All posts by Locria Nyla Fox

A gay, polyamorous, trans lady fox with a love of sports, particularly footsocc and ice hockey with a side of basketball. Also known as The Hockey Hipster.

What’s Next for Union? How the Zolos can plan for the future

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox @LocriaOnSports

Let’s face it: this season has been dismal for Philadelphia Union fans.

After a disastrous finish to the 2016 season in which they did not win a game after August 27, fans hoped 2017 would be better as sporting director Earnie Stewart and new DP Alejandro Bedoya would have full offseasons to prepare.

Instead, the Union started 0-4-4, and despite following that with a four-game win streak, never really recovered. As things stand, Philadelphia is ninth in the East, six points behind sixth-place Atlanta United with a strong end-of-season schedule. Oh, and the Five Stripes have two games in hand.

So after a horrid season, what should the Union do? Here’s my optimal-scenario for the rest of the season heading into the winter.

Sack Jim CurtinI have nothing against Curtin as a person; he seems like a really good guy and the players like him. However, the problem with him is that he is not very tactically sound, and that’s a huge issue in an Eastern Conference that has seen teams hire managers such as Patrick Vieira, Tata Martino, and Veljko Paunović.

He’s very stubborn, refusing to even slightly tweak formations, only really rotating if there’s injuries (or it’s a cup match), and his tactics are subpar. I get trying to do a 4-2-3-1 (a very flexible formation) counterattack, but that requires off-ball movement, something the Union does not really do; just look at when Haris Medunjanin picks out a perfect pass, only to see that the guy who he was looking for started his run so late that he never gets to it.

Let’s also not forget to mention how overly harsh he is towards younger players. Keegan Rosenberry has a couple bad games early in the season and gets frozen out of the team. Yet Ray Gaddis strings together a bunch of apperances where he provides nothing in attack and mediocre defense and remains in the lineup? You want to know what happens when you do this? You become the Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids, who were oozing with talent and potential in 2013 with a young group that included Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown, and Shane O’Neill. Only one of those players is still in Colorado, and it’s safe to say Serna is not the player most hoped he’d be by now. A new coach would help avoid that situation in Philadelphia.

I don’t quite think Brendan Burke (Bethlehem Steel manager) is ready for the top level just yet (and I honestly think he prefers to be a developmental coach), nor do I think assistant Mike Sorber is the answer; I would go outside the organization for an experienced guy.

Play the kidsThe Union know who they have in their first-team players. Now it’s time to see what they have in terms of the young players. Give Derrick Jones and Marcus Epps, who have impressed in limited duty, first team runs. Get Keegan Rosenberry out of his slump; the fact that he’s been benched so long is baffling (I get benching him during the 4 game win streak because it was working, but Ray Gaddis is a nonfactor offensively and his defense has regressed). Allow Auston Trusty, who shined at the U20 World Cup, to get first-team experience. See if Adam Najem can take over the #10 role for next season. If the Union intend on building through the academy and young players as they often repeat, it is imperative that they give those guys playing time at the MLS level.

Clear up cap space in the winterI mentioned how bad the Union cap situation was in my last piece, but to refresh, the Union are using about $5 million against the cap of $3.85 million. With this year’s TAM value at about $1.2 million and the Union using it on multiple players (buying down Ilsinho‘s salary, as well as the salary and transfer fees of Haris Medunjanin and Jay Simpson), it is safe to assume the Union have very little remaining.  Combine that with the fact that the Union are well over the salary cap and there’s very little financial flexibility right now.

They can fix this in the offseason. Ilsinho ($470k), Maurice Edu ($480k – paid $750k this season and occupies a DP slot), and Roland Alberg ($346k and an international slot) are all pricey contracts that are likely gone. I could also see the departures of Chris Pontius ($400k), Fabinho ($160k), Charlie Davies ($109k), Ray Gaddis ($160k), Warren Creavalle ($125k), and Brian Carroll ($132k).

The departures would total around $2 million of new cap space, in addition to the increase in TAM coming next year (reported at $2 million), in addition to the freeing up of two international slots and a DP slot. In a perfect world the Union can also find a take for Simpson ($465k), but that’s highly unlikely due to his wage. Maybe you bring some of these guys back with pay cuts, but I don’t see that happening. The only players I’d say are currently untouchable (unless they get a godfather offer) are CJ Sapong, Medunjanin, Bedoya, Fafà Picault, Jack Elliott, and the homegrowns.

Sort out the goalkeeping scenarioAndre Blake is almost certainly headed to Europe at this point, especially after his dominant Gold Cup. So the Union now have to sort out an issue. I’d sign another goalkeeper regardless of if you think McCarthy is going to be the #1 (and I believe he deserves a chance). Either they back up McCarthy and Jake McGuire goes to Bethlehem, they start over McCarthy with McGuire in Bethlehem, or McCarthy starts, McGuire backs up, and the new signing goes to Bethlehem (I don’t want Bethlehem’s success in the hands of a 17-year-old Tomas Romero; as talented as he is, the USL side needs a veteran). Just don’t screw it up the way you did in 2014…

Fill in the remaining holesNow armed with around $1 million in cap space, the reported $2 million in TAM next season, two open DP slots, and two new international slots, the depth chart now looks like this, along with cap hits (we’re assuming Blake leaves as well):

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Epps (53k) Ayuk (65k)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Fontana (HGP)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Elliott (50k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
 Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) A. Jones (50k – INTL)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

NOTE: HGPs and GAs do not count against the cap; DPs only count for a portion of their salary (this year it’s around $480k)

Looking at that roster, the weak spots are easily seen: a number 10, the wings, left back, and maybe goalkeeper. Now, how you fill those spots depends on how you play.  I’d like to think a new manager would be tactically flexible, using the familiar 4-2-3-1 to start but eventually putting their own stamp on the team. If they stick with the 4-2-3-1, based on the removals I made earlier, this is what I’d ideally line up on opening night 2018:

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Veteran DP #10 (DP) New TAM Winger (~450k)
Epps (53k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Ayuk (65k – INTL)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Strong Depth DM (~150k)
Fontana (HGP)
Attacking Left Back (~150k) Elliott (53k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) Veteran Backup (~75k)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP) A. Jones (53k – INTL)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

In terms of a veteran DP, I think the obvious comparison would be what we had with Tranquillo Barnetta – a talented vet on a short deal whose experience will aid the development of the youngsters.

With the TAM winger, I’m looking at someone similar to Daniel Royer from the Red Bulls. Royer right now has ten goals, is solid defensively (which would allow Rosenberry to get forward more frequently), and is a versatile player. Maybe you even add a second new wing and use Picault as a supersub, utilizing his torrid pace to terrorize tired defenses.

I chose to specify an attacking left back because quite frankly Giliano Wijnaldum is a zero on offense. A huge key to fullback and wingback play in the modern era is the ability to get involved and support attacks, combining with wingers and midfielders, and helping get the ball in the box through crosses or passes. This would also mean that, since the U are deep at center back, the team could go to a 3-5-2 if they wanted, because now they’d have a wingback on each side that can get forward.

I also noted that the Union should have a strong #6 on the roster. This would allow for flexibility as well. If the Union were to go 4-4-2 with Bedoya and Medunjanin at center mid, they’d be easily overrun due to the lack of a physical ball-winner, even if you stuck Derrick Jones (who, though he has size, hasn’t quite filled out his 6’3″ frame yet) at central mid and moved Bedoya to the wing. Plus, it helps to add some depth knowing that you will lose Bedoya for a bit ahead of next summer’s World Cup (and possibly Medunjanin as well, if Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifies). And of course, you can bring them on late in a game that you’re winning when you just want to kill the clock.

I’m not thrilled with keeping Simpson, and ideally you’d go out and grab another center-forward that can hold the ball up like Sapong. But Simpson’s awful contract holds that up. If you can somehow dump Simpson’s contract, whether through sale or trade, I’d get another strong target man that can push Sapong. (If you go to a two-striker setup, Fabian Herbers and Picault can both play that second-striker role; Herbers was prolific there in college.) If he has to stay, however, if the Union utilize a two-striker setup, he may be able to salvage something from his MLS career (he’s never been very good as a lone striker), but I’m not optimistic.

As for goalkeeper, I would give McCarthy a try as the starter, as he’s shown fairly well in Blake’s absence and in cup matches. But if him as a starter doesn’t work, it’s not too difficult to find a good keeper in this league. (In this hypothetical, the U sign a third keeper who gets sent to Bethlehem.)

The cap hit for this side would be $3.92 million. But wait, there’s more! Roster spots 21-30 don’t count against the cap! Slots 21-24 are reserved for GA players and Senior Minimum Salary ($65k) players, so you can subtract around $130k from that cap hit. Slots 25-28 are reserved for Reserve Minimum Salary ($53k) players, so you can take away another $159k (Elliott, A. Jones, and Epps). So you’d be looking at a team below the cap even BEFORE the cap increase (which happens every year) and without using any TAM or general allocation money.

As for international slots, you would pick up slots from the departures of Alberg and Ilsinho, as well as, the return of a slot that was recently traded to Columbus. If you loan out Aaron Jones or Eric Ayuk for the season, that opens another one (two, if you loan out both ). So that allows Philadelphia to be flexible looking for reinforcements.


With a new manager, the shedding of bad contracts, and reinforcements, the Union would be set up for a successful 2018. They would have the flexibility to make multiple formations and tactics work, the quality to compete in a strong East, and the ability to use their homegrown and young players as depth instead of burning money against the cap to the Brian Carrolls and Charlie Davieses of the world who barely, if ever, play.

The Union have a lot of work to do this winter after another season of disappointment. It’s been 6 years since a playoff game was played in Chester. Let’s hope they can fix it before it becomes 7.

Featured image courtesy: ESPNFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

No Move is the Best Move for Union

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

The Philadelphia Union‘s decision to not make any major moves during the summer transfer window is the right one.

A lot of Union fans are going to disagree with my opinion, and I get that. But hear me out.

Right now, the Union are stuck in a bad salary cap situation. The MLS salary cap this season is $3.845 million. Right now, the Union have over $5 million against the cap according to the numbers provided by the MLS Players’ Union. That number, of course, does not include the team’s Generation Adidas players (Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro), Homegrown Players (Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones), the loaned-out Eric Ayuk, or the extra salary over the DP threshold on Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu.

To stay cap-compliant, the Union used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down the cap hits of Ilsinho, Haris Medunjanin, and Jay Simpson, in addition to the transfer fees of the latter two from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Leyton Orient respectively.

Oh, and along with using TAM to buy down three players, they also traded away TAM to pick up Bedoya (via the allocation order) and Charlie Davies (via trade with New England) last year. So the Union are in a bad cap situation. They’re also out of roster spots with 30 players.

How did they get thrust into this bad cap situation? Bad contracts. Simple. Four in particular stand out right now.

First there’s DP midfielder Maurice Edu ($480,625 cap hit). As of this writing, Edu’s last game with the Union was September 30, 2015, when the Union fell to Sporting KC in the US Open Cup final. He’s taking up a huge chunk of salary to not play for two years. Even if he comes back healthy, where do you play him? I would not want to break up the central midfield pairing of Medunjanin and Bedoya, and even if you did that you’d also be cutting off Derrick Jones’s opportunities at first team football, which goes against the team’s best interest (and Earnie Stewart‘s plan which relies on the talent in the Union Academy developing into first-team footballers).

Then there’s Jay Simpson ($465k salary + TAM buydown) – The justification for splashing TAM on Simpson was that the Union were hoping he would be Bradley Wright-Phillips 2.0. That completely ignored that BWP didn’t get his hefty contract until after a season where he potted 27 goals and EARNED a huge pay hike. Simpson just sorta got big money coming out of League Two despite not being all that prolific at that level.

Ilsinho ($465k) is a weird case. On his day, he is very effective – just ask FC Dallas who he brutalized on August 5 for a goal and assist – and can be a treat to watch with his bag of tricks. But other days, he’s just invisible.

And finally we come to Roland Alberg ($345k salary). Alberg’s attitude has been a huge problem for the Zolos this year. After the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta, Alberg basically had the #10 spot handed to him on a platter. Cue him showing up to camp way out of shape, and when he gets on the pitch, he’s not been good enough to win anyone over. He’s twice fought with CJ Sapong over who would take spot kicks, and doesn’t have the final ball the Union needs from a #10.

“But wait, Locria,” you may be asking. “What about that glaring hole at the #10 spot? Don’t you want that filled?”

Of course I do. The Union need to clear up space and allocation money first, though. If you let these guys go at the end of the season, you find a team that now has cap space (especially if a few other players, such as Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll, also leave or take a pay cut), a couple open DP slots, and three international slots (the one recently traded to Columbus will be coming back in 2018). That’s when you take DP money, throw it at a veteran that can help teach young midfielders Adam Najem and Anthony Fontana how to play at a high level. Don’t lose your patience, make a horrible move now, and leave yourself screwed over come the winter.

Making a panic move now would probably not save this season. But staying patient and not making a short-sighted move can set the Union up to be better in 2018.

Featured image courtesy: philadelphiaunion.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Penalty Fights, Red Cards, and First Goals – Oh My!

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

Saturday, July 22: 1-0 Loss

Wednesday, July 26: 3-0 Win

For as dull as Saturday’s snoozer at MAPFRE between the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew was, Wednesday’s midweek clash was much more interesting, both in terms of “there’s actual chances being created” and on-field drama.

On Saturday, about the only interesting thing was the U’s starting eleven. With Fafa Picault, CJ Sapong, and Fabian Herbers injured, Chris Pontius at the Gold Cup, and Roland Alberg suspended, the Union attacking four was Marcus Epps, Adam Najem, Ilsinho, and Jay Simpson. That resulted in three shots total for Philadelphia as the Union failed to break down the Crew’s back three of Alex Crognale, Jonathan Mensah, and Lalas Abubakar. Zero on target. The only goal was a Justin Meram shot that went in off of Josh Yaro, which basically summed that game up to a T.

Wednesday, however, saw the Union respond by nearly breaking the team record for shots (28 – they finished with 27). Alberg returned to the eleven, replacing Najem, and Sapong also returned after missing Saturday’s game with an ankle knock.

It was Sapong’s acrobatic assist that helped open the scoring, as an overhead kick set up a bomb of a shot by Ilsinho.

Then came the drama. In the 35th minute, Sapong won a penalty, and Mensah was sent off for denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

If you’ll remember, Alberg and Sapong fought over who would take a penalty a couple weeks ago in Kansas City, with Sapong deferring to Alberg hoping a goal would get the Dutchman going. They went at it again, as Sapong protested to the bench while captain Alejandro Bedoya tried to mediate, and it was Alberg who took it…and subsequently had it denied by ex-Union Academy keeper Zack Steffen.

Perhaps a combination of “ball don’t lie” (the foul did appear to be outside the box and thus not a penalty) and/or karmic punishment for Alberg. Bedoya did say postgame that Alberg was higher in the PK pecking order, and Curtin said that any tension was sorted at halftime…but still, many fans saw Alberg’s actions as juvenile. He’d go on to channel his inner Kobe Bryant during the second half trying to get a goal to make up for it, but never actually scored and received a smattering of boos when he was subbed off.

Sapong did eventually get a goal in the 66th minute. Giliano Wijnaldum put in an excellent cross, Sapong’s first header hit the bar, but he buried the rebound for his career-high tenth.

Ten-man Columbus became nine-man Columbus about ten minutes later as Lalas Abubakar was sent off for hitting Ilsinho in the face. I think it was harsh, and Ilsinho sold the contact…but you don’t put your hands on someone’s face when you’re already on a yellow!

And then five minutes later Epps puts the bow on a good performance with his first MLS goal, beating a defender to the ball and beating Steffen.

Now the Union head on the road to battle New England Revolution with the return of Pontius from Gold Cup duty. It would also be the return of Blake if he didn’t currently have stitches in his hand. FC Dallas plays in Philly early next month, and I think Philly fans will have Kellyn Acosta marked as public enemy #1. Luckily for the Zolos, John McCarthy has been money in Blake’s absence.

Featured image courtesy: Philadelphia Union facebook

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Sports Are My Life

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

Hello everyone!

I’m Locria, the new Philadelphia Union Key Contributor. I’m really bad at intros, so I’m going to keep this short…I’m a 21 year old trans woman.

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, the only MLS soccer within two hours was a New York team (the MetroStars/later Red Bulls). As someone whose first sports love was the Boston Red Sox, rooting for a New York team was a big no-no, so as a soccer fan I mostly stayed away until the World Cup.

The Union came in 2010, but during most of my adolescence I didn’t really care for soccer. At the time I was all about the NHL, and with that came the sports elitism that is particularly associated with hockey fans. That kinda wore off over time, and by the time the 2014 Olympics rolled around I really didn’t care for the NHL (though I do remain a hockey fan, just mostly sticking to college, international, and women’s hockey).

That falling-out coincided with the start of the 2014 MLS season. Knowing that I wanted to get into the sport ahead of that year’s World Cup, I started watching some Premier League, but it was really MLS that got me all the way into the door. Even though my first full-watch of a Union game saw them bottle it at the death in Portland (little did I know that that was a sign of things to come), I’ve become a fan of the team and the sport long-term.

Outside of the Union (and USL affiliate Bethlehem) in the sport, I also support Southampton, Schalke, Chicago Red Stars, and various clubs whose left-wing politics I associate with, such as Livorno and Celtic. And it goes without saying that I also support my college’s teams (Go Catamounts!).

Outside of soccer, I’m the assistant sports editor for the Vermont Cynic, the student newspaper at my university. I blog about my university’s sports teams and also write about women’s hockey at The Ice Garden with a focus on my school, as well as, the Russian national team and domestic league.

What I’m saying is, sports are basically my life.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

Check us out on instagram! @mlsfemale