Studs Up

Studs up: Seven things I think I think

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: Longtime PSP readers have read the snarky, caustic, argumentative but always smart comments from a commenter by the name of ScottyMac. It seemed about time we offered Scott McVey a guest column. Here’s his first. We’re calling this series — and I hope it becomes one — “Studs up”.  –Dan Walsh

Author’s note: Dan and I talked about an accountability article a month or so ago, but 2 points in 5 matches resulted in a drumbeat of accountability articles. I’m changing tack… *

Earnie and the long game

I am more and more convinced that, when Earnie Stewart was announced in December 2015, he didn’t care a lick about short-term results.

He wanted to build a club how he saw fit.

I’m a consultant by trade and we perform “current state assessments” as a matter of course, and I think Stewart’s assessment was “We’re low on the maturity model.” He was also handcuffed to a neophyte manager to whom he needed to explain things, like having a vision for play as a foundation for player acquisition. Which leads to…

Throwing a drowning man a rope (both ends)

Did you know that, in the 10 years that Stewart has led football clubs, he’s had 8 different managers?

If a self-professed soccer neophyte owner saddles you with a neophyte manager, you can help him along by providing talent that won’t fit.

When Bedoya was bought, there were quotes to the effect that Curtin convinced Earnie he needed Bedoya. Stewart spoke to Jay Sugarman, who heard enough to open the checkbook.

What was missing from those quotes was any firm conviction that this was a guy Stewart viewed as essential, or maybe he thought he’d stopgap the Nogueira loss and impending Barnetta departure. Either way, the risk was Curtin’s.

Know when you’re outclassed

The sodding of Lot B and renovation of the old machine shed have been lauded near and far as prima facie evidence of Sugarman’s investment and commitment to the club. That’s the most positive spin you can put on it.

The reality in MLS – what version are we on? Vista? – is that training facilities, academies, front office staff, reserve teams and apparently tattooists are the minimum to be a professional soccer club** in America. Full stop.

Applauding these developments is akin to huzzahing your children for flossing after a meal and not recognizing that it is baseline care and feeding.

Be happy the Union have facilities.

But don’t continually pat yourselves on the back for them, especially when you look at what the expansion Atlanta side just unveiled. We keep Instagramming our lean-to while they cut the ribbon on the McMansion.

Stop dreaming of other locations

When things go bad for fans online, some rocket surgeon likes to bring up that Chester is a bad locale. These people need to be banished on the Obvious Rocket to the Sun (Editor’s note: This is the infamous sun rocket that will take Fabinho away one day.)

We all know the Chester riverfront and site of a former SuperFund site are not ideal. Honest, we do.

Shut up about it.

No one is offering tens of millions of taxpayers bucks to build a new stadium anywhere else anytime soon. My real estate Magic 8 ball says, “Whine again in 30 years.”

Jim Curtin vs. straw man manager

I’ve seen quite a few arguments online posing the argument as “Well, if you fire Jim, who do you bring in?”

This is a false argument for keeping Curtin as manager. When I was a kid and came home, Mom would say, “We’re having green bean casserole for dinner.” I couldn’t say “UGH” fast enough.

“What do you want then?:

“ANYTHING BUT GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE!”

See, in this anecdote, the green bean — Oh, you got it? Cool. Let’s move along.

4-4-2 diamond vs. 4-3-3 vs. 4-2-3-1 vs. oh, who cares?

The Achilles heel/first domino to fall has always been Maurice Edu. If he could play, it relieves the rest of the midfield and lets other players move into their more natural positions.

The other piece: The Union didn’t replace Tranquilo Barnetta.

No matter what formation you want to play, having an attacking midfielder who creates for others is essential. No, stop, don’t argue that in MLS today you don’t need one and you can get by with a ______-like player in that role. They are still creators, and the Union are fresh out. They are awash in midfielders of dubious abilities, but they have no true calming destroyer or offensive creator.

If this season is to be saved, it starts with the opening bell** of the summer transfer window. Otherwise, we will all recall 2015 as not that bad in comparison.

Asterisks:

* – This may result in a cease and desist letter from SI. And yes, there are only six things on this list. Also, I got too tired to write 7 things. Writing is hard.

** – I find the club vs franchise discussion/debate as tired people who feign annoyance at “The MLS” and popped collars.

*** – Is there a bell? There ought to be.

52 Comments

  1. Yes yes yes on most of this. But I can’t buy the “throw a drowning man a rope” thing. Are you seriously asking us to believe that Stewart bought Curtin a mismatched set of parts so he would deliberately fail, rather than just telling Sugarman that he wants to bring in his own guy? That strains credulity. Especially in the savvy sports market of Philadelphia, where it has scarcely escaped folks’ notice that the majority of the disappointing player acquisition thus far — Alberg, Simpson, Ilsinho — has been on Stewart, not Curtin.

    • I assume Stewart was offered the job with the condition that Curtin stays. And while there’s definitely plenty of reason to criticize some (most?) of Stewart’s pick ups, I don’t think Curtin and his formation are maximizing anyone’s potential.

  2. Nice. This is great. Even though I’ve been guilty of (A) complaining about the location and (B) proposing alternate formations. I think the Earnie playing the long game stuff is pretty spot on. I think he believes he’s building something from scratch. Not sure he’s hanging Curtin with Curtin’s own rope, but it’s certainly a plausible theory.

  3. pragmatist says:

    Popped collars are annoying. It’s not 1985 and we’re not on Martha’s Vineyard.
    .
    😉

  4. pragmatist says:

    I disagree with the “Green Bean Casserole” argument. Because “anything but” has led us to John Hackworth and Jim Curtin. The next “anything but” will lead us to Mike Sorber or Brendan Burke. How excited are you for those prospects?
    .
    For once in the organization’s history, it would be nice to implement the VPP in its managerial search. Not just “next man up.”

  5. I realize this is intended to be a “throw caution to the wind” column vs. a pragmatic one, but your green bean casserole analogy appears equivalent to saying that Sean Spicer could take over for Jim Curtin and everything would get better.

    The reason to wait is because you have to have an objective in mind when hiring the next manager. Curtin being replaced now would likely not help the Union make the playoffs.

    Plus, when Ernie does find a manager he wants, he needs the existing coach to be fire-able without objection from the fan base. If Curtin is fired and and Chris Albright or Mike Sorber goes on a lucky streak, people might be unhappy if they don’t get to keep the job (which is how we’ve ended up with Curtin and Hackworth anyway).

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Along those lines, when you have green bean casserole tonight, you might get liver and onions tomorrow and like it even less. Then you get spaghetti and meatballs the next day and are happy. In other words you change dinner menus pretty much every day. If you’re change coaches every year or two, you’re probably never going to see improvement.

  6. interesting column, but the idea that earnie purposely set up curtin to fail by buying a million dollar player is ridiculous. people rarely try to set up complex schemes like that and it seems like when they do it doesn’t work. it reminds me of the past election where clinton’s campaign people convinced her not to campaign in michigan to try to trick trump into thinking it wasn’t in play.

  7. el Pachyderm says:

    This article is the Rube Goldberg of PSP articles. I’m following the kicking boot into the ass of an unsuspecting fan, the dominos to the bunsen burner igniting the thinnest of threads that snaps to a pool cue eight ball corner pocket.
    .
    A fantastic fun read. The asterisks are great and while I do not fully agree with the Franchise v Club issue I recognize the tedium of it.
    .
    I only wish your mom’s green bean casserole came with sufficient crunchy french onions…. which elevate.

  8. I’ll stay in character. The author is a fraud.
    .
    On the drowning man a rope, phrasing could be better as I transition from the peanut gallery to wearing the target. Flip the argument on its’ head:
    .
    Has Earnie positioned Curtin for success? We don’t need to go down some malevolent spy novel path, but is he helping him or hurting him with the stated style of play with the acquired players.
    .
    I’m not repenting on the green bean casserole. That’s an awful entree and the manager needs to go.

    • Aw man……..not green bean casserole! Stuffs the bomb, especially left overs the next day! Mmmmmm…….

  9. Zizouisgod says:

    Every time I see a reference to the training facility and practice fields, I think of that scene from A Serious Man where Rabbi Scott tries to counsel Larry Gopnik.

    “Just look at that parking lot!”

  10. Fun read, congrats on the column! I’d offer a neutral take on the helping/hurting Curtin with the signing of Bedoya in particular. Viewed in the light of needing talent and having a bare cupboard with Barnetta and Nogiera gone, you sign the best available. I can’t name how many times we’ve seen this in pro sports, particularly Philly(remember the recent “dream team” Eagles free agent signings!?). Stop gap solutions complete the starting 11, maybe fill seats or sell jerseys when it’s a USMNT, etc. I believe Ernie is playing the long game as well.

  11. I hear John Harkes mentioned as a replacement on here often……..that scares the shit out of me. Ballers don’t always make good gaffers……….and this dude is a little thick in the head. Still a scumbag for what he did to Wynalda too……..

    • pragmatist says:

      Pray for Tab Ramos, if they stick within the USMNT family. He’s the best of the bunch. Not like he’s a Poch clone, or anything, but by USMNT veteran standards, he’s the guy.

    • I would love to see Sigi come in, but I think it might be tough to pry him out of California.

  12. If Stewart was playing the long game……….where’s the youth? Seems most of our players are 25+………….with one academy product? The only way I buy it is we see more of the kids………

    • I think the youth isn’t on the first team yet. Stewart’s vision is a loooong one. Alberg, Ilsinho, Simpson et. al. are replacement level roster players to flesh out the squad while the talent develops below. Since Stewart’s arrival, I think there’s been a noticeable difference in young players getting looks and serious time on the first team — Rosenberry, Yaro, Herbers and now Elliot and Jones (and both show a lot of promise). I feel like pre-Stewart, these guys would have had a harder time breaking in. Curtin was more reluctant to stray away from vets.

      • Point taken, that’s my one looming question? Is this all a facade for the next year or two until they blood the youth? My inclinations say yes………

      • I’d still be more content with our results if we fielded a starting 11 with homegrown kids…….would probably put more peeps in seats…….which as stated in an earlier post…..we are seeing less and less of……that Union emblem has been very visible this year………

        • Old Soccer Coach says:

          Think about Derrick Jones’s first six games from the standpoint of his psyche.
          .
          Now, apply whatever you learned to some of the younger guys.
          .
          They are training them to be confident in themselves at the Academy, but every kid is different.

          • OSC…….I get that, but if they were across the pond……they blood them with first team football at 18 and 19!

          • I tend to think an 18 or 19 year old kid would be chomping at the bit…….youthful ignorance can work wonders!

      • pragmatist says:

        Keep in mind that Stewart started at the same time as BSFC. Before that, guys were in Harrisburg, now they practice with the first team on a regular basis. Is this because of Earnie, or is the timing coincidental?
        .
        But there is a lot to the thought of giving those guys minutes. Yeah, they could play on the big club, but we’ve seen a lot of should-be minor-leaguers get burned or simply be outclassed (Cruz, Hoppenot, etc.) Give them time, since they can afford it, and get MUCH younger next year when you can move on from contracts.

        • I know the history of the club dude, I was a founding member and STH until I realized the game they were playing……..and to compare Antoine Hoppenott with what we have coming out of the academy is laughable……,,Antoinne is not a professional footballer…….

      • If Earnie is playing THAT long of a game, then he doesn’t really give much of a damn how the first team does for the next couple of years, nor who’s coaching, nor how we feel about things. Nor does it make much sense for any of us to invest in season tickets until at least 2020.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Watch the Steel on You Tube.
        .
        What you will see at this point in the season is seven Union reserves.
        .
        If you have a free Sunday and the weather is beautiful, drive up. Pay the money for a reserved seat so you can sit in the shadow of the press box if you want midfield seats if it’s sunny and hot.

        • Best advice you can give right now, spot on OSC. I’ve watched all their games so far this year (admittedly its a small sample), but that squad is showing much better than their first team counterparts. All of their games have featured a good amount of back and forth (and possibly just as important, goals). Forget the actual results for a minute, that team looks like its growing, doing its job. Its one of the few reasons to show any optimism so far this year.

  13. One thing Ernie doesn’t realize, is that for a club this young in the US., trash to mediocre to trash again will kill the fan base. Based on the attendance the past two games, it is clear what is happening.

  14. I’m worried that the youth are going to see this miserable team losing every game and decide to go to college or sign overseas. This franchise ruins good players. Okugo (played out of position then fell out of favor), McInerney (USMNT callup then slump then fell out of favor and traded for the horrendous Wenger), Yaro (too fragile and too small to be a CB should be playing DM), now Rosenberry (USMT callup then slump). You can’t build a culture of young stars if the thing they’re all striving for is a poorly coached team that brings in ill-fitting parts (Bedoya, Simpson, Ilsinho, Alberg) and loses every week. Oh, and Blake isn’t getting sold for 1 million, much less 10 million, so don’t get your hopes up that our player development will reap big financial gains allowing us to compete. Fire Curtin and get a guy who can make the most out of this hodgepodge of mediocre players. Oh, and don’t chain the new guy to a 4-2-3-1, because we don’t have the personnel for it. Then the academy guys might be eager to sign with the senior club.

    • I was thinking that……what if one match Curtin came out and said, “screw your 4-2-3-1, I’m going x,y, or z”……..like the A’s Coach would do to Billy Bean in Moneyball? If my Gunners, one of the most ideological and dogmatic clubs in Europe, can go to a 3-4-3……..I’m thinking our lowly Union could do the same……..

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      The better the club the harder to break into it.
      .
      And maturity, both physical and mental, plays a role. Mark McKenzie got absolutely waffled by Aaron Wheeler last Saturday night. Hit hard enough that you worried for the 18-year-old for a minute.
      .
      Going from being the dominant player in your group to merely one of the guys and a young one at that requires some ego adjustment.

      • It’s called learning your trade and becoming a footballer…….check out what Tuchel said to Pulisic before he went into the first team dressing room! Words any talented youngster should hear!

  15. When Earnie Stewart is finally ready to offer us an alternative to “green bean casserole”, he should consider looking for a successful college coach to take over the Union.
    .
    Historically, many of the best MLS coaches came to the league with experience coaching at the highest levels of college soccer. Bruce Arena (Virginia), Bob Bradley (Princeton), Caleb Porter (Akron), and Sigi Schmid (UCLA) are some qreat examples.
    .
    Moreover, top college coaches are experienced in dealing with roster turnover and guiding the development of young players, two essential qualities for someone working in the “moneyball” environment that Earnie seems to like.
    .
    As for a specific candidate, I would suggest that Earnie take a drive down I-95 to visit Sasho Cirovski at Maryland:
    .
    http://www.umterps.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=29700&ATCLID=207326931
    .
    Maurice Edu can be one of his references.

    • That’s a really good call on Sasho…….from University of Hartford to Maryland…….the guy gets results and brings in talent…….I like that better than Tab actually…….

    • In fairness to all “moneyball” comments, lets avoid pinning budget constraints on Earnie. Ownership still has to be willing to shell out the money, and that has rarely been the case so far. Earnie plays moneyball because he has no choice.
      .
      That being said, you can question the quality of the players brought in and/or the ability of the coach to put those pieces together. I’m personally of the opinion that these are good pieces and the coach has no damn clue how best to use them.

    • I could totally back bringing in Cirovski. He has done some great things for MD. There have been a lot of MLS players coming out of that program – just look at the Crew with Zac Steffen and Alex Crongale.

  16. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Good to hear your voice, Scotty Mac. Keep it up!

  17. How much do I love this site? The articles AND the comments are first rate. Everyone, please keep up the good work! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Couldn’t agree more, great article like this one and the comments is the reason why this is my favorite soccer site. Thank you all!!!

    • Thanks, guys. Glad to hear it. We’re definitely hoping Scott finds time to write regularly for the site.

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