Summer transfer windows are always fun throughout the world. Big names get linked to teams, and many millions are spent to hopefully bring success to a European team for that season. In MLS it is different, as midseason acquisitions often find it difficult to make an instant "Impact' (yes, I did go there) . This year the Union added Warren Creavalle and Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta, as well as extending Fernando Aristeguieta's loan. To do so they had to say goodbye to their longest serving player in Sheanon Williams. How does the Union's summer dealings rank (so far)?
First - let's look back to the previous summer window signings. In 2010, Coudet came in and played well for his few games, playing in a team that was going nowhere. However, he was gone before the next season. In 2011 Paunovic was a cult hero helping the team get to the playoffs. The other summer signing was Freddy Adu. Paunovic, like Coudet was gone after that season and the less said about Adu's 2012 the better. In 2012 it was a season of disasters, and Bakary Soumare and Danny Cruz joined the Union. Soumare was another who didn't stick around long. In 2013, for some reason the Union paraded Gilberto as a big signing, but at least Fabinho has been here for a few years now. In 2014, after a "certain tournament", Carlos Valdes and Rais M'Bolhi made up perhaps the biggest summer in Union history.
So, two guys who played well for the few months they were here (Coudet, Paunovic), two guys who are around but often have been the subject of much criticism (Cruz, Fabinho), A player returning that seemed to not want to be with the club (Valdes), three players who never played (or barely did so - Nikolov, Gilberto and Soumare) and two players whose times at the club were unmitigated disasters and the team struggled mightily to get rid of them (Adu and M'Bolhi - who is still picking up a paycheck). It is safe to say that the summer signings the Union have made, some costing a lot of money, have been disasters. Therefore, if comparing to past years is the way to grade this years signings then it should be easy to get an A.
So to this year:
A) Negotiating to keep Fernando Aristeguieta for the rest of the season.
You, I, and almost everyone else thought that the Venezuelan striker was on a season long loan and not just until July. There had to be some work done however to have Fernando available for the whole season. After the first few games, nobody would have said this was a bad piece of business. Aristeguieta has however had multiple injuries and missed time trying to get into the Venezuela national team. This cost him a lot of playing time for the Union.
Even worse for Fernando is that CJ Sapong has been outstanding as the lone striker for Philadelphia. He has scored goals and shown that he can lead the line in the Union formation, creating chances as well as putting the finishing touch on them. For the rest of this season, Fernando can still be useful once fully fit. The problem will be if Jim Curtin is willing to play a formation that doesn't fit his ideal "4-2-3-1" as I don't think there is room for both Fernando and CJ in that system. Perhaps the money could have been spent on someone that will be around next season.
Fernando's part of the rating depends on 1) if he wins the US Open Cup and 2) If a deal is made to bring him back next season, and fit him and CJ Sapong into some kind of two striker formation.
Grade: D (chance to go up)
B) Trading Sheanon Wiliams and an international spot to Houston for allocation money.
There's both an emotional and a logical response to Sheanon Williams leaving.
The emotional part is to hate the trade no matter what. Sheanon was one of our "originals" (that at least finished the 2010 season). He is a Union hero, gave everything for the club and more (how many times did he race back to clear the ball off the line?), his long throws were a weapon, and he always had a smile and hand shake for fans he met. At the last Help Kick Hunger event, he mingled with the fans instead of the fans mingling with him, unlike others who stood around waiting for the fans to say hello. He is always going to be missed by the fans.
Then there is a logical response, which is two fold. Firstly, in my opinion Sheanon Williams was still the best right back on the team. While Ray Gaddis has done well, he isn't a threat going forward like Sheanon was. Fabinho isn't as good as Sheanon defensively. Out of the three, Williams would always be first on the team sheet. The trade also meant a lack of depth defensively.
Sheanon however also earns $150k a year, which is more than either Fabinho or Gaddis. He is also out of contract at the end of this year and would likely be due a large wage increase. This meant that keeping him on the team is something you really want to do. Williams is also a very tradeable asset, and the allocation money brought in should have been substantial.
Then there is the other part of the trade - that international spot. The Union had just gained one from the green card that Andre Blake received, and traded that away. That meant they had to free up another international spot to be able to sign a foreign player. They did this in a short term way by sending Vincent Nogueira to Harrisburg. Once he is back for the Union, it may be Eric Ayuk who goes. All of this could have been avoided by either not including an international spot in the trade, or getting rid of someone else. Hoping for a green card to come through is clutching at straws. This makes me think the international spot must have been a very lucrative trade piece for the Union.
The last outcome of this trade is that it finally ended the talk of two years ago, when the Union were going to build around a young core set of players - Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney. All four, for whatever reason, are currently playing for other teams. While MacMath is technically only on loan, I can't see him coming back to the Union after the way he was treated. Is there another young core set of players the Union will try and build around, or is there another change in philosophy?
Grade: C+ (with a chance to go down if the international spot continues to be a problem)
C) Signing Tranquillo Barnetta.
The Sheanon Williams trade was all to get the money to sign Tranquillo Barnetta. In addition to being only 30 years old, the Swiss international comes with the pedigree the Union couldn't wait to add to the roster. It is a fantastic signing, stemming from a link with a previous summer signing in Oka Nikolov. Along with Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira, there should now be enough creativitiy to provide plenty of goals for Philadelphia.
There is a down side to the signing however. The deal only goes up to the end of 2016, and while it may be extended I can't see the Union competing next year to win the MLS cup. I don't see this as a move to help the team going forward. That means that it is a similar signing as Eduardo Coudet - played well, didn't really help the Union but at least calmed the uproar from fans wanting better. Let's hope that he re-signs after 2016 and helps the Union win it all.
The other bad part of the signing came from the press conference afterwards, when the position that Curtin said Barnetta would play is as an 8 or a 10. With the 8 position it forces Vincent Nogueira back to the defensive midfielder role which isn't where he will excel. With the 10 position, Cristian Maidana has to play as a winger - which may be a disaster. I just hope that the signing of Barnetta doesn't mean that either Maidana or Nogueira will be gone.
Grade: B as even with the question marks over how long he will be here, he should be fantastic to see.
D) Trading for Warren Creavalle.
Without Sheanon Williams, the full back depth chart was Ray Lee, Andrew Wenger and Mike Lahoud. That isn't much. Therefore there was a need to get a player signed at least for depth, if not to pressure the starting defenders. That was done without any fanfare, as the Union got utility player Warren Creavalle from Toronto FC. It is a move that tied everything else together quite nicely. The Union basically traded Sheanon Williams for Tranquillo Barnetta and Warren Creavalle, and that's pretty good.
Grade: B in and of itself it isn't a trade that is mouthwatering, but it was badly needed.
E) Not getting rid of Rais M'Bolhi.
Perhaps the biggest cloud over PPL Park is the cloud that was Rais M'Bolhi. While he may not be around the team any more, his salary, use of an international spot, and refusal to on paper be sent to Harrisburg is not good. The Union were adamant they were going to get rid of M'Bolhi, but any deals fell through reportedly because of the Union wanting too much. The inability to get rid of M'Bolhi automatically makes the overall grading be a poor one.
Grade: FAIL. Utter and complete failure. Failure isn't a strong enough word for how bad this was.
Overall grade: C-. That being said - Sheanon Williams was signed in September. The European transfer windows don't close yet. What both of those mean is that there are still moves the Union can make, and if one of those is to get rid of M'Bolhi somehow, and even add one or two pieces via free agency then it can be a great summer of moves.
Until that point - there are far too many negatives to be anything better than a C-. If MBolhi is sold, Barnetta can be signed longer than 1 more year and Warren Creavalle proves to be a useful player then the summer scorecard for me is B+, and any decent signing can bump that up.
(I also asked the rest of the Brotherly Game staff, and they gave the ratings of: Colin Campbell - B, Matt Albaugh - C, Heather Reppert - D, John Rossi - C so it seems that the summer wasn't exactly glowing, despite the positives)
Lastly, while the current team are not a force to be reckoned with, if the Union suddenly have the money from Valdes, Steven Vitoria, Aristeguieta, M'Bolhi as well as getting rid of some other expensive bench options this winter - then suddenly a team around a midfield of Edu, Noguiera, Barnetta, Maidana with Sapong up front can be very competitive. Jim Curtin just needs to find the other pieces to help win it all.