Fans' View

Fans’ View: Channeling my inner Hinkie

Photo: Earl Gardner

The fall

It’s been an alarming fall, from unexpected early season success to a team stumbling towards the final days of the MLS calendar, clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot.

Preseason predictions typically had the Union finishing ninth in a 10-team Eastern Conference, only besting a most impotent Chicago Fire squad coming into the season with a new coach and new system. Through an early combination of inspired play from veterans (Vincent Nogueira, Tranquillo Barnetta, CJ Sapong), outstanding goalkeeping, improved team discipline and organization, new additions outperforming realistic expectations (Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry), and Fabinho sunsetting the sun rocket talk through generally solid play, our team found themselves front running in the conference at the Copa America break. As a result, Philadelphia Union boasted one of the top-scoring lineups in the league, played much more attractive soccer than years past, and had many analysts talking about the Union as one of the top midseason surprises in MLS.

As the calendar turned to September, then October, it sure feels like a heavy dose of the familiar “that’s so Union” vibe has filled the vacancy once occupied by the high hopes I felt in spring and early summer. Nogueira returned unexpectedly to France and Barnetta has announced he will return to Switzerland after the end of the season. Maurice Edu has not played a minute for the Union. The offense has sputtered down the stretch, with Sapong stuck in a rut, and no suitable alternatives (or at least, no trusted ones) to turn to on a bench that appears much thinner than we thought back in March.

If you told me the Union would be playoff team this season back in March, I’d have been ecstatic. But here in October? This may be the most anti-climactic playoff qualification ever. I’ll be there against Red Bulls on Sunday, and I’ll be tuned in on TV for whomever they face in the first round of the playoffs, but it sure feels like the end of the line is near for our beloved Union.

Trusting the process

With expectations tempered now, what is there left for a fan to do?

While early season success clearly moved the goalposts for me and many others, even a sixth place finish and a potential first round playoff exit shouldn’t obscure our view of foundational progress in the past year. The team has a shiny new training facility, and slightly less new, but still shiny training fields on site. While Bethlehem Steel’s roster appeared to be held together by duct tape and string much of the season, the Union’s USL affiliate did allow for Union players to get minutes they otherwise would not have seen, served as rehabilitation minutes for players coming back from injury, and provided meaningful minutes to Union Academy products like Austin Trusty and Derrick Jones.

Then there’s Earnie Stewart. I’m hopeful that with a full offseason to work, the vision for the senior roster becomes that much clearer, and we can truly make the leap to being a contender in 2017 and beyond.

Unlike the NBA, MLS mechanisms, save for the mysterious allocation of incoming superstars exclusively to LA, Seattle, Toronto, and the New York teams, promote parity and allow for an annual changing of the guard with some shrewd management. So maybe the Union catch lightning in a bottle. But in a nod to Sam Hinkie and his tanking tenure with the 76ers, I’m focused on trusting the process.

8 Comments

  1. Something is off. Sure, Nogs loss was huge. Still, I don’t believe that one departure broke the team. I have multiple conspiracy theories. None have to do with quality of individual players. It’s not the skills we’re missing. The formation is fine. The style of play is fine. I’d even say we now have plenty of the right players in the right positions (save CJ). But, since July/August, this team is playing with a chip on its shoulder. I question how much time the leadership team is investing into proper motivation, team building (from relationships perspective) and generally keeping players content. Two practices a day is all good and well. But, is enough done from the psychological perspective?

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I’d actually argue it is almost exclusively the departure of Vincent Noguiera coupled with a young defense.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        As happens frequently from my perspective, el P has the right of it.
        .
        Only thing I would add, the league has caught up, or on, and we have not adjusted to that as well as might be hoped.
        .
        And the bench is the bench for good reasons, and not as strong for the summer and fall for the reason cited immediately above.

    • There has not been a like replacement for Noguiera. That is the short and long of the issue.

  2. I would love to trust the process just don’t know if I do yet. Lost Nogs, gone is Barnetta, Edu doesn’t play hopefully they don’t resign him. Alberg who is skilled sits on the bench not getting minutes. Bedoya is playing out of position if you ask me. It all just seems wrong and not like the ideas are fitting with how they want to play. Who knows maybe Kratz Alberg Bedoya Ilsinho can all be answers for next year, but at this point I see more questions and holes then answers. The process is looking very shallow at this point with little thought to the future of next year. Sure down the road Trusty and Jones could start to be a great spine but seems a few years from that.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      We disagree about Alberg, strongly. I would not protect him in the expansion draft and would be seriously surprised if Atlanta were to take him. I have much less of a sense of Minnesota, but again, surprised. Ilsinho I might protect, if there were enough spots.
      .
      I suspect, with no evidence other than what is on transfermarkt, that Kratz is a body to fill a hole in an emergency for the rest of this season to allow youngsters to avoid being rushed upwards too soon (Jones). If he sticks past this season, it will likely be in the USL, but I doubt he will accept that.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Edu I think they keep simply because organizational depth at DCM is the second most glaring weakness on the roster. CM is first, and S is third.

        • OSC I could see not protecting Alberg but I do think he has a way bigger role to play. Ultimately he to me should currently be in a second striker set up top. Now we don’t play that way so there is another problem. But if Pontius leaves I could see Alberg being out on the LW. The problem is there are just so many glaring holes cause this team has never looked at the age of the players their bringing in along with contract lengths. I disagree on keeping Edu although it is a hole on the team I just don’t think Edu fits that hole. You could also argue that next year key positions this team will need are ST (obviously Sapong is not it), CAM (I personally am locking Bedoya in at RW cause that is where I would prefer him to play). An 8 and 6. A LB (who knows how long Fabinho has in those legs). And a backup GK since I think Jones was on loan. These are in no particular order, but that is a large amount of positions to fill.

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