Fellow staffer Barry Evans eloquently laid out why fans have little to worry about at this point in the 2015 season. I think his argument lays out quite nicely why in the medium term there is no reason for panic. But I've got some food for thought, for both the short term and the long term, on how this offseason will impact the Union.
Let's get the short term out of the way, because it's pretty obvious to everyone. These late signings will make it more difficult for the team to gel early. Presumably "major" pieces will take time to integrate. Just this week Cristian Maidana made the point to talk about how most of the team is back, and that should be a big advantage. But that also speaks to just how difficult it is to integrate new and significant pieces. The bottom line is there should be panic when it comes to the start of the season. But Barry is right, when looking at the season as a whole (which I'm calling the medium term), there isn't much reason for panic. There is time to right that ship.
But let's focus on the long term, where I do want to raise concerns, if not all out panic. Panic about the long term you say? Why should we do that? Panic is immediate. We panic when we realize the keys have been left in a locked car. We don't panic about the fact that we might lock our keys in the car someday. I get that. I do. Hear me out.
Since the fans don't know the truth about how this offseason has played out and never will, some assumptions need to be made. For one, we need to assume that the Curtin/Albright tandem has not been inactive this offseason, that they have been trying to ink their first new player signing all the waking hours. I think we can all agree that overtures have been made and overtures have been turned away. Many media outlets have reported this. Since it's not a question of the Union waiting for bargain basement prices, let's look at why the overtures have been primarily turned away.
Here is a ridiculously simple funnel of the signing process.
Presumably the Union start with a list of players they want to add to the club. Next, through the process of contacting agents or just talking to players or scouts, they will get a sense if the player is interested in playing for the Philadelphia Union. Included in the "interest" is the players ability to join given contractual commitments. There is a probability of x in the diagram, and that represents the percentage of players on the Union's wish list that could and would actually play for the Union. The bottom of the diagram then is the people who come to financial terms. The probability of y in the diagram equals the percentage of players who want to play on the Union that the Union can afford to pay.
The reality of course is that the Union probably take off a large number of players from their consideration list due to obvious salary gaps. Still, there are likely players who they think they can negotiate with that end up being too costly. The percentage y represents those players.
So why are we going through all this? Here is my point. The fact that the Union have signed no new players this offseason is a result of three things as demonstrated in the diagram - all with long term implications for how the FO functions. Let's start at the bottom of the diagram.
1. The Union underestimate the wages the market is paying and are unwilling to pay market wages. Part of this might be naivete. Part of this could be an unwillingness to spend. They might argue the player is seeking higher than market wages and that could also be an issue in some cases. Adjusting expectations for player wages is fixable in my view. They just need to focus their player pool on less expensive players. But I'd count that as a long term concern.
2. If the middle of the funnel is the issue, then less players want to play for the Union than the FO thought. This issue speaks to the probability of x in the diagram. Perhaps the Union don't have a compelling sales pitch to players and therefore, to convince them to play for the Union, they would need to pay out of market salaries. This is obviously a much more concerning issue and a more difficult one to fix. What must the Union do to make the club a good destination for their target players? Let's not go too far down this path because we don't know if it's an issue, but it's not an easy fix to be sure.
3. At the top of the funnel, the target player pool just isn't big enough. This issue speaks to a lack of resources available to do the proper scouting and monitoring necessary to have a large enough prospect list to begin with. This would also be a serious problem. If this is the case the Union will consistently be struggling to find players to sign.
Of course it needs to be said that since probabilities are in play in this world, it's certainly possible that the Union FO was just unlucky this year. Or perhaps there were extenuating circumstances this year that caused the conversion of players through the funnel to be abnormally low. Curtin has cited the Valdes disruption and the CBA unknowns as causes of the delay. But I have to believe that some of this could be prevented by better management throughout the entire funnel.
To summarize: 1) Either the Union don't have the resources to track a large enough volume of players, 2) they can't convince players to play in Philadelphia, or 3) they are underestimating the financial requirement to sign their target players. It could also be a combination of all three issues.
All three are bad signs to be sure, because they indicate a systematic issue which is far more important than which center back or striker they are ultimately able to land.