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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forward thinking: Pondering the possiblities of the Union striker search

In three weeks or so, the tenor of the Union’s position on summer reinforcements for the forward line has gone from no to maybe to specifics on who and what they’re looking for, a shift which constitutes warp speed for the club.
Kenny Miller might be too pricy an option
at forward for the Union. (AP)

It’s becoming blatantly obvious that something has to change quickly. The Union’s center forwards have five goals this season, four (excluding Jack McInerney’s one) from players still on the roster, and two of those were from the penalty spot. The club endured a stretch where no Union player scored from open play in five matches, a major contributing factor to the club’s franchise-record nine-game winless streak.

Those aren’t even the bleakest stats. Consider this: Conor Casey has two shots on goal this season in eight appearances (300 minutes). Antione Hoppenot has two shots, none on target, in 10 short yet increasingly futile substitute appearances.

The answer to the Union’s offensive woes must come from somewhere, and last Tuesday prior to the trip to Kansas City, manager John Hackworth had plenty to say about what he’s looking for.

Among the critical points from Hackworth are that:

- The club is looking within MLS and abroad.
- The club can’t afford to bring home another national teamer via allocation.
- The club is looking for someone to make an impact.

The push and pull of looking domestically or abroad is obvious. Hackworth admitted that the Union are unlikely to be able to pry a player of the quality they want away from their current MLS club, while eliciting international help would mean that reinforcements would be delayed until July 15, six games down the road.

This Wednesday, Hackworth added a new wrinkle to the discussion in broaching the topic of where the money and roster room would come from.

“We need to look outside of our own locker room right now and see if we can bring in a player, and we are,” he said Wednesday at PPL Park. “I think that’s important. We’ve said that publicly, that we’re out there shopping. And anytime you do that, there are guys within your locker room that, in the nature of this business, you’re going to have to expect that there is going to be a trade made or somebody is going to be released. And those are the hard realities of this business. … We need to take action that puts us in a better place to be successful, both in the near future and the long-term. If we can find those kinds of guys and we can make those kinds of acquisitions, we can try to do that.”

The Union weren’t players in a couple of intra-league moves, including Chivas’ acquisition of misfit Columbus striker Ryan Finley or the two trades involving former Aston Villa man Luke Moore. The indication there is that the Union are looking for a guy to lead the line, not another in the ilk of complementary pieces to follow the growing tide of inefficiency.

That leaves a paucity of options, and though Hackworth didn’t name names, it’s worth taking a look at who could fit the profile: A player, likely out of contract or available for a relatively affordable price who could step right in as a center forward and contribute.

Among those available immediately are former Vancouver striker Kenny Miller and former Portland striker Frederic Piquionne. Both would be short-term fixes that make Casey look like the new kid on the block. Miller is 34; Piquionne 35.

A move for Miller (again, purely speculation) is likely cost prohibitive. Miller’s 2014 contract with Vancouver was worth $930,000, which would make the former Rangers and Celtic hitman the highest earner on the Union by almost a third.

Piquionne, meanwhile, is older, but he’s spent the last few weeks attending to a “family emergency” in his native Martinique before the club waived him. While the former Lyon, Monaco and West Ham player proved he could still play, scoring once and adding five assists in 24 games for the Timbers last year, his ongoing personal situation isn’t exactly what the Union need, even if his modest price tag ($140,000) and ability to speak French are plusses.

If you’re looking abroad to Europe, there are a few interesting pieces available (and given that two British strikers are among the top four in scoring in MLS, maybe a look to the Isles is worth it.) So let's just freely speculate:

Among those out of contract are former England internationals Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora, both at Queens Park Rangers in the Championship. Johnson, the oft-injured former Everton and Fulham man, might be available, while it seems like the equally injury-prone yet younger Zamora prefers to work toward another deal with the London club.

In looking at the newly-relegated Premier League teams, the only name that stands out is Fulham’s Darren Bent, but he’s on loan from Aston Villa. It seems the parent club has vacillated on its position in regard to the mega-mercurial striker, and they may be near a reconciliation, perhaps as an insurance policy while Christian Benteke recovers from injury. Also out of contract is Leicester City and former Portsmouth forward David Nugent, but it appears that with the Foxes having been promoted to the Premier League, Nugent will sign a new deal for his first taste of Premier League football since 2010.

Other names that would seem to fit well include Jermaine Beckford (though he seems keen to play for a place at Bolton after an injury-blighted season) or former Arsenal man Jeremie Aliadiere (who is out of contract at Lorient but appears to be drawing interest elsewhere.)

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