With the Philadelphia Union enjoying a rare bye week, it’s as good an opportunity as any to assess where the club is as a whole. (I refrained from using a “State of the Union” pun here. You’re welcome.) I’ve broken it out into different categories so you can decide for yourself where you think the club stands overall.
Record: While the club was able to go on a four game winning streak and break out of a club record winless streak, it’s still 4-6-4 overall and has a 1.14 points per game average. Only four teams have a worse PPG average, however that number has increased significantly from 0.50 through eight games. Still, it’s not nearly good enough, and improvements will need to be made.
Players: Overall, this Union squad is the deepest in club history. The only position that seems to be thin is goalkeeper, however that’s a bit unfair since we haven’t seen John McCarthy or Jake McGuire get any MLS minutes. There have been many pleasant surprises throughout the squad. Oguchi Onyewu has been playing great soccer, as has Jack Elliott. Seeing Alejandro Bedoya playing well in position and Ray Gaddis playing is also very positive. Ilsinho has been a revelation at the 10, and CJ Sapong is in top form right now. The Union also have two up and coming young stars in Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty.
There’s still waste on the roster however. Jay Simpson looked unconvincing before his injury and hasn’t been able to wrest the starting job back from Sapong despite his half-a-million-dollar salary. Maurice Edu is still earning Designated Player money even though he’s been injured for going on two full seasons. To be clear, this is perhaps the most unfair paragraph to write since neither man should be blamed for either getting injured or getting paid. But the reality is that this is an international slot, a DP slot, and an awful lot of money that isn’t playing right now.
Staff: Despite cries for Jim Curtin’s ouster, he’s still in charge of the Union. If you think he’s been developing well and is growing into a good coach then the decision made by Earnie Stewart and company is a good one, and the win streak is a direct result of that. If you think he’s a terrible coach and that he should have been bounced a while ago, the six losses is a direct result of that. Either way, you’ve got ammo to argue with your friends about why you’re right.
As a result, not much attention is paid to the rest of the coaching staff - and that’s probably how Curtin and Stewart want it. You shouldn’t be second-guessing Oka Nikolov’s goalkeeping drills or Mike Sorber’s input.
Due to the terrible start by the club however, Stewart himself has been under the microscope. For someone whose reputation was built on smart signings, the Union have made some (at least at first glance) not so smart signings. While the aforementioned Simpson may turn out to be the Union’s Bradley Wright-Phillips after all, so far he’s been the Union’s latest incarnation of Juan Diego Gonzalez. Then again, he did sign Fafa Picault. Picault looked a bit like a throwaway signing at the beginning of the year. Depth at left wing, perhaps a late game burner along the lines of a Danny Cruz. Instead, Picault has developed into a threat down the left wing with his speed and his nose for goal.
Overall: The jury is still out. Like most streaky teams, there’s been really positive things as well as really negative things. Things will hopefully even out and start trending toward the former. There’s still 20 games to go plus the U.S. Open Cup tournament for the Union to come into their own.