Breaking down and building up

Photo: Ben Ross

Breaking down

entropy (n.), 2nd def. – a gradual decline into disorder

What happens in the second half of soccer games?

Tired legs. Acres of space. Back and forth affairs.

Entropy, that gradual decline into disorder, happens as soccer games progress – the structured nature by which teams organize themselves begins to break down, showing up as gaps in lines or failures to track back on defense.

For players like Alejandro Bedoya, it shows up in his body language: he knows he needs to make a run his body doesn’t want him to make, and watching his head reconcile those two things together, put itself down, and trudge forward is what fighting against entropy looks like.

Author’s note: Not fighting against it looks something like this.

Fighting entropy is hard.

It IS a scientific law after all – the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time. This is the principle for why the dishes don’t ever do themselves and why your kid’s (or your) room isn’t clean. It’s not your fault, it’s science, baby.

Unless you’re the Philadelphia Union.

Entropy happens to the Union, of course it does. But the team are so organized to begin games that the inevitable decay that goes on over 90 minutes isn’t enough to undo them. For example, though the Boys in Blue have seen 11 of the total 15 goals they’ve conceded happen in that second frame (certainly entropic), they’ve offset those tallies with 18 of their own – while only allowing their opponents a second half goal 3 times without an answer. Whatever breakdown is happening on the Union bench, more of it is happening on the other side.

More importantly, the Union are outscoring their opponents 22-4 in the first half – finding cracks before any of their own start to show.

The Union are hard to break down, are breaking other teams down more quickly and thoroughly than ever before, and it’s because of they way the Boys in Blue are built.

Building up

A savvy-eyed reader of this very website (wbev) made a comment yesterday that’s worth some review – to paraphrase:

Ernst Tanner said he’d rather have a full squad of $500k players than one or two superstars, because teams win games not individual players.

This is The Union Way after all, in Ernst we Trust the saying goes.

In shopping for foreign talent, the Sporting Director has long made deals that seem impossible from the outside: Julian Carranza for a 2nd round draft pick? Nobody else offered more than a 2nd round pick?? He’s a bargain shopper for sure, but in addition to having an eye for the undervalued, he’s most known for his eye in finding the undiscovered: he’s credited for finding Bobby Firminho after all.

But this is about rosters not players, and Tanner has a track record for gathering low cost players that can also be molded into a winning team – no small feat – and an outcome that raises the profile of each individual as well as his value along the way.

For Tanner, it isn’t one or the other, it’s both – but in a particular direction, just like wbev suggested. Including the aforementioned Carranza, he’s also responsible for players like:

Kai Wagner – worth $550,000 in 2019, $3,300,000 in 2022

Leon Flach – worth $660,000 in 2021, $2,200,000 in 2022

Jakob Glesnes – worth $605,000 in 2020, $2,200,000 in 2022

Jose Martinez – worth $330,000 in 2020, $1,650,000 in 2022

Notice a theme here? “A team full of (roughly) $500k players.”

To say nothing of draft picks like Andre Blake and Jack Elliott, each of whom are valued at several million dollars today, the team is making good on their investments. They’re also winning games, to the tune of most points in the league since Tanner’s arrival. So, the ethos works.

Antithetically, teams like LAFC build through superstars – Carlos Vela, Gareth Bale, and Giorgio Chiellini. They also suffer when those stars are out, as they did in 2021 when Carlos Vela was hurt and the team went from winning the Suppporter’s Shield in 2019 to finishing 7th and 9th in the West in 2020 and 2021. To contrast, when Jose Martinez, one of the league’s best defensive midfielders and the lynchpin holding the Union’s midfield together, missed the Union’s most recent match against Houston, the Union kept a clean sheet and scored 6 goals.

Anecdotal, but illustrative nonetheless.

Author’s note: Sometimes the other direction works too, where a great player or two raises the profile of the group around him. Very rarely does that peripheral player meet the bar set for him by his great teammate when that gravitational force has left – there aren’t nearly as many Scottie Pippins as there are Kyrie Irvings – a bad teammate with no track record for success that doesn’t include Lebron James.


  1. pragmatist says:

    To your point…
    Who knows if he is being brought in to get first-team minutes right away, but a guy with a $330K transfer value doesn’t sound like someone destined to spend the season with Union II.
    I have zero to add, as I know nothing about him. But it is curious that a defensive midfielder with a somewhat sizable (by our standards) transfer value would be brought in. It doesn’t seem like this move is being made in a vacuum.

    • And he can play center back (6’3”), according to the club’s statement.. a nice depth add at that position beyond the midfield versatility and physical presence. I imagine he’ll spend most of his match time with Union 2 for the rest of 2022. It takes some time to learn the Union way, so to speak. But at 21 and given the length of the contract, it implies a longer-term confidence.

      • pragmatist says:

        That makes sense, especially if they got him for less than $330K. I still feel like there are more details behind this one. The weekly press conference might shed some light.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out Chris!
    I know this is in some ways contrary to everything that’s been said above in terms of development, but I don’t think I have ever heard Ernst asked if he sees club value opportunities at the end of a player’s career.
    Clearly Bedoya is worth a lot more than his Transfermarkt value of 330K. At the end of Connor Casey’s career, he was a great piece to bring in at the end of games – a beast and a sniper.
    Right now Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll are sitting out there team-less and younger than Bedoya, at transfermarkt values of $600. Wilfried Bony is only $300K.
    Would it be worth it to have a guy like them to come off the bench in the 70th minute?
    Or maybe late in the game, kids on the rise with fresh legs are scarier to tired defenses than Premier League players past their prime.

    • You’re welcome, it was a timely post for me.

      Those names are fascinating. Hard to know how they’d mesh with the culture, but Sturridge off the bench is a wild concept.

  3. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Reports that haven’t been confirmed are 200K but playing any time soon as he gets his paperwork in order…. Uhre was three weeks if I recall.

  4. Thank you, Chris (and wbev)!

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