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Fixing the Union - Striker Edition

In this portion of Fixing the Union, we look at what is going wrong at the striker position.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Inspired by a mailbag question, this series looks at ways the Union could theoretically become a winning side again.

Long term, this one is an easy one. The Union need to spend the money on a Designated Player striker. It is a simple answer.

I wanted to borrow this quote from our Mailbag last week:

“The Union have had the same problem since, well, ever. They need a bona fide striker, a Designated Player, impact-level player. Without that signing, this team will linger around playoff contention, but may not win anything. The four remaining teams in last year's MLS Cup (Colorado Rapids, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders) all had DP strikers or, in the case of Seattle, had the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year at striker.”

Take a look the contenders for MLS Cup this year. On each of those rosters, there is a top-level striker. To bring in such a player, the ownership group needs to spend the money. However, the organization, led by Earnie Stewart, seems fairly dead-set on playing moneyball. With a team that doesn’t spend much money except on a select few players, it is the right philosophy in theory. But moneyball only works when the players brought in play well. If they don’t, the Union are just paying chunks of money that are not any good.

Currently, on the Union roster, CJ Sapong, Charlie Davies and Jay Simpson are the three forwards. Let’s go through each one by one.

CJ Sapong is a mercurial player. Some days he looks a jack of all trades as he holds up play, distributes the ball and scores goals. On other days, one has to remind themselves that Sapong was even playing.

He is not a bad option as a offensive supersub off the bench - two of his goals have in fact come as a substitute. With that said, that should be his role with the team long-term. He plays hard every time he is on the field and can provide a big spark off the bench for 25-30 minutes a match easily. Further, he could be platooned to start matches as well. In short term, this season he is clearly the best option of the three strikers available to start.

Jay Simpson has not looked to be the answer to the Union’s striker problem at least so far this season. For Stewart, it may have been a decent idea to reach over to lower levels of Europe to find a striker for a small amount of money. It is just that the Simpson signing has not panned out as the Sporting Director would have hoped.

Charlie Davies has only played 81 minutes with the team due to injuries. He has played for the Bethlehem Steel a bit this season, so hopefully he can make the transition back to the senior roster and challenge for minutes. Long term, the Davies trade could prove to be costly as the Union traded their First Round 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick to the New England Revolution for Davies. With Philadelphia currently in last place in the league, that pick end up as a very high draft pick.

In sum, the Union have always had one constant: the growing need for a Designated Player striker. This team cannot skate by or compete in the East without one. On the laundry list on growing positions of need, Earnie should put acquiring a legitimate striker towards the top.