General Managers and front office personnel are paid the big bucks to figure out the winning formula that is going to bring silverware home. There are many schools of thought on how to build a winning team (don't ask Sam Hinkie though), but MLSsoccer.com Director of Video, Jason Saghini has taken a look at the last three MLS Cups to see what all six teams had in common to try and pull together the ingredients it takes to reach an MLS Cup. Let's take a look at how the Philadelphia Union stack up to Saghini's six ingredients.
- A Coach With Experience
The experience in this case is not years as a head coach, which is good for the Union. What Saghini is looking for is a coach that has spent time involved with teams that have went to championship games. Both MLS Cup and US Open Cups count in this case, and those teams could either be as a player or a coach.
So how does Jim Curtin stack up? Well, in his short coaching tenure he already has led a team to a championship game; the 2014 US Open Cup. As a player he was a part of the Chicago Fire when they went to three US Open Cup finals, winning two (in 2003 and 2006), and losing in 2004. He was also a starter in the 2003 MLS Cup final when Chicago lost to San Jose.
- Experienced Core
Saghini is looking for players who have been together for four or more years. He makes a point that it is not just starters, but players in and around the first team. Although he also makes the point that its not just guys on the roster, but seeing field time. The one question I have about this category is if the 2015 season can count towards those four years.
The Union players who have already played four years in Philly are: Sheanon Williams (4.5), Brian Carroll (4), Zach Pfeffer (4), and Sebastien LeToux (2+2). If we're also counting players who will be in their 4th year with the team Danny Cruz, Michael Lahoud, Ray Gaddis, Antoine Hoppenot, and Jimmy McLaughlin
- Goal-scoring center backs
Nearly all of the teams who have reached recent MLS Cups in the last few years have benefited from timely goals from their big men. Sporting Kansas City could rely on Aurelien Collin. New England has Jose Goncalves. Omar Gonzalez even won an MLS Cup for the LA Galaxy with a header.
Carlos Valdes was known to drift forward from time to time, so with his absence who do the Union have to fill this role? Welcome Steven Vitoria. Not only is he 6'5" (yes, you read that correctly), but he is also known as a penalty kick specialist. He has to be the first center back penalty kick specialist that I've ever heard that about. Either way, he sounds like a lock for at least being a threat at goal this season.
- 12+ Goal Scorer
This may seem like an obvious ingredient, but having a go to offensive threat is a must. Robbie Keane has been lighting it up during his time in MLS. Sporting KC has Dom Dwyer and even the New York Red Bulls had a chance with Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips up top.
This is where Saghini knocks the Union out of the MLS Cup running. Despite LeToux's 12 goals last season, his dependence on PKs rules him out as a lock in 2015. The reason I am disagreeing with Saghini on ruling the Union out in this category is because of one small addition since the posting of the video. Fernando Aristeguieta. His time in French first division was not impressive, but his 35 goals in 83 appearances in his time at Caracas averages out to a goal every 2.5 games. Taking that average one step further, that would mean around 14 goals this season. His two goals in his debut friendly, just days after signing, was a warning shot to teams in the league. He means business.
- 8+ Assist Man
This one may also seem a bit obvious and easy to have if #4 is present, but hey - someone has to serve up the goals. Some assist artists do it by sharp crosses from open play, others are snipers from set pieces. Wherever they come from, Saghini has pinpointed eight as the magic number to being a championship contender.
Last season Cristian Maidana had 11, LeToux 7, and Andrew Wenger 4. That was in a season without a reliable goal scoring threat. Adding CJ Sapong and Aristeguieta is only going to make their jobs easier. I expect Maidana to have a big season. He's now settled in, healthy, and has a target to look for up top. Andrew Wenger is also looking very sharp in preseason and could easily double his assist total from last year. LeToux's number may decrease as he will most likely be relinquishing free kick duties, but despite his lack of passing accuracy he has always found a way to put the ball where it needs to be.
Check. Check. Check.
- Forward Depth
At some point every team in the league hits a wall and needs a change of pace to break a deadlock. Last season the Union lacked any sort of alteration to their attack. New England was a perfect example last season with Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies, Diego Fagundez, and Patrick Mullins. Such a deep stable of attacking options gave their opposition fits.
This season the Union will have some new toys to play with. Aristeguieta and Sapong are very different options. Conor Casey is also still in the team and will be a nice option off the bench, especially since he will not be expected to be an every game forward. Antoine Hoppenot has moved further down the depth chart, but could still find his way into an impact striker role. He is the small speedster of the group, and despite a slow 2014 season he is gaining some great experience from those around him. Throw in rookie Dzenan Catic and there are some definite options in 2015.