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Can we just get to the soccer already?

Hey Gang,

Eli here. I begin this way in an effort to make certain that you, the reader, know that I do not intend this as objective commentary, or even particularly insightful commentary. Because, at the moment, I am a ranting Union supporter, a raving Founding Member, and I have some things I need to get off of my chest.

Did you know that the Major League Soccer season is right around the corner? March 19th can’t come soon enough for those of us who have been itching to see the Union embark on the second chapter of this young franchise’s story. Yet, while the inaugural season was met with unbridled excitement and boundless enthusiasm, this upcoming season limps ever closer, as some sort of a target simply to take our minds off of the winter’s behind the scenes shenanigans. And that’s a real shame.

What’s the big secret?

Now, I’m not knocking the major player acquisitions.

Mondragon, Valdes, Carroll and Ruiz are all solid acquisitions.

But the manner in which they arose leads one to ask more than a few questions. For example, what are the benefits of the Union’s tight-lips policy about these things? Not to be overly-dramatic, but I can see, well, absolutely none.

Stories get leaked. Players talk, clubs talk, hell, even unnamed sources close to the club talk. Heard of Twitter? How long before the “official” Mondragon or Ruiz announcements did EVERY other media outlet have the story. One week? More like one month or longer.

So why all the hush hush? It makes the Union look disorganized and lacking control over the club’s internal priorities and the message to its supporters, supporters who want nothing more than to learn about their team and have further reasons to be devoted to the Union.

The Union remain a young franchise, that cannot be overlooked. But, with Year One in the books, it seems like the marketing and propaganda wings of the team have completely taken their foot off the gas. It’s like the Union’s front office have entered a sophomore slump long before any of the players had a chance to take the field. Isn’t it obvious that we want to be whipped into a frenzy, rather than left to wonder about what’s going on?

Did you hear about Zach Pfeffer’s lightning-bolt of a goal from 35 yards out? Me too. It sounds amazing!!!

Did you see video of it? Me neither.

If I lived in Renton, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, and one of my beloved Sounders’ players bulged the onion bag with a long-distance screamer, I would go to my team’s website, click the “WATCH” tab and spend my evening perusing highlights from preseason matches, player and coach interviews and commentary about the upcoming season. I would be fired up by our new draft picks and acquisitions and happy to see the familiar faces I spend my hard earned money to go watch, week-in and week-out.

Snap back to reality where the Union’s preseason video offerings include a youtube clip of Carlos Ruiz highlights, a homemade propaganda piece called “Are you ready to doop? Buy your tickets today” and one solitary two minute clip with interviews from the first week of training camp.

That’s it. Not a single video from a single preseason match. No postgame wrap-ups. No sound byte from the captain.

I have a smart phone. It has a video camera. I can upload homemade videos to the Internet in seconds.

So can interns.

What’s available from the Union is, quite simply, NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The Michael Orozco Fiscal fiasco

By the way, the aforementioned clip features four interviews: Sebastien Le Toux, Peter Nowak, Brian Carroll and—you guessed it—Michael Orozco Fiscal.

If the protection of Chris Seitz in the expansion draft, only to lose him in the re-entry draft for nothing (where Seattle scooped him up for free and immediately traded him away for a draft pick), had you befuddled, well, hold on to your hats. You’ll need to because, given the club’s apparent mismanagement of Orozco Fiscal’s situation (fiscal mismanagement—get it?), your head must be shaking to the point where it threatens to roll off your neck.

After starting 29 matches for the Union in Year One and logging the second most minutes on the team, he simply disappeared. Following Roger Torres prescient tweet, news began to stir that Orozco Fiscal was no longer with the Union. But where was the announcement? What was going on? The Union refused to comment, saying only that Peter Nowak would address it in Wednesday’s press call. What did Nowak have to say?

“It seems to me that you forgot what the rules are and weren’t paying attention to the details.”

Exsqueeze me? A baking powder? Yeah, right.

Here’s what we the fans/media (I am proud to consider myself a part of both) knew. Orozco Fiscal was on a one-year loan from Mexican side San Luis. We don’t know the details of that loan deal because it is the policy of MLS not to release them. We do know that the Union had an option to buy Orozco Fiscal and make him a permanent signing after that year was up, not that we knew when that might be. As far back as November, speaking of the Torres and Orozco Fiscal loans, Nowak said, “MLS and our club will work to extend their stay with our team.” Orozco Fiscal reported to preseason camp and, on February 1, 2011, the Union published the following story: “Philly Still the Top Priority for Orozco Fiscal”.

Feel free to read it, though it might feel like having salt rubbed in your wounds.

In the article, Orozco Fiscal committed himself to the Union, saying “I want to stay here permanently. I want to be here. I want to be a part of Philadelphia.”

Pretty definitive stuff.

How bout the coaching staff?

Assistant Coach John Hackworth confirmed in the article that Orozco Fiscal would almost certainly be back.

So, in summary: Player wants to be here. Coaching staff wants him here. He shows up to camp on time and contentedly trains with his teammates.

What gives?

Perhaps San Luis tried to raise their valuation of the player to get more money for the permanent signing, perhaps the club’s investors balked, perhaps Nowak and Orozco Fiscal had a falling out. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

We do know Orozco Fiscal was one of the fans’ favorite players because of the intense reaction to rumors of his departure. And why wouldn’t he be? His gritty work ethic, tough play, willingness to perform at whatever position is needed, not to mention some breathtaking goal-saving tackles, are exactly the kind of thing that Philly fans love. These are also exactly the qualities the club promotes as part of its team identity. Sadly we will never know why the Union have lost out on retaining a UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL because Peter Nowak simply isn’t telling. Not only is he not telling, he has a hissy fit when asked about it.

And do not for a second pretend that we as fans don’t understand the gamesmanship surrounding player signings and transfers. Whether our backgrounds are in other American sports or, like myself, we have spent years following the bizarre misdirection and daffy behavior in the European transfer market, we are not dumb and certainly know when we’re not being spoken to with honesty. Had Nowak said, “It’s a private matter that I don’t want to discuss (or can’t),” I probably would have given him a pass. Most of us would have. But accusing the media (which is mostly comprised of loyal Union supporters) of not paying attention to the situation?

No. Unacceptable.

To dismiss that legitimate question as not paying attention goes beyond arrogance and into the realm of blatant disregard for the very people who brought the Union to Philadelphia and continue to show them the greatest affection and support.

I also feel very strongly that no player who utters the words, “I want to stay here permanently. I want to be here. I want to be a part of Philadelphia,” should EVER be treated with the disrespect shown to Michael Orozco Fiscal this week. If we are ready to bury Robert Pires (correctly) for bashing Philadelphia, we need to go to the mat in support of players who want to be part of what we are building here.

Nice way to start off a season.

Questionable personnel moves

Salinas, Seitz, Jacobson, Moreno, Knighton, Fred and now Orozco Fiscal all gone from last year’s team. And for what?

A single second-round pick in 2013.

This is the year that the Union are supposed to be building on their roster. With the return of the reserve league, a chance for a better showing in the US Open Cup, more league matches on the docket and another batch of friendlies to come, the Union front office should be using the league’s expanded 30 man roster to bolster the squad, providing much needed competition for places and depth throughout side. Right? Right?

Wrong.

With a clear need for improvement at outside fullback—given Jordan Harvey’s documented deficiencies and Sheanon Williams’ youth and inexperience in MLS—being one of the many roster concerns, the Union had their choice of a spate of high-profile players with the 5th pick in the draft. Yet they squandered it on goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Before anyone flies off the handle with the hate mail, I have NOTHING against MacMath. NOTHING. He looks to be a tremendous young talent and, given four or five years, he may become a world beater.

But, with Mondragon on board, the Union’s most pressing needs were in other places.

Does anyone out there honestly believe that the Union would not have been better off with Mondragon, Knighton and Holder between the pipes AND the addition of highly-rated Generation Adidas fullback Kofi Sarkodie or California defender A.J. Soares? What about strikers Will Bruin, C.J. Sapong or local favorite Corey Hertzog?

With Mondragon expected to see the bulk of the minutes in 2011, the Union could have had any one of these players to make both an immediate AND lasting impact on the club. Looking around the league in 2010, the top ten leading goalkeepers in goals against average were all 28-years of age or older. That’s nine years from now for young MacMath. Surveying beyond MLS’ shores to find top young goalkeeping talent reveals a crop that includes England’s Joe Hart (23-years old), Germany’s Manuel Neuer (24) and France’s Hugo Lloris (24). So if MacMath is truly to become the elite of the elite, he is still looking at four to five years of development to do so, minimum. And there isn’t a single thing wrong with that. Yes, he could buck the trend and become a viable option in the next year or two, but that goes against all conventional wisdom the world over and is a COMPLETELY unfair expectation to place on the player himself. I’m certainly not taking that bet.

That’s why you don’t take goalkeepers high in any draft and that’s why he was a luxury pick for a team that does not have the luxury of wasting picks.

Yes, the roster is not set. Believe it or not, most of us already knew that the transfer window is open until April 15—thanks again for the reminder, Pete. But 22 players on the roster out of a possible 30 on March 1? Five defenders? Are you kidding me?

I heard talk that Ryan Richter has been getting some time at right fullback.

WHY?!?!?!?!?

Square pegs in round holes

This square-peg round-hold BS has got to stop. If you support this absurd monkeying around with players and lineups, I have two words for you: TONI STAHL. Nowak pulled his holier-than-though garbage in the Union’s first game EVER. And how’d that work out? Stahl, a center midfielder played out of position at centerback while Orozco Fiscal, a CB played CM. Oh and Danny Mwanga, remember that guy? The FIRST pick in the draft. He played midfield in that game.

Remind me how that worked out.

Oh yeah. Stahl, out of position and out of confidence in his FIRST PROFESSIONAL MATCH had a horror-show of a debut (so bad in fact, that he never recovered) and honestly, you couldn’t really blame him. After all, he’s not a center back. I felt bad for him—how could a coach do that to a player? Any player? Let alone a rookie.

But once you’ve stepped afoul of the coach you’re as good as gone. Tough luck.

Moving a player to a new position because it suits him and his future development is one thing. Trying out different players as emergency fullbacks because you went the entire offseason without securing ANY depth at the position is another thing entirely. This is professional soccer. When one season ends, the only goal is to prepare for the next one, reinforcing your club’s weakest points.

With little more than two weeks to go before the start of the season, that work remains alarmingly incomplete.

Put up or shut up time

While this rambling, raving rant will undoubtedly appear to some as dour and defeatist, it needed to be said. We are no longer the new boys, getting by on our novelty. If the Union fan base is to continue to grow, that growth will be based upon success BOTH on and off the field.

As someone who loves the Union and spends considerable amounts of time thinking, reading and writing about them, I have real qualms about the direction of this club. Having your coach barking at an honest question sends the wrong message. Swapping out half your roster is never an ideal scenario, especially when it makes a team whose weakness was out wide narrower than ever. With young speedsters like Chris Agorsor and Levi Houapeu (if he is signed) staring up the depth chart at four other forwards, the chances of the Union getting any real pace on the pitch, aside from Sheanon Williams (if indeed he is deployed at right back) seems unlikely.

Last year at this time, Sebastien Le Toux was preparing to don his cape and take control of Year One, single-handedly helping the Union to avoid the doldrums that reside at the bottom of the table. With Danny Mwanga and Carlos Ruiz at his side, the three form an extremely dangerous partnership and with the (hopefully) imminent breakout season for Jack McInerney and my no longer private man-crush Amobi Okugo to look forward to, there will be plenty of fireworks to behold at PPL Park.

I just can’t wait to get there so that we can start playing the games and let the players do the talking.

Thanks for listening. Can’t wait to see you all down in Chester.

UNION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Eli

31 Comments

  1. Pingback: Können wir bekommen nur die Fußball bereits? | Fußball Wetten | Bundesliga Tipps & Quoten

  2. Amen, brother!!!

    While I do not agree with everything in your righteous rant, I heartily agree with the attitude of Peter Nowak and the team regarding player moves. Um, sorry guys, but if you want fans INTERESTED and INVESTED and INVOLVED, you have to give them INFORMATION about what’s going on. I mean sure, some stuff needs to remain private, but that should be the exception, not the rule. If San Luis was asking for too much money, they could’ve just said so. They seem to act as though we have no right to question their judgment. News flash for the Union: questioning the management’s judgment is what being a fan is all about. ESPECIALLY in Philadelphia.

    Also, protecting Seitz only to let him go was baffling to the point of being inexcusable. If Nowak screwed up (i.e. he didn’t think anyone would take Seitz the second time), he should just admit it, say his mea culpas and be done.

  3. I share your concern. With the MLS’s focus on parity the Union need to squeeze value out of all of their assets to be successful. Letting players go that other teams want for nothing is not a recipe for long term success.

    I’m also dissapointed with Nowak’s handling of the Orozco-Fiscal situation. Just poor.

    Still cautiously optimistic we’ll be dooping alot this year though!

  4. Andy Dillon says:

    Eli, I couldn’t agree with you more, which you already know. ;) For a team to make “major” news announcements when marginal and/or bench players have been waived (Arrieta, Zimmerman, Noone, Coudet, etc) but barely acknowledge the departure of a 2010 stalwart is baffling, bordering on downright shady. For the fanbase to be treated like a bunch of lemmings who will believe what they’re told, when they’re told it, without question, is unacceptable … ESPECIALLY in a sports town as passionate as Philadelphia. They want to keep their preseason goings-on under the radar, they want to hold trialist names/identities close to the vest? Fine. It’s frustrating for us, but it’s their prerogative. They want to head overseas for a couple weeks, then say that the preseason training camp is open, and the team welcomes all media to accompany them on their travels is unrealistic. I’m not asking for full and total training camp disclosure, but throwing us a table scrap every once in a while will keep us satiated until First Kick. That doesn’t include the feel-good, heart warming stories about players wanting to stay with the Union (Salinas, Knighton, Jacobson, Orozco Fiscal), which is turning into Major League Soccer’s version of the “Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx”.

  5. Jeremy Lane says:

    While I agree with the sentiments of the piece, per se, let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment and say that I still think we owe Union coaches and management the benefit of the doubt for this off-season. In truth, it’s the first real off-season any of us have had with the Union, as anything before the team’s first match doesn’t really count when compared to the interim between the first and second seasons.
    -
    All that said, once March 19 rolls around, the honeymoon ends. It’s put up or shut up time, then. I think Nowak’s gotten more things right than he’s gotten wrong, so far, but the proof is in the pudding–if we keep clean sheets, if we score goals, if we make fewer mistakes than we have in the past, then long may it last. If not…well, Philly fans are many things, but patient and even-tempered? Nuh-uh.

    • True this is the first “real offseason for the Union”, but the fact remains this is not the first time any of the coaches on board have been..well..coaches. They should know how to treat their fans and players based on announcements. I’m concerned with the possible drain that the team going to greece may effect the start of the season. Yes they have two weeks to recover, but those will also be filled with practice most likely. Are they going to get rest?

      Nowak has gotten a lot of things right, all last season. And as we know in this town, past successes do not matter, it’s what you do now that does.

      • Jeremy Lane says:

        Sure, you’re only as good as your last game, but that’s just it–we haven’t played any games since last season. I think most of this angst is really just a result of having no soccer to watch. I don’t buy this whole “fans are being disrespected because we don’t know everything” thing. Would I like to know more? Sure, but what’s it really matter? None of this off-season stuff means much until the games start. Would I have protected Salinas, or signed Orozco-Fiscal permanently? Maybe, but Salinas, for all his potential, barely played last season due to injuries and inexperience, and Valdes might make MOF redundant. Equally, Salinsa might become league MVP, and MOF could have been the best defensive player in MLS this season. We have no idea, though, what will happen, so all this grumbling just seems unnecessary to me, at least right now. If we play well and win games, none if this stuff matters at all. Let’s see how the Union play before we get mad.

        • I don’t need to know everything, but the fact that they let some information out, like “we are working on signing MOF” and then a month later assume we didn’t know that he was on loan, and that the loan was up and say “Why do you keep asking”. I’m sorry, but it reeks of publicity management of another philadelphia team, and it’s disrespect in any sense. Yes MOF as a CB may become redundant with the addition in Valdes, but for any matter, we have no depth. Yes we “haven’t played a game yet” but the way the FO and Coaching staff are handling themselves seem like they have no control over matters, are stepping back on saying they even said things, and not being straight forward. That tends to become the making of a downward spiral and a terrible season if history of how other teams being handled in such a way repeats itself (as it does). We will see in 2 weeks, but as I said, the coach shouldn’t be lambasting over being asked questions about a player when they publicly said “we’re working on getting him”. All you have to say is “We didn’t get him and he is returning to his former club” No more, no less. Doesn’t say he was too pricey, doesn’t say MLS was being frugal, just says we didn’t get him. That’s all we need.

          I wouldn’t be suprised if we lost Torres because of the loan and he leaves the team before or after the first game cause we didn’t know the term conditions. I’m honestly more annoyed with the saying one thing, something happens, and then acting like you nor someone in your camp ever said you were going to do it.

  6. Great piece. I strongly believe this should be sent to the Union front office with as many media signatures as you guys can get. This off season was characterized by disorganization, carelessness, lack of forsight and missed oppurtunities. While the season has not started and so we must not cast definitive judgement I do not believe any avid soccer watcher looks at this roster from any angle-depth, width, speed and even talent- and is confident going into the season. Founding seasons are characterized by mistakes because of lack of communication and experience with fellow team mates. The only strong defensive partnership we had all last season is broken up. Given, Valdes is very good, but Califf doesn’t speak spanish and Valdes does not speak english. As things stand the organization has disrespected the players, fans and media all in one off season. Reorganization or a revised approach is needed no matter the outcome this year. Also, Seitz was not protected in the expansion draft.

  7. Nowak is a piece of doop!!!!

  8. Eli – This is terrific. Please forward to the Union’s front office. Amen brother. C’mon the U, get your shit together and let’s kick some MLS ass this season.

  9. Matt Kirk says:

    I kind of have the feeling that Nowak is trying to create a sort of camp at the Union that AC Milan does. There is barely any media allowed inside the training grounds and if something does get out its by Milan itself. While I respect that idea of making a controlled camp and not letting any craziness into the training ground; I have to COMPLETELY AGREE with this article and say Why the #%#@& would you let Orozco Fiscal go??!?! Why would not buy him and make him a permanent player?? and thanks to Eli I now also know that he is United States International so signing him would not take up an International Spot on the team ( Thats how i interpreted it, please tell if i am wrong cuz im not sure lol) but seriously how can you have 5 defense players when you are going to play with 4 in the back and even if you play with 3 in the back that is not nearly enough depth especially if the Union make it deep into playoffs or even USOC, As much as I love the new signings we have had at Offense and Goalkeeper, they will not help us as a team if we dont have defenders!! I just do not understand what Nowak was thinking here. And his press conference was more like a NO TALKING session than an actually press conference; you can not just let stuff like letting a player go who was second on the minutes logged last year go you be a respectful organization and you buy him permanently. Orozco Fiscal even said himself he wanted to be here!!!! My mind is just blown right now with Nowaks actions.
    GREAT ARTICLE!! It was a fantastic read and I am right there with you Eli!! I can NOT wait for this season to start!!

    • With regards to the U.S. International reference, while Orozco is indeed an American, I think the context for this reference was because Michael has been capped for the USMNT.

  10. I fully agree that Nowak was not in the right when addressing the media about Orozco. I respect your point about losing some players for nothing in return. As far as criticizing the mix-and-match-stuff, I’m not so sure. Stahl wasn’t benched due to his lack of performance, it was his lack of discipline. Playing defense instead of midfield had nothing to do with his decision to make a reckless tackle while already carrying a YC and while the Union was down. He was also 25 years old during his “first professional match” (Mapp’s age now… give or take) so I wouldn’t have given him much time to develop either. As far as Richter at defense goes, we don’t have any insight from the cheap seats as to why he couldn’t play there. Sheanon Williams used to be a forward too but I don’t see anyone complaining about his switch. I read that Amobi Okugo has played some center back with the US U-20 team, so he could be an emergency guy there for us. While Peter may be cranky due to his inability to keep anything secret (see his reference to these excellent blogs’ uncovering of his trialists), I still maintain that Nowak is better at scouting prospects and developing professional talent then we are.

    • Andy Dillon says:

      I still stand by my belief that the inaugural game last season was, for all intents and purposes in Nowak’s head, the FINAL game of preseason, especially with over 2 weeks until the team would take the field again. He was tinkering with positioning (MOF at CM, Mwanga at mid, Myrie at RB, etc) and giving guys one last chance to prove themselves in a very hostile environment. Shame that it happened on a national stage, though.

  11. Damn! Well said. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s wrong to be so critical, because the person who criticizes something the most is usually the one who cares about it the most. Nowak’s been a fine coach, but he’s got some ‘splainin’ to do about Orozco-Fiscal.

    But I will always hate you for making a fiscal/Fiscal joke before me. Always.

  12. Great post – very well said.

    Last season, I had few expectations. I was just glad to see a team finally in Philadelphia (even though I now live out west). This season, we don’t have the first year as an excuse. Do I expect an MLS Cup? No. But I think we need to (and can) improve on last year’s efforts, and ideally, make it into the playoffs. The slight improvement towards the end of last season had me excited about the prospects heading into this season.

    Unfortunately, I’m beginning to be a bit concerned. I realize that preseason training and friendly matches don’t necessarily provide an indication of a season’s performance, but this preseason’s performances, choice of opponents, lack of communication, and player changes (especially the handling of Orozco Fiscal) is somewhat worrying.

    22 players on the roster
    Only 5 defenders
    3 new keepers
    Only 6 preseason matches (none against MLS teams)
    Two weeks until the start of the season

    Sure I realize the roster is not complete. But would it not be better to have those additions earlier rather than later so members can train together? As it is the team might be too vulnerable… I worry what one or two serious injuries would do the team.

    But I try not to dwell on all of these things. I maintain my faith in the players, look forward to the new season and continue to proudly represent the Union out here in California.

    • Andy Dillon says:

      I think the lack of preseason MLS opposition goes hand-in-hand with Nowak’s keeping of trialsts’ names close to the vest. And, after looking at some other clubs’ preseason schedules, they has been a variety of college, lower-division, and/or MLS (or equivalent) opponents across the board.

  13. Amen, Eli. Well said. Spot on. The Orozco Fiscal situation is messed up, and so is everything else you pointed out.

  14. Pingback: Saturday Soccer Links « Broad Street Hooligans

  15. Mike from Old City says:

    Wow, that’s the kind of gut shot that leaves you sucking air. Nice job!

  16. Well said. It seems like the front line moves were very good but the depth moves were perplexing, at best.

    And oh by the way, Salinas is hurt yet again: http://www.soccerbyives.net/soccer_by_ives/2011/03/vancouver-whitecaps-shea-salinas.html

  17. Pingback: CyberShotz: Fiscal fiasco, & then some

  18. Nice blog about soccer players. nice article!

  19. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » “Peter Nowak doesn’t really want me in his team” — Le Toux

  20. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Peter Nowak, a postmortem

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