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Five questions, five answers

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Five thoughts about Philadelphia Union and MLS. Ready? Go.

Will Roger Torres leave next?

With Carlos Valdes returning to Colombia, keep an eye on Roger Torres. He is the last Union player brought in by ousted scouting director Diego Gutierrez from the neighboring countries of Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama, though when Torres joined the Union, Gutierrez was still working solely as an agent.

Torres seemingly hinted that he could return to Colombia, tweeting on Dec. 8 what roughly translates to, “Let’s go, my red, by the hand of God today we take the first step to where we belong. Big AMÉRICA.” His former club, of course, is America de Cali in Colombia, and their nickname is the Red Devils. Of course, it could have been him simply commenting on the recently relegated America returning to Colombia’s first division. He tweeted today that he was on his way to Philadelphia, so do what you will with all that.

After allegations that Peter Nowak may have personally profited off Latin American player transfers and/or loans brokered by Gutierrez, the Union have made what appears to be a concerted effort to rid the club of these player contracts. Torres could be next, or he could finally realize all that potential with the Union.

Either way, this is a make-or-break year for Torres. He is a young and talented player, fan favorite, and Union original, one of the few left with the club. But he has yet to make “the leap.” His 2012 season was derailed by injury. He has yet to show he is a 90-minute player, but he has flashed moments of brilliance as a creative midfielder. An attacking midfield trio of Roger Torres and the Farfans could be the league’s most creative if Torres and the twins can reach the next level in their development.

Is Philadelphia Union a bad team for Latinos?

Some have questioned whether the Union will get the reputation of “no Latinos need apply.”

The more likely reality is that the Union want to wash their hands of Gutierrez’s Latin American nationals for one reason or another.

Individual situations certainly differ within that broader arc. Porfirio Lopez couldn’t cut it on the field. Gabriel Gomez didn’t fit the Union system. Jorge Perlaza never should have been acquired for Danny Mwanga. Etc., etc. Valdes is the only player whose departure was not justified by on-field performance. But the overall pattern seems apparent, particularly after the mystifying Valdes departure.

Union manager John Hackworth has wasted little time in cutting Gutierrez’s guys loose. Six months, six gone. Only Torres and Bakary Soumare remain, and with Gutierrez having been fired just days after Soumare’s acquisition, you can’t help but wonder if Soumare’s situation is a bit different for more than just his national origin. (He is a Mali international who grew up in the U.S.)

Injecting ethnicity into the matter is misguided, as Danny Cruz and the Farfan twins are Latinos with U.S. citizenship who have flourished with the Union. Injecting language may be more reasoned, because the language barrier certainly exists for the Latin American nationals, but that may be hard to defend too.

New managers often clean house upon taking over a club. Hackworth is keeping “his” guys. Others are being shown the door. If the split between Hackworth and Gutierrez wasn’t obvious before, now there should be no doubt. Anticipated Latin American signings courtesy of the Union’s chief international scout, Ricardo Ansaldi, should put these questions to rest.

Who will the next Union captain be?

So the Union need a new captain.

Brian Carroll seems a logical choice. He has deputized to Valdes before, played in the league over 10 years, won multiple league titles, and is a regular starter.  However, if the quiet veteran doesn’t feel right for the role, Hackwork could look elsewhere.

Typically, people look to established veterans for captains, but the Union simply don’t have many with tenure. Jeff Parke and Conor Casey could fit the bill, but they just joined the Union. (That didn’t stop Faryd Mondragon, you say. Duly noted.) Despite Sebastien Le Toux’s popularity outside the locker room, he has baggage from his Nowak clashes. Then again, that could be street cred with his teammates.

What would be interesting is if Hackworth looks to someone younger. Sheanon Williams and Michael Farfan have cemented starting roles and are two-way players with all the traits you want from a player: Technical ability, grit, and willingness to sacrifice individual success for the betterment of the team (by playing all over the field). Are they future captain material? Yes. Today? We’ll see.

Who will the Union draft?

The Union have just two picks in Thursday’s amateur draft, Nos. 26 and 29. But if anyone can find buried treasure in the draft, it’s the Union, who chose Michael Farfan and Ray Gaddis in the second round and Antoine Hoppenot in the Supplemental Draft’s third round (equivalent to the fifth round overall).

If Louisville left back Greg Cochrane is available, look for the Union to grab him. He is from Bucks County, played for Union assistant coach Brendan Burke at Reading United, and has practiced with the Union before. The Union know him well.

Otherwise, expect them to go for the best talent available. Philadelphia needs help at left and center back. The primary target should be a true left back who can free Gabriel Farfan to return to midfield. The center back need is for depth, not an immediate regular starter, because even if Bakary Soumare isn’t healthy, Amobi Okugo can slot in next to Parke.

For a deeper look, check out PSP’s draft preview, courtesy of Sean Doyle. (He had planned to write more, but some genius — who, me? — mistakenly thought the post was done and had it sent live. Sorry. Sean added to me that the supplemental draft could be where Brendan Burke’s knowledge of the college game could pay off in spades, and it wouldn’t surprise Sean if the Union go for a midfielder in the second round if the right defender isn’t there.)

What happens when the MLS transfer window opens?

Technically speaking, the MLS transfer window doesn’t open till Monday. So MLS clubs could announce a flurry of signings and trials next week as training camps open around the league.

The Union have a lot of maneuverability because they have so many open international roster slots. A few trialists could show up, such as former Reading United players Corey Hertzog and Jeremy Vuolo, along with the much-anticipated big foreign signing alluded to by the club. The Union could also trade some of those international slots, and with clubs like Montreal likely looking for more, some good options could open up.

NOTE: This post has been updated in the Roger Torres section. A helpful reader pointed out something worth adding. –Dan

30 Comments

  1. I dont buy the narrative of Philly being “a bad team for Latinos.” None of the cuts were surprising to me and they were all based off of performance. The only exception to that is Valdes and that wasn’t a cut; he wanted to go because he was explicitly told that it would increase his standing with his national team.

    • I tend to agree, as you can probably tell from the post above. But it’s definitely chatter I heard from more than just the link I cited, so I figured it worth diving into.

      • I’ve been cited!! What an honor!

      • I’d imagine that having a number of Spanish-speaking players would make it a more attractive destination for other Spanish-speaking players, but I can’t see anyone assuming they are “unwelcome” or that the Union has made a decision to go exclusively with American players (of all ethnicities). Players whose agents were tight with Diego Gutierrez might be a tough sell. It just never seemed credible to me that these moves would be viewed through that sort of lens, but I guess everything is these days.

  2. …and if we close our eyes really hard we can pretend Adu doesn’t exist.

  3. I have three more questions – can anyone answer them?

    1) Where is the signing with “big potential” that was supposedly in the works and expected to be announced last week? Did it fall through at the last minute?

    2) Is Bakare healthy?

    3) Who is Jay Sugarman? ;)

  4. Any chance they can package both picks and move up to maybe the late first round? Cochrane looks like he may just be out of their reach.

  5. One of the things you are overlooking in choosing a captain is that he has to be consistently in the lineup. I think LeToux is a good choice, but will he be a consistent starter. Now that Valdes is gone I would go with Parke. Loads of experience and cred, and likely to fill that starting center back position every game.

    • I really think it will be Parke. Yeah, he hasn’t been here but it isn’t like he is an unknown. I think he is a guy that will command respect on the pitch and in the locker room.

  6. Really don’t see Carroll as captain. While he may be a great behind-the-scenes guy, I think he’s too reserved to be on-field captain.

    Regarding Parke, I think that Seattle’s biggest problem is that they have had no strong characters or leaders on their team over the past few years and that’s why they’ve failed in the play-offs (plus, Montero’s annual fall disappearance). While it’s tough to judge a team dynamic from the outside, I feel like if Parke was a strong leader, we would have seen some of it already as there clearly was a leadership void there.

    I really like Williams for the role. He checks all of the boxes that you would want for a captain (smart, automatic starter, vocal, hard-nosed, works hard, respected by teammates, etc.)

    Another guy that hasn’t been mentioned is Okugo. He’s been a captain at the youth level already and he has all of the qualities to be a great one.

    One image that stuck with me from that last game of the season when the team sleepwalked through that 3-0 loss to NY was Okugo still playing hard at the end, even when all was lost. He said afterwards that he “didn’t want the season to end”. That’s the kind of committment that you want from your captain.

    • True! Good point, re: Okugo. I could’ve mentioned him there too, but I figured he’s even younger than Williams, who’s already pretty young for the role. And re: Carroll, I was kind of thinking the same, but I don’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse of the team dynamic in the way that the players do.

    • I think Williams, he would do a good job I think. I think Farfan would be good in a few years but lets his emotions get the better of him sometimes, as a captain you sometimes have to swallow that a little sometimes.

  7. Captaincy should go to Parke in my opinion. Carroll will probably get it though.

    The one thing most people don’t really look at with Adu is that he will now count as $350K against the cap instead of $200K because he’s 24 by the DP rule. So he’s just taking up that much more space. Had he only counted 200K against the Cap I wouldn’t of minded because than the ownership pays what I consider the excess of his wages (an extra $300K out of their pocket). If we stays, oh well; if he goes, even better.

  8. I think williams could be captian but hes not ready yet. He still lets his emotions get the best of him in some situations. Hes a few years shy of the role. I like carroll or letoux. I see Letoux starting as a regular and Cas-Con and Jac-Mac swapping in and out to work with LeToux.

    • My thoughts exactly on Williams. There were a few instances last year where he let his emotions get the better of him, including at least once where he got sent off because of them. That’s not a trait you want in an on-field leader. He may be a good captain one day – but I don’t think it’s his time yet.

  9. Does anybody else see the Valdes (temporary) departure as a blessing in disguise? Imagine this. Valdes is incredible successful in Colombia and becomes one of the starting CB’s for the national team. They qualify for their first world cup in 30-ish years. After the world cup Valdes returns a much improved player. At age 29 he has an immense amount of loyalty to the U for allowing him to play in Colombia and finishes his career with us as one of the(if not the) best defender(s) in the league. 28,29 is not a terrible age for a really good CB (which hopefully he will be by then) and we would have 3 to 5 years with him. The youngsters will be grown and we might have a good shot at an MLS Cup.

    • I doubt Valdes will ever play for us again. He’ll probably be bought after his loan is over.

      • My guess if that, if Colombia doesn’t qualify, then we will see him back. Otherwise, it is not likely. Althought, his twitter has alluded to a return. But, i don’t think he knows yet.

    • Colombia was in the ’98 WC, only 16 years by 2014 WC. A lot of speculation is that if Colombia make the WC then a full transfer to a Santa Fe is to be expected, so that he can stay in the NT coach’s favor.

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