Exploring Expiring Contracts and a Long Off-Season

Last off-season was for many the most exiting and intriguing off-season in the Philadelphia Union's brief five year history. There were the signings of Vincent Nogueira and Cristian 'Chaco' Maidana, in addition to the endless speculation about Maurice Edu and the selection of GK Andre Blake in the MLS Superdraft.

Needless to say there were endless talking points for fans and journalists alike, and while last year may have been the most exciting off-season, this year may prove to be the most important for the club's long-term health.

Expiring Contracts

The Union will have a number of players who will be out of contract soon and there will be discussion on who they should and should not keep.

Amobi Okugo: Okugo is the final "Union Original" that has remained with the team since it's inception in 2010. The defensive midfielder/center back has been one of the team's most reliable defensive players. Originally drafted to play in the midfield, he was converted to CB by John Hackworth and played the 2012-13 season at that position.

Okugo was unable to lock down a spot in the starting line-up once Jim Curtin took over for Hackworth. He was played at DM by Curtin and found himself in and out of the lineup as Maurice Edu rotated from CB to DM. He has been a consummate professional when it came to his inconsistent playing time, but with rumored interest from Europe, Okugo may look to head for greener pastures.

Brian Carroll: Bring up Brian Carroll to any Union fan and you're likely to get into an argument. The veteran midfielder was a lock to start in 2012-2013 much to the chagrin of Union fans. While he was praised by the coaching staff for his leadership and grit, fans saw a different player. They saw a player well past his prime who was unable to contribute to the offense and slow to react on defense. To the delight of supporters, Jim Curtin rarely placed Carroll in the starting XI thanks to the arrival of Nogueira and Edu.

I believe that Carroll's time with the Union should come to an end. The former captain does not seem to have many seasons left in him and this is as good a time as any to move on from him.

Conor Casey: Casey's time with the Union has been relatively successful as he has scored 18 goals in his two seasons with the club. While he is no longer the dominant player he was with Colorado Rapids, he is an effective target man and brings toughness to the squad. The biggest issue with Casey at 33 years of age, is his fitness level. Rarely does Casey make it past the 60-70th minute mark and is noticeably gassed once the second half begins.

Having Casey as either a back-up or a second striker is not an awful position to be in, but the Union must find outside help to lead their attack in the future.

Zach Pfeffer: The Union's first Homegrown player has rarely been given an opportunity to succeed since joining the club. He spent last season on loan with Bundesliga squad 1899 Hoffenheim, and has only appeared in eight games for the Union. Pfeffer faces a tough decision this off-season. Will he move on from his hometown club, or look for other options where his playing time may increase?

Unfortunately, Pfeffer may move on from the Union as Maidana has solidified his role in central midfield leaving less minutes for Pfeffer. At the minimum, the Union should have had Pfeffer on the bench over Fred, but the coaching staff may be seeing something that we are not. Either way, unless his role increases significantly, Pfeffer may seek other options.

Maurice Edu: Edu's loan with the Union will expire at the conclusion of the season. Common belief was that Edu came to MLS in order to secure more playing time in a bid to make the USMNT's World Cup squad. Edu fell short of this goal but was able to put together a productive season with the Union. After Hackworth was fired, Curtin asked Edu to play more CB, a position Edu has said he is not a fan of, instead of his usual midfield role. He performed well in both positions, despite a tendency to disappear from time to time.

Edu seems to genuinely enjoy playing for the Philadelphia Union. He has become good friends with Amobi Okugo and Ethan White and donned the captain's armband for large portions of the season. I would imagine Edu would want to stay with the club, it comes down to if the club and league are willing to pay the price that Stoke City will seek.

Expansion Draft

Orlando City and NYCFC will enter the league next season which means there will be an expansion draft this off-season. The Union can protect 11 players in addition to Generation Adidas players being automatically protected, for example Andre Blake. Many writers, fans and pundits seem to believe that Zac MacMath will be selected by Orlando City as the goalkeeper seems to be unhappy since the arrival of Rais M'Bohli.

It remains a possibility that another Union player could be selected, and it will be interested to see what happens when the Expansion Draft is held on December 10th.

Odds and Ends

The continued speculation of who will be the next Union head coach will only increase throughout the off-season. It seems unlikely that Jim Curtin will be the coach next year but may remain with the team in an assistant capacity. All signs seem to point to Rene Muelensteen as head coach next season, but with Nick Sakiewicz at the helm there is always a possibility of a shock move.

On the topic of the Union's CEO, many fans, supporters and writers are calling for Sakiewicz to relinquish his post as CEO. Many believe that Sakiewicz has made too many poor decisions that have hurt the club and would like to see the team move forward under new leadership.

Finally the team will need to make some kind of striker signing before the new season kicks off. As I stated above, Conor Casey simply cannot be the Union's starting striker if this team is to make the playoffs. Whether the team looks for a replacement in MLS or tries to find someone from another league, a change must be made.

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