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Thursday, February 1, 2018

The topsy-turvy 10: Where the search for the Union's biggest roster need stands

Jim Curtin: Looking out for a new No. 10?
Union manager Jim Curtin sounded definitive on several points Thursday in a conference call from the Union’s training base in Clearwater, Fla. The only issue was that those points seemed to be moderately in opposition to each other, befitting the bumpy process of roster building.

Here’s Curtin’s response to two questions regarding the No. 10 position, which has long been tabbed as an area to upgrade. The first was a query about whether the praise that Curtin has lavished on Anthony Fontana at all changes the priorities in the transfer market:
No. We’re still actively looking but at the same time we know that we have some young guys that are capable. This offseason has shown just by the actions of it that there is more of a commitment to youth. Our roster is significantly younger. I think that is also seen on the field in terms of the intensity of training, the amount of ground guys are covering. The No. 10 position specifically, we’re happy with the work Ilsinho has done there with Adam Najem and also Anthony Fontana. Fontana can play the 10, can also play the 8 and has gotten some reps at both. These games will tell us a lot. It hasn’t changed. We haven’t stopped searching, that is not the case at all. Every team right now is looking to make little tweaks and upgrades, but we know in the back of our mind we do have capable guys there. We are going to lean heavily on playing young guys this season.
Later, a question was posed as to whether Curtin’s preference is to have said reinforcement in sooner rather than later, and the response included more equivocating:
I’m confident in the group that we have right now. I think the addition of David Accam makes us different. I think some guys have another year under their belt. Obviously the quicker you can get the entire group together is better, but we know that this isn’t our final roster quite yet. We still have some flexibility in terms of some roster spots. We still have the ability to sign a young player or two to the supplemental side of the roster. We’re not the complete group that you’re going to see quite yet on March 3. Whether it happens this window or next window, it still remains to be seen. But at the same time, we like our group that we have, the training sessions have been good. We’ll get our first test against Red Bull to see what it looks like.
OK, I hate to be the guy who dissects this within an inch of its life, reading between the lines. But this isn’t a normal situation. The lack of a No. 10 was the defining struggle of the Union’s 2017 failures. It has been highlighted since last fall as the issue. And to not add a playmaker in the offseason will not only be a missed opportunity after the astute acquisition of David Accam, but will leave the club open to all manner of anger from a fan base starved of success and excitement.

So here’s how I read the tea leaves:

- The Union will bring in new players. Curtin said elsewhere Thursday that they’ll have a couple of names in training to be released Friday, young players they’ve tracked but no household names. I don’t know that another Homegrown is on the horizon, but the roster has room for young players to stash.

- Anthony Fontana will see significant minutes this year. Curtin was effusive in his praise of the 18-year-old Homegrown. “I would say Fontana has impressed the staff that has already been here previous,” he said. “And I’ll use Pat Noonan as a guy who comes in with new ideas and no real opinions on anybody, but Anthony has stood out to Pat. Kind of reaffirms what the staff that has previously been here has seen from him this preseason.” Those are good things.

- Adam Najem might, too. Curtin had plenty of praise for the second-year pro. That and the reassertion that the Union will play young players casts doubt on an addition of a high-profile No. 10.

- David Accam will make the Union different. This is not the dinner bell for new formation predictions (though I assume I’ll have something like that in the coming weeks). I think you could see the Union playing in different ways because of the speed and verticality of Accam and Fafa Picault. To tie that into the No. 10 position, it could deemphasize the creative aspect of that spot, where maybe a hybrid 8/10 like Najem or Fontana fits better.

- The Ilsinho seduction isn’t over. The player “with another year under his belt,” yeah I’d read that as the Brazilian.

- Curtin is always going to back his guys. That’s not to say he’s doing it disingenuously by any means, but Curtin is a players’ manager who’ll always go to bat for his guys. In this case, he’s got reason to believe in the talent he has. Whether that stands up to the scrutiny of 34 games remains to be seen.

- “This isn’t our final roster quite yet.” OK, that’s clear. Then a new No. 10 is coming soon?

- “Whether it happens this window or next window, it still remains to be seen.” Oh, nevermind.

- “We like our group that we have.” (insert Xs over eyes emoji)

The Union aren’t often a team that has declared, ‘we are going to do X,’ and then quickly and predictably did that. There have been some obvious departures in the personnel acquisition department, most often when the need is so glaring (i.e. a striker last year, or an attacking midfielder before 2016 when Roland Alberg and Ilsinho were added). I think the No. 10 now falls in the latter category, but it appears that’s up for debate.

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Anonymous SilverRey said...

Coach speak in general is typically banal and frustrating, but the things that Curtin says (& Stewart as well) are flat out aggravating.

We all know the Union are never getting a Mezut Ozil, but good grief, there has to be an available player out there that actually has played the #10 position before!!!

And no, getting someone for that spot is not a 'Tweak or Upgrade'. To upgrade you have to actually have something to upgrade. This team in general needs more than tweaks - (do we have a left back beyond Fabinho?)

On a separate note, I really don't care if we have a young team or an old team as long as they look cohesive out there. Note to Jim: we were calling out 'Play the youngsters' at the end of the season because we wanted to see what we actually had & to hopefully give them a boost coming into this year.

Are we really going to go 3 windows w/o finding a true #10?

February 1, 2018 at 7:12 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We’re not the complete group that you’re going to see quite yet on March 3. Whether it happens this window or next window, it still remains to be seen." ??? Am I the only person who was confused this?

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