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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Union defensive options after Soumare: A few ideas

The long-awaited departure of Bakary Soumare, whether it’s a habit among the Philadelphia Union to admit it or not, leaves a hole in the backline in terms of depth. For a team that has just navigated a stretch of three games in eight days, has another such streak looming and faces several more should the progress as deep in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as they did last year, reinforcements are needed.

With Soumare headed to Chicago in exchange for a second-round SuperDraft pick and allocation money, the third-string center back appears to be Sheanon Williams, the starting right back. Paired with the trade of Gabriel Farfan to Chivas last week, that leaves the fullback options as Chris Albright (36 appearances in the last four-plus years), Matt Kassel (two career MLS appearances) or a converted midfielder like Michael Lahoud. So here are three possible options for the Union.
1. Danny Califf
The former Union captain was injured a week before his Toronto FC team was due to come to Philadelphia. The 33-year-old has been an unused sub in three games since, losing his starting spot to Gale Agbossoumonde and behind captain Darren O’Dea in the rotation. He’s made no secret his feelings about the Union now that a certain former manager is no longer at the helm and admitted that he sees his family calling Philadelphia home after his playing days are over. He’s still publicly committed to working to regain his spot in Toronto. But the figures would work: Califf makes $165,000 this year, a pittance compared to Soumare’s $310,000. Even if, as Union manager John Hackworth told Dave Zeitlin of, the Union have picked up part of Soumare’s salary this year and the next, there’s no way that the allocation money (read: cash) sent the Union’s way by Chicago means Philly is too limited to take on Califf’s sum. The Union have three starting defenders under age 24; Califf could serve a similar role as Albright as a player/mentor and transition into coaching eventually. Plus the Union have five draft picks (two firsts, including the Farfan trade; two seconds, including Chicago’s for Soumare; and a conditional from the Chandler Hoffman deal). A second and cash would easily be enough for Toronto.

2. Frank Simek
Simek is an intriguing name. The former Arsenal youth teamer spent five years with Sheffield Wednesday in the English League Championship, the second tier of English football. He’s spent the last three years with Carlisle United in League One, a level down. A full back known for his bombing runs forward, Simek is back in the states, reportedly having been on trial with D.C. United. But he would have to go through the allocation process, in which D.C. United has the last claim (meaning everyone else would have to pass) after taking former Union striker Carlos Ruiz. The Union sit fifth in the running as near as I can approximate it, meaning that they need only have four teams pass. Simek is only 28 so he could be more than a short-term fix. He’s a natural right back, but Hackworth has rarely allowed footedness to determine who plays where. Price wise, he probably would cost more than Califf, though I couldn’t see his salary reasonably reaching up into the $331K range that fellow European returnee defender Heath Pearce is getting from the Red Bulls.

3. Stand Pat
No, he’s not some Scandinavian giant; it’s just a very likely plan of attack, however unpopular a sentiment it might be. It’s possible that the Union use this opportunity for a little youthful blood-letting (that is, unless you consider what they've seen from Amobi Okugo and Ray Gaddis so far as just that). I’d venture to guess that you’ll see some changes at the back – likely Kassel, maybe first-round 2012 pick Don Anding – in the U.S. Open Cup game against Ocean City. That could go a long way in determining if there’s a need for further reinforcements, and it’s possible those only take the form of a minor addition here or there. The Union are in a precarious salary position, a point Hackworth pointed out in the aftermath of the Soumare deal. They felt the effects this year with Zac MacMath, Okugo and Jack McInerney coming off the Generation Adidas budget. They shed Soumare ($310k) and have Kleberson ($450k) for only a year loan. It’s hard to envision Roger Torres ($121) around at this time next year unless something major changes in his playing-time arrangement, and who knows if Carlos Valdes ($321) ever comes back from Colombia. That could amount to close to a million dollars to spend piecemeal – or dump on a big DP purchase – while strategically reinforcing the squad with the bevy of draft picks and altering the salary structure for the next two years with the 10 "non-roster" spots which they aren't getting much from this year. It may not be tactically popular to a fanbase looking at a team languishing near the bottom of the league’s defensive statistics, but it makes financial sense for the future.

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