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Brotherly Debate: Have the Union done enough to improve?

Doug and Drew Gobrecht are brothers who write for Brotherly Game. They argue A LOT about the Philadelphia Union. Naturally, we decided their arguments should be published.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Drew: I have a question for you. Did the Union do enough this offseason?

Doug: Hmm I don't think they have at all. They've improved but in reality there's a lot of unknowns.

Drew: My argument that they have improved enough is that they did about as much as could reasonably be expected. The roster boasts, what, 12 new players? Sure the striker depth is really thin, but aside from that they actually addressed a lot of the team's desperate need for depth. People are harping on the youth in the defense, but when you think about it, there's a real possibility that the youngest person on the back line could continue to be Richie Marquez.

Fabinho is a sure starter on the left, Ray Gaddis is still the presumed starter on the right. Richie Marquez proved to be a stud last season. The only question mark is at the other center back spot where it could be any of our three CB's starting. We have young depth at defense, but considering last season our defensive depth consisted primarily of Ethan White and Steven Vitoria... I'd say that this is a huge improvement.

Doug: You can't say that really. Our defense isn't "young" it's unproven. We have a guy who was playing in the lower divisions in Brazil and an undrafted rookie at CB depth.

Drew: 3/4ths of the defensive line is the same from last season.

Doug: Of a defense that gave up 55 goals last season.

Drew: Sure, but remember that this defense was expected to defend for a team that gladly handed possession over to our opponents. There were games where a 60/40 possession split wasn't even surprising. I'm not sure there is a defensive back four in the league that wouldn't have given up a ton of goals in that situation.

Doug: I mean I'm not suggesting that there isn't a chance the depth won't be better but you can't necessarily say they've improved.

Drew: Just look at what they were asked to do:

1) Absorb pressure for the majority of the game.

2) With Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux in front of them, hardly wingers that will help out with wide defense.

3) Work in front of a laughingstock of the league, revolving door of goalkeepers.

4) With almost nothing in the way of depth.

Our defense was atrocious last season, but when you look at the number of factors that played into it, it becomes a lot harder to blame it all on a lack of talent.

Doug: I wouldn't consider either Wenger or Le Toux wingers who don't defend. Considering both have played full back in their professional career.

Drew: Yes, but have either played full back *well* in their professional career?

Doug: They don't need to as wingers, but they are wingers who are responsible on defense.

Drew: Fair enough. I'll give you that one, but I think the rest of my points still stand.

Doug: The counterattacking philosophy didn't help a not very good defense.

Drew: Leicester City we ain't.

Doug: With a coach who is a defensive-minded coach the fact that they allowed 55 goals isn't a great thing. It looks OK so far during preseason for the depth they have brought in defensively, but the fact remains that there's a bunch of question marks. The large roster turnover is also worrisome because they have to mesh and gel. We talk about how just Tranquillo Barnetta needed months to acclimate to the team, how long does it take a whole team to acclimate to a team/style? I can see this team not coming together until June again and having too large a hole to climb out of, even if their transfers in turn into the gold we're hoping they do.

Drew: There are quite a few question marks, to be sure, but I think most of the bigger question marks are in depth positions. Last season we started with big question marks at starting positions, and nothing at depth.

Doug: My big point really is if the midfield meets expectations (not a guarantee) they will have to exceed their goal scoring capacity in order to produce wins.

Drew: Which brings us to the striker position.

Doug: CJ Sapong has shown throughout his career so far that he hasn't been able to carry the load. And the "ifs" to start the season are basically "if CJ Sapong turns into Kei Kamara" and "if CJ doesn't turn into Kei Kamara the midfield needs to score more", but who is going to do it? None of the transferred in midfielders (including Barnetta) are known for scoring goals from midfield.

Drew: This one is hard to argue with, admittedly. There's really no way to refute the point that we are painfully thin at the striker position. With only two forwards on the roster, one being a rookie, a whole lot of pressure is on Sapong to carry the load. But there are a few factors that I think will play a big role here.

First, it should be noted that Sapong had a pretty good season last year, in spite of missing quite a few games. With only 1897 minutes last season, he actually matched his best season with Sporting Kansas City at nine goals but did so in fewer minutes. He even bagged two more assists than he did in his 2012 season. So arguably in spite of a lot of turmoil, Sapong had his best season last year. On a team that is objectively worse than SKC.

Sapong is still in his prime, and is playing the best soccer of his career. With an improved midfield providing him better service, more minutes, and no injuries/DUIs, Sapong could easily have a breakout year. The lack of depth behind him is still troubling, but I wouldn't count Sapong out yet. The good news is that the Union seem to be gearing up to make a move for a DP striker in the summer window. So Sapong may only have to carry the load for the first half of the season. Do I think Sapong goes full Kamara on us and bags 25 goals? No. But I don't think 15-18 goals is out of the question for him.

Doug: In regards to Sapong: my only point about his productivity is that I'm not convinced his lack of goals was based on his inability to receive the ball in good spots. I lean more towards his position tactically called for him to be more involved in build up and he wasn't always in the best spots when they need him to be.

Drew: The one last point I would make is that midfield depth was a must, and they definitely have it for once. For a team that was actually pretty okay when both Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana were on the field, but completely fell apart when either were missing from the line up, the Union really needed to make sure that they weren't going to suffer from that that problem again. I'll just say that there was a point last season when they were 6-6-4 with Nogueira in the starting line-up, and 0-6-0 without him. They desperately needed to bring in players that could back him up, and with Roland Alberg, Barnetta, Ilsinho, and Leo Fernandes you've got a lot of depth in the middle of the field.

Doug: For a team based in a lot of question marks to start the season, hypothetically (judging from past contributions from all incoming and holdover players) they don't have the punch to succeed offensively and they don't have the experience to succeed defensively. I didn't even get to the coaching staff, but the close to the chest Union have always divulged little as to their style tactically. If Jim Curtin wants to implement an SKC style high press and a possession oriented attack, he's going to need to improve his own instincts at a coaching level for anything to succeed. Track record and unknowns lead me to believe the Union haven't done enough this offseason.

Drew: For me, The Union's biggest problem, particularly since I started following them, has been a complete lack of depth, particularly in the midfield. When you've got Fred coming of the bench, you've got serious problems. This offseason the Union cut the fat, and brought in depth at every position but striker. Last season was bad, but we're forgetting that this was a team with some talent in the starting IX last season that got bit by the injury bug and Rais M'Bohli early and didn't have the depth to cope with that effectively. I don't think that the Union are going to win any hardware, I'm not unrealistic, but I do think that this team improved itself more than any other MLS team this off season except *maybe* Toronto FC.

The Union did enough, but perhaps only because there was so much to address this offseason that it would have been entirely unrealistic to expect them to do a complete 180 in a few short months.

Doug: Yeah… well. You’re arguments are bad and you should feel bad!

Drew: Your face is bad and your face should feel bad!

Doug: My face does feel bad, because it has to look at yours all day!

Editor’s note: This bickering continues on for several pages worth of text. We elected to cut the rest of it out for the reader’s sanity.


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