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.
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?
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?
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.
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.