Commentary

Thinking about the future

Photo by Earl Gardner

There’s a great line from the TV show “Seinfeld” about ending relationships.

This is true of most relationships in life, they take time to build up and time to break down. In sports, at least as seasons finish, the end comes quickly and without pretense. Fans almost always wish they had more time, one more game, one more tailgate, one more win.

But even in victory, there are always more questions than answers.

Here’s a list of the most prominent of the former and a guess at some of the latter, starting with the players.

The 2020 Philadelphia Union

At the end of the 2018 season, the Union moved on from players like Josh Yaro, Richie Marquez, Marcus Epps, and Jay Simpson by not renewing their contracts. None were large contributors and only Epps is playing American professional soccer today, albeit sparingly for New York Red Bulls.

Simpson’s Wikipedia page has him listed on the roster of Cypriot side Nea Salamis Famagusta FC. This is perhaps a fitting stop for the journeyman because the team “has been a refugee club since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, when Turkey occupied the northern part of the island. The club is temporarily based in Larnaca.”

As roster decisions loom this autumn, it’s likely the team will move on from much more talented players than they did the year before; players like Jamiro Monteiro (whose loan from Metz will expire and price will be too high to keep), Aurellien Collin (who filled in on a one-year deal and might just retire back to France where he was when the Union came calling last year), Warren Creavalle (who is starting caliber for many MLS teams but hasn’t found his place in the Union midfield), and of course Marco Fabian (who was among the team’s most productive players but found himself a useful cog in the Union machine less often than he did the odd man out).

There are certainly others on the Union depth chart today that might not be there come March.

  • For the first time since he was drafted, the Union will have a real chance to move on from goalkeeper Andre Blake should they want to. They have this chance because Jamaica’s national team is finally ranked high enough that a move to England is in play, and two years ago Brighton and Crystal Palace were kicking Blake’s tires.
  • Ray Gaddis already has his place penciled into the Union’s Ring of Honor, as well as Jim Curtin’s undying love. Though he’s fended off challenges to his starting Right Back spot since he was drafted (goodbye, Sheanon Williams, au revior, Keegan Rosenberry), perhaps this is the year he’ll be usurped.
  • Jack Elliott was as good as gold to suit up for the Union this year, starting every single match. He also has a European passport of course, and if there’s one thing English soccer coaches love it’s a tall center back with good feet.
  • Coming to the end of his contract, Fafa Picault might be the odd man out of a crowded attack. Or he might just adapt like he did in 2019, in which he finished 6th on the team in goals and tied for 4th in assists. Maybe he’s the answer at the #10 position, a spot he played in the friendly against PUMAS, did this,…

…and all but broke the Mexican side’s midfield who were issued two red cards while chasing the Gazelle.

As some players shuffle out, there will be a new group who shuffle in. To that end, as much as fans value the contributions of players like Jamiro Monteiro today, even the most plugged-in of them had likely never heard of the maestro before he signed with the side this spring.

Ernst Tanner, Chris Alright, and the team’s scouting network have proven themselves adept thus far at finding diamonds in the rough (see also: Wagner, Kai and Pryzbylko, Kacper) and there shouldn’t be much doubt as to whether the new stock will be talented enough to make do.

Speaking of the head coach

In 2014, it wasn’t his fault (see: the signing of M’Bohli, Rais).

In 2015, it still wasn’t his fault (see: the firing of Sakiewicz, Nick).

In 2016, he made the playoffs and re-earned his job (see: the hiring of Stewart, Earnie).

In 2017, he got a lifeline as his boss’s new system was being implemented (see: 4-2-3-1).

In 2018, he got back to the playoffs and re-earned his job again (see: the hiring of Tanner, Ernst).

In 2019, he nearly put it all together in the best Union season of all time and did this to Union fans (see: the high-fiving of Union owner and regular straw man, Sugarman, Jay).

Thus, as Curtin enters the 2019 off season, he does so in a new and strange place: he’s not fighting for his job, having signed a two-year deal in July. As Curtin often points out, contracts in sports are meaningless in many ways. Teams often fire players and coaches in the middle of these agreements, willingly paying employees to leave while paying another to work in his or her place.

The coach himself believes he’s been on a yearly leash every year since his hiring and Curtin may be right about that.

Tanner however becomes the third director of the Union to put his faith in Curtin’s leadership, and given the German’s soccer pedigree, that’s no small vote of confidence.

Perhaps this vote is some measure of Tanner’s German efficiency, as few teams have been more efficiently successful than Curtin’s Union (see the chart below).

Whatever it is, Curtin is here to stay. For what seems like the first time in his tenure (now third longest among active coaches in Major League Soccer), most fans are pleased about that.

Notes from Artesia

Eagle-eyed Union fans noticed something new from the team’s merchandise shop this month: an authentic shirt that didn’t have the BIMBO brand on it. That’s a first for the Boys in Blue since the beginning of their corporate partnership in 2011.

The team and the league keep sales numbers extremely close to their weather-appropriate vests, so fans will likely not know whether this particular top sold out more quickly than the military, pride, cancer awareness, or parley shirts (all of which sold out in hours in 2019). That this shirt had a different sponsor name on the front (even if that brand is under the royal BIMBO umbrella) is noteworthy.

There has been no announcement yet about whether or not the Union have renewed their partnership with the Hatboro, PA bread maker. One might assume though that a deal is in the works, considering few companies would make a concession like that (removing their primary brand for a secondary one) without something in writing for the future. The team already has an agreement to use Artesano or any secondary brand on their change kit, they simply haven’t done so to this point.

Union fans who’ve been clamoring for a shirt that doesn’t suggest the wearer is “an attractive but unintelligent or frivolous young [person]” may have just won the day.

In terms of overall fashion, there’s more than one fancy company with the same name though. If only the next Union kit could incorporate some of these Artesano hats…

https://twitter.com/shopartesano/status/1172484372768940032?s=20

27 Comments

  1. Do we know when the end of season press conference is with Ernst?

  2. Good piece and enjoyed the jersey sponsor bit, but had two minor comments:

    1) Yaro played for San Antonio in the USL this season with 32 starts and nearly 3k minutes played.

    2) Creavalle wouldn’t be able to start for 75-80% of the clubs in MLS.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Good catch on Yaro, though I don’t count USL as a professional league. They call themselves that, but salaries for players there are in the $25-$35k/yr range, or basically right at the federal poverty level. As for Creavalle, your number might be right and that still leaves a half dozen openings for him.

      • I can see Creaville getting picked up by an expansion team.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        Interesting point about USL, yet he signed a contract and many players in MLS have played there and moved on to better leagues. The fact that Yaro is 24 and had MLS experience probably means he signed for the higher number and not the lower. Also USL recognized the players starting a union and will start CBA negotiations for next season. Hopefully they can get something accomplished that continues the growth of the league and does better for the players.

  3. I think at this point Blake is on course to play for the Union until he retires. I can’t see a European team taking him. I’m fine with that. He’s a good keeper. Had an inconsistent season, but he’s a nice keeper to have in MLS.

    I like Fafa, but my man can’t finish. Union have to find a striker who can match or exceed Przbylko’s output.

    Biggest question I have is how the Union shore up that aging midfield. I think Aaronson can build on this season. Other than that, it’s question marks. Bedoya and Medunjanin are ageing and have logged a lot of minutes. Curtin hasn’t demonstrated much faith in Fontana. Keeping Montiero is a huge piece.

    • It seems to me the issue with Blake is that he has reached his ceiling as a player without real competition behind him. He is still young enough and talented enough that there is probably another level in him he can achieve but he won’t get there if he doesn’t have to fight for his place.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Picault was 7th worst in the league with respect to Goals – xG in 2019. Monteiro was only 3 spots better unfortunately.

  4. The tweet from SPugger77 is worth looking at, particularly clicking on it to get the chart in full.
    .
    That kind of bang for the buck would make any businessman smile, I would think.

  5. I think Creavalle might be worth keeping if you make the commitment to give him a healthy chunk of Medunjanin’s minutes next year. Let Haris start games at Talen, NY, NJ, DC, Toronto, Montreal, and Columbus. Creavalle can start the longer road trips and artificial turf games.

    • Creavalle is 29 and the definition of mediocre. He basically does one thing okish at this point.

      You need to go younger at that spot, definitely bringing in someone else because Fontana is more of an 8.

      I think Fontana also deserves more chances at minutes, all he did was look good when called upon.

      • Well, I think Creavelle has shown potential and he is 100xs more sound than Medunjanin with his defensive play. My opinion, Harris needs to go. Although , he can have games with incredible passing and distribution, he is the biggest liability in the middle of the pitch. Game after game this hurt us with teams bursting through the midfield in counters and when pressing forward. The guy can’t even win in the air! Opponents push through and Next year the goal should also be to lock down the middle of the pitch as well. Creavalle has shown that he’s more than just mediocre.

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    Next year’s team needs to be constructed extremely similar to this one… meaning: a mix of youth, a few higher end guys (possibly already on the roster), a no-name that Tanner hits on, and an MLS vet or two. In year’s past we always seemed to be just scraping the barrel or throwing money at the wrong type of guy. Tanner knows how to construct a team and they made some trades last year to load up on MLS funny money. Hopefully they bring in the necessary pieces. I have faith in Tanner.

  7. if it was my team I would view 2020 as a rebuilding year. build a youthful team around Aaronson, with Ale and Haris the old heads who should not be playing in 2021. Lots of free money from monteiro and fabian leaving, bring in a bunch of young forwards and midfielders with potential and see who works. Aim to further develop trusty and mckenzie, with the aim of selling one of them (or elliot, but hes clearly the best) by the end of the year. boring, but I don’t see any way to transfer this year’s success into next year without spending big on a proven midfield

  8. I know it would mean another adaptation from Fafa, but rather than a No. 10, could he slot into Montiero’s No. 8 spot? I’d really like to keep Fafa on the pitch for the Union.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      If Fafa wants to stay, he absolutely should. He’s proven to be a team guy. If I recall, Monty only had 2, maybe 3 or 4 goals from open play this year. Fafa wouldn’t need to score much at the 8, especially having Przybylko, Santos, Wooten, Burke. Have to imagine some combination of those 4 will do enough to take spotlight off of Fafa to score.

  9. PRH Continuum says:

    Replace Curtin with Paul Riley; just won back to back titles with the NWSL’s Carolina Courage. Was here when he led the Philly Independence to back to back championship games in the early 2010’s. Proven winner.

  10. Weird Union dream last night. Saw Bedoya came on as a guest singer for Metallica and killed it then realized that “Oh yeah, that’s what he does in the offseason, tours with Metallica” and I thought our captain is cooler than yours.

    • James is in rehab so Ale filling in should be something he explores. Phang can get some much needed cred and come out for the Black album medley. we’ll rebrand the River End as the Snake Pit and the stars will have finally aligned in 2020.

  11. Creavalle is not good enough to be a full time MLS starter for any team. Keeping him as a defensive sub is good for us.

    Just b/c Gaddis has been here a long time and played in a lot of games doesn’t mean he should be included in a ring of honor.Those spots should be for great players. He is mediocre at best

  12. 1. I cannot imagine Blake going to Europe after the mediocre season he’s had. But that’s just fine by me, because I suspect this was just a down year for him, and he can be our keeper for the next decade as far as I’m concerned.

    2. Creavalle is not MLS starting caliber, but he’s actually pretty damn good as a reserve. You need guys like that in MLS, and you can’t spend too much money on them either. I would be happy with him staying, and my only reservation would be whether it will impede the development of Anthony Fontana (who I think has looked good in his limited minutes).

    3. I was dying inside that we didn’t have a better RB this season… and then Ray stepped up into another gear in the playoffs. If he could play like that regularly, I wouldn’t mind him sticking around. They should probably spend medium (not huge) money on a RB to give Ray competition, and then see who wins the spot. In any case Ray should stay on the squad as reserve RB at least.

    4. If Aaronson is ready to take the keys to the offense as a CAM, that will free us to take all that Fabián money and spend it on another position of need. And on that note…

    5. You want to move on from players BEFORE you need to, not after. And for the Union, the #1 guy they need to move on from is Haris Medunjanin. He is both the fulcrum of the offense and a major defensive liability, and I because of this, he is effectively the team’s ceiling. I would spend significant $$ on a Monteiro-caliber CDM, and play him in Haris’ spot.

    6. After that, we can consider whether to spend additional $$ on a left winger, or another striker. The former position is where I see Picault fitting into this team going forward, and I love so much about the guy’s game, but he is not a consistent finisher. Getting a dangerous winger who can score would really help. Alternatively, you spend a good amount on another striker, and figure that Santos can fight with Picault for the LW spot. Personally I think that between Kacper, Santos, Wooten, and Burke, we’re liable to have somebody who can put the ball in the net next season.

  13. Vagabond Ben says:

    I’d love to see Fafa as a Cafu-esque right back bombing up the wing opposite Wagner doing the same.

    In a dream world we keep Jamiro and put him at the 6, Haris leaves and Bedoya, Aaronson and Fontana split the time at the 8s evenly (saving Bedoya’s legs). Spend money at the 10 (again).

  14. PhilinWilmington says:

    Call me crazy, but I think you try to sell Elliot overseas he’s got the highest value right now and after this season is due for a hangover.

    See if you can move Fafa to an MX side, move Creaville in league. Hopefully get a bit of return. If you can get $ for Blake, do it. Otherwise sit tight.

    kaspar, Aaronson, and Mackenzie are the future… Medunjanin, Illsinho, Bedoya … I don’t think you get a return on investment by shopping them, and the fans have grown to love them. Those are players that age out here, Gaddis, too. They have more value staying on as part of the club and aging out over time than you’d get from any sale.

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