MLS Decision Day is a meaningless title for an already playoff-eliminated Philadelphia Union squad, who will begin another long hard offseason after 90 minutes against Orlando City. However, there are many decisions for the organization to make sure next year’s decision day is a far more meaningful one.
This offseason is likely the most important one in Union club history. This phrase has been very overused, but this needs to be a turning point for this franchise.
After seemingly going for it this year by retooling and bringing in the likes of Haris Medunjanin, Jay Simpson, and Fafa Picault, the Union look set to at least build on a fairly successful previous season and make a run in the playoffs.
Looking like a playoff team on paper certainly did not translate, and now the Union have decisions to make this offseason.
Money to Spend
Based on a piece by MLS writer Dave Zeitlin, the Union have club options for Roland Alberg and Ilsinho. This also doesn’t take into account the expiring contract of Designated Player Maurice Edu and likely the contract of Chris Pontius, plus possibly others. Based on those four players alone, the salary coming off the books is over two million dollars, although it could be as much as four million dollars.
Let’s not mince words: The. Union. Need. A. Bonafide. Number. Ten.
Any single offseason plan that doesn’t prioritize signing a Designated Player-level number ten is a failure for the Union. Full stop. It is time for the team to bring in a ten who will make this team better. Ilsinho and Alberg were nowhere near the level of player the Union needed in that position.
For a team that is so prudish with spending dollars for legitimate talent, the Union can’t miss again on a number ten or, in general. Kevin Kinkead made this excellent point on his podcast with Paul Tenorio: by playing moneyball, the Union margin of error has been made razor thin. A $400,000 miss is far more detrimental to a team playing moneyball like the Union than a team like Toronto. It’s season-changing to miss on a player at that level for the Union.
Besides a number ten, it could not hurt to bring in a TAM level winger or fullback.
What to do about the young guys
Players like Adam Najem, Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Marcus Epps and Aaron Jones comprise a core of young talent that should have a role with the senior team next season. Najem, Epps and Derrick Jones have played this season at some point, but not consistently. Trusty, an extremely talented centerback, has not made an appearance this season.
This does not include players like Fabian Herbers and Anthony Fontana. The question still remains, how do all of these players - especially Derrick Jones, Herbers, Epps, Najem and Trusty - fit into the 2018 Union plans? For Herbers, Jones, Epps and Najem, the problem is a depth chart issue.
Herbers and Epps are stuck behind Pontius, Picault, and occasionally Ilsinho who played out on the wing. If Pontius and Ilsinho do not come back, then there is likely an opportunity for Herbers to win back the job he only lost due to injury. Epps has played fairly well in the spot-starter role this season and that role has suited him well so far.
Najem is in a limbo area. The Union, who absolutely should and need to bring in a number ten, have let the young player get the start a few times this season at the ten. However, the jury is still out as to how good of a player Najem truly is.
Jones, who out of the four players arguably might be the best of the four players, has the trickiest route to maneuver next season. Right now, in the double pivot, the Union have arguably their highest paid and possibly best players in Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. Unless one of them is let go, injured, sold, or whatever, Jones will be relegated to only spot-starting or only starting in the Open Cup. In the first few games he started, the USMNT U-20 international looked like an extremely promising player for the future. However, when Bedoya moved back to the eight, Jones was moved back to the bench and the occasional start. He needs to make more starts in 2018.
Again, the other player left out this young talent conversation has been Keegan Rosenberry. Rosenberry has been missing in action in his sophomore season. When he has played, Keegan has been very hit-or-miss. In addition to his on-field play, Keegan was suspended for the last game of the season on Sunday for social media conduct.
The Rosenberry situation in 2017 has been a fairly odd one: going from rookie of the year candidate to benchwarmer to being suspended for the last game of the season. It is hard to say what is going on there, as none of us are in the locker room to know the whole story. But on the field, it’s possibly even harder to say. Ray Gaddis, Rosenberry’s replacement, has been okay, but conventional wisdom says Rosenberry should have been the starter. Rosenberry should be the Union starter in 2018, if all things are considered.
Overall, this team is kind of a mess. The team has gone very much all-in on the building through young talent angle, but has brought in numerous below-average players that have blocked these young players paths to the starting eleven. Earnie Stewart. Jim Curtin and the entire organization need to decide again what their philosophy is and stick to it. It is the only way to really balance the competing narratives of spending or lack of spending money and playing the young talent that has been developed in the academy and Steel FC.