Season Reviews / Union

Season review: The missteps

Photo: Paul Rudderow

More than a few things went wrong for the Philadelphia Union this season.

But what if we focus on what could have been done better?

Take away the bad luck, the days where things just didn’t go as planned, and the fact that a lot of people grossly underestimated how competitive the East would be this season.

Still, the Union could have done plenty differently. Even with the clarity of hindsight we can’t list them all here, but a few stand-out missteps are worth considering on their own.

Roland Alberg

It’s not that he’s a bad player. In fact, he’s scored more goals per minute played than anyone who’s played more than ten games for the Union.* That’s nothing to shake a stick at considering he’s logged a not-insignificant 52 appearances for the team.

Yet somehow it feels like we never got everything we could have from the Dutchman.

Without even speculating about perceived tension between him and teammates, he made a major mistake this season, and it’s hard to think that it isn’t at least partially the reason the Union struggled so mightily this year. If rumors are true, he showed up for preseason 15 pounds overweight, and his absence was felt severely as the Union struggled to find someone else to put in what was presumed to be his position at No. 10. Being a professional includes the off-season. Letting your body, the means by which you make your living, go that far from the condition you need to perform is a tremendous misstep on his part.

But the front office deserves some of the blame here as well. Obviously these players deserve their break, and a little extra weight is to be expected when everyone reports for camp.

But with the coaching and “sport science” resources available to this team, how did nobody catch Alberg when he gained the first five pounds? How did nobody check in on him to see how his off-season training program was going?

That’s a misstep that unquestionably cost the Union points this season. Alberg is officially gone as of Tuesday, but what if this issue goes beyond Alberg, and the Union aren’t preparing their players with an offseason training program? If not, it could have long-lasting implications, especially as the Union look to start pushing players through the “pipeline to the pros” from academy to first team.

A quiet transfer window

For most of July and into August, the Union had the chance to address any of the glaring holes in the lineup. For four long weeks, Union fans sat and waited for them to do just that.

Then, nothing happened. No one in, no one out, just the same Union that couldn’t find a win until the ninth game of the season. That isn’t to say the Union should have signed someone just to make a move, but no attempt to improve a lineup so desperately in need of help was a tough pill to swallow.

Granted, it’s doubtful one or two signings could have saved the Union’s season. Even a designated player would need time to adapt to a new team and city (and likely league and country). But that’s a double-edged sword, because it could be even more valuable to let a new player warm up to the league in this already-lost 2017 season and hit the ground running in 2018.

Signing Jay Simpson

Of all the self-inflicted wounds of 2017, this is the most disappointing. When the signing was announced, confused excitement seemed to be the theme of the day. He was a player of obvious skill, and the “new BWP” didn’t seem like an outrageous hope. It did seem an odd pick, considering his playing style didn’t really suit the Union, and his salary wasn’t exactly a pittance. But it was a move, and a big one. Surely the Union knew something we didn’t.

Except they didn’t.

Simpson struggled to find service in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 lineup that requires strikers to make their own shots. That isn’t an indictment of him. He very well could be a great player, and we’d have no way of knowing. After scoring his only goal of the season, a bruised lung kept him off the field for some time, and a resurgent C.J. Sapong meant there was no way for him to find his way back other than occasional substitute appearances.

Unless they trade him, Jay Simpson will be on the Union again next season, and his rather large salary will be too. That’s a misstep that could affect the Union’s ability to address the first two issues discussed here for a long time, as well as any other challenges the team faces going forward.

* Fun trivia: 2014’s Brian Brown is the Union’s all time goals-per-minute leader, but he only appeared eight times for the Union.


  1. Having a hard time not counting Wijnaldum as a bit of a bust as well…. I really expected he’d be getting that starting job sooner rather than later. Maybe my expectations were too high because of what a good footballer his brother is. But if he heads back to Europe in disgust, it means Stewart was wrong more than he was right when it comes to overseas signings this season.

    I’m still willing to cut Simpson some slack. He didn’t get a fair shake.

    • Wijnaldum I’m ok with taking a waiver on. He was on league min. and was a hopeful diamond in the rough find which didn’t pan out. It was a good try.
      I think we can replace Simpson with someone better for the money that he is on, if we can find a way to trade him. He didn’t get much playing time, but I wasn’t necessarily impressed by anything he did out there.

  2. I find it hard to blame the Union for Alberg being out of shape. If it was a team wide problem then sure, but when it’s 1 player then it’s that players fault.

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