Oh, say can you see the Union's new approach
The Union’s summer dealings can be characterized by many lenses. But one is the acquisition of players in Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies, who’ve represented the U.S. internationally.
And so Saturday, using the Union and Toronto rosters, you can cobble together a fairly cogent starting XI of fully capped American internationals.
There’s some fudging position-wise. Chris Pontius is included, and while he has never appeared for the U.S., he’s twice been invited to camps and traveled internationally without getting in a game, and it’s reasonable to assume that had he not experienced such bad injury luck, he’d have that cap by now. (Consider this the start of the campaign for Pontius to play the role Ethan Finlay did at January camp and beyond last year.) There’s also no capped goalie, but Alex Bono, the former Reading United player, has played for the U.S. Under-18 team, so he’ll do.
The spine of the team is formidable. It features, when healthy, the U.S.’s top striker for the next World Cup cycle (Jozy Altidore), its captain (Michael Bradley) and arguably one of the first two or three names coach Jurgen Klinsmann pencils into the lineup in Bedoya.
That isn’t a bad team, if you could swap a forward for a truer fullback. It’s certainly a darn good one from a marketing standpoint, and it reveals a point about the Union’s direction.
The club has struggled for years to force its players into national-team relevance. Maurice Edu’s cap against Mexico in April 2014 remains the only active Union player to appear for the national team. Jack McInerney and Jeff Parke were called into camps while members of the Union, and several Americans came to the Union (Freddy Adu, Chris Albright, Parke, Danny Califf, Conor Casey, Justin Mapp, and Michael Orozco, plus current players Brian Carroll, CJ Sapong, Bedoya and Davies) with caps, some in the distant past.
Now, the Union possess one U.S. regular (Bedoya) plus two players (Sapong and Pontius) whose stocks are rising.
The Union are also, surprisingly, among the MLS leaders in national-team categories. They are tied with five teams (D.C. United, L.A. Galaxy, San Jose, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City) for the most capped U.S. internationals on a roster at five. They trail only Toronto in the East and are sixth in MLS in both combined U.S. national team caps (126) and international goals (7, tied with SKC).
It all boils down to what Earnie Stewart said when he took the job. The decorated former American captain (101 caps, 17 goals) wanted to give something back to American soccer. Manager Jim Curtin has always discussed building locally, with the “home” in “Homegrown” projecting as narrow as the Delaware Valley or as broad as the U.S.
The Union are succeeding with that aim. Saturday’s lineup in New England, for instance, featured seven American starters out of 11. They’ve gone as high as eight Americans in the May 28 lineup at Colorado.
Marketing appeal aside, the Union are doing what Stewart promised: They’re forging an identity. It comes at a cost, though perhaps not the loftiest one compared to some international salaries in MLS. And it has the advantage of being red, white and blue.
Labels: Alejandro Bedoya, Brian Carroll, Charlie Davies, Chris Pontius, CJ Sapong, Drew Moor, Earnie Stewart, Jim Curtin, Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC