Photo: Earl Gardner
With the signing of Porfirio Lopez yesterday, the Philadelphia Union continued a busy offseason that has already addressed many glaring needs.
Since the 2011 season ended in defeat at Houston, the Union have parted ways with Justin Mapp, purchased the rights to a Costa Rican striker, a Costa Rican fullback, and a Panamanian utilityman, signed a Tanzanian winger through the re-entry draft, and added a homegrown player. Busy, busy.
As the saying goes: More players, more problems. The Union currently have 11 players under contract who qualify as internationals under MLS rules. The official limit for internationals is eight.
“As I said on the Twitter today, there’s always something to worry about, isn’t it?” Union manager Peter Nowak said at a press conference on Thursday. “In this business it’s always something to worry about. The roster compliance is March 1st and we’re going to worry about it when we’re close to that date. As of now, it is what it is.”
Acquiring International slots
Although each team starts with eight, international spots can be traded for allocation money, draft picks, or personnel. On December 12, San Jose sent Bobby Convey to Sporting Kansas City for an international slot during the 2012 season.
Did you spot the catch? International slots are usually traded for a finite period of time. Portland sent allocation money to the Galaxy prior to the 2011 season and received one international spot for a period of two years in return.
Although the Union reportedly received a hefty amount of allocation money for Jordan Harvey and have an extra second round SuperDraft pick from the Andrew Jacobson deal with Dallas, it would still take a considerable effort and resource outlay to retain eleven internationals. If Bobby Convey, one year removed from an All-Star appearance, is 0nly worth an international slot for one season, the Union will struggle mightily to secure three extra spots for any length of time.
When asked about trading for international slots, Peter Nowak said: “There’s a good possibility that other clubs won’t use their spot and we can talk about it. The SuperDraft is one of the actions, the combine of the SuperDraft, we talk about if it’s necessary to make arrangements. There’s enough time between now and March 1st to make this happen. When the time is right we are going to worry about that.”
A look at who these international players are might make this all a bit easier:
The Union’s international players are:
- Faryd Mondragon
- Carlos Valdes
- Keon Daniel
- Nizar Khalfan
- Josue Martinez
- Gabriel Gomez
- Porfirio Lopez
- Roger Torres
- Veljko Paunovic
- Levi Houapeu
- Joe Tait
I’m guessing most of you already crossed Tait and Houapeu off your list. That brings the total down to nine, and introduces an interesting roster question: Keon Daniel.
Neon Keon’s future remains shrouded in mystery. Although Justin Mapp is gone, Porfirio Lopez, Gabriel Gomez, Gabriel Farfan, Freddy Adu, Roger Torres, and Michael Farfan can all fill the left midfield spot that would be Daniel’s most natural position. The Union protected Keon in the expansion draft, which suggests they have hope he will return to action in 2012.
“The issue is very complicated. I’m not going to go into details on that. I’m not qualified and I’m not authorized to say anything about what and how will happen,” Peter Nowak said. “So it’s both sides’ issue: First immigration and visa, then in Trinidad how [Keon]‘s going to make his arrangements. It’s not up to our club to look into this. They need to be resolved by him only. If it’s going to happen then we still have him under contract so it’s not going to change anything with that.”
The Union want competition at every position, and in the midfield they clearly have it. Amobi Okugo should push Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan must maintain his stellar form to keep a spot on the wing, while the right winger should be whoever works best with Sheanon Williams. The attacking midfield slot will likely be up for grabs again. Freddy Adu should have the inside track, but Roger Torres, Gabe Gomez, Veljko Paunovic(?) and even Kyle Nakazawa will press for playing time in the middle.
Philadelphia opened 2011 in a 4–3–3 formation. With a wealth of midfield options behind Josue Martinez and Jack McInerney (who has excelled in a wide position in the US Olympic camp), a flexible 4–3–3/4–2–3–1 could be in the cards in 2012.
One thing is for sure: The team’s offseason moves have all been for players who can play multiple positions. Don’t expect Peter Nowak to turn away from his dream of creating a fluid offense. The Union will be solid defensively and run-and-gun going forward in 2012. Will new personnel help the team take another big step forward?