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Wasteful spending, lack of star power outweigh the promise of the Academy

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With the billionaire owners forcing the hands of other billionaires, what happens to the millionaires who aren’t competitive now?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

An article yesterday on FourFourTwo.com by Paul Tenorio details how the successes of Toronto FC and Atlanta United are shots across the bow from the billionaire owners of these clubs to the other billionaires owners that they’re going to have to start spending in order to be competitive in whatever version of MLS we’re in now (3.0? 4.0? MLS X?) To me, this raised one very simple question: What becomes of the millionaire owners that aren’t even competing now?

Naturally, my reason for asking was because the Philadelphia Union have not and will not be spending the kinds of money that Toronto spends - owner Jay Sugarman has come out in the past and said just that. How then, should the Union be expected to compete against Toronto, Atlanta, New York City FC, and the others just within their own conference let alone the Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, and Los Angeles FC in the West?

Tenorio’s answer to me was another article he wrote that shows the existing stark disparities between Toronto and the Union.

“When, for example, a team like the Philadelphia Union has a $1 million Designated Player in Alejandro Bedoya and is lining up against a Toronto team with three $6 million players, but also a player like Victor Vazquez, who is in Bedoya’s salary neighborhood, the balance starts to shift.”

But spending money isn’t necessarily the answer. Spending money smartly is the answer. Be it because of injury, poor form, or whatever the hell was wrong with Kleberson, the Union have always had a high dollar player sitting on the bench for one reason or another. You simply cannot have wasted money in a league with a salary cap. Toronto’s roster is high-dollar, but there’s no wasted money.

The Union have time and again acquired players that have not produced. I’m not talking about Maurice Edu - Edu produced when he was healthy, and I can’t begrudge a guy who has broken his leg twice and rehabbed it twice in attempts to come back. I’m talking about how Roland Alberg struggles to make the starting XI. How Ilsinho is a spot starter. How Jay Simpson is a sometimes sub. These are current examples of money being spent unwisely.

I’ve written an article outlining who likely would and would not be up for contract re-negotiations this winter, and the likely figure is somewhere around $2 to $2.5 million in freed up salary. But we have no guarantee this will be invested wisely. We’re not guaranteed a second Designated Player, and we’re sure as hell not guaranteed a third since the Union have never had a third DP on the roster. We’re also not guaranteed a DP making Josef Martinez money, nor are we guaranteed that if we somehow got a DP making Josef Martinez money that we’d get Josef Martinez production for that money.

Tenorio’s article points to the Union’s Academy as the potential savior of the club, but even this is rather hopeful. Academy players take around 10 years to bring up from youth prospect to first team player, and there is absolutely zero guarantee that your academy players will even make it that far. Some (Darius Madison) don’t pan out as well as hoped, some have family reasons (Chad Letts), and some let youthful indiscretions derail their careers (Rayshaun McGann). And even when you get someone to go through the pipeline like Derrick Jones, he may be stuck behind a guy who is better and makes far more money (Alejandro Bedoya).

The Academy should be utilized to develop players true, however here too has to be some rhyme or reason with player signings. If you have Derrick Jones that will be ready to get first team minutes and designs on Alejandro Bedoya, you have hard choices to make. At some point, one of these guys is going to have to get sold on since they play the exact same position in almost the same way. I get bringing in Bedoya to play the position well and mentor Jones, but the situation isn’t a long-term one. Anthony Fontana is also a player who plays this position, yet is in the same boat - and then some - as Jones. What is the plan going forward? Is there a plan going forward?

Make no mistake, the Union have regressed dramatically this season. With the rest of the league moving forward, the Union simply can’t afford to stand still any longer.