This first post-season off-season for Union was also a particularly chaotic one. Union were going to be in the process of evaluating their players after their first season together, while building towards the lofty expectations of coach Peter Nowak, the front office, and the fanbase. The additional complications came from that there were 2 expansion teams in a draft, as well as the league-first re-entry draft. The aftermath was the Union losing 4 players, the most that a team could lose through that process.
The lost players: Union lost Alejandro Moreno and Shea Salinas in the expansion draft, while Chris Seitz and Fred were taken in the re-entry draft. I’m fine with losing Moreno, Seitz, and Fred, and the evidence can be found in my match day running diaries. Alejandro Moreno, while a good professional, seemed to fit better in theory than in practice. The initial opinions of the Union side was that they were positioned to be a stalwart defensive team, who would bunker down defensively and counter-attack to score. A holding attacker is a good thing to have in such a system. The reality is that Union played a very open end-to-end style, where Moreno was more of an impement than he was an attacker. The plethora of holding central midfielders on this roster only furthers his obsolescence. In shorter words; no big loss. Fred is very much in the same boat as Ale. He is also a true professional, evidenced by the stories of his work in the lockerroom in building unity. He is obsolete on this team because he is one of the surplus central middies. He played out of position a lot in the right midfield position, which truly limited his effectiveness. He will still have a lot of success wherever he plays, if played in the right position. No big loss for Union in the end, however. And then there’s Mr. Seitz. He’s gone now. And that’s good enough for me. The truth is he will likely end up being an accomplished professional goal keeper. Another truth is that he is not at, nor is he remotely near, that level now. Rumors have Union bringing in Faryd Mondragon, a 39-year-old Colombian playing in Germany, which would push Seitz to 3rd keeper, which would stunt his development even further. No tears will be shed over the departure of young Christopher.
However, there might not have been a need to leave Shea Salinas unprotected. I know there are requirements for a certain number of foreign players being protected, but there’s no reason that Salinas should not be in the starting XI for Union in the 2011 season. Nowak and John Hackworth really had better know what they’re doing. The only other reason I can think that he wasn’t protected is that they know something we don’t about his injuries, and how frequently they may occur down the road. Maybe they pulled a fast one on Vancouver. Right now, I don’t like how this played out at all.
Still to come: Last I heard, there was no concrete deal in place to keep Roger Torres here. He was on a 1-year loan from his Colombian club team. I like certain things about the midfielders on this team, but none of them has the vision or creativity of Roger Torres. They also have the January 13th MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore to look to in filling roster holes. Union have picks #5, 23, 28, 41, and 59 in the 4-round draft. I don’t follow college soccer, so I have no clue as to the depth of the talent available, but I have confidence that Nowak & Company do. Nowak was also quoted saying that they would be looking into Europe for players not getting minutes for their clubs there whom might benefit from playing time in MLS.
While I don’t like the departure of Shea Salinas, it is the reality that MLS is an inferior league and the young players are developed to be transferred to bigger leagues. The same will soon happen for Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo, and Jack McInerney, so while I enjoy watching them play now, they soon will be playing abroad, so I guess I can’t get that upset. We soldier on, and learn the names of the new guys.
-Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
It certainly is slow for Dan K. and I when the Union aren’t involved in anything. They are wrapping up training this week before taking the rest of the winter off. But there is an item of importance to pass along: Danny Mwanga did NOT graduate out of his “Generation Adidas” status. This is AWESOME, as it means he is exempt from the expansion draft, and Union don’t have to spend one of their 11 protected slots on him. The only carry-over from that status to graduate this season is much-maligned goalkeeper Chris Seitz. Guess who isn’t going to be protected in the expansion draft? So, Union will get to hold on to Mwanga, Jack McInerney, and Amobi Okugo, plus 11 others of their choosing. I’m already looking forward to the 2011 season.
The Philadelphia Union facebook page posted the statistic that the Union back line has a .50 GAA over the last six matches in all competitions. In other words, they’ve had 3 goals scored against them the last six matches. That’s what good teams in soccer do, but we, as Union supporters, have not become accustomed to with our side. There are three factors that have transformed this group from weak and flawed to solid and reliable.
The Goalie Switch: Chris Seitz was a victim of poor marking in front of him, but his panicked decision-making made him an easy whipping boy. Supporters lashed out at him for misplaying crosses, leaving rebounds, poor positioning, the slumping economy, etc, etc. It wasn’t entirely his fault, but he made enough mistakes that the switch became possible. Enter Brad Knighton, who played against non-MLS teams and played well, but I roasted him for tackling Brek Shea, earning a red card, and putting his team down a goal in his 23rd minute of Union league play. His subsequent performances have been exactly what the team has needed this whole season; communication and decisiveness. The most poignant play came early in this past match, where a Chivas player had a cross played onside well behind the Union back line. Knighton opted to try to beat him to the ball, and did so narrowly, only after a foot-first slide. That is a shot on goal, and likely a goal, if Knighton either decides that he can’t get the ball and stays in the net, or if he leaves a split-second later. I’m not able to ascertain if his communication with the defenders is better, but it seems clear that he is part of the solution, moreso than part of the problem
Square Peg No Longer: Michael Orozco Fiscal has been a consistent performer all season. He’s even scored a goal off of a corner kick. He’s played wherever Nowak has asked him to play. However, he has played too much of this season out of position. MOF’s athleticism gave birth to the experiment at right back, instead of the center back position he is used to. He seemed so out-of-sorts there at times that he was seen as completely replaceable by many, including yours truly. The injury to Juan Diego Gonzales allowed for MOF to return to his true position, and the results have, statistically, been spoken for. Again, communication could be a factor, or that MOF is the right player to be alongside Cap’n Califf. Those two got Chivas flagged for offsides with well-timed and coordinated steps forward. It’s a partnership that should remain even after Gonzales is healthy.
The New Kid on the Block: Sheanon Williams has been a breath of fresh air at right back. He possesses great speed and defensive instincts, and this changes things for Union on multiple levels. First, he’s not MOF playing out of position. Outside backs need to be able to compliment the offense while still being able to retreat to their defensive position. MOF had trouble finding times to come forward, and Jordan Harvey has trouble getting back once he is forward (more on Harvey in a moment). Williams has effectively blended both disciplines in a manner that makes me wonder why someone else hadn’t picked up on this guy. His speed allows him to get in behind defenders to get to through-balls, where he has shown decent ability in serving crosses. The side effect of his going forward means that Jordan Harvey can be less needed in offensive support and he can focus on locking down his side of the field. He has done great work in that department during this back line transition. This also bodes well for Shea Salinas getting a chance, at some point, to play midfield instead of defense (unless they remove Harvey from the lineup in Salinas’ favor).
So, that’s 3 good things that come from Sheanon. And he can throw the ball really far for throw-ins. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday night’s match in Colorado to see the further melding of what hopefully will be the Union’s backline for a little while.
A blog that I read, Philly Soccer Page, alleged in a August 26, 2010 post that Nowak is letting the fan base down by staying with veteran players at this point in the season. The playoffs are out of reach, and the older players aren’t playing well enough to justify keeping the young guys on the bench. I alluded to that in my post about why I want them to play a 4-2-3-1 formation. But here’s another point that supports PSP’s opinion: Peter Nowak has stuck with Chris Seitz all season long (save for those disastrous minutes in Dallas). Nowak wants Seitz forged in the fire of league play, even if there were better alternatives available, so this is why playing all of their young players makes sense. They should all be getting minutes so they can make their mistakes and learn from them this season and can make progress with a clean slate next season. Get it done, Petey!
-Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union