The Union are doing what they have always done under Earnie Stewart, that is, not much at all in the month of December. MLS Offseason is now in full swing. Teams are adding pieces left and right, spending money like it’s burning a hole in their pockets. The Union a much tamer approach. Stewart built a strong team in 2016; then, his 2017 squad underperformed and regressed. Now it’s time to ask the question: How will Earnie Stewart rebuild the Union again?
The answer to that question is: the same way he has built the past two years. In the early stages of an off-season, the front office assess their current team. Then, they look to add players. Philly’s formula since Stewart has been the Sporting Director has been a three-step process: solidifying existing pieces, spending the most money on a playmaker and moneyballing the problem areas/adding depth. This formula has provided two talented Union teams in the past, and it’s how the front office are approaching this current season as well. Let’s look at each step in-depth, to better understand the process.
Step 1 – Solidifying the existing pieces:
Philly does this every season. They make appropriate moves to solidify their team from the past season, before adding new pieces. We’ve seen this over the past few weeks; Eric Ayuk returned from his loan in Sweden, Ilsinho, Fabinho and Herbers were all resigned and Cory Burke was signed to a Union contract after two great years with Bethlehem Steel. The front office makes these moves early in the off-season to help keep the core of the team together. They then look to add other players.
Step 2 – Spending on the playmaker:
This step has been circumvented over the past year. The last “star player” brought to Philly was Alejandro Bedoya two summers ago now. This is the key for the Union’s rebuild for 2018. Stewart needs to spend the extra Sugarman money on a playmaking center attacking midfielder (AKA a number 10). This play should be worth up to two million at the most. The Union should be able to find a player who fits the star player role for that much money!
Step 3 – Moneyballing problem areas/adding depth:
Moneyball is Earnie Stewart’s game. He built a playoff team in 2016 coming off a horrible 2015 campaign. He did this by bringing in players for smart amounts of money, adding them to an already established core. Ahead of the 2018 season, the Union have an established core of players. There are 24 players currently on the Union’s roster. Adding the playmaking, star, number 10 would give them 25 players. Then, moneyballing a starting left back, and four other depth players would create a strong 30 man roster. So saying all this what will we see when the season kicks off March 3rd?
What can we actually expect?
This process is not perfect. It’s not how the big spenders work in MLS. The Union have always been a frugal franchise. They want the most bang for their buck. Sugarman won’t spend millions on one star player, when they could buy three solid players for the same rate. This is what we can likely expect from the Union. While there is more cash being given to the front office, the Union’s process is that to get players that fit their system. This way is one that can produce a playoff team in MLS, but it’s not as sexy as spending 10 million on two star players. This fact has a lot of Union fans infuriated.
A message the fans who don’t like the way the Union are doing things:
Listen, I get it. The Union aren’t going to compete for the same type of players that Atlanta’s of the MLS are going to bring in. It’s hard to watch this team try to find bargain players to compete against some world-class competition. However, this club has always tried to assess how they can spend smart to compete in this league. Haris Medunjanin, Roland Alberg, Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira were all brought in over the past three seasons, and left a mark on this club. The problem has been maintaining and optimizing these types of players mixed with the clubs youthful core.
It’s okay to be mad that this club failed to bring in a playmaker to replace Barnetta. You’re allowed to be mad at the way the club deals with acquiring players. It’s even alright to criticize the coaching staff for why they choose the players at their disposal every week, even though your criticism won’t do much to change how the coaches choose players. However, it’s not okay for fans to negadelphia the people trying to fix the problem. The front office will never live up to the expectations fans have in terms of competing with the flashier MLS teams.
If you love this team, stick with them through this rough patch. Earnie Stewart is a quality sporting director, he will get the right players for Philly, and they will compete for the playoffs. It’s hard to have faith in this organization right now, this much is clear by all the backlash the club is facing from it’s day-one fans. However, saying you’re done following this club now is quitting. Don’t be a quitter, follow the team, have faith that Stewart will fix this thing, that Sugarman will give more money and that Curtin will put the right 11 players on the field. I know that’s a big ask, just wait at least one more year before burning your Commodore Barry Bridge that leads to Talen Energy Stadium.
With all love and respect,
Tim Lovenguth (@TGing21 on Twitter)
- A look at who the Union may be targeting for their much needed Number 10.
- A look at how Philly Sports Network will cover the Union in 2018.
Until then, peace out Union fans.
Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports