Photo: Earl Gardner
On June 26, Philadelphia Union announced their big summer signing, Bakary Soumare, to much fanfare.
Five days later, the club fired scouting director Diego Gutierrez, the man most responsible for signing Soumare and every other significant Union international.
That says a lot about the Union’s view of Gutierrez, the reasons for whose firing the Union have steadfastly declined to detail.
So too does the fact that, with Friday’s trade of Josue Martinez to New York, the Union have continued erasing any sign Gutierrez was ever at the club.
You could dust this team for fingerprints, and you’d find few remaining signs of his presence.
Lio Pajoy: Gone.
Jorge Perlaza: Gone.
Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Josue Martinez: Gone, gone, gone, gone.
Faryd Mondragon: Gone, though not forgotten.
Center back Carlos Valdes remains but could leave for Europe after establishing himself as a starter with the Colombian national team. Soumare played only one game due to injury, and the Union have two other starting quality center backs besides those two, so both could be expendable. Roger Torres is still here, but his role with the club looks tenuous after a lost season.
Pretty soon, you won’t even know Gutierrez was ever here, so concerted has been the effort to rid the club of the players he signed.
The lingering question: Did Nowak and Gutierrez profit off transfers?
Not all Gutierrez’s scouting finds were failures. Valdes is an unqualified success. Mondragon did all that was asked and should have been kept another year. Torres has shown enough signs of brilliance that, even if he never makes it as a regular starter, you can’t fault his signing. And Soumare’s talent can’t be denied, though the Union paid him about the equivalent of Sebastien Le Toux’s 2012 salary to rehab from injury.
But Gutierrez’s other signings were such a scattered mess that it’s impossible to completely dismiss claims that Peter Nowak, Gutierrez’s former teammate with Chicago, tried to profit from player transactions, as the Union questioned in legal papers and former Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal told Fox Soccer.
So many of the signings simply did not fit.
- Gomez played a position at which the Union were stacked.
- Pajoy was signed to replace Le Toux despite scoring more than three goals in just one of the prior four seasons.
- The Union needed a left back, but Lopez had such a different skill set from the attacking wingback Nowak needed that he lasted only a month as a starter.
- Trading Danny Mwanga for Jorge Perlaza was so misguided that the Union cut Perlaza before season’s end.
Before becoming the Union scouting director, Gutierrez worked as an agent by launching his own company, Global Pro. In that role, he brought Torres to the Union and reportedly served as Soumare’s agent when Soumare left MLS for Boulogne in France.
There is no indication Gutierrez profited as an agent would when the Union signed his scouting finds. If he did, he would not be the first. Conflicts of interest for agents representing both player and team are a longstanding problem that has been highlighted by FIFPro, the international soccer players union.
So far, there has been no incontrovertible proof of wrongdoing in the Union’s signings, and frankly, there probably never will be. Nowak’s lawsuit has gone to arbitration, and with the Union going nuclear by raising the question of criminal wrongdoing, details of any settlement may never see the light of day. If the claims are true, it raises questions of how the Union let it happen and whether Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz was asleep at the wheel.
At the very least, Gutierrez was a casualty of Nowak’s firing or a philosophical division with Hackworth over how a team should be run.
At the very most, Hackworth fired Gutierrez because Hackworth wanted to eliminate the stench wafting out of the Union’s player personnel offices.
Hackworth wanted to get back to playing soccer, and credit to him for it. The days of money and power being the primary topic of Union discussion are fading away. So too are the fingerprints that Gutierrez left on the Union.