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It’s over. Now what?

Photo: Barb Colligon

Well, it’s finally over. Now you can look ahead.

“Wait till next year” can officially start now for Philadelphia Union fans. Feel free to ignore the playoffs if it ruins the suspension of disbelief. You can even pretend it’s Europe and there are no playoffs. For you, 2012 is done.

Feels better already, doesn’t it?

Union management has a lot of big issues to deal with in the off-season, because their personnel situation is a mess. There’s talent, but not enough players in their primes. There are coaching smarts, but not enough experience or manpower on the technical staff. And there’s a salary scale on the team that is completely out of whack with on-field performance.

So here’s the breakdown of the big issues facing the team, in no particular order.

Questions at center back — all three of them

The Union have three center backs on the roster, and there are key questions for all of them.

  • Bakary Soumare: Will he see a healthy return to form?

Soumare appeared in one game after signing with the Union in June, having joined the team injured and never fully recovered. When healthy, there is little doubt of his quality. He was one of the best defenders in MLS with the Chicago Fire, and the $2.1 million transfer fee paid in 2009 by French side Boulogne was a record for an MLS defender. Soumare’s fortunes may determine what happens with the team’s other two center backs. If he can regain his fitness and form, it opens up options for Amobi Okugo and Carlos Valdes. If not, he may just be the worst signing of all the bad Union signings over the last year and a half.

  • Carlos Valdes: Could he move overseas?

Valdes played the season’s last few games like he either didn’t want to be there or was exhausted from international duty with Colombia.

Either way, one can’t help but wonder if a move abroad could happen for Valdes. At 27, he’s in his prime, coming off two very good seasons for Philadelphia (his final stretch notwithstanding), and he’s starting for a legitimate World Cup contender in South America, one of the more competitive qualifying regions (albeit less so this cycle without Brazil). There should be some interest. If Soumare gets healthy and manager John Hackworth truly sees Okugo’s future at center back, then Valdes could go for a decent transfer fee that could help finance some help at striker.

  • Amobi Okugo: Is he a defender or midfielder?

Everyone has an opinion on this one. What’s indisputable is that he put together a terrific season at center back. He fits the profile of what U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants in a center back, and he could be an ideal compliment to center back Geoff Cameron if he makes the leap. Some like the idea of ditching the one-dimensional Brian Carroll and moving Okugo back to defensive midfield to replace him. Whether that’s misguided or not, Okugo is a pretty good midfielder who has made it clear he prefers midfield. Then again, so did Cameron, another former midfielder, and look how he’s doing now.

The Union need to get older

The Union are not a U-23 team. They need to add some veterans, both for leadership and performance in the clutch.

On the field, the team has too many guys who simply haven’t played enough big games and are not yet in their prime. You’re not going to win regularly doing that.

Off the field, the team needs veterans to maintain the team’s cultural framework the way that Danny Califf, Alejandro Moreno, Faryd Mondragon and others once did. Jack McInerney needs a vet to tell him to cool his jets when he’s annoyed with his lack of service. Zac MacMath needs a veteran keeper to walk him through the ups and downs of life defending the net in the pros. And so on.

Who those players are and where they play is another story altogether.

But what’s clear is, to all those people demanding the Union play their teenagers at season’s end, take note: The team is young enough already. Keep your diapers to yourselves.

And most importantly, a proven veteran forward

The game is about goals. The Union need more of them, and that likely means someone who has proven they can do it.

Sebastien Le Toux is a possibility, and he can be had for less than a designated player’s salary.

But the Union could just as well import someone from Europe or Latin America. If so, the model should be players like Federico Higuain of Columbus or Danny Koevermans of Toronto, players who have performed at high levels in good leagues, are still in their prime, and can be reasonably depended upon to replicate their performances in MLS. You don’t mess around with goals. After all, you can’t win without them.

Getting your money’s worth

That means the Union have to start getting their money’s worth from their highest paid players, something they did for their first 1.5 seasons and stopped doing for the last 1.5.

The seven Union players with the highest base salaries are Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez, Bakary Soumare, Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll, Porfirio Lopez and Roger Torres. Only two of them — Valdes and Carroll — met expectations this season. Gabriel Gomez is unlikely to return, and neither is Porfirio Lopez, if the Union can extricate themselves from his contract. Torres and Soumare saw their seasons plagued by injuries. As for Adu, it’s unlikely any MLS club will take on his current contract. If he wants to move on within MLS, he may have to renegotiate. His future is a big question mark.

The current players aside, the Union need to spend their money in the transfer market more intelligently. Every major signing from August 2011 through January 2012 had major question marks. Adu was not in so much demand as to warrant that high a salary. Gomez was signed to play the one position where the Union didn’t need more guys. Lopez clearly wasn’t adequately scouted, because his style of play is nothing like the attacking wingback role they foresaw for him. Soumare was hurt from day one. And so on.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, as the Union should know, since they don’t pay their taxes. Okugo, McInerney and MacMath all graduate Generation Adidas this year, which means their salaries now count toward the team’s $2.9 million budget. Some players, notably the Farfan twins, clearly earned raises. The Union have a business team for a reason. It’s time to start helping the player personnel guys adequately manage their money.

Help wanted: Assistant coaches

The Union have one of the league’s smallest technical staffs. With goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian taking on the role of technical director — effectively the team’s director of player personnel, or lead scout — it will further strain a tiny staff. Chris Albright could retire and join the staff or continue serving as a player/coach, but the Union need more than that. Hackworth’s only other assistant coach is Brendan Burke, who doubles as coach of the PDL’s Reading United.

With a team as young as the Union, this should be a priority. If it’s not, it’s one more sign of the Union’s much speculated financial problems — and one more sign this team isn’t as ready for prime time as once thought.

Your thoughts

I think I left out some things here, eh? What do you think? The question is always implied with our posts — we always want to know what you think, which is why we have the comments section in the first place — but here, there’s probably room for even more conversation. Weigh in the comments section below with your thoughts on the Union’s off-season.

33 Comments

  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Thought #1: Football Manager 2013 comes out soon! I have been playing the beta, and surprisingly with only two signings I broke the record for points in a season my first year with the Union.
    #2: I feel like LB could/should be a ? as well. Garfan has definitely played well – but he is still a midfielder playing defender. I feel like LB could be a good spot to bring in not only a good career defender, but someone who is a veteran that could help the young guys we have on defense – Williams, Okugo and MacMath. This would also open up Garfan to becoming solid midfield depth, or maybe he can even earn a starting wide spot as well.
    #3: The Marfan question, while not as important, is still out there. Midfielder play maker or wide one v one player? If we DO bring in that “Creative midfielder” type – where does that put Marfan and Torres?
    #4: The Gold Cup – Klinsmann wants a B team. Who on our team has a legit chance of making that? And where could we look for depth when those guys are gone?

    • Have to ask, who were your two signings in FM13?

      And please don’t say Juan Diego Gonzalez and David Myrie.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        Omar Monjaraz, a Mexican 31 year old LB who while good was injured and ended up being rotated with both Garfan and Lopez (who sadly is actually decent when put into digital form) most of the year anyway.
        But the big signing was Matías Urbano, a striker who paired with Jack. Jack went on to score 18 goals too. Urbano himself has 10+ too.
        And both Zac and Jack have developed a ton these past 1.5 years and are well on their way to becoming great.

  2. I don’t know what to expect this offseason. The players seem to know what the team needs more than the people in charge. Going after le Toux sounds like the type of quick, cheap fix this team would do. Overall, it doesn’t look promising.

  3. Off the field, the biggest issue this team faces is the technical staff. The club need to get Hack, Rob and Brendan help quickly. Two things I’d watch for this off-season:
    1. Burke moves to Philadelphia full time. This kills me, because of the tremendous job he’s done with recruiting the talented players that have made up United’s squad the past five seasons. Tactically, Brendan has few peers in the PDL. Burke is now ready for prime-time, and it would be a well earned move.
    2. Jimmy Curtin adds Union Reserve Team Coach to his resume. He’s done a superb job with the academy kids and he’s ready for bigger and better things.

    As for player additions, keep a close eye on NASL champs Luke Mulholland and Evans Frimpong. With their connection to Burke, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in camp with the Union in February.
    The Union are hurt by their lack of a first round pick, but perhaps a trade could land us an earlier selection (Gabe Gomez, make yourself useful). Some college guys with Union connections that could be in play for the Union:
    Greg Cochrane – a speedy back from Louisville that has seen time as a wing for the Cardinals. Played at Reading in 2012 and made an appearance at several Union training sessions. Local guy from Holland, PA.
    Eric Schoenle – tall, lanky centerback from West Virginia. This kid is a stud and if the Union don’t have a first round pick, we won’t have a shot at him. Will go early in SuperDraft.
    Pedro Ribeiro – Big, tall imposing Brazilian midfielder that provides excellent service for his forwards. He created a ton of chances for Deshorn Brown at Reading this past summer and he has eight assists for Coastal Carolina.
    Paul Wyatt – Found his way to Reading United based on the recommendations of former college teammate and United alum CJ Sapong. A bigger forward that will be available to the Union in a later round, the Englishman would be an excellent complement to Jack Mac’s talents.

    • I think you’re right about Burke. It will be a big loss for Reading. Maybe he does both jobs for another year. We’ll see.
      -
      As for Curtin … you know, it’s funny. A few years ago, I interviewed him for a newspaper article prior to the Union coming into existence. He was with Chicago at the time. He definitely wanted to play for a Philly team in MLS. Injuries just ended his career early. Was a shame, because he was a very good defender. I’d think he’d get the bump up on the staff too.

  4. I could really see adding Danny Califf to the coaching staff. He & his family love Philly, and it would give them some stability, which he really wants (based upon his public comments). I do not know anything about his relationship with Hackworth et al.

    I, for one, would be very happy to have Seba back. The guy’s had two good seasons at forward, so we know he can score goals. Plus he’s extremely unselfish at forward, racking up lots of assists — people tend to forget that part of his game. Soccer is full of intangibles, and I cannot help but think that Seba, in his prime, with a bunch of teammates and coaches that he already knows, in front of fans who adore him, reunited with his girlfriend, and with the added incentive of giving his evil ex-coach a big fat middle finger, would be in position to play really well for us.

    Having said that, I hope they’ll get someone else in addition to Le Toux. We need some depth. Hoppenot is a really useful supersub but not sure he’s ready to start, and Hoffman is also quite promising but I wouldn’t want to count on him scoring lots of goals yet.

    • Interesting point on Califf. I think that could happen some day, but I don’t think there’s any way he retires after this season. I can’t see him going out with this bad a taste in his mouth. Plus, I think he has a few good years left in him. (I know some disagree, but I’m high on him.)
      -
      And I think you’re right about adding some forward depth — preferably a veteran in the Alejandro Moreno mold.

  5. A few scattered thoughts: Re: defense, the big Q is what happens to the back four without Valdes. WITH Valdes, I think it’s a strength. In any event, they have two promising backs in Gaddis and Williams, but no depth unless Garfan (who ought to be a midfielder) is again put back there. I think an inexpensive, non-Albright back is a priority. I’d like Okugo as a D-mid to replace a traded Brian Carroll, but it’s a no go without Valdes.

    The D-mids (or mid, depending on the formation) should have at least one solid entrant — Okugo or Carroll, or both. Again, Valdes staying or going affects this. W/r to attackers, I think the Farfans should both be midfielders. I’m going to assume we have no Adu. I don’t trust Cruz or Daniel, but perhaps one of them could be used in a 4-3-3. For all of the various midfielders and undersized forwards on the roster, quality wingers are absent. We need one or two. The large, veteran goalscorer that everyone wants is an absolute no-brainer, as well. I’d love to bring Le Toux back, but I’m not sure he’s that guy. Le Toux and the Farfans behind McInerney would be better than what we finished with (Cruz and Daniel), but wouldn’t be scaring anyone. I don’t know what to make of Torres, and doubt he can be counted on for anything.

    It seems like Hackworth would prefer some sort of 4-2-3-1 with attacking wing backs. For that, we’d really need solid defensive midfield play, especially to transition from defense to offense, and with the speed to cover for our marauding backs. Again, I’d like Okugo in one of those roles, but it’s possible a Farfan could actually perform well there, provided the whole team is playing defense.

  6. MikeRSoccer says:

    1. I feel that you guys overlooked one of the biggest question marks of the off season. What to do about Gaddis? Neither Williams nor Gaddis has shined at LB and yet both are simply too good at RB to rot on the bench. I am usually opinionated, but on this one I simply can’t decide. My initial thought is to trade Gaddis and another player on the roster (Gomez, Lahoud) and get something big in return, but I could see Gaddis emerging as an all-star RB if he gets the full time job. No idea what to do there, but something has to happen.

    2. Bring Le Toux back. People can argue about this, but he is in the unique position to bring DP attention without a DP cost.

    3. Higher a scout, don’t bother with a technical director. Hack is not as crazy as Nowak and Sak just needs to grow a pair and step in when he sees something obviously wrong occurring (ie selling the fan favorite).

    4. Drop Adu. Even if you have to give him away for nothing. Salary. Attitude. Play. He doesn’t deserve to be here.

    5. Do. Not. Sell. Okugo. Let me repeat that. Do. Not. Sell. Okugo.

    6. LB, Le Toux, CAM or give CAM to Torres.

    • #1 – Ideal option would if either Gaddis or Williams (or both!) saw the opportunity at LB both here and for the MNT, and spent the entire off-season doing nothing but kicking a soccer ball left-footed. Both seem hard-working enough and smart enough to turn themselves into servicable LB’s in one year and great LB’s in three.

      • James Korman says:

        I totally agree. LB is a HUGE opportunity just waiting for Gaddis to seize. Williams has earned the RB position in my opinion several times over. He’s much farther along there than Ray. I’d do everything possible to get Gaddis acclimated to the LB position. I’d love to see him beat out Gabe at left back.
        -
        I still cannot understand what the expectations of the FO were for Soumare this year. The entire thing was/is cloaked in weirdness. I’m prayin’ Baki comes back strong.
        -
        I’ll probably take crap for this but I LOVE the idea of bringing in Peter Crrouch. I know, I know he perfectly the stereotype of old guy nabbing his last paycheck BUT he is such a threat in an area we are woefully deficient. I’m so weary from watching us not preform in the air that I’d relish the chance to have a guy like Crouch for a year while we bring along the kids. Crouch = Proven scorer at the highest level in soccer.

        • Is crouch out of contract or something because if not, than why are we talking about him?

          • James Korman says:

            Scott Kessler’s article at BrotherlyGame.com reported that we were talking to Peter Crouch. He is currently at Stoke City (via Tottenham Hotspur). What do you think? Wouldn’t you take him for a year? He’s still scoring goals….in EPL.

            • Exactly. Why would he come here? We can’t afford his transfer fee, so he would have to be out of contract.

            • He’s also mentioning Grafite, who would be a good grab. He’s past his prime, but was lights out in Germany a couple years ago. Fits the profile of a realistic target striker.

    • Great point about Gaddis! He and Williams both deserve to be on the field. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Gaddis traded, because he’s good enough to start on several MLS teams. But it also wouldn’t surprise to see them wait until they see Williams is fully healthy and returned to form.

  7. Great article. But the one thing (IMO, of course) that should be the Union’s highest priority got only an offhand comment. They need to pay their taxes. They got a sweetheart deal from the city of Chester, and they’re not holding up their end. If they can’t (or won’t) meet their commitments to the city where they play, why would any high-priced player think they’ll fare any better? And, why would the city’s residents continue to put up with us disrupting traffic twenty times a year? C’mon, Union, pay your bills.

  8. Dan- Couldn’t agree more.

    LeToux + 1. Why not both? I really don’t care about youth development. There will be plenty of minutes for Jack, but we need 2 strikers to come in, both preferably vets.

    For the love of God, please no more talk of college kids and PDl “talents”. The last few weeks have seen the U get out-muscled in almost every aspect of the game. Get some fully grown men in here, let the kids play reserve matches. I don’t want to spend STH money watching a “coachable moment”.

    Carroll needs to stay. Whatever they can get for Gomez is fine, though on philly.com he’s quoted as saying he’s not expecting his options to be picked up. Not sure they can just “drop” Adu, he’s still signed for another year.

    I don’t believe Torres is the answer. I’d prefer to see a Paun-star type player behind a pairing of Jack and an affordable LeToux-esque player (Kenny Cooper would be even better). Marfan on the wing. Keon/Lahoud/et al are squad rotation players and shouldn’t be discussed as starting XI types. Lahoud makes me long to see Justin Mapp’s thinning pate in blue and gold.

    Garfan – LB is upgradeable. If they can’t afford / figure it out, they should. We all love his scrappy-doo attitude, but there’s a reason the U brought in Lopez.

    A veteran keeper. Fill the one year to retirement role Mondragon was slotted for to coach/help develop and spell MacMath.

    They def need scout(s) and an experienced hand as TD. If we’re a moneyball team, lets act like one and outwork everyone else’s FO for bargains and diamonds in the rough. We just look like a NASL team on a budget with that FO.

  9. We should just start over.. let chester take that team.. We can build a bigger, betterer team here in the city limits. I hear Nowaks available! and imagine the rival, chester vs philly.. SoB’s-vs-BoC (brotherhood of chester).

  10. Obviously this will be an interesting offseason, not like last year, because this year we can only go forward. First key of business is trying to get rid of Lopez. I think we all know Gomez will be gone. (what a great offseason last year! Lopez Gomez and Pajoy! Plus we got rid of Seba). I believe Freddy Adu is a toss up if he comes back or not, I think we all can agree that the money can be spent better elsewhere. I think we should be excited, I believe our boys in blue will be stronger next year with: a striker with credentials that will help jack/hoppenot. A solid, not too flashy veteran midfielder (I think we missed Justin Mapp more then people noticed/realized). I dont expect much moves for the LB position, between Garfan/Gaddis I believe the office does not have that as a priority, possible a small move.

    ZOLO

  11. Here is my off-season wish list:

    (1) A veteran striker to pair with Jack Mac. If it’s Le Toux – great. If it’s someone else – great (just make sure they can score).

    (2) A central midfielder. Ideally I’d move marfan to the RM spot. This should be a two-way player that can move the ball from defense to offense. This doesn’t have to be the best “10″ in the history of the league just a player with a decent passing range (i.e. not Lahoud).

    (3) A left-sided player with speed. Either Garfan stays at LB and we get a speedy LM. Or, preferably, we get a LB with speed who can overlap with Garfan (who I would move to LM). But either way we need to get some more speed on this flank.

    (4) Veteran goalkeeper to spell MacMath and help him out during the ups-and-downs of a long MLS year. Maybe someone like Matt Reis if NE wants to move on.

    That would basically be my off-season plan. However, the first 3 plays must be starter caliber players.

    • I like these. If one of Williams or Gaddis could play at LB, that would be great, but it may not be likely. I’d prefer the Lahoud replacement to play in the defensive midfield and build from there, but as long as there’s someone who can guide the transition from defense to offense, we’re in better shape. I also wouldn’t mind replacing our wide midfielders, but Garfan ought to take one of those spots.

  12. What about Hercules Gomez as a DP? He works hard, has a nose for the goal, takes free kicks.

    • Would be a great pickup, if his style didn’t conflict with Mac’s. Not sure how inclined he’d be to return to MLS though. He had some bad experiences, and the lack of freedom to move to a team of his choice really hurt him.

  13. The team needs much. In decreasing order of importance:
    (1) One or two proven, veteran strikers.
    (2) A full back and more defensive depth, i.e., two more defenders.
    (3) A veteran keeper
    (4) A creative, attacking midfielder

    • I think there’s more nuance to the needs list, and I think it looks very different if Valdes is not on the roster come March. Assuming that he is:

      (1) Agree that a proven goal scoring striker that complements Jack Mac is our #1 priority. But an additional one is farther down.
      (2) A creative, attacking midfield presence (central or left wing). The positional flexibility should make it easier to shop. Passing, speed, and willingness to shoot (doesn’t have to be deadly – even rebounds = goals) but shoot he must. Honestly, I think a diminutive playmaker might end up here – I hear Malbranque being bantered around and small and speedy is not a bad thing.
      (3) A quality LB or LB/CB. In my mind, this player doesn’t necessarily have to be a lock to start, but someone who can handle the positioning responsibilities and be an asset (to some degree) in attack. What Lopez was supposed to be, but for real this time. Good place to find a veteran presence.
      (4) Veteran keeper (to backup and mentor MacMath, not replace him).
      (5) A veteran player to insert in attack from time to time. If we are using past Union players as a model, Paunovic is the guy I am looking toward. Possession oriented, willing to go forward, but steady, dependable, and a locker room presence.
      —-
      This unfortunately is much the same list I had last year. The answers provided were Pajoy, Gomez, Lopez, and Chase Harrison (who in and of himself is a capable player but is not that much farther along in his career than MacMath). I don’t expect to see Gomez or Lopez within a few weeks (though I wouldn’t mind keeping Harrison around as a 3rd keeper). And unlike Nowak, I think we may be looking for one or two of these pieces from within MLS (re-entry, trade, etc.). I expect that the additional additional defensive depth will be had via Superdraft.

  14. Pingback: Austin Berry trade makes Union a contender

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