Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
The departure of Peter Nowak/Diego Gutierrez was certainly a necessary step taken in the Union’s young development. Under Nowak, the team had gone completely off the rails, with the manager’s wild temperment at the heart of many of the team’s head-scratching moves following the 2011 season. But despite leaving on the sourest of notes, Nowak/Gutierrez may have left Philadelphia with a valuable going away present.
True, Bakary Soumare was officially signed after Nowak had been given the boot, but the move had been in the works for some time and in Soumare, the Union acquired a player who in just his first two pro seasons reached the pinnacle of MLS defending. After being selected with the 2nd pick in the MLS Superdraft in 2007, Soumare, along with Jimmy Conrad, only just lost out to Columbus’ Chad Marshall for Defender of the Year. The following year, Soumare turned in another strong campaign for the Fire, earning All-Star honors before shipping off to Europe to try his luck.
But a severe knee injury ended Soumare’s European prospects and, as he focused on his recovery, the Union moved to acquire his rights.
The 90 minutes played against his former side were all he managed in 2012, and those minutes did little to calm the nerves of a fanbase fretting over the health of his surgically repaired knee. The match itself proved a setback for Soumare as well, forcing him to undergo another, albeit minor, procedure on his knee.
Stepping onto the pitch for the first time in Union colors on August 12 against Chicago marked the first time since Danny Califf’s departure that the Union actually had two central defenders healthy and on the roster (though Carlos Valdes was away with Colombia).
Soumare showed plenty of the smart, composed passing game he is known for, while making timely, committed interventions at the back.
While he showed plenty of promise, there was also a barrel full of rust in his game. Sherjill MacDonald consistently accelerated past the recovering defender and his agility in tight situations was lacking. Though it is hard to expect anything different from a player not only fighting back from a long term injury, but also on debut for a new club, his missteps allowed his former club to bag a trio of goals on the night.
For a team that gives away height at nearly every position, Soumare’s enormous stature is a HUGE plus. But looking at his acquisition as just an improvement in the size department would greatly undersell the Malian defender’s skill set. Surprisingly nimble on his feet with a soft passing touch, should he manage to regain full fitness and rediscover the form that saw him make MLSsoccer.com’s Best XI in 2008, Soumare will carve out his spot in the Union XI for years to come.
At 100 percent fitness, he has very few weaknesses. But had Soumare managed to stay fully fit throughout his career, it is unlikely that he would have returned to MLS. Listed at 6’4″, 205 lbs, Soumare was always facing an uphill battle to recover from the major knee injury he sustained back in March. Unfortunately for the Union, Carlos Valdes’ call up to international duty thrust Soumare into the fray, and while the details coming from the club were sketchy at best, it is clear that he suffered a setback, and arthroscopic surgery followed in September.
A committed leader on and off the field, Baky Soumare has already proven that he can play at an elite level in MLS. His size, skills and veteran savvy are all on the Union’s must-have list.
So it’s down to his health.
If Soumare can come into 2013 with a clean bill of it, the Union can write him into their Starting XI in pen.
If not? Well, let’s not worry about that just yet.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards