That most wonderful time of year is almost upon us. Silly Season, where rumormongers make their living doing what they do best - the sports equivalent of futures trading (Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate, anyone?) where educated people make educated guesses that sometimes seem about as uneducated as you can get. I'll try to stay away from that, however any article that deal in speculation and MLS money is bound to cross from analysis to guessing. What I will attempt to do is to show how much money the Union have to play with and what that potentially means for player signings.
Let's start with the known (as much of a "known" as we can get with MLS' clear-as-mud salary rules) factor - how much the Union pay in salary now. As explored by my colleague Jared Young in his article "2014 Philadelphia Union Player Salaries" According to the numbers there, the Union's total salary expenditure is $2,912,150 which means the club is $187,850 under the $3.1 million salary cap. It's important to note that this does not include the $295,000 salary of Carlos Valdes, who is still set to return from Argentina's San Lorenzo in July as far as we know, nor does it include any allocation money payments towards salaries. That being said, even without Valdes and using these numbers, the Union are in a bit of trouble. The stated ambition of adding a striker - presumably a Designated Player - will be impossible with only around $188,000 to play with. The cap hit for a Designated Player over the age of 23 is $387,500, which means without an extra $146,878 (per MLS rules, the lowest salary - $52,272 for Antoine Hoppenot - would drop from the Union's cap hit) there will most likely be no Designated Player striker coming in to save the day in 2014. Allocation Money could be used to pay that down, however there's nothing to indicate how much Allocation Money the Union has to spend or if they could spend it on this. Here's where we venture into the unknown.
This also shows that the return of Carlos Valdes is highly unlikely, especially if the Union are thinking of improving the offense over improving the defense. Personally I think having Valdes - arguably the best player to ever wear a Union shirt - back at PPL would solve a lot of issues. The club has been without a veteran leader such as a Danny Califf or Carlos Valdes or Jeff Parke for the first time in club history, and for as much as the coaching staff and front office may want to talk about "attractive, attacking football" this has always been a defense-oriented club. Valdes on the back line would allow Amobi Okugo to move up to central defensive midfielder (where he has excelled in every opportunity this season) and give Austin Berry/Ethan White someone to model their game after as well as cover for them when they make mistakes. Also, there's no guarantee that Valdes even wants to come back. Depending on the showing Colombia has at the World Cup, he could be in for a gigantic payday when negotiating his next contract - and MLS teams are historically loathe to pay Designated Player money to a center back.
There are some possibilities. Right now, Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu are the only Designated Players on the roster (there was some confusion regarding Vincent Nogueira, however as of this writing the consensus is that he is not a Designated Player). Edu is on loan from Stoke until the end of the season, and while it's highly unlikely, the possibility does exist that he could be called back to play in England before his loan ends. Maidana could also be sold or traded, however that too seems unlikely as he hasn't had the best run of form so far in MLS.
So what can help? Realistically, nothing in the immediate term. Next year could be different. Maurice Edu is scheduled to return to Stoke at the end of the year, so that's potentially one way to free up a Designated Player slot. Edu has been one of the few bright spots for the Union during this dismal season, and I don't think there's been much buzz about him returning to Europe other than the occasional pining by Rangers FC fans. With the new CBA coming (hopefully) next season, one would imagine the recent infusion of television money would not only increase the overall salary cap but possibly include the addition of a fourth Designated Player slot, so perhaps that's how the Union can keep Edu and pick up that target Designated Player striker they've been after. Then again, maybe not. Carlos Valdes' contract is up at the end of this year, and while it would be hard to imagine him re-signing for anything less than Designated Player money (especially if Colombia go far in the World Cup), the possibility does exist that the Union would resign him at fair market value.
Perhaps for the Union January, not June, will bring the silliest season of all.