Category Archives: Transfer Talk

In Memory of Danny Cruz

Unfortunately, Kevin Kinkead revealed that Danny will be leaving on loan to FK Bodø/Glimt in Norway. I say unfortunately because Danny Cruz is my favorite player on the Union. I enjoy the sheer beautiful bundle of reckless chaos that is Danny Cruz. You never know what you will get from him: from tripping over the ball, to blowing up someone on the other team, to drawing a hard foul, to scoring the occasional goalazo. Watching D-Cruz play is always entertaining.

More importantly, Danny brought a real skill set to this team that Andrew Wenger and Sebastian Le Toux lack. He hugs the touchline, works his ass off, and runs at defenders. Danny is, also, one of the few players that will try a shot from distance. He is less prone to the back passing that has become far too common with this team.

Plus, Danny plays with an intensity that only Seba and Vincent Nogueira can match. When Danny Cruz is in the game, you know he will drive the ball down the field and try to make something happen. He will be a pest to opposing defenders. After watching the Colorado game, that is a skill and mindset this team needs.

My love for Danny aside, this causes a few issues for the Union attack. As I mentioned yesterday, depth out wide may be a real issue for the Union this year. Right now, this leaves our available wide players as Sebastian Le Toux, Andrew Wenger, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Eric Ayuk Mbi. Zach Pfeffer has previously played out wide on the U-20 team. D-Cruz was one of only two true wingers this team has, as both Wenger and Le Toux are converted forwards who still have forward tendencies. Width could soon become a problem for a Union attack that depends on wide play.

That said, I think Jimmy McLaughlin is the answer, and I will explain why later. Until then, I will honor the finest moment of my favorite player, the wonderful Danny Cruz Missile brace against Seattle:

Where does Sacha Kljestan fit?

 

Recently, US Mens National Team player and World Cup veteran Sacha Kljestan has been linked to the Philadelphia Union. I am late to the party here, but I thought I would weigh in with my thoughts.

Overall, I am really confused by this interest, and I would prefer to see us pursue other targets. To understand that, we need to look at our midfield.

The Five Man Midfield

Over the past few years, the five man midfield has taken the soccer world by storm. Very few teams dare to play the classic 4-4-2. The Union are among the teams that have shifted to a five man midfield, playing a 4-2-3-1 (more or less) under Jim Curtin.

Now, looking at this formation, the roles of the three central midfielders are critical. In a basic five man midfield, the center of the pitch has a destroyer, a shuttler, and a creator. The destroyer is your typical defensive midfielder. The shuttler is the player who keeps the ball moving. The creator is typically your #10 who links the ball from the midfield to the attack. The names may vary depending on who you talk to, but they are the same general roles.

So let’s look at the Union’s midfield. We have one of the best shuttlers in MLS in Vincent Nogueira. In the creator role, Cristian Maidana had a very successful year when he was healthy. With Amobi gone, we now have a big hole at the destroyer spot.

This is why I am critical of signing Sacha Kljestan. He simply doesn’t fit in our midfield.

Where does Sacha fit?

What we need is a destroyer. Sacha is not a destroyer. While he is at times listed as a defensive midfielder, Sacha has played primarily for Anderlecht and the USMNT as a deep-lying playmaker. In other words, he is a shuttler. Sacha stays deep and recycles the ball and passes it to his creators. We already have Vincent Nogueira in that role.

Now, we could play Sacha out of position. Jurgen Klinsmann certainly does (though he isn’t exactly a good model for tactics). We could play him as a #10 and push Maidana out to the wing. However, Sacha doesn’t have the natural tendencies and flair of a #10. Also, it negates Maidana’s effectiveness. Chaco didn’t truly flourish until Hackworth was fired and Curtin moved him from the wing to the center of the pitch. Playing Sacha as a #10 would negate the skill sets of two players.

We could play him next to Nogueira. Arsenal employs a similar set up. The Gunners have two creative midfielders that switch off between going forward and tracking ball. In theory it works. In reality, it’s the reason Arsenal fans have demanded a defensive mid for years.

Playing Sacha as a destroyer or switching him on and off with Nogueira really weakens and complicates our midfield. Neither player is a true ball-winning midfielder. I, also, doubt that they could cope with the physicality of MLS. Teams like Sporting Kansas City, Houston, and Chicago would bully our midfield around and leave us at a distinct advantage.

Also, this idea goes against Jim Curtin’s mantra. When he took over, a big part of Jim’s philosophy consisted of keeping things simple for the players. They played their roles, and they were not expected to perform any overly complicated tasks. If Sacha plays next to Vincent, it takes a lot of trust and understanding to know who is going forward and who stays back. Our midfield will likely be a disorganized mess in defense in the beginning of the season as they learn each others’ tendencies. I can’t see that sitting well with a manager who wants to build the team from the back.

Stepping Back

While Sacha Kljestan is a nice name to pursue, do we really need him? It continues a worrying trend of the Union throwing names against a wall and seeing what sticks. Hackworth clearly had no idea how to fit Cristian Maidana, Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Brian Carroll into the same midfield last year. This inability to solve that conundrum is partially what got him fired. Sacha seems like a return to this trend: signing a big name without a clear plan as to where he fits.

Honestly, we have far bigger needs than Sacha right now. With the money he would be demanding, we could buy ourselves a true defensive midfielder or a big name striker. Heck, we could even use the resources it would cost to move up the allocation ranking to bring in an MLS player at one of those spots.

Is Sacha Kljestan a good player? Yes. Is he a player that would make the Union significantly better? Probably not.

Monday Madness

It’s been a while. The workload at the new job has really ramped up.  With the off-season underway, I am attempting to right the ship here. What better way to start than by reflecting on a hectic Monday that saw numerous big moves from this team? So let’s break them down.

Amobi Okugo

This is one of the major headlines. Kevin Kinkead, Jonathan Tannenwald, and others have really broken this move down well. In a nutshell, Amobi wanted to move. He preferred Europe, but Orlando was an intriguing opportunity.

Can we blame him for wanting to leave though? He got drafted by a manager who rode him on the bench or kept him out of the 18 for most of his first two and a half years. Then his next manager played him  out of position for the next two years. His third manager moved him back to his normal position only to bench him in a handful of games, including the team’s first ever trophy shot.

The Philadelphia Union ruined his development. Imagine the player Amobi would be right now if we had been playing him at defensive mid since Year Zolo. Once his contract was ended, Amobi seemed set to leave. Again I can’t blame him for wanting to.

For the Union, this left us with two possibilities:

  1. Let him walk for nothing and try his luck in Europe. We all know Amobi wants to go abroad. All the Union would get out of this is ownership of his rights should he decide to return to MLS. That’s a big what if that doesn’t help this team now.
  2. Trade him for what you can. In this case, we got allocation money. While it has long been a running joke to see fan favorites traded for allocation money, it is seriously a useful resource. Allocation money can be used to pay down the salary of a player like MBolhi to prevent him from being a DP, opening up another DP slot for us. The money could be used to buy a player like Edu or a striker. The money could even be used to trade for another player.

In this case, we were stuck with two poor options. Either Amobi walks for nothing, or we trade him to a conference rival for something. As painful as it is to see him play for another MLS team against us, the Union did well to salvage the situation and get something out of it.

Sapong

The Union traded the 10th pick in the 2015 draft for the 10th pick in the 2011 draft. Sapong – a player the Union once tried to sign to a homegrown contract- fits the system well. He is big, strong, fast, and a good jumper. He can hold up the ball up top alone and distribute it to teammates.

Some will look at his stats and rightfully point out a lack of goals (20 in 110 appearances). To be fair to him, Sporting Kansas City attempted to turn him into a wide target man. For some players in this league like Wenger and Kei Kamara, that has worked. For Sapong, that does not seem to be the case. Here in Philly, Sapong will likely be moved back up top to his natural position.

Now saying all of this, I don’t expect Sapong to be our star striker this year. We still need a DP signing up top. However, this is a good start to building the depth we didn’t have last year. When Casey lost steam last year, we had nobody but else to bring on. Hell, we even tried to turn Ribeiro into a striker to give us some depth. This year we will Sapong coming off the bench and rotating in, providing us with an actual impact sub.

As for the first round draft pick, the MLS Superdraft is becoming more and more irrelevant as time passes. The chances of us drafting a player better than Sapong – especially given our track record – are incredibly slim. This trade better positions us to right this ship this season.

Expansion List

By now, we have all seen the expansion list, and it has raised a few questions and concerns. I’ll address the major issues.

The Keepers: Honestly, this was a smart decision. Neither team is going to pick up Mbolhi’s contract and blow a DP slot on him. He is virtually safe. MacMath is likely safe as well as Orlando and New York City both have starting keepers. Even if one is picked, it immediately solves the goalkeeping dilemma. Leaving both exposed helped us protect fringe players like White and Williams.

Fabinho: Poor Fabinho has become a major whipping boy, with some wanting to design a rocket with which they will fire Fabinho into the sun. While many are quick to criticize his faults, Fabinho is a much better left back than given credit. He won’t set the world on fire, but he adequately plays a spot that is one of the hardest to fill in MLS. Fabinho has a higher Castrol Index than players like Chris Korb, Leo Gonzales, Michael Harrington, Chris Wingert, and even Philly Union fan favorite Corey Ashe (Credit to chapka at BigSoccer for doing this research). Looking at the stats (which to be fair are usually subjective), trading for Corey Ashe and cutting Fabinho would be a downgrade.

Pulling it all together

Remember that this is the first week of the MLS offseason. Plenty of moves are yet to come. Don’t expect big transfer news until January. However, we have done well to start this offseason. The Union did well to get some resources from Amobi that can be reinvested in either buying Edu or signing a new striker. We also brought in an MLS veteran who fits Curtin’s system perfectly. Finally, we made some fairly intelligent moves with our protected list to ensure our goalkeeping dilemma does not cost us a valuable player like White.

Should we sign the rumored William Kvist, a DP striker, and some young homegrown depth, this roster will be well set up for a deep playoff run. Believe or not Union fans, but it looks like this team has a plan for once.

Projecting the Expansion Draft

With the Union having the weekend off, news is slow in Union land. In the meanwhile, let’s take a crack at predicting the protected list for the Union and who may be selected from our team. This will be my only attempt at predicting our protected list until the off-season.

Expansion Draft Rules

This year, two teams – New York City and Orlando City- will be entering the league. Each team gets to protect 10 players. When one player from the Union is picked, we get to choose an 11th to protect.

The only players automatically exempt from the draft are players on Generation Adidas deals (Andre Blake) and homegrown players (Pfeffer, McLaughlin, Hernandez, and maybe White). Designated players can be selected by other teams.

Here’s where things can get weird. Teams need to protect a certain number of international players. A team can make available their total number of international players minus three. In the case of the Union, we need must protect at least three international players.

You can find the complete expansion rules from the last expansion draft on MLS’s website here.

My List:

Here is my list of protected players. I’ll explain some of the questionable selections in further detail.

1. Vincent Nogueira

2. Cristian Maidana

3. Carlos Valdes

4. Rais MBolhi

5. Amobi Okugo

6. Ray Gaddis

7. Sebastian Le Toux

8. Pedro Ribeiro

9. Andrew Wenger

10. Brian Brown

11. Sheanon Williams/Danny Cruz

In this situation, I’d expect either Sheanon, Danny Cruz, and/or Austin Berry to be selected. Now let’s look at some of the questions this list leaves.

Zac MacMath

Personally, I am convinced Zac will be traded to Orlando prior to the draft. The trade would certainly require a gentleman’s agreement that Orlando would not select another Union player, leaving only New York selecting from our player list. In this situation, New York would be allowed to pick two of our players.

Maurice Edu

Why is Maurice not on this list? I offer two main answers.

1. I do not think the Union should extend his loan past this year. With Okugo on the roster, Edu finds himself at a logjam. One of Okugo or Edu must play outside their natural position. Okugo is younger and a more determined player than Edu. Is it worth spending a DP contract on someone playing out of position?

2. If we do sign Edu, I would still leave him unprotected. If we trade MacMath with the agreement that Orlando will not pick any of our players, we put New York in a hard spot. They currently have two DP’s. I expect a fourth slot to be added in the off-season. New York is looking for big name players. Names like Xavi and Lukas Podolski have been thrown around. Are they really willing to spend over a million dollars on Maurice at the expense of a bigger name?

Ethan White

As I said, I think he is still subject to homegrown rules. However, this is MLS where rules are made up on the fly. If he is not exempt, I would protect him over Brian Brown and take the risk that New York does not protect him. They will likely be very close to their international limit.

 

What do you, my readers, think? Does your list differ from mine?

Post-Rais M’Bolhi Press Conference Thoughts

Ouch. I feel bad for Rais M’Bolhi.

The new signing was caught in the crossfire as Jim Curtin and Nick Sakiewicz dodged questions about having three starting caliber keepers on the team. At one point, Nick even forgot Rais’s age. The Union F.O. probably should have just issued a press release rather than put on this whole awkward, tense affair.

M’Bolhi

Let’s look at some interesting tidbits about our new keeper:

  • The iconic USMNT goal Landon scored against Algeria in 2010 was the only goal Rais gave up that tournament.
  • Rais actually fasted during the first half of the Germany game. He kept a back of snacks near his goal to eat during halftime once the sun set.
  • He speaks English, something I wasn’t expecting from a French player. Speaking the two main team languages (English and French) should help him integrate faster.
  • According to Rais, he is good friends with Sporting Kansas City’s Aurelien Collin.
  • He once threw a ball at an opponent’s head after the player tried kicking it out of his hands. Talk about “Philly Tough.”
  • Rais will be wearing the same number as late great Eagle Reggie White (#92).

Salary

These two tweets from Taylor Twellman seem to fit the logic of Rais’s signing:

While we are most likely paying Rais a significant amount more than Zac, the difference will become fairly small after the new agreement. Rais seems to be a move made with a raised salary cap in mind.

Worth noting: We drafted Zac in 2011. I’d assume his contract is up soon, and he has earned a significant raise. After that contract, the financial difference between the two players will be much smaller.

MacMath

The fact that Zac has not been moved yet is troubling. The optimists will tell you that Jim and Nick were intentionally being vague as there is still a deal in the works. The pessimists will tell you there is no plan, and we just killed any trade value Zac had. Both are just speculation at this point, so pick whatever makes the most sense to you. The only certainty at the moment is that Zac’s days in Chester are numbered.

I really wouldn’t start Zac on Friday. It just seems like an awkward situation all around.

Facilities

Rais was impressed by the facilities here? Chester Park? C’mon, bro.

Closing

Taking a step-back, we signed a two-time World Cup veteran who has done very well in both tournaments. He is a significant improvement over the current player we have at the position. Unfortunately, the position is at keeper, the one position you don’t rotate.

I still think this move cannot be judged until we see what we inevitably receive for Zac. If we acquire a veteran in defense or a high draft pick, I think more fans will be happy with this deal. Our good friend allocation money would be useful, but I think fans want to see something more tangible than Garber Bucks. Until Zac is sold, I think it is too early to judge this trade.

Enough about my thoughts. Tell me what you think.  How do you rate this signing, and what the hell do we do with Blake?

Rationalizing Rais M’Bolhi

Reports suggest that the Philadelphia Union are signing Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi (pronounced Ra-Ees Ma-Bul-Hee). The move seems confusing to many. We already have two good goalkeepers, one of which we spent the first pick in the draft on. Centerback and striker are certainly far more pressing needs for this team (assuming Valdes doesn’t sign with us).

Despite this, I will try to rationalize the trade, and figure out what it means for the other keepers.

 

M’Bolhi

Rais is a very different signing than Mondragon and Niklov. He is still only 28 years. At the same time, he is clearly a class above both of our two keepers. M’bolhi’s performance against Germany was absolutely spectacular. He is a significant improvement for us at the position now. This deals ties die a World Cup standout for the prime of his year.

Seriously, check out his World Cup saves, and tell me Zac is a better keeper.

MacMath

Zac’s days are numbers. Having been a week-in, week-out starter since 2012, there is no way Zac will be happy sitting on the bench.

Now, there are two main trade options for Zac. We could trade him to a team like New England, Vancouver, or Montreal in return for allocation money, players, or draft picks. The allocation money could be used to buy down players’ salary cap hits in order to free up more space for us.

The more interesting proposition is the two expansion teams. Both teams have significantly more allocation money than any MLS team. Their draft picks are higher. Most importantly, MacMath could be traded with the promise that the receiving team will not pick a player from us in the expansion draft. We may lose a player, but we control who we lose.

MacMath is from Florida. Trading him to Orlando would fit into a long practice of “sending players home.” Zac would join the company of such Union alumni as Danny Califf, Danny Mwanga, Chandler Hoffman, Faryd Mondragon, and Kyle Nakazawa. Orlando’s keeper is likely not MLS level and will need to be replaced. Zac would be an instant upgrade while being a local face for the team.

New York City is interesting for a different reason entirely. Assuming Xavi or another big name signs, New York will have three foreign DP’s. Further, MLS is allowing four Man City players to be able to go on loan to New York. That would bring New York up to 7 of their 8 foreign player spots. A talented American keeper would be worth a lot to City.

 

Blake

This is what I think will be the most interesting part of the deal. Does Blake want to ride the bench behind M’Bolhi? He’s a year older than Zac and a national team player.

If he stays here, we either need to bench Blake or rotate him in with M’Bolhi. Keeper is probably the hardest spot on the field to swap and rotate. If Blake is fine sitting, great. If not, I can’t blame him.

Blake could be another bargaining chip in a trade. M’Bolhi is still only 28. We could very well flip him to one of the teams listed above. Our best academy prospect – Zach Steffan – is a keeper. There has been rumors he wants to go to Europe, but a suddenly empty keeper depth chart could convince him to sign here as the new keeper of the future.

Wildcard idea: We could loan Blake out for a year to another MLS team. This is the first real year of inter-league loans. Blake seems like he would be a good candidate to be loaned out.