With 2/3rds of the season gone, and only a miserable 22 points (1 PPG), the Union need a minor miracle to get into the playoffs. Sure, there’s still the Open Cup to look forward to, but with the disappointing loss to D.C. this weekend, it seems that the time has come to look to the future. With that in mind, I wanted to write this to share my thoughts on what the Union should do this offseason.
Short version? Blow it up.
The reality of the Union's situation is as harsh as it is simple: If the Union want to be a better team, they need to stop putting on Band-Aids and just cut off the rotting flesh which has been plaguing the franchise. It will hurt like hell, but it's the best way to move forward. Look at what D.C. did after their abysmal 2013 season. They blew up the roster and have been one of the best teams in the league ever since, never once looking back.
The first step in the demolition process is for The Union to decide what kind of team they want to be afterwards. After all, they’ll want to be able to pick up what useful scraps they can from the debris. Over the last year or so The Union have adapted a counter-attacking style of play, but head coach Jim Curtin has been hesitant to commit to that, often saying things like, and I’m paraphrasing here, "You have to win before you can have any kind of identity." Okay, that sounds good on paper, Jim, but why don’t you get a system in place, and pick some core players to build around? That way, when you start to bring in new guys, you first make sure they fit your system. This will help you win. Obviously, this decision about the team’s identity hinges on who they eventually hire to take over the Soccer part of the business (if they ever get around to it). Head of Soccer Operations, Sporting Director, whatever you want to call him, he'll have the final say about what kind of team The Union is going to build and how they're going to build it.
But for arguments sake let's say they want to stick with that counter attacking style of play. Once that’s decided, the next step is to pick a core group of players who fit well into that system and build a team around them. After that, everyone else is expendable, and should be put on the market. So, what players on the Union roster have shown consistent talent and fit well into a counter attacking style of play? In my not-at-all-expert opinion that list is very short. Nogueira, Maidana and Sapong are the only three players I think The Union have that truly fit the system. I'm not saying that Curtin and Albright should trade or cut every other player on the team, but if the goal is to set up a quality, counter attacking team, everyone else is expendable. This is a business, players are assets, and The Union will need to try to squeeze as much value out of those assets as possible.
Since it doesn’t really make sense to get rid of your entire team, there are a few other players I think are worth holding onto (unless the right offer comes along). Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
1) Raymon Gaddis
I'd hold onto Gaddis. He's a quality defender, even if he does occasionally have lapses. Finally getting to start regularly on the right side could be good for him. On top of that he just signed a new long-term contract, which isn’t unreasonable for a starting-quality right back. It’s worth it to give Gaddis a chance to shine on the right.
2) Richard Marquez
Marquez has been one of the few bright spots this season. He's young, inexpensive, and already shown he can be a starter in this league. There is no reason to let him go for anything less than a serious chunk of change.
3) Eric Ayuk Mbu
It should be pretty obvious why, but it is definitely worth keeping Ayuk. He's young and he has huge upside. He still has to learn some discipline, but he’s got plenty of time to develop and he’s incredibly cheap. He's not quite fast enough to be my kind of winger, but he takes people on, and he can finish. No reason to let him go for anything less than a substantial offer.
4) Danny Cruz
This may seem crazy, but unless The Union can get really good value for him, I think Cruz is worth keeping. His loan stint seems to be going well, and the team is going to need depth on the wings.
Again, this seems crazy, but I watched the Cosmos v. NYCFC Open Cup game and Leo looked really good. The team will need depth. He's young, cheap, and honestly I think he's a better central midfield depth option than Pfeffer.
6) Andre Blake
"The LeBron James of Goalkeepers" should at least be given the chance to start consistently before being traded away. He’s still young for a keeper, not too expensive to keep on the roster, and probably not worth much in a trade anyway.
Look, I know this isn't going to be popular, but I really think at this point the team should be grooming Carroll to be a coach, if they’re not already. He's smart, has a great rapport with the players, and if we can get him to take a bit of a pay cut, he's worth having on the roster as a player/coach. Lord knows the coaching staff is stretched thin enough. He's certainly a better player coach than Fred.
Ha. Just kidding. I wouldn't keep Fred.
Once the team has established its core players to build around, and picked which players to keep for depth it’s time to clean house. Below I’ve listed the players I believe should be traded or sold if possible. I’ve also listed them in order of importance (the higher up the list, the more imperative it is to get them off the books).
1) Rais M'Bolhi
Not really a sale or a trade, but his loan is taking a serious chunk out of Philadelphia’s already limited budget. Unless he starts the last 12 games and turns out to be an all-star he is not worth whatever transfer fee we'd have to pay to bring him in and whatever contract we'd have to offer him. I like the guy, but Marquez, who is much younger and cheaper, has been much better.
3) Fernando Aristeguieta
I hate to say it, but he just hasn't lived up to the hype. As a young DP, he's not too expensive for a talented striker, but unless we plan to switch to a two striker system, he's just not worth it. Similar to Vitoria, Fernando is here on loan, so he won’t be traded as much as not signed to a permanent deal.
4) Maurice Edu
I hate to admit this, because I really like Edu, but he's just not the right fit for this system. He's got the talent to be an amazing CDM, but he doesn't have the discipline. The same goes for CB. He wants to be up field. He wants to score goals. He wants to be The Guy. I get it, really. I do. But in a defense first, counter attacking team, you do not want your CDM or CB out of position. You want those positions to stay put, play their role, and put out fires. Edu is just too damn expensive to be a liability. That being said I do think he's marketable. I know he's been heralded as the face of the franchise, but I think the Union can do better.
This one hurts too, I’m a big fan of Wenger, but let's be honest with ourselves... Wenger is not a winger. I don't know what the hell Andrew Wenger is, but he's not a winger, and I don't think it’s worth investing any more time trying to figure it out. He's too expensive to be on the bench, so it’s time to get whatever value the team can get from him. Unless he can play left back, in which case I say keep him.
This one hurts the most, but let's be real. Le Toux isn't a winger either. He's a striker, and the team is not playing a two striker system anymore. He's getting older, and he takes up a lot of cap space. It's time to move him while he’s still worth something.
He's been playing great lately and if he keeps it up his value as a left back in a league devoid of left backs will be through the roof. But we know the truth. Fabinho is an inconsistent defender, and while he can provide quality going forward, he can also provide a glut of errant crosses that no one can get on the end of. Maybe this streak of good play will continue, but Fabinho is also 30, so we probably can't expect him to keep that up for much more than another year or two. Sell him while he's on the rise and look elsewhere for a quality left back. I know that's a risk because left backs are notoriously difficult to come by, but a regression towards the mean seems just likely for the Brazilian as improvement.
8) Austin Berry
Honestly, I'd rather bring him back into the fold, but it seems to me like that bridge has already been burned. Finalize whatever transfer deal we have to with his Korean team and get him off the books completely.
9) Ethan White
I know Jim Curtin has said how much he likes White, but let's get real, Jim. Ethan is just not very good. He's athletic, but he's never going to be anything more than a serviceable back up. If we can get anything for him, we should trade him. The only reason he's towards the bottom of this list is because he only makes 125K, which isn't entirely unreasonable for a serviceable back up.
10) Michael Lahoud
Mike's been good when he's actually on the field, but he's been injury prone and therefore rarely on the field. The only reason to keep him around would be if we can't get anything worthwhile for him. He could still be okay depth.
11) Zach Pfeffer
This is going to be my least popular pick, but I am not a fan of Pfeffer. The fan base has been calling for Pfeffer to get more minutes since we signed him, and he's finally gotten them this season. And you know what? He's been a big old pile of "Meh." He's not technically gifted enough to be a quality replacement for Nogueira. He's not fast enough to be a good option on the wing. He doesn't have the vision to be a #10. Zach Pfeffer is just not that good. He’s last on this list is because he's so young and so cheap. In all likelihood he'd be kept around because no other team would care enough to trade for him.
The list of players I should just be cut and/or not resign is pretty short: Antoine Hoppenot , Conor Casey, Fred and MacMath. Hoppenot is useless; Casey and Fred are old and too expensive to be worth the roster spot; MacMath might have been a good keeper for this team , but that pooch has been thoroughly screwed by the Rais M’Bolhi fiasco. I would say trade these players for value, but I highly doubt they are worth anything.
The only players left are the very young and very inexpensive players who haven't seen enough field time to get a good read on and who wouldn't be worth anything in a trade anyway. I'd let them come to camp again and make them earn a spot along with whatever free agents and draft picks that are brought in. Either that or send them out on loan to a foreign or USL team.
Cutting or trading more than half of your team might seem like a drastic decision, but I think the Union require drastic changes if they want to be a better team. What do I think they should do with all of this freed up roster space and money? I think they should try to do with D.C. did: sign some quality MLS veterans who know the league and fit the system. They should also be able to sign a couple of reasonably priced Designated Players from abroad (who also fit the system).
If the Union want to keep up with the rest of the league, they don’t need to splash big money on players like Toronto or L.A., but they will need to make serious changes to a roster that clearly isn’t getting the job done.