe? Bedoya on the wing?

    And this isn’t even getting into the Rosenberry mess. WHY, when we needed an offense spark for long periods of time, did we NOT PUT ROSENBERRY BACK? Like seriously Gaddis was a black hole on offense.

    Here’s my bottom line Jim:

    I would honestly be ok with this result and your performance if, instead of riding the same horses into the ground for this year, you actually tried to tweak. If we got this point total with Najem at the 10 for the last two months. I’d be ok with that.

    If we got this point total with Rosenberry fighting through a sophomore slump while still displaying moments of promise, I’d be ok with it.

    If we got this point total while finding and comitting to a role for Alberg/Ilson (instead of going “Well they’ve failed as our starting #10 for the past two years, so let’s give them another shot at it”!), I’d be ok with it. Hell, Alberg’s skill set basically screams striker anyway – why not spell Sapong with him or try a two striker thing for a bit!?

    If we gave more minutes to Jones, for which there is absolutely not excuse not to, and didn’t run Bedoya and Medu into the ground, I’d be ok with these results.

    If we gave Sapong a rest and actually got to see what Simpson could do, instead of running CJ into the ground AGAIN and watching him struggle through periods of invisibility, I’d be ok with these results.

    You know why? Because that would have given us answers. Maybe Simpson really DOES suck. Maybe Rosenberry really was a fluke. Maybe Jones really IS a future European transfer.

    But guess what Jim. We have none of that. We have no answers. That’s what makes me mad, that’s why I cannot abide by any Curtin excuse making, and thats why I want him gone.

    Holy shit I can’t believe I just typed that much about this shit team.

    PS: Dear PSP guys, please update your comment system too.

    • Deep breaths now. 🙂

      Read PSP tomorrow for PSP’s take(s) on Curtin returning as coach.

      Edit to add: What needs to be updated with the Comments system? There are things we can customize and things that are more difficult, but we’ve changed some things in the past specifically in response to readers’ requests to do so.

      • I am Citizen Insane says:

        Dan. He’s dead fucking spot on.

      • Mostly the fact it seems you can’t add lines between paragraphs.

        But also allowing longer chaining of responses would be good too.

      • We actually decreased the chaining of comments because people said it was difficult to read on a cell phone when the chaining (or nesting) of comments got too deep. So it used to chain 5 levels in. We cut it to 3.

        And yeah, one of these days, I’ll figure out the damn line break thing. 😉

        (Re: Citizen Insane — I wasn’t disputing any of it.)

      • Ah well that’s true too – 5 was way too hard. Honestly I was thinking about some other comment structure.

        But I assume this is a limit of WordPress? I am not familiar with it 🙁

      • Yeah. I mean, we can hack it and code it ourselves, but we don’t have a coder/webmaster on staff. We do have a consultant who helps out for free when we need him to troubleshoot, but we can only reasonably ask so much. So for the most part, we work within the limitations of WordPress and the theme (layout) we’ve chosen. (We may change PSP’s layout at some point, but we just haven’t found one we like that does all the things this one does.)

    • This…(see above) is perfect

    • Keegs Tweet Caption:
      “In a surprising discovery, scientists report an inverse relationship between beard depth and playing time. Results for the effect of tattoos are indeterminate according to the Union’s marquee signing, the Chief Tattoo Officer.”

    • Can someone closer to the team comment on this? I’ve heard gossip over the years, that Sorber has complete control over practices, and has essentially been a hindrance on changing tactics, formation,etc.

      The story goes something like this, “the head coach can try anything he wants on game day, but if Sorber doesn’t have the team practice it, they’re essentially winging it”.

      Might explain some stuff. Like how the team sometimes play like they just met before the game. And how one touch play seems more rare than the “trap, stop, look around, find your teammates and decide on where to pass, hope opposing players aren’t watching you do this, then pass” style.

      So, his leaving could be really good for the team.

      I don’t know, but I’ve been hearing this story since Hackworth took over. Thoughts?

    • Thank you James, you’ve been preaching a lot of what I’ve been stressing as well. It blows my mind that Curtin wouldn’t try Sapong and Alberg up top together working off each other. Sapong is not a lone striker. When’s the last time he took a defender on one vs one or took a strike from
      The 18 or outside the 18. He is a good striker who needs support. Alberg is a striker and the fact that Curtin couldn’t see that warrants his firing. Derrick Jones should have been starting for at least half the season as the Dmid. He shows so much promise and I’m disgusted that he barely saw the field. Why didn’t he try a 4–3-1-2?
      Also , his subbing decisions were horrible, timing wise and the players he chose week in and week out. Curtin should not be back next year.

  2. Sugarman and co. would never have guessed the league (and to certain extent – their investment) would have skyrocketed like this in less than 10 years. Sugarman thought this was more or less a turnkey operation, requiring little to no additional investment.


    Salaries, infrastructure needs, and capital calls have grown since 2010. Sugarman doesn’t want to or maybe can’t invest at the level needed to compete in MLS 3.0… soon to be 4.0 once LAFC takes off. He’ll hopefully sell after this seemingly never-ending round of expansion is done.


    Until then we get to watch Curtin and the gang stink up the joint, because results do not matter. Jay Sugarman does not care. He’s happy to spend MLS funny money and watch his investment grow.

  3. Great list of Team Needs. Fully concur. Got a yellow card on Sunday for not renewing (even after talking to Earnie for 1/2hr). Will not renew until I see half of the items on your list completed.

    • I’m not sure what that means, you got carded? The team gave you a card? Dude I’d hand that right back and say NO! YOU’RE GETTING CAUTIONED NOT ME BUDDY!

      • lol; my wife sat in my seat and sent me a picture of the yellow card while I was on the beer deck. There is a picture of one at bigsoccer. Seems they do it annually for those who have not renewed on the last day but this year there were lots more than in past years.

  4. While I agree with most of the 8 points at the end, there are a couple that may not be doable. The hardest is number 3. Other than Edu, I think the biggest salary/dead weight ratio is Simpson. But the question is whether they even can jettison him if he has a multi year deal? Most of the commentators here think that Alberg is the malcontent but recently we read that he wants to stay which doesn’t seem like a malcontent (and he scores goals!).
    As far as the #6, isn’t that what they’ve been grooming Jones for? If the Union go out and get another veteran like Brian Carroll or Haris Medujanin, aren’t we just going to be complaining next year about Jones’ lack of playing time?
    Of course everyone here wants to have their cake and eat it too. We’ve seen lots of calls to play the youth, but the last two games Josh Yaro played, he pretty much directly cost 4 points. Add that to some mistakes that Elliott made down the stretch and the Union might have made the playoffs without those mistakes. But we need to realize and accept that when playing the younger players, mistakes will be made and sometimes those mistakes will cost points. That’s not on the coach, that’s on players learning. As long as the players are not continually making those same mistakes, things will improve and we’ll end up seeing some long term success (assuming that a number 10 is signed).

    • In regards to your last point, and I’m only speaking for myself here, I get and agree with your point on Yaro, and to a lesser extent Elliot this year and Rosenberry last year. I don’t advocate playing Jones over Haris, or Fafa over Pontius normally, but once the team was eliminated those guys should have either started or came off the bench. It’s this organizational belief that if the ship is going down you stay the course instead of bailing, no changes just stick with the status quo.
      I could also make the argument that while the younger kids certainly will make some mistakes, there are times where the veterans were not performing well and maybe the youngsters – like Elliot or Fafa did – might have made a difference in some games where the older guys made their share of mistakes as well. We could play the “what if” game all day but the fact is we won’t know enough about some guys while others, like Ilsinho, Fabinho, and Alberg, were trotted out there to do the same thing week after week despite the team’s overall failure to find success.

      • Well Rosenberry and Marquez got off the bench towards the end, Epps started playing a lot more and Fafa was starting every game. All the other guys were playing in Steel’s playoff run so it’s not like the young guys were stuck on the bench just watching.

      • Playing for Steel, yes, but not the Union. Won’t get into that, I agree they were playing, but do you feel the players who played regularly did enough? If not, then were they put in a position to win, was there enough talent to win and did they perform up to their expectations?

      • I do not feel they did enough. But I also think that a lot of the guys behind them weren’t doing anything when they played either which I guess just shows the whole roster isn’t great. I don’t think it was bad that some of those guys were playing for Steel. Jones should have probably been playing first team ball and Najem probably should have subbed in more.
        The Rosenberry situation is strange and obviously has more to do than just on field play, although he wasn’t great to end last year and that carried over to this year too.

      • Fair points. The only thing I’ll say about Rosenberry is that they can’t expect him to play literally every minute of 34 straight games and not have a drop off. He went from college ball played in about 3 1/2 months or so to a long, stretched out season over the hot summer months with tons of travel. He should’ve been given some days off, like other players this year, but Curtin just refuses to do that for whatever reason. Everything else we agree on, including that the younger kids may not be good enough to play, but I just don’t know because they didn’t. Chicken and egg – are they not playing because they’re not good, or are they not any good because they don’t play?

      • Yup agree with all of that.

  5. In past off-seasons, I’ve been very interested to see who they would add to put them over the top and start a stretch of playoff appearances.
    Now I’m focused on the team in much the way I focused on the Sixers, Eagles, and Phillies in the past few years: how do we start over, and do we have the right people helming the ship?
    Each sport has its own dynamic that lets turnover happen at different rates. And I don’t know how that plays for MLS. Could we dump 80% of this roster and restock it with a competitive team? Or is that not logistically possible?
    Whatever the answers, it will be a fun drama to watch. I will only be disappointed if the franchise decides the status quo is ok. I do NOT want to become the MLS version of the Donald Sterling Clippers.

    • Atlanta seemed to stock up on 100% of a team in 1 year so I think it’s possible…

      • They weren’t locked into an undetermined number of contracts already. But the point is well taken.

    • MLS is volatile enough that it is entirely possible to go from worst to first from one year to the next. The Union will have enough roster turn-over that new guys coming in should have an impact next year, and our starting line-up should have 3-5 new faces out there.
      I have expectations for Ernie to do exactly that. He talks about a 5 year process, but it doesn’t take that long in MLS. Next year is year 3 and we should absolutely have a competitive product on the field. Anything less than playoffs is a failure – we need to hold them to this.

  6. MLS literally hands them money to buy players, and they still don’t. It’s not like Sugarman has to go out and fund-raise to afford these salaries, the league hands out money specifically to acquire players or bring down the salaries of current players.
    Really think about that, though: This team is not willing to spend money they are GIVEN to buy players. It’s literally house money. Spend that feverishly. I understand being more cautious with your own revenue or investment, but TAM should be GONE by the time the window closes in April or May. Use it all, or not only will this team lose fans but they will be left behind by the rest of the league. You think LAFC, with that brand new stadium and ownership group, is gonna be frugal with player signings?

    • I’m pretty sure the Union were one of the most aggressive spenders of MLS money, including TAM, GAM, and Gen Adidias. What they don’t spend is anything past that, minus Bedoya, and that’s the whole problem.

    • Fair enough, you’re probably right. In that case then they just need to better allocate that money, maybe most or all for an elite playmaker instead of spreading it around evenly. 1 player like Giovinco, Kaka, Villa, Valeri or even a Schweinsteiger can make a bigger difference more than a combo of Alberg, Ilsinho, and Simpson.

  7. Adjust or Die says:

    I became a season ticket holder in 2014… always liked soccer, but World Cup fever got me that year. I even started playing and continue to play… I am giving the Union the benefit of the doubt that in 2018 they will show some type of initiative, otherwise I likely won’t spend my money on something that is clearly geared to capitalize on it’s customers (fans) and not actually care about the game or competing. I think MLS needs promotion/relegation to weed out clubs that coast for profit and don’t care about the sport. Run your club to win or get out. We seem to be the only country that blindly supports capitalism in sports. It’s frustrating because loyal passionate fans are doop’d. I hope things change for the best over the next year, I want to have a club I can be emotionally attached to so close, but why stay in a relationship that doesn’t go both ways? I’m committed financially and emotionally. Unsure of whether the Union organization is… time will tell.

    • A lot of people on this site have argued in favor of Pro/Rel in the US. However, before this happens, MLS will need to make a big change and that is to get rid of the salary cap. Although MLS doesn’t have a hard salary cap, it is still inconsistent with a model where poor performance is directly punished. In Europe, if a player gets a long term injury or is just underperforming, you just go out and buy another player to replace him. Maybe you suffer somewhat, especially if it is a Messi type who was hurt, but no one is irreplaceable. In MLS, you are stuck with that player on the books and counting against the cap which means you start plummeting in the standings. So until the cap is removed, relegation becomes a crapshoot.
      I’m not sure that MLS would survive without a salary cap. The old NASL in the ’70’s didn’t have one and what happened was that the same teams would dominate year in and year out until the most of the teams in the league couldn’t stay afloat anymore. Does MLS feel confident enough that they could risk that model where the league is dominated by 2 or 3 teams each year?
      Note that the Union would not have been relegated this year. The only two seasons they finished in the bottom 3 or 4 were 2010 (out of only 16 teams) and 2015. Both times they were 3rd from the bottom and both times they went to the playoffs the following year.

      • I hear ya, but it’s not the 70s anymore. Or even the 80s. For pro/rel to work, first big change is to eliminate the single owner structure. For clubs to make money, they need to be able to sell players and keep the profit.

        Also, just because the Union might have avoided relegation the last few years in a hypothetical circumstance, it doesn’t mean pro/rel “wouldn’t have worked.” If the consequences were win or get relegated, you might have seen more effort made, not just by the union, but across the board by every team in the bottom half of its conference. To be honest, after the last three seasons, a relegation fight would be a welcome cause to watch late season Union games.

      • US Soccer also needs legitimate second and third divisions for pro/rel to work. Just look at our current second division and take out the MLS owned teams and it’s not strong. Yes there are a few standout teams but just look at what we just did to a midtable USL backline this past weekend.

      • A, I agree with you, but I think the stronger USL teams are not owned by MLS clubs. I posted a pretty good 16-team 2nd division carved out of the strongest NASL and USL sides. More of the strong teams were from USL. None MLS owned.

      • Adjust or Die says:

        I think if there was a will we could find a way. Watching Cincinnati FC bring the noise on and off the field this past year makes me feel like it could be possible. Cheesy, but I think of Americans as a people that can do anything once motivated and united… esp for fun stuff.

        As for a league dominated by two or three teams…. that would still be one or two more than the Bundesliga(Go Bayern)which seems to work fine there. Would having a super club or two hurt or help the league at the end of the day? I dunno.

        Pro/Reg aside… I was just trying to vent to like minded Union fans that want more from what we put our hearts and wallets into.

      • Premier League keeps it pretty interesting with about 6 top teams. Was a blast watching Huddersfield top United last weekend. It does make for an interesting question — like what is the point of rooting for West Brom, Stoke or Southampton. But the same could be said for the Union right now.

        Super clubs definitely help leagues. Imagine if LAFC – just for an example – brought in a bunch of top Liga MX players with Chicharito and just started beating the stuffing out of other teams. They’d sell a lot of tickets. And other clubs would sell tickets when they cam to town. The hope is it would drive other clubs to spend.

        One thing Europe has going for it is Champions and Europa league competition so that even those teams that don’t win their leagues have a chance to show something in European competition. Champions League in CONCACAF could use a lot of help.

      • Yeah that’s true about USL. Honestly I have no idea the best way to go about it. As long as the quality and interest keeps growing at good rates I’m good. I could be talked into many things right now.

    • Has anyone else given thought to the likelyhood that pro/rel isn’t going to happen between the MLS and current lower level leagues, but through a greatly expanded MLS that leads to a “premier” level ABOVE?
      If it’s going to happen at all, it’s going to happen that way.

  8. I am Citizen Insane says:

    I sit here sipping a dirty vanilla chai latte almost totally embarrassed to admit Jerome and Adam have been right all along. What a kick in the dick to say.
    You were right, Men. All along and I’m sorry I have to admit it. Please accept my apology.
    Vision. Philosophy. Plan.
    I don’t believe in it. Crestfallen.

    • I’m not saying that they weren’t wrong because there is a stink coming from Chester, but it’s always a winning bet to assume a random team will fail because that’s the result for like 90% of sports teams on any given year.

    • Well since el P admitted Jerome and Adam were right, I might as well too. You guys were right, Jerome and Adam. Though admitting that doesn’t make me sad as much as the actual state of the Union does. I’ve been wrong before, and will again, but what I won’t be, for quite a long time, is confident, or even hopeful, that the Union will get this right. This, probably more than any other year, was a total waste. They might not as well have even played a game for all the questions this season didn’t answer. Christ there’s more questions now then when they started. What a joke.
      As for Dan’s list, nothing really matters but 7&8. Really, it’s probably just 8. Unless there’s change in ownership, or in the way ownership approaches this team, there’s really no reason to discuss anything else. It’s just smoke and mirrors and Sugarman taking your money. Until Sugarman spends more than TAM and GAM and any other Garber bucks, there’s no point in caring. Why care for something the owner doesn’t even care for?

  9. I chose dinner & a movie over the match. Apathetic doesn’t even begin to describe it.
    Also paid for next season’s tickets today *crying emoji*

  10. How you don’t have a proven, veteran CB as 1 of your top 2 priorities is beyond me. You cannot start guys like Marquez, Elliot, and Yaro (2 of 3) together. You need an anchor back there who is still in his prime. The 3 youngsters mentioned are fine as the 2nd CB. But together? We all saw how that went this year. Also, a proven stud CB in his prime allows you to get away with Haris at the 6 and Keegan at the 2.

    If Haris does not come back, expect to see Jones at the 6. That puts Keegan back in the starting lineup and the Union will attack more thru the flanks next year. Haris is a special passer, so Union played more centrally this year.

    Either way, a DP #10 should be acquired.

    Another speedy 7/11 needs to come on board too…someone who is of Fafa quality. Epps should be a backup next season. If Pontius returns, he should start 15-20 games and be an end of the game sub when we’re looking to lump the ball forward when trailing.

    Any way you look at it though, this team will be always be a counterpunching team, no matter what. This is pro sports, and talent is the most important factor. With Toronto, NYCFC, RBNY, Chicago, Montreal, Atlanta, and NE in the conference, the Union are behind the 8 ball personnel-wise. This year was completely ridiculous re: talent…they were out-manned in literally every match, save DC United, Colorado, and yesterday with Orlando.

    Curtin did very well in the half-season he had Nogs and Tranquillo together. Let’s see what he and the staff can do with some actual players before condemning him.

    • Keegan will be gone come April. The tweet was deliberate. Suspension showed Curtin and Stewart don’t care. Divorce makes sense here and both sides will only improve after the divorce.
      Best of luck to Keegan…

    • Because I think Marquez is a very good center back who should have gotten his starting job back after his injury/sickness much earlier than he did. I think he’s a good complement to Elliott. Behind them, Onyewu provides depth and experience. Auston Trusty should get a shot as a backup and play in the USOC. He can’t play with Bethlehem forever.

  11. It is difficult to argue with anything on Dan’s wish list. Also hard to argue with anything James said in his rant in the first comment. They’ve even made me apathetic, and that took a lot of work.

    The only thing I would say is that I think adding a single superb player could be enough to make a huge difference. Yes, we could certainly benefit from upgrades at the wing midfield and LB positions, and we need a backup striker, but if you even just took the team we played this past season with and added a primo playmaker at the CAM spot, then given all the knock-on effects, you’d probably by talking about 8 points more this season.

    I personally think we don’t necessarily need to focus on CBs. Marquez and Elliott should get the nod, with Gooch as the backup. And we can see what Yaro can do with more time to recover confidence after his injury. I would also be inclined to hand Rosenberry the keys to the RB spot and just let him go.

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