Photo: Paul Rudderow
So Carlos Valdes is apparently coming back to Philadelphia. That changes a lot, doesn’t it?
On one level, people are rightly recognizing this should restabilize the weakest link of a team that somehow is still in the playoff hunt thanks to a criminally underperforming Eastern Conference. Much like Philadelphia, New England, New York, and Houston have fallen well below expectations in the standings.
On another level, there are many questions on what this does to the team’s overall structure and flexibility on player acquisitions going forward. So let’s dive in.
Will Valdes be a DP?
But Valdes has realistically outplayed that contract and would demand more on the open market. The Union could play hardball if they wanted, but they have shown no inclination to do that so far, either out of good will or due to complications and nuances in his contract. (MLS owns just 60% of his rights.)
So Valdes will likely get a DP deal somewhere in the range of $500,000 or $600,000 a year.
So the Union could have four Designated Players in 2015?
If Valdes returns, the Union could have four Designated Players in 2015.
- Chaco Maidana: Maidana is already a designated player. His $185,000 base salary may be below the $387,500 threshold for DPs, but the Union paid a transfer fee of about $400,000, which factors into the equation. However, that could potentially clear next year and take him off the DP rolls.
- Maurice Edu: Edu is on loan, and the Union have an option to buy his rights from Stoke City. His salary is $650,000.
- Vincent Nogueira: Nogueira is not a DP this year, with a salary of $330,000. However, a salary increase for 2015 that is already in his contract will likely bump him to DP level if he returns.
- Carlos Valdes: See above.
Can you even do that in MLS? What’s changing?
MLS currently allows teams only three DPs per team. Six teams have already hit that max, with others (New York Red Bulls, Vancouver) probable to join them by the start of the 2015 season. Likewise, expansion side New York City will certainly hit the max, and Orlando City could too.
But big changes are coming this offseason.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement expires after this season, and the player salary structure is certain to change, particularly with the league a bit more flush thanks to a new TV contract, the sale of stock in Soccer United Marketing, and a cash influx from new expansion clubs.
- Teams’ $3.1 million base salary budget will likely get a sizable bump upwards as the league tries to take the next step.
- MLS will likely add flexibility to the DP rule, possibly adding one or two more slots and adding more nuances like the Impact DP or Young DP features.
So don’t expect Valdes to limit the Union’s roster flexibility too much. If Jay Sugarman and company are willing to pay him, league rules will probably allow enough flexibility to keep a talented core together moving forward.
Will the Union bring back Maurice Edu? Where does he fit?
Edu hasn’t met many observers’ expectations. He seems to take some plays off, like Jeff Larentowicz’s goal on Saturday. Edu had trouble gelling in center midfield. He has missed too many open looks at goal.
But Edu is absolutely worth what the Union are paying him, given the right situation.
It’s all a matter of where you play Edu on the field.
At center midfield, Edu didn’t seem to gel well with Brian Carroll and Nogueira. Edu was ostensibly the linking midfielder, but he seemed lost in the role. But was that all his fault? No.
Carroll likes to sit really deep and play as an auxiliary defender, and he has always played best when he is the lone true defensive midfielder in a lineup. Vincent Nogueira liked to come deep — and all over the place — to find the ball.
The only role left for Edu was to push forward, and while he can do that very well when the opportunity emerges, he isn’t the guy you should look to for that all the time. He is a box-to-box guy, not an advanced attacker. Nogueira has shown he remains best in the role he historically played for Sochaux in France, as a deep-lying linking midfielder, not the advanced playmaker Hackworth hoped him to be.
Maidana has shown that he should be that advanced No. 10 rather than the left winger. If the Union are to maintain the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 that they have played this year, it is now clear that the center midfield trio should consist of Maidana as the No. 10, Nogueira as the linking player, and either Edu or Amobi Okugo as the center defensive midfielder. Michael Lahoud should be in the mix as well, while Carroll will likely be exposed in the expansion draft and should draw interest, as he remains capable of shielding a back line very well.
Curtin is giving Okugo a run at center midfield to see if that’s where he really fits. Many think it is. I remain unconvinced and am very open-minded to the prospect that Hackworth was right about center back being Okugo’s best position. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Edu has been on the whole very good at center back. Yes, he missed the Larentowicz goal, and of course he should be flogged, toilet-papered, and burned at the stake as a heretic in true Philadelphia style.
But people don’t realize that sometimes, when it looks like Edu isn’t hustling, it’s actually that he makes things look so effortless. He is just so good a naturally graceful athlete that he makes some difficult things look simple. His range is vast. He has great speed. His passing vision is solid. And he maintains composure through it all.
Further, the Union have already seen the fantastic chemistry between Okugo and Valdes at center back.
The real question will be whether Okugo is willing to re-sign with MLS after his contract expires. If he genuinely is, expect him to stay in midfield. If he’s leaving for Europe no matter what, the Union should go all-in with Edu in center midfield.
Miscellaneous: Around the league
- DaMarcus Beasley is set to return to MLS. With Chicago openly saying they can’t afford him, I’d bet on Columbus, unless Beasley is willing to accept less than DP money. Columbus has the second slot on the allocation order and is one or two attackers away from being a good team. Plus, new ownership doesn’t view this club as an afterthought.
- Kansas City’s retention of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi is huge, not just for that team but also for the league. It makes that team a destination point for outsiders, and it sets the example of how you can build a good team around players coming up through the American system.
- The anticipated signings of Xavi and Frank Lampard by New York City FC look like the old model of signing big names who are over the hill. Lampard and Xavi can still play, but it will look a lot like that old model to the European soccer world. Orlando City may fare better by picking up Kaka and Robinho, who are younger and have several years left in the tank. (Kaka was quite good for AC Milan this past season.)
Miscellaneous: PSP goes international
I’m moving to Naples, Italy in two weeks, so I’ll likely be taking a little break from PSP as we head overseas. I do plan to stay involved with PSP, and hopefully I’ll be back writing again by September.
This move will change how I approach writing for PSP, in the sense that I won’t be able to build relationships and gather information in the same way that I have in the past. If I’m able to watch MLS games regularly, I should be able to write about it from an outside observer’s standpoint, as I often do. You’ll probably see my content change though.
For those of you who read this site, this sort of thing is why we need good volunteers to keep it going. Life happens. Things change. And we need to continuously cycle in good people to help running this site, both with content and behind the scenes. Check out our Help Wanted page, and read between the lines as well on things we haven’t had time to update. (For example, we could use another hand or two writing about MLS and the Union, although we want to make sure the writers are good first.) PSP rises and falls based on volunteers, and sooner or later, that means some of you.