A View from Afar / Union

Assessing the Union departures

Photo: 215pix

Philadelphia Union made a bunch of roster moves Wednesday. Some surprised. Most didn’t.

Let’s take a quick look at those moves, since obviously Union fans are talking about them.

But first, here’s a thought to consider about two of the moves: The declining of contract options on Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies.

What’s amazing — and sometimes forgotten — is that Onyewu and Davies will forever be linked as two of the greatest “What if?” players in American soccer history. Their injuries before the 2010 World Cup robbed the U.S. national team of two of their best players just after the team’s most impressive tournament showing ever, in the 2009 Confederations Cup.

You still can’t help but wonder what that team might have done if Onyewu and Davies were healthy. Jay DeMerit ably replaced Onyewu, but the reality was that Onyewu was head and shoulders — literally and figuratively — above the competition. Meanwhile, Davies was just breaking through as a dangerous attacker, and the national team never adequately replaced him that cycle. Neither of those players was ever the same again after those injuries.

Their playing careers may have quietly ended in Philadelphia this week, buried in a bulk list of personnel moves, much like another veteran of that team, Maurice Edu.

Now, onto a look at the departures.

Chris Pontius

If you were Chris Pontius, wouldn’t you leave as a free agent? In 2017, he:

  • Lost his preferred spot on the left to Fafa Picault;
  • Was switched to the right flank, where he played well for a time but clearly doesn’t belong long-term due to his playing style;
  • Gets to be a free agent and sign with whatever team he wants.

Don’t be surprised if he returns to his native southern California and signs with LAFC or even the Galaxy. Both will be coached by veteran American coaches who will appreciate the value of a good pro like Pontius, who could bounce back with a good season on a team with a legitimate playmaker.


The Union have made clear they want to bring Ilsinho back at a salary less than his 2017 rate of $518,333. That’s a good move.

Ilsinho may not be worth what they paid him this year, but he’s a talented player with a few years left whose effort and fitness have improved over his time in Philadelphia. If they can agree on a reasonable salary ($200,000 or so), then he’s worth keeping. If they can’t, then it’s time to wish him well.

Fabian Herbers

The Union’s contract decision potentially makes sense when you consider a few things:

  1. Herbers is off the Generation Adidas rolls, which means his salary hits the Union salary budget.
  2. His $135,500 salary was likely to increase next year under the contract option.
  3. Herbers has been out injured most of the year.

The Union clearly plan to try to bring him back at a lesser salary, with Stewart saying Wednesday that “we are still high on Fabian Herbers, and we’re looking forward to him being part of the 2018 team.”

But the Union have potentially risked something if this isn’t yet a done deal.

If Herbers decides not to resign, then he goes into the Waiver Draft. Last year, no MLS team selected anyone, but teams have found quality players here. Colorado snagged starter Michael Azira in this draft two years ago and Bobby Burling the year before.

After a solid rookie year, Herbers seems the type of player that some team would take a shot on, but the catch is that the club would have to make him what MLS calls a “genuine offer” within three days. That means no extended trial to see how well Herbers has recovered from injury. The question would be whether a team would want to risk a roster spot under those circumstances.

Giliano Wijnaldum

Wijnaldum was a low-risk signing the Union made in the off-season, offering him the league minimum salary, with the potential for high reward. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t pan out, but it was a good move for the Union to try.

He started 13 games and recorded an assist, and at times he was solid. But he never looked dangerous going forward, and that’s what the Union need from their fullbacks. Wijnaldum is a bit of a tweener between left back and center back, who might fare best in a three-man back line.


Stewart said he still rates Fabinho as a quality MLS left back, so the Brazilian could return on a new contract, probably at a salary under his 2016 mark of $167,759.

As frustrating a player as Fabinho can be, he’s a good backup option to have.

But if he enters preseason camp as the Union starter, then fans are going to have to start fueling up that rocket to the sun with his name on it.

Maurice Edu

This one is no surprise. The former Union captain has been injured for most of the last two years, and those who criticize him for it should remember that his injury problems began when he played through a leg injury in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final when others would not have.

Edu’s career is probably over. His release takes his $818,750 total salary off the Union’s books, clearing space for new talent.

Roland Alberg

There’s nothing new to be said on this one. He has already signed with CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria. Moving on.

Oguchi Onyewu

This move surprised many. Onyewu played well for the Union in 22 starts, and while his mobility was limited, he projected as a good third center back and veteran mentor for next season, particularly considering their stable of center backs ages at the same rate as the rest of the human race.

That said, Auston Trusty has to see time in MLS sooner or later, and the Union may have wanted to clear space for that.

We have no idea what the Union are planning for their center back group next season. The only sure thing is that Jack Elliott will start. Richie Marquez or Josh Yaro could be dealt over the off-season, a big-time veteran starter could be brought in, or Trusty could even be given a shot to compete for a starting job. Who knows? It’s full of variables, and Onyewu was the first domino to fall.

Interesting note though: Earnie Stewart said Wednesday that at least one other club was interested in Onyewu. It could be that Onyewu wanted to leave to be a full-time starter. He’s 35, but he showed he has something left in the tank. Or he could retire, having proved to himself exactly what it is he has left.

Charlie Davies

In the end, the Union got 106 minutes of playing time from Davies (and a third round pick) in exchange for allocation money and what appears to be the No. 7 overall pick in January’s amateur draft. And to make that deal, they had to trade away fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux — again.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t worth it.

Ken Tribbett

Tribbett’s story almost isn’t fair. After an often solid 2016 MLS season was marred by getting posterized by Toronto FC, Tribbett got buried on the Union’s depth chart, and then he only got 12 starts for Bethlehem’s USL side.

There’s a professional side somewhere that he can help. He was a finalist for USL Rookie of the Year in 2015, he is a dangerous aerial presence on set pieces, and he was more often than not a decent defender in 2016. Unfortunately, the “not” is what most remember.

Aaron Jones

Jones had a good year on loan with Bethlehem, starting 29 games and scoring two goals from set pieces. That said, you didn’t think the Union would go into the off-season with three backs on the roster, did you?

Jones will catch on somewhere, and it could even be on a USL contract with Bethlehem.



  1. If I had to bet on it, I would expect Sapong to slot into Pontius’s old role of Wide Target Man with Simpson or a new signing moving in at sriker. It’s not what I believe is the right move here, I just think that this is how the Union viewed things when evaluating whether to keep Pontius or not.

    It would make some sense as Sapong is comfortable on the right which would allow the Union to keep Picault on the left assuming that a higher level signing is not brought in for either of those two roles.

    • This is the problem with Curtin.

      What you laid out, I have no problem with. As a once in a while game plan for specific opponents, or as a late game strategy.

      However Curtin has shown -50% ability to tweak his lineup/tactical plan on a week to week or opponent to opponent basis. The guy is incapable of making decisions like that.

      • He doesn’t change his lineup a ton but he changed it a decent amount last year. His “formation” doesn’t change but the tactical plan sure does. It’s just wrong to say otherwise.

      • Yes he makes some tweaks here and there, but it’s not enough. He sucks. What part of his glowing record impresses you? What part of waiting till the last 3 games of the season before tweaking the formation impresses you?

        We go on cold streaks longer than a month all the time. Curtin tweaks nothing worth while.

      • I’m not pretending he’s great, but just like the Union the whole thing looks mediocre, plays out mediocre and people act like it’s the worst thing in the league. It’s not. It’s mediocre. And it all stems from Sugarman. Everything. They are cheap about everything. We have been through 3 coaches and 2 GMs (one supposed to be the golden boy) and it is literally the same thing every season. Honestly the only time this team has looked good was the first half of 2016, which was Curtin coaching Saks players.

    • Please no. If they are really thinking like this, it’s more evidence they don’t know what they are doing. CJ is not a winger. End. Period. Full stop.

    • CJ’s performances and stats have dried up every time he has moved to the wings. It’s the reason why he was available from SKC, because the made room for Kamara and CJ’s play plummeted on the wings.
      He’s a hold-up player. If he’s not up top and in the center, his play greatly suffers.

      • CJ wasn’t moved to the wing for Kamara, it was for Claudio Bieler. Kamara played as a wide target man his whole time at SKC.

        It’s debatable whether his stats dried up when he moved from CF to a wing as he scored 5 in 18 appearances as a left winger for SKC (28%). During his time at SKC, he scored 9 in 29 appearances as a center forward (31%). If you look at his career percentages, they are similar (33% rate as a CF vs. 29% as a LW).

        He was available to the Union because Dwyer emerged as their center forward, Vermes went away from the target winger process and SKC could get a 1st round pick for him.

      • Man…I am off my game today.
        Maybe I’ll sit out a few innings…

  2. “The only sure thing is that Jack Elliott will start”


    Dude better not get sick or have a poor practice.

  3. Just to tag onto your point about Davies in regards to the USMNT, they still have not found a replacement for him almost a decade later. He was on his way to being a really special player.

  4. I would have liked to see Gooch stay, but I’m sure he had a decent salary increase clause in his contract.
    With as many years as he was inactive I’ll bet his body actually has a decent amount of miles left in the tank.
    Maybe we see him back again? If not, I see some team picking him up next year.

  5. Section 114 (Former) says:

    Thank you to the folks moving on. They largely gave their best and certainly brought credit, if not victories, to our crest.
    And thanks to Charlie Davies too.

  6. As we speak the organization has ONE left back signed to either team, one.
    He improved nicely at the USL level, but is 18 and has 18 professional games on his resume.
    Fabinho is in a strong position to ask for a raise. The club has little leverage to get him to take a reduction.
    If this situation does not resolve, it becomes a higher priority than an attacking center mid.
    Is it possible they are looking at a 3-5-2? Who is going to be available around the league? The current situation is untenable.

    • Nothing is a higher priority than a CAM, imo. I’d rather have a cone at left back than endure another season like we just had.

    • Section 114 (former) says:

      It’s not like there’s a scarcity of inadequate USL level talent. They need to find someone but there’s zero reason to have this kind of freak out over them walking away from Wijnaldum.

    • Fabinho sucks!! Gives the ball away at least 20 times per game and is always out of position. We get scored on by more balls crossing in from his side than anything else. If they take him back I will cancel my tickets for sure

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    I am oddly satisfied with the departures of this team. Save Wijnaldum, who I would’ve liked to see stay, but whatever. If Fabi and Ilsinho come back at reduced deals that is totally fine with me. Now SMARTLY spend the damn money you have available and we may actually have a team next year

  8. That’s about $2.8 Million dollars to play with. When do we start calling this a “rebuilding year?”

  9. We had a team this year. Every one of those players Earnie brought in was in place to at least make the playoffs knockout round. But again Jim Curtin somehow demotivated this group, and will continue to do so as long as he is in charge of this pathetic organization.
    For whatever reason the Union feel loyalty to this guy. Without Andre Blake standing on his head most nights, any other coach WOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED MONTHS AGO… while Mike Petke was available, and then Jay Heaps was available… not to mention John Harkes… all proven WINNERS!

    Let’s all face it… this ownership could care less about what Philadelphia thinks. They are watching the value of this team skyrocket, as they jettisons payroll… and the league does nothing about it in the 5th largest TV market in the country?

    Columbus is losing their Crew because of greedy ownership and MLS indifference. Moving to Austin, TX… a smaller metropolitan market! And no mention how that move effectively blocks the existing San Antonio expansion bid which was supposed to be a very strong bid… and the league does nothing. Philadelphia is soon to follow Columbus, as more and more fans cancel their season tickets because ownership just does not care about WINNING… and the league could care less.

    Develop and sell all the players you want, Jay. Heck, sell Blake to any EPL team for $10M in a few weeks. I’ll simply watch Blake on TV and not have to brave the trip to lovely Chester like we did for every game for the past 8 seasons!

    With Curtin in charge, the team will suck no matter whose on the field.

    … and as a side note: Altidore is a total joke, an embarrassment. His behavior this season for the USMNT and now in the “tunnel” incident shows everyone his true colors. Had anyone at the league offices had any “b*lls” he and Bradley would have been suspended indefinitely for what transpired at half time. The way Bradley went after Jesse Marsch was sickening. They are both pathetic examples for our youth to have to witness.

    • GEEZ, I have been saying that about Altidore for years. That big frame should make him a great hod up player but the minute he is touched, he flops and spreads his arms. To me he is a cry baby and a whiner and very selfish.

      Most of his USMNT goals were scored on someone else’s hard work.

      NOT gonna comment on the other stuff! 🙂

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