As you might imagine, the conversations I hear on a daily basis about the Union (and most other things in general) come in a variety of forms. I have access to a 24/7 chat between all of the writers here at Brotherly Game and the opinions held in this chat are intriguing, but also frustration-filled. I write to you, the glorious readers of this fine blog, out of frustration. My goodness it's already December and the Union haven't done anything to improve! The flurry of trades (all two of them) sent me into a confused state. Is it my puny mind that can't understand the complexity of the grander plans set out by our very own Sporting Director Earnie Stewart? These moves make no sense to me. Breaking it down, this is what has transpired thus far:
- A trade with D.C. United resulting in acquiring Chris Pontius for General Allocation Money (AM) and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM).
- A trade with Houston Dynamo resulting in acquiring TAM and the 6th pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft for Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger.
- Passing in the first round of the Re-entry Draft.
- Reducing the roster of a multitude of players including Ethan White, Conor Casey, Steven Vitoria, Brian Sylvestre, Danny Cruz, Antoine Hoppenot, Austin Berry, Fred, Eric Bird, Warren Creavalle (pending), Fernando Aristeguieta (pending), Fabinho (pending), Michael Lahoud (pending), and Brian Carroll (pending).
My gut is telling me I'm crazy for being concerned. Logically there's plenty of time to acquire players and trades can occur still, so what's the worry? Stewart and company are just acquiring assets - a tried and true method of building a team implemented by the beloved Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie. Stewart is creating the space in the cap needed to overhaul the roster.
In his presser, Stewart stated the process required to build a team is to start by identifying a style of play that not only will be representative of the team, but of the city as well. Something everyone can get around. I understand that and it makes perfect sense, but surely there must be some positive move somewhere. When you look at the team now and the moves made thus far, can you really say the value of the moves made looks positive?
We can cross off the roster cuts and the Re-entry draft passing. The latter of the two is the norm when it comes to MLS offseasons. Round two of the draft will most certainly see a flurry of action, and I'll hold off judgement until then. The roster cuts are expected. The team wasn't very good last year and even with a change in team identity, it's safe to say the Union needed an overhaul regardless.
Take a look at the other moves. The two trades leave a sour taste in my mouth. The Chris Pontius trade, while adding a MLS veteran on the left side of the field (a treasure the Union haven't had in a while), doesn't cause excitement. I have limited optimism about Pontius and his ability to stay healthy. In his career, Pontius has had one terrific season and a plethora of injury-riddled seasons with D.C. United. For the price tag Pontius is coming in on - a whopping $420,000 after his option was picked up - I'm not sold on him. Recent additions of TAM aside, a huge amount of cap space was spent on one player who hasn't really produced since 2012 and has been battling injuries periodically since. There isn't an amount of TAM that can settle the cringing I have thinking about paying him money to heal from his latest knock (not to mention they gave up TAM and AM in order to pick up his hefty salary).
In the trade with Houston, Philadelphia sent away easily the most productive offensive player on the team in Chaco Maidana (along with the once-hailed boy wonder Andrew Wenger) for a draft pick and TAM. Now the fact that TAM amounts can't be disclosed (frustrations outlined by my dear brother here), leaves the ability to properly criticize the trade somewhere in the wilderness of Garberland along with all the other undisclosed transactions. The speculation regarding the amount received has fallen around the very specific range of "substantial." Where logic holds that reasoning to be believable, it holds the same clout as me suggesting that TAM received for Maidana and Wenger only cancels out the TAM sent out for Pontius.
Now I can get into the idea that Maidana, who is easily the only reason the Union scored last year, was traded for mincemeat and that his value needed to be equalled for the Union to even be close to their dismal production in the last season. I won't, however, because it is clear that he was not a fit for the plans of the Philadelphia Union. Stewart, Jim Curtin, and Chris Albright, have all discussed and identified a style of play and for a wide-drifting, cross-heavy, free kick specialist number 10 who doesn't run well or play defense there was no room. I can disagree with this assessment all I want, but it's a fact at this moment.
Maybe Houston knew that. Maybe the Union don't value him as highly as his production suggests. Maybe he doesn't fit into plans and the team will be better with his departure. It's too early to say. As of now, I look at these moves and the spurned inner self of my conscious looks to wield its hammer of disgust. The Union have acquired things it doesn't like and have traded away things that it did like. I've seen these moves before. Good players traded away because of not "fitting." Players brought it for way too much money. Allocation money acquired for players and no players in return. The hoards of monopoly money brought in can't play attacking midfield.
The question is whether I have the right to be disgusted by the moves of new management so early, simply because the brief sample size somewhat resembles old management? The tormented fan in me demands the satisfaction of immediate change and success. It burns in me and every moment a move by the Philadelphia Union isn't a success the fire burns a little brighter. The investment, the time, and the devotion spent have drained me while simultaneously igniting a deep and profound need to be critical, sometimes unwarrantedly. The desperate fight to stave off the feeling of being resigned to mediocrity is ongoing. So easily I can fall into the expectation that this club, as it has been for so long, will fail. To achieve anything greater than failure would be a truly wonderful moment, but is that something to strive for?
I will say I am resigned. Not to mediocrity and not to failure, but to allowing the ship to take its course. Immediate satisfaction is the curse of this generation I am apart of, however, the call of patience is needed. I promise to allow this new regime to right the wrongs of the past and I urge you all to as well. I may be in the minority here, but I know others like me exist and share my concerns. There's a plan in place and that's something that we haven't had before for our fledgling franchise. Let's see how it goes.