For the past six seasons the Union have sat somewhere between a pretty good soccer team and an absolute hot mess. Exciting and memorable moments have been intertwined with mismanagement and a perceived lack of direction. This inconsistency reaches from the front office down to the on-field product and must be drastically reduced, and eventually eliminated for the Union to truly succeed in MLS.
Continuity is something that needs to happen starting with the front office and lead all the way down to the players. First, there has to be a person with final say over player personnel decisions. It seems as though the Union have finally found that in Technical Director Chris Albright, but there still remains some uncertainty as to the roles that CEO Nick Sakiewicz and Rene Meulensteen play.
After last season it finally seems as though Sakiewicz has taken a step back from his perceived involvement in personnel decisions and brought on the aforementioned Meulensteen as a consultant. No one seems to know exactly what he does for the team, or if he's will eventually take over in a GM role. Whoever the team picks, they need to give that person the time it takes to build a squad and give them a reasonable period to either succeed or fail. If Albright is their man, then let him continue to build this team, but it would be unwise to only have him serve as a stop gap since that would mean even more turnover in the future.
Much like Albright, head coach Jim Curtin needs to be given a reasonable amount of time to show if he has what it takes to be a successful coach in MLS. It's tough for a team to consistently make the playoffs when they have to adjust to a new coach and system every two years. Granted, Nowak and Hackworth dug their own graves, each making a series of poor decisions that made it difficult to keep them around. A new coach is going to want to bring in their own players to play his particular style and it makes it nearly impossible for the players to gel and get any sort or chemistry or consistency.
I believe that the lack of continuity was a big reason the Union struggled so much last season. The defense was a revolving door at center back seeing Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry, Carlos Valdes, Maurice Edu, Ethan White and Aaron Wheeler all make appearances in defense. Then there was the constant movement at goalkeeper with Zac MacMath losing his starting job to Rais M'Bohli in the middle of the season. Once Jim Curtin became head coach, there seemed to be more clearly defined positions and roles for the team, but he needs to keep it that way to find success. Sure, players' positions and roles may change based on tactical needs, injuries or suspensions, but the line-up should be relatively consistent from week-to-week.
If the Union can keep a group of players and coaches together for more than a season and a half, they might actually be able to build a winning product and a positive culture. If they Union can achieve that positive culture, then this may become a team that players want to sign for. As much as the team wants it to be, "Philly Tough" isn't a culture, it's a marketing slogan and it won't bring any trophies to PPL Park anytime soon.
(Editor's Note: The official word from the Union is that all player personnel decisions this year are done by Jim Curtin and Chris Albright and that Nick Sakiewicz's role is more of a business-to-business role, getting sponsorships for the club. Rene Meulensteen's role as a consultant also doesn't give him a say in player personnel decisions.)