Opportunity cost, offensive tactics, and roster planning

Photo: Paul Rudderow

A long, long time ago at a college in northeastern Ohio, an Introduction to Economics course introduced the concept of “opportunity cost.”

If someone chooses to do a specific thing, several other potential choices become impossible.

“Opportunity cost” informs Ernst Tanner’s composition of the Union’s creative attacking midfield positions – among others – as he builds the club’s roster for the future.

A clear illustration of the point follows from a concrete, counterfactual example.

Carles Gil joined the New England Revolution in time for the 2019 MLS season. That year he was MLS Newcomer of the Year, an MLS Best XI selection, and New England’s Most Valuable Player. And he is now a 2021 candidate for league MVP while the Revs run away with the Eastern Conference, probably win the Supporter’s Shield, and make a run at LAFC’s league record for total points in a regular season.

What would have been the consequences for the Philadelphia Union had they signed Gil, not New England?

Brenden Aaronson would not have gotten to play, at all in 2019 and only somewhat in 2020. So the Union would not have sold him for $6 million, plus the few millions in add-ons he has almost certainly earned while playing so well for Red Bull Salzburg.

Bringing in a Carles Gil blocks the future development of any creative attacking midfielders in the Union’s academy. Bringing in a Gonzalo Higuain, or a Chicharito Hernandez, or a Thierry Henry similarly blocks academy strikers. The Union’s stated business plan is to develop young players and sell them, so importing established, expensive stars is not going to happen because it would destroy the opportunity for future sales.

Tanner must accurately predict which youngsters will develop into lucrative sale candidates and leave their developmental paths open. If the opportunities are seized successfully as the older Aaronson’s was, the club will win and fans will be happy. Otherwise, not as much.

PSP’s untrustworthy, cracked, and cloudy crystal ball says that Tanner must not block the paths of Paxten Aaronson and Brandan Craig, at 10 and 6 respectively.

Daniel Gazdag’s being more of an 8 than a 10 makes a lot more sense when considering the opportunity costs of him actually being a Borek Dockal at the 10. Gazdag and — perhaps — Jesus Bueno may replace Monteiro and Bedoya as the framework within which Aaronson, Jack McGlynn, Cole Turner and Quinn Sullivan will further develop.


  1. Great article and important perspective to keep in mind.
    Still, I struggle to see how Gazdag adds more value to the current or future team than does P. Aaronson right now.

  2. To borrow a phrase from Earnie Stewart, Gazdag’s “engine” is fully developed. Aaronson’s is not, yet. And they face a gruelingly intense match schedule for the rest of the season.
    I expect the youngsters to get some games, but they are not yet ready to go three games a week for consecutive weeks.

  3. That’s not where I thought you were going when I read the title.
    How about the opportunity costs of carrying so many not-yet-ready players on the 30 man roster due to being Fing cheap on USL rosters? In a year with all this international duty, plus CCL play, they should have spent the extra money for a dozen extra slots.
    As to Aaronson and Craig, it seems a little long-sighted to make decisions about 2021 acquisitions due to not blocking them in 2023. If they develop to the point where they can play 90 minutes 30 times in 2023, then great, sell on the player you brought in. Or move them to a different position.
    I agree you don’t bring in a high-end DP at the 10, but you can certainly bring in a MLS average player. And at the 6, well, we already have at least three of them on the roster (Flach, Bedoya, Martinez) so that’s already blocked. And it will be unblocked if a kid is ready, by doing what they are doing now — playing folks elsewhere or selling on.
    I want the win tonight and I’ll be optimistic. But I’m convinced it is time for Sugarman to cash in the winning lottery ticket and get out of the way of a real ownership group worthy of a top seven American market.

  4. Marco Fabien was supposed to be our Carlos Gil…

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