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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bye bye Baky? Maybe not yet

While the frankness with which the news of Bakary Soumare’s desire for a move away from the Philadelphia Union was delivered Monday may have surprised some, the content of the message shouldn’t.

For Soumare to have gone from key acquisition last summer to starting XI frontrunner to persona non grata this young season raised some eyebrows, though mostly over doubts about his fitness. The suddenness of his trade request after not taking part in any of the team’s first three matches is startling to say the least.

Manager John Hackworth’s press conference Wednesday presented an interesting juxtaposition between the fervent search for closure in the transfer of Freddy Adu and what seemed like reserved hope that Soumare’s Union days are not over.

“I think what we need to do is make sure that we make a good decision for the Philadelphia Union and this organization, and this would include saying, 'is this good for us in all ways?,'” Hackworth said of the process of accommodating Soumare’s trade request, which it must be said is much different from the one involving his fellow West African former teammate Adu.

“I can’t tell you that it’s for money or for a trade or for a player. We would explore all those options, and have, to be very fair, for the last two weeks. It’s not like this is something new. It’s been going on. We’ve had some talks. We’re in a good position because we feel comfortable that Baky is still an important part of our team right now and will remain so until something happens.”

Part of the reticence to see Soumare go no doubt stems from a sense of a missed opportunity. Seeing a former MLS All-Star who played in Germany, is in his prime at age 27 and has height at 6-4 you can’t teach play only one game in nine months is cause for regret.
But the other part of the equation is what Soumare would leave behind: A backline that has had a wrench thrown into it, to paraphrase Hackworth’s line Wednesday.

Outwardly, Hackworth has expressed confidence in his defensive depth – despite playing the same four defenders all 270 minutes this season – which may also serve a practical purpose in negotiations over Soumare.

“We have options that we’re very comfortable with currently,” Hackworth said. “It doesn’t mean that we want to lose Baky, but if he did leave today, I would feel absolutely comfortable that if something happened to Jeff (Parke) or Amobi (Okugo), we could deal with it properly.”

Behind Okugo and Parke –both of whom, I can very confidently say, will pick up an injury or a suspension that keeps them out of action at some point this season – there isn’t another proven center back on the team.

The options for defenders on the roster:

Chris Albright. Not only is he not a central defender, he’s not even a natural at the position he’s ably filled in the recent past, right back. That’s not to mention that he’s played only 17 games (nine starts) in the last two-plus seasons in the face of a constant spate of injuries. His minutes total since the beginning of 2011 is 731, just over eight full games worth. He looked good in preseason training, but it takes a lot to translate that into MLS game action.

Sheanon Williams. He’s played the position before. But it sets off a domino effect, with Ray Gaddis moving to the right and someone filling in on the left. Plus you lose Williams’ lung-busting runs down the flank.

Gaddis/Gabriel Farfan or another converted fullback. Can’t say I’d see that going well. Plus Farfan isn’t really a natural defender.

Matt Kassel. Also a converted midfielder with two MLS games under his belt.

Greg Jordan. He did it in preseason, even if he’s a holding midfielder by trade.

That leaves the option of acquiring someone in a trade or picking up a free agent. That’s not a terribly difficult proposition, and Hackworth’s scouting networks are constantly active. But it’s easy to see that disruptive effect Soumare’s departure could have.

And that’s reason for the Union to try to make it work.

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