Photo: Earl Gardner
Bakary Soumare has asked Philadelphia Union to trade him, and the Union have agreed to do so.
The 27-year-old center back and former all-star has been relegated to the bench this season after recovering from knee surgeries in 2012. Union manager John Hackworth has instead opted for Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke as his starting center backs.
“It’s definitely not a role I’m used to, and it’s not a situation I want to be in,” Soumare told the Philly Soccer Page on Monday night in an interview from Bamako, Mali, where he joined Mali’s national team en route to Kigali, Rwanda, for a World Cup qualifier against Rwanda.
“I’ve requested to go elsewhere. We’re working on it, and we’ll see.”
Hackworth indicated the Union will accommodate Soumare.
“Baky has made it clear that he would like to be traded, and we are working to make that happen,” Hackworth said Tuesday in a statement issued by the Union to the Philly Soccer Page.
Philadelphia acquired Soumare last June, but he only played one regular season match due to slow recovery from a knee injury the club knew about prior to his acquisition. Former Union manager Peter Nowak traded captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA to clear room for Soumare, who had known Nowak for years due to shared ties with their former club, the Chicago Fire. Nowak also sent Vancouver a first round draft pick and allocation money for the right to acquire Soumare. Philadelphia fired Nowak two weeks before announcing the Soumare deal.
Soumare said he wonders if he hasn’t gotten opportunities because he was Nowak’s choice, not Hackworth’s, but he doesn’t know.
“I thought it was going to be my job to lose, but I feel wasn’t given a fair chance,” Soumare said. “Not to take away from Amobi. I think he’s one of the best in the league at this position. If I lost my job, that would be one thing. To not be given the job at all …”
Soumare expected to join the starting lineup after center back Carlos Valdes left the Union this winter. But the Union also acquired Parke, a former Seattle Sounders stalwart who grew up in Downingtown, Pa., and wanted to move closer to family after his wife gave birth to their first child last year.
Okugo and Parke have played well this season, and Soumare doesn’t question either player’s quality.
“It’s more the fact that (Hackworth) never gave me the job to begin with, and that’s what I thought I was here for,” Soumare said. “And Amobi, he’s done a fantastic job. And Jeff, Jeff, he was given the spot. And he’s a good player. I thought I was going to be back there with Jeff, and Amobi in midfield.
“Even though I’ve played for eight years, I’m 27. I’m in the prime of my career. The last thing I want to do is watch from the sidelines.”
Soumare said he’s “unsure why” he’s not playing and has “heard different reasons.” Before opening day, Hackworth told Soumare he would not start because of concerns Soumare couldn’t go the full 90 minutes, according to Soumare, who concedes his match fitness isn’t what it would be if he was playing 90-minute games. Soumare said a Union coach told one of his representatives the center back was overweight, despite Soumare weighing the same 210 pounds he weighed while with Chicago. “I shouldn’t have to be told that by my agent,” Soumare said.
Soumare said he asked Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz for advice because he respected Sakiewicz and felt the executive supported him. Sakiewicz suggested he talk with Hackworth.
Eventually, Soumare resigned himself to leaving Philadelphia after what he calls “the most frustrating part of my career,” adding, “I lose sleep over this.” He said he rejected a call-up to Mali’s national team for the African Cup of Nations in January so he could join the Union in training camp. Mali shocked many by placing third in the tourney.
“The hardest part is that I feel like I can contribute to this team,” Soumare said, adding, “I love my locker room. I love my teammates. I don’t want to say I hate my job. (But) I don’t enjoy getting up in the morning and going to work, and that’s never happened in my seven years as a pro.”
He said his situation makes little sense for Philadelphia either because of his high salary, which has increased from the $240,000 base figure he made last year.
“If you’re not using that guy, why keep him around as a third string (center back)?” Soumare said. “You can get a third string for a fraction of what I cost you.”
Soumare worries that his lack of playing time will raise questions among other teams, who may wonder whether he truly is recovered from last year’s injury problems. “I think there’s a question mark, which is fair,” Soumare said.
When Soumare signed with the Union the day the 2012 summer transfer window opened, his arrival was highly anticipated. The Union had hinted at a big summer signing, and Soumare was it. In 2007, Chicago made Soumare the second player picked in the MLS amateur draft. In 2008, Soumare made the MLS Best XI and was one of three nominees for Defender of the Year. A year later, he made the all-star team and, after a dust-up with then-coach Denis Hamlett, moved to French club Boulogne on a $2.1 million transfer, at the time the highest such fee for a defender in league history. He later went on loan to Karlsruher in Germany before seeking a return to MLS and the country he now calls home.
Soumare prefers a move to another MLS club. He lives in Chicago during the off-season, and his former team could need a replacement for injured center back Arne Friedrich. New York also has a gaping hole next to Jamison Olave at center back, with Marcus Holgersson no more than a mediocre stopgap and Heath Pearce a better fit at left back in place of Roy Miller. The question is whether Soumare’s salary can fit into a team’s budget, something he said he recognizes.
“I just want to go somewhere now where I feel wanted and needed,” Soumare said. “Whether it’s Chicago or somewhere else, I don’t care. I don’t have the luxury now to pick where I play. I just want to play.”
However, he also said he would give full effort if Hackworth called upon him.
“I think we are at the point where, if I’m called upon, I’ll get the job done because I’m a good pro,” Soumare said. “But I’m at the point where I need to go.”
“The last thing we want,” Soumare said, “is for this to turn into a Freddy Adu type of situation.”