After the busiest off-season that I can remember in MLS, I think it's safe to say that we have entered MLS 3.0. With the players, teams and rumored new TV contract coming to the league, it's quite exciting times in MLS, and there is more to come.
David Beckham has claimed the number 22 spot and Arthur Blank in Atlanta is negotiating for number 23. The last spot (sic) is also hot on the rumor mill as teams from Minnesota, San Antonio and Sacramento all seem to be in the mix. The one thing that sticks out is that MLS 3.0 is all about the money. Looking at the teams that got in or are being considered, the one prerequisite looks like you need a billionaire investor. Gone are the days when a bunch of guys sitting around a bar come up with a great idea and get a team for a city. Every expansion franchise after the Union, have an investor group worth billions, with a "B". Even the original franchises like Columbus and DC were brought by owners who are worth billions.
The Union, after getting off to great launch in 2010, saw their fortunes take a downturn after the firing of Peter Nowak. The honeymoon ended quickly after the team missed the playoffs two straight years and people started questioning the front office. In Toronto, Tim Leiweke who might have been almost single handedly responsible for MLS 2.0, upped the stakes once more for the league. After last years signing of Clint Dempsey by Seattle, Leiweke one upped himself and acquired three new DP's, even though the team already had one. DC United went all out and traded for Eddie Johnson and a few proven MLS veterans. It seemed all the teams around the East were getting better and NYCFC and Orlando City were arriving next year with promises of more designated players.
Oh how the fans started to rumble in Philadelphia. "This team has done nothing, Hack uses players all wrong, plays players out of position, they're cheap, unpaved parking lots and they have the word BIMBO on their uniform. They promised this and they promised that and it's already the middle of December and nothing." To top it off, some players were on twitter talking about how the team practiced in a park in Chester. If your a fan of the team, you've either heard or said it all. We love to call a team out if we don't think they're trying and up until the MLS draft, the critics were on a roll. This was all quite surprising to me because in 2009 I was told nobody cared about soccer and the team would fold in five years.
Then suddenly, something changed as word started to leak out that the Union might be after Maurice Edu. The other rumors had the Union in pursuit of two Dp's also started to gain momentum. One was Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana and the other French midfielder Vincent Nogueira. Both players are young and fill a need that many fans believed to be glaring for the team. Yet we remained cynical as we heard this all before from so many of the teams in Philadelphia.
Going into the MLS SuperDraft, something fundamental changed. It was looking like the rumors had a lot of traction and the biggest was that MLS was blocking the team from signing Maurice Edu and requiring an allocation spot to get him. As a true Philadelphian I can tell you this never sits well with us. After watching Toronto capture some of the biggest signing's since Beckham arrived in LA, it seemed the rules had changed for us. As we fans entered the draftroom floor you could tell commissioner Don Garber was ready for it as he addressed the crowd ten minutes prior to going on live television. Suddenly, all the venom was deflected away from the team for at least the day. Much like a family we can disagree with the team but when it somebody from the outside that slights us, well, we stick up for the team.
The draft itself was a surprise for many as the Union traded up to get University of Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake with the number one pick. It was a bold move for the Union as he was rated the top prospect in the draft, yet didn't fill a desperate need. The rest of the day Hack and Sak traded down and still nabbed some very promising players to help build depth for the team. This caught my attention because Hack said that is how he was approaching the draft and he executed the plan nicely, you could actually see a plan coming together and it would be hard to say anyone except the Union won the SuperDraft.
After much negotiating the Union have signed all three of their prospective targets, something that clubs like Arsenal couldn't pull off this January mind you, the centerpiece being Maurice Edu. He's a former USSMT player trying to make it back on the national team to play in Brazil. The Union had also captured Nogueira and Maidana to complete their mid-field makeover. Later we found they didn't have to use a DP spot for Nogueira but still paid a transfer fee to get him with the team before the season starts. For the first time this team has delivered on promises they've made. For me it was beyond my expectations as I never thought we would get all three players. Yes there are some positions on the team that are still in question, like the back line, but I feel like the team is actually looking to contend now.
Some fans will still blast the team for the training facilities, unpaved parking lots and the teams relationship with Chester and I don't have a problem with that, welcome to the big leagues and Philadelphia. I always believed if we're not talking about you, we don't care. But I can be a whole lot more patient if I think the team is trying to win on the field. Looking around the league, I think the team is trying to compete. With new teams coming into the league with billions of dollars to back them, I can understand why everybody wants things like yesterday. Unfortunately the Union are not one of those teams. To me that's the great thing about MLS as the league has parity and you can still compete. You just have to use your resources wisely. I have a feeling with the new TV contract adding some revenue to the team, we went out and spent some of it on the three new acquisitions.