This week has been an eventful one for the Philadelphia Union organization. Bethlehem Steel have added three quality pieces with USL experience. Brandon Allen, Omar Holness and Brandon Aubrey were all coveted prospects for the New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC respectively, but the Union were able to sign them away from those clubs. This type of business brings up an interesting question. Are the Union interested in underrated/undervalued MLS players, the same way they were interested in underrated/undervalued USL players?
Not So Union:
Since people are asking about Union signings, they usually make their first move right around now. Wijnaldum was 1/5/17 and Simpson was 1/9/17. Restrepo 1/12/16, Conceicao 1/13/16. Pattern is similar every year.
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) January 4, 2018
As many of you know, the Union usually make their first signing the first week of January. That usually gets fans all revved up for the new year, but the player never really pays dividends on the field. The Union then go through the rest of January evaluating/getting players in the MLS Superdraft. Once February comes around, the team starts training, and there are usually some new faces there, players who come on for a trial. These guys are either busts or signings within a week or two. Then right around the heart of preseason, the Union sign a “bigger name” to complete their roster. The Union have taken a different approach to the off-season in 2018.
There was no random singing in the first week of 2018, and the first player signings for the organization were the aforementioned players who’ll be playing in Bethlehem. So, are the Union changing their ways to get player familiar to American soccer?
The past structure has not paid off:
Over the years the Union’s off-season signings have been primarily new to MLS signings. Players like Haris Medunjanin, Roland Alberg, Fernando Aristeguieta and Vincent Nogueira all struggled as they adapted to professional soccer in the US. The same happened with summer signings Tranquillo Barnetta and Alejandro Bedoya; it took them the majority of their first half a season to get used to MLS. The travel, and gritty style of play, MLS is can be a lot for players not used to it. Looking back at the signing of Chris Pontius before the 2016 season, the Union received a veteran who was used to playing in MLS.
Philadelphia has made it a priority to develop youthful players, and looking for players with ties to the USMNT This added with looking for potential veteran leaders familiar with MLS, has been what the Union have been moving towards over the last two years. Maybe the Union are looking to follow this path more closely in 2018.
Union need playmakers, there happen to be some available in MLS:
Sources tell me Lee Nguyen asked the New England Revolution for a trade early this offseason. 31-year-old had 11 goals and 15 assists last year: https://t.co/aEyim4isrh
— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) January 11, 2018
Lee Nguyen is reportedly looking for a trade out of New England. This player fills a huge need for the Union. Philadelphia have been without true attacking midfielder who can create offense since Tranquillo Barnetta left. Nguyen fills this need, and checks off some of the boxes the Union could be looking for. Lee is an MLS vet and is a player with USMNT ties. He is 31 years old, but he is still younger than other CAM’s like Benny Feilhaber and Sasha Kljestan. His value right now is projected at 1.35 million, but his value might increase to do the fact he wants to leave New England
Nguyen has played six seasons for the New England Revolution and has been a consistent producer of offense. Last season he put up amazing numbers (11 goals and 15 assists over 31 games) in a system similar to the Union’s. He fills a real need for the Union, and is a MLS Veteran who can fit right into the system with little drop off.
Sources: Justin Meram and Ola Kamara have both asked to be moved by Columbus this winter. Crew SC are shopping both, but the asking prices are high: https://t.co/jMuC8mowcb
— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) January 5, 2018
As we stated earlier this week, Columbus Crew winger Justin Meram is also looking for a move. His Value is around $2 Million, but that again could increase due to the player wanting a move. Think about the opportunity the Union have right now. Spending under $5 million dollars for two superstars that would fill out the starting lineup with players already familiar with MLS’s Style of play. Allow me to indulge in this fantasy.
Union starting 11 in 2018:
Fabinho, Elliot, Yaro, Rosenberry;
Picault, Nguyen, Meram;
Are the Union interested in underrated/undervalued MLS Players?
If they aren’t then they are stupid. It’s as simple as that. There are underrated MLS stars who are looking for new starts, and who won’t break the bank. If the Union are looking for players to fill their spots of need, and want immediate production, they need to be working extremely hard to obtain them. These players are looking for a new start either because they’re underrated/undervalued by their current clubs. The Union have made out well finding players who want a new start, and are Philly tough, I’m sure Nguyen and Meram check those boxes for Earnie Stewart.
Stewart needs to right the ship again for the Union. The model of the Union’s off-season from the past obviously has not produced what the club wants. This off-season has shown Philly has a commitment to youthful players. Earnie Stewart has also shown an attachment to USMNT players, and certain MLS veterans who can take on an impact role/be a leader. It’s time for the Union to step up to the plate. If they are truly moving in the direction they have alluded to with their Bethlehem Steel signings then they should be in negotiations with any underrated/undervalued MLS player that fills a need for the club.
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports