The 2019 MLS season kicked off with Philadelphia Union facing Toronto FC in a highly anticipated match that also featured the MLS debut of Marco Fabián, the Union’s biggest signing to date.
The home opener of the Union’s 10th season started slowly. Both teams traded shots back and forth in a largely scoreless first half marked by extended and dubious injury delays and a yellow card for Fafa Picault.
After Andre Blake got a hand on a risky header from Nick DeLeon, Kai Wagner slid to block Jonathan Osorio’s shot off the rebound. Wagner picked up a controversial hand ball penalty after the ball bounced off his shoulder blade, but Blake handily saved Osorio’s penalty kick. Loose defense later cost the Union in stoppage time, though, as a wide-open Michael Bradley found room in the box and drove home the only goal of the first half.
Down a goal, the Union came out shooting for the second half, with Ilsinho, Fafa and Fabián taking quick but unsuccessful chances within the first six minutes. Maintaining his momentum after a yellow card in 54th minute, Bradley once again slipped easily by the Union’s defense to make it 0-2 in the 62nd minute. In a refreshing display of adaptability as the game turned against them, Union coach Jim Curtin replaced defender Ray Gaddis with forward Sergio Santos in the 68th minute, shifting the Union into a 3-5-2 formation.
After Osorio conceded a hand ball penalty—and a tense delay in which the play was reviewed—Fabián stepped up to take the penalty kick. He easily booted a shot into the bottom corner to score his first MLS goal and to give Union fans renewed hope.
That hope grew in the 75th minute when the Union nearly managed to tie it up as a loose ball rolled up to the chalk in the Toronto box. Laurent Ciman cleared it off the line, and referee Nima Saghafi declined to review the play, ratcheting up tension, both in the stands and on the pitch.
Throughout the match, Saghafi’s control slipped away due to lengthy deliberations, as well as questionable and missed calls. After a heated exchange by both teams following a hard foul by Santos on Drew Moor, he attempted to reassert his authority by showing a yellow card first to Santos in the 81st minute, then to Osorio in the 83rd.
The game continued downhill from there as sloppy play handed Toronto its third goal in stoppage time when DeLeon took an open shot from the center of the box to put one past Blake. The match ended 1-3 in a disappointing start to the Union’s 10th season.
Though there were flashes of teamwork amid the Union’s many shot attempts, this team still needs time to click and to continue working on the new formation. Fabián only joined the team two weeks ago, and Santos and Wagner also made their Union debuts on Saturday. Hopefully cohesion will come, though Coach Curtin is likely feeling pressure from his one-year contract in this put-up-or-shut-up season. We’ll see how the boys in blue perform next week in Kansas City.
With the 2019 season less than a month away, rumors of a deal to sign Marco Fabián breathed fresh life into Philadelphia Union fans feeling adrift and anxious for a big signing in the offseason.
Fabián, 29, joined Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt four seasons ago, where he netted eight goals and six assists in 44 appearances. In 42 appearances for the Mexican National Team since 2012, he’s scored a further nine goals. However, Fabián’s last two seasons were derailed by a back injury and subsequent surgery and recovery.
Still, Fabián would be exactly the kind of high-profile, splashy signing Union fans have been clamoring for and would build confidence in sporting director Ernst Tanner’s vision and direction for the team.
That vision includes a new formation that we saw for the first time in Clearwater during the Union’s 3-2 preseason victory over the New York Red Bulls. After so many seasons of a rigid and predictable 4-2-3-1, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a 4-4-2 diamond formation. I’m particularly excited to see how the two-striker approach changes the Union’s attack this year.
This first look at the new formation also marks our first glimpse into the mindset that has guided their offseason roster decisions. Players we said goodbye to this winter include winger Marcus Epps (New York Red Bulls), midfielder Fabian Herbers (Chicago Fire), and defender Keagan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids).
The first big-name signing of the offseason was Brazilian forward Sergio Santos, 24, who made 16 appearances for Chilean Primera Division club Audax Italiano in 2018. During that time he scored nine goals, earning his place as the club’s top scorer and tying for 10th leading scorer in the league. Santos will occupy an international spot on the team’s active roster.
Goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel, 22, joined the Union from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg—Tanner’s former club—as part of a one-year loan with an option to buy. Tanner sees an opportunity for Coronel to develop alongside fellow goalkeeper and new Homegrown signing Matt Freese.
The Union also signed centerback Aurelien Collin as a free agent. A former MLS Cup Champion and MLS Cup MVP with Sporting Kansas City in 2013, as well as an MLS All-Star in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Collin comes to Philadelphia fresh off a Supporters’ Shield victory with the New York Red Bulls last season.
Will these signings help the Union build on the successes (and avoid the painful defeats) of last season? We’ll have to wait until March 2 to see, but I feel cautiously optimistic about the Union’s 10th season—and I’ll feel even better if the team announces that they’ve signed Marco Fabián this Friday when they launch the new away kit.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Ernst Tanner confirmed the rumors of talks to bring Marco Fabián to the Union, but declined to elaborate any further.
The team also announced the signing of German left back Kai Wagner, 21, from Würzburger Kickers, part of Germany’s 3. Liga. As the third left back on the roster, Wagner provides depth and can be a backup to Matt Real when he likely heads to Poland for the U-20 World Cup in May. Additionally, this extra depth on the left will allow Ray Gaddis to move over to right back, his natural position. Wagner is the eighth international player on the Union’s roster and the third added by Tanner during this offseason.
The Philadelphia Union fell 3-1 to NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night in a disappointing end to what is definitively the team’s best season in its history. From the start, the Union felt disjointed and gave up a goal to Maxime Chanot off a corner kick in the 8th minute.
Two minutes later, Auston Trusty scored his second own goal of the season while running toward the Union’s goal line, and two minutes after that, Trusty was shown the first yellow card of the match. The 20-year-old is a great addition to the team—playing every single minute of the regular season—which only makes these rookie mistakes hit harder.
It felt like the Union may be able to recover when Cory Burke scored a goal from the center of the box in the 14th minute with an assist from Borek Dockal. This was Burke’s 10th goal of the season, tying with Fafa Picault, and Dockal’s MLS-best 18th assist.
David Villa took back the momentum by scoring for NYCFC in the 34th minute. Then, Burke picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute and exchanged heated words with Dockal. Burke started the second half on the bench in tears as Ilsinho took his place on the pitch.
A foul by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gave the Union their best chance to pick up another goal with a penalty kick by Fafa, but Johnson guessed right for the save. The Union’s offense couldn’t capitalize on any of the other opportunities they made, and the score stayed at 3-1.
Throughout the match, the Union’s defense felt off, with the back line consistently playing way up the pitch in a possible failure to adapt to Yankee Stadium’s smaller dimensions. Despite being left on his own and giving up two goals, Andre Blake did make some big saves to stop the bleeding. This match easily could have been a draw without the own goal and with the penalty kick, but it was not to be for the Union.
After starting #DecisionDay with the opportunity to finish in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, the Union instead fell from 4th to 6th in a disappointing decline for a season in which the boys in blue netted more wins, more points and clinched a spot in the playoffs earlier than ever before in team history.
The loss dashed their hopes for a home match in the knockout round of the #MLSCupPlayoffs, so the Union head back up to the Bronx for a Halloween rematch at 7pm.
It’s good to see that the Union have cut their practice pitch down to the appropriate size as they prepare to face NYCFC again, but the pressure is on if the team wants to win its first playoff game ever and get payback for Sunday’s loss. We’ll have to see whether that pressure will keep them focused as a team or knock them out of the running.
Fresh off an international break that saw both Andre Blake and Borek Dockal serving as captains for their respective national teams, the Philadelphia Union faced off against the New York Red Bulls for their home season finale.
The Union’s defense thwarted Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls’ offense, holding them scoreless until the 69th minute. A hand ball in the box by Alejandro Bedoya and a lengthy VAR review resulting in a penalty kick gave Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra all the opportunity he needed to get one goal up on the Union. Though the Union took more shots throughout the game, they weren’t able to turn any of their chances into a goal, and the match ended in a 1-0 win for the Red Bulls.
Homegrown hot shots Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty yet again proved themselves as valuable members of the Union’s defense. At only 19 and 20, Philly may not have much time left with these two, but it will be exciting to watch them grow in their careers.
The Union held up well against the No. 2 team in the league, leading both in shots and possession. Before the penalty kick, a 0-0 finish and 1 point felt like a real possibility.
Bedoya’s hand ball dashed the Union’s hopes for a draw, but an earlier tangle with Fafa Picault in the 40th minute cost them a chance at a goal when Bedoya inadvertently blocked Fafa’s shot.
It was a rough game all around, with both teams each netting 13 fouls. Three of the match’s five yellow cards went to the Union—CJ Sapong (37’), Auston Trusty (47’), and Picault (66’).
The tension on the pitch only increased when a scuffle broke out just as the first half ended. Luckily for all the players, the shoving didn’t result in any further penalties or cards, and the teams headed into the locker rooms to cool off.
After the match, Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin took some time out of their post-game remarks to take the Union front office to task for Sunday’s field conditions, with Medunjanin going so far as to say he’d prefer an away playoff berth unless the situation improves.
Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin slammed the Union business office's decision to host a series of high school soccer games at Talen Energy Stadium late in the MLS regular season, hurting the quality of the playing surface: pic.twitter.com/HUTo7HeKXp
Longtime Union fans know that this is a team that does better while playing consistently, and they tend to come back from a bye week or international break below peak form.
This Sunday, the Union face off with NYCFC in Yankee Stadium for their last chance to secure a home playoff game, and they’ll be doing it with DC United breathing down their necks. Let’s hope they can get back into their groove this week.
After a disappointing US Open Cup loss followed by a scoreless road draw, the Philadelphia soccer community was tense, wondering if the Philadelphia Union had what it took to win a game with stakes on the line. In his post-game remarks, Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted that he too was nervous going into the match against Minnesota United FC.
If the players were nervous as they returned to their home turf on Saturday night, they never showed it. The team that ran onto the pitch was a team ready to prove that the pair of surprising wins leading into the US Open Cup was not a fluke but the status quo for a team that has visibly clicked in the latter half of this season.
The Union dominated the first half of the match, scoring early and often. Center forward Cory Burke shot from outside the box to score the first point in the 8th minute with an assist from the Union’s #10, Borek Dockal.
In the 17th minute, a strong cross from defender Keegan Rosenberry followed by a left-footed shot from Union captain Alejandro Bedoya took the Union up 2-0 over Minnesota. The fans barely had a chance to settle back into their seats when Fafa Picault slipped through two MNUFC defenders with a through ball from Rosenberry and scored the third goal of the evening in the 23rd minute.
The Union kept shooting as they sought a fourth goal, trading possession with MNUFC and making six more attempts—four missed and two saved. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake felt pressure from Minnesota as he made two big saves in as many minutes before sending the ball down the field.
In the 44th minute, Fafa, looking cool and collected, lobbed a shot from the left side of the box. The ball went over Minnesota’s back line to score the fourth goal—his second—and leave MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth looking utterly demoralized at the end of the half.
MNUFC used the break to regroup and came out for the second half looking dangerous as they caught the Union off guard in the 54th minute when MNUFC’s Darwin Quintero put one past Blake to end the shutout.
Just when it felt like the Union’s earlier cohesion might be slipping, midfielder Ilsinho came on for Dockal as the Union’s first substitution. This well-timed change lead to multiple close chances in a row and reinvigorated the players and the supporters in the River End after the conceded goal, several fouls and a yellow card for Bedoya.
The Union demonstrated a level of confidence, comfort and footwork that remained steady for the rest of the game, even as Fafa and MNUFC’s Alexi Gomez both picked up yellow cards in the 72nd minute. Blake held MNUFC to one point with several great saves.
Ilsinho scored the Union’s fifth goal with an absolute rocket from 30 yards out in the 79th minute, and it was all over. At full time, the score sat at 5-1 Union, and the boys in blue clinched a playoff spot in commanding fashion.
As Fafa said after the game, the team proved that “we don’t suck.” Sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining in their most successful regular season in franchise history, the Union are better positioned than ever for this third run at the postseason. Enjoy the international break, Union—you’ve earned it.
There were three main reasons behind my decision to move home to the Philadelphiaarea after living in South Carolina for a decade: it was because I wanted to be closer to my family, I wanted to live in a bigger city (with public transit) and I wanted to be close to professional soccer.
There wasn’t a single MLS team in the South before 2015, but with my move to Philadelphia, I finally had a team to root for based in the city I love.My first game was in June 2016, when my boyfriend’s company held a work outing for employees and their families.
We met with a marketing representative from the team, and as a marketing/public relations person myself, I was fascinated to learn the origin and design of the team crest. The boys in blue went on to defeat the Columbus Crew 3-2 on that balmy Wednesday night, and I was hooked from the first #DOOP.
I grew up playing soccer despite never being good at sports that require hand-eye (or foot-eye) coordination. Sports that require endurance and a certain amount of stubbornness—cycling, running and, for a few years, roller derby—are a better fit for me. That’s what drew me to the Union. It’s not a team that spends the most money on the highest-skilled players, but it isa team that works hard and will tough it out.
That’s a very Philadelphia mentality, which is appropriate when you remember that the Union grew out of a group of passionate (and a bit rowdy) fans. No other team in the MLS formed after its supporters group willed it into existence, and the Sons of Ben continue to energize the entire stadium, no matter the score.
For the past two seasons, that passion brings my boyfriend and me to Chester. Watching the Union play is one of our favorite things to do together, and we’ve had the good luck to mostly see wins at the games we attend.
Now, I’m excited to share my love for the Philadelphia Union at MLSFemale. Come #DOOP with us.
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 Curtin. I 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 kids. The 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 winter. I 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 scenario. Andre 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 holes. Now 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):
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL)
D. Jones (HGP)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL)
Elliott (50k – INTL)
A. Jones (50k – INTL)
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:
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Veteran DP #10 (DP)
New TAM Winger (~450k)
Ayuk (65k – INTL)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL)
D. Jones (HGP)
Strong Depth DM (~150k)
Attacking Left Back (~150k)
Elliott (53k – INTL)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL)
Veteran Backup (~75k)
A. Jones (53k – INTL)
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.
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.
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.
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!
The second time Ilsinho gets hit in the face tonight, Abubakar is shown a straight red and Columbus are down to 9 https://t.co/36xlD8tNy1
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.
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.