Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia Union just became a conference title contender on paper.
Tuesday’s acquisition of center back Austin Berry fills the biggest gap the club still had.
How much difference does six weeks make? The Union have remade their team in that period of time.
The Berry trade is huge. If you had asked me two weeks ago who I thought the ideal center back acquisition would be — oh wait, you did! — I’d have picked Berry. (Although a fit Danny Califf would be right there with him.*) He’s big, strong, and good in the air, and he looks like a great compliment to Amobi Okugo.
What is Frank Yallop
The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year was the youngest and cheapest of the four players legitimately competing for Chicago’s two starting center back spots. Berry had a better 2013 season than probably all of them. (You can argue for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but statistically, they were about even.)
And yet, Chicago manager Frank Yallop gave up Berry.
Why? He claims it was to get under the salary cap. If so, that’s poor cap management by Yallop, who never should have traded for two Seattle center backs. Hurtado made $190,000 last year, and Patrick Ianni collected $150,000 as a backup. If Seattle is picking up part of salary for either player, I haven’t heard it. Add Bakary Soumare to the mix at more than $300,000 in salary — ironically, the Union will pick up a small portion of that — and it seems bizarre that Yallop would deal Berry. But Yallop cornered himself, with few teams likely to pick up Soumare’s salary, and Mike Magee’s holdout appears to have forced his hand.
We don’t know how much allocation money the Union gave up in the trade, but it’s there to be spent, not horded. And there is the fact that Berry dealt with a shoulder injury during training camp, so perhaps that influenced the trade.
Still, Philadelphia didn’t have to trade Ray Gaddis, despite the fact that he would be the best right back in Chicago the day he arrived. Look for Gaddis and Fabinho to alternate at left back for the Union this season. Gaddis will likely play most road games to give the Union a more defensive look. Fabinho will likely get some starts when the Union want to attack more or add another wide presence on the left side. If you could combine the two, you might have the ideal left back.
The Union answered every offseason question
Berry’s arrival fills the last major gap on the Union. No, the situation isn’t ideal at left back or goalkeeper, but elsewhere, this looks like a team without the holes that were so obvious a year ago.
After each of Philadelphia Union’s last two seasons, I’ve written a column titled, “It’s over. Now what?” In that column, I’ve laid out what I thought the Union needed to do in the offseason to improve the team.
After the 2012 season, here was the agenda and how the Union answered each point:
- Get older. The Union acquired Sebastien Le Toux, Conor Casey and Jeff Parke.
- Get a proven veteran forward. That would be Casey.
- Get your money’s worth. The Union dropped Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez, Freddy Adu and the rest of their dead salary weight.
- Get some assistant coaches. Jim Curtin arrived, and Brendan Burke went full-time.
After the 2013 season, the agenda again seemed pretty clear. Once again, the Union answered every key question.
- Fix the midfield. Meet Vincent Nogueira, Chaco Maidana, Maurice Edu and potential guest star Pedro Ribeiro.
- Spend money. The Union investment team allocated $2 million for new player acquisitions.
- Maximize your assets — Trade some. Mike Farfan was sold. Jeff Parke was traded. Allocation money was spent. Somehow they kept Gaddis.
- Change the style of play. Hackworth acquired the personnel needed to deploy the 4-3-3 he wants to play.
Today, the Union can sport a starting lineup and actual depth that seemed almost unfathomable last year. On paper, it’s a quantum leap.
If only they played the games on paper.
How good will the midfield really be? How quickly will Okugo and Berry gel? Is Sebastien Le Toux healthy again, and will he start at right winger over Danny Cruz? Will the forwards score regularly again? Which young goalkeeper gives them the best chance to win?
We’ll find out soon.