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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Down the stretch they come: Seven goals for the Union's last seven games

The Union's 2017 season is likely lost. So why not give minutes
to young players like Keegan Rosenberry? (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
If you’re of the sort that trusts probability, the Union’s chances of making the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs are essentially nil. That means to salvage merit from a lost season, the sixth of eight in Union existence in which they’ve fallen at the manageable hurdle of playoff qualification, the goals must shift. (Even tanking for the sake of a draft pick is off the table, as you’ll recall.)

The remaining seven games of 2017 should be aimed at granular accomplishments. Time to take a page out of the Phillies’ book of perpetual rebuilding: The Union need to know who is worth keeping and who isn’t. The best way to glean that info is to let players take their lumps and, for better or worse, evaluate how they emerge on the other side.

Let’s consider seven objectives, which care little how many of the 21 points on offer the Union reap.

Play. Your. Kids. Josh Yaro has struggled this year. Keegan Rosenberry has been up and down. But the Union are better off knowing if their rookie successes were outliers or the norm. Given the peaks and valleys, Jim Curtin and the organization need to know where the mean for each player rests. Yaro won’t travel to Minnesota in observance of his red card. He should play the last six games. We know well what Ray Gaddis brings at right back, and it’s unlikely to differ in the next seven games from his previous 138. (Not a value judgement, just an observation on plasticity.) What Rosenberry brings requires space to be sussed out.

Two starts for Adam Najem. That’s at a minimum. I doubt Roland Alberg is in the Union’s plans beyond this season. I don’t know if Ilsinho is. I would hope the organization recognizes and will act on the glaring need for a No. 10. But ascertaining what it has Najem, in terms of starting potential or merely carving a positional niche, is vital.

Give Auston Trusty his debut. The verb in that sentence would give Curtin pause. He doesn’t like to “give” players everything. Curtin has mentioned roughly 578 times in his tenure that spots in the lineup are earned in training. Not that that methodology doesn’t work – because things this season haven’t worked for a variety of reasons – but it could use to be relaxed. Oguchi Onyewu was played well and should have a role next season. But how much more does Curtin really need to see him? Jack Elliott has been excellent, a rookie of the year candidate who should get a few more games with Yaro, the ostensible pairing of the future. But at some point, Trusty needs a taste of MLS, even just to whet his appetite so he can better prepare himself.

Get Jay Simpson and Chris Pontius off the schneid. This won’t be popular, but the Union need to know if these two are to be counted on next year. Simpson has been paid $508k for 429 minutes. He started strong but hasn’t played because of CJ Sapong’s career year. If winning games is no longer the singular aim, then the pressure to deploy Sapong to improve the chance of victory is relieved somewhat. Simpson’s deal will keep him in Philly next year. Pontius’ contract status is uncertain, and he’s scuffled, with no goals and six assists in 24 games; his last assist came in mid-May. Both players could use a positive note to close the season.

Salvage something for Fabian Herbers. Remember him? One of the most productive SuperDrafted rookie assist-men in league history? Herbers hasn’t started since May 20, an adductor strain morphing into a sports hernia in a rehab stint with Steel. He has a goal and two assists, and avoiding a 10-month layoff by the start of next season would seem to be beneficial.

Two starts for Maurice Edu. It’s fraught to say that the Union owe Edu anything; they have, after all, paid him $1.5 million since his last MLS appearances. But behind the scenes, Edu has been an important part of the last two teams –as a voice in the locker room, a mentor for younger players and a cog in the U.S. national team recruiting apparatus that has helped legitimize the club. His future likely lies elsewhere, and he’s champing at the bit to prove to the other 21 (soon to be 22) MLS clubs that he’s fit. Offering a showcase – even if in absolute terms Haris Medunjanin has had a better week of training – would seem a just denouement for everyone involved.

Know what you know. Elliott will be in the mix for a starting role next year; that’s unlikely to change in the final seven matches. Ditto Alejandro Bedoya, Medunjanin, Sapong and a handful of others. If a selection question is anything near a coin flip, Curtin should err on the side of the unknown. (The lone exception may be Elliott’s chase of ROY recognition.) And – here’s a crazy idea – if there’s nothing left to lose in October, maybe tinker? See what a 3-5-2 with Giliano Wijnaldum and Rosenberry as wingbacks plays like. See how a two-forward scheme works. If the spirit of experimentation is understood, then the potential reward far outweighs the risk.

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Anonymous SilverRey said...

Jim playing a 3-5-2, he,he...ha, ha, ha...HA, HA, HA, BWAHAHAHAHAW!!!!

We will never see anything regarding formation changes while Jim is still head coach for the Union. It will definitely be interesting to see how they play out the rosters for the next few games.

What is everyone's contract situation at the end of the season? Are we going to be able to get something for the guys we are tossing overboard?

September 8, 2017 at 10:11 AM 

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