How the Philadephia Union Can Move Forward in 2019

Let’s recap…

2011 playoffs: loss

2014 USOC final: loss

2015 USOC final: loss

2016 playoffs: loss

2018 USOC final: loss

2018 playoffs: loss

I turned off the game around the 80th minute mark in frustration.

The Union were trialing 3-1 at Yankee Stadium against NYCFC for a Knockout Round elimination game. Just three days before, the same score had been repeated.

With this lose, Philadelphia had been knocked out of another major competition. No trophy for a team that achieved its greatest franchise record to date.

Stagnancy is a feeling I’ve learned to get used too since following the club in 2012.

Optimism is the feeling I’ve grown to hold onto at the end of every year.

Yes, the ending of this season was not ideal by any means, but if the Union acquire the correct pieces in this current offseason, they can easily become one of the best teams in the MLS. Here’s how the Union can march forward and turn a good season into a great season. “Trust the process”… right?

1. Keep Playing the Kids

Jim Curtain said it best after the ref blew the final whistle. “They [NYCFC] deserved to win tonight. Focusing on my group, still could not be prouder of the season we had.  We had a a lot of young players show a lot of growth and developed in a game like tonight. For them, it’s an experience that will only make them better.” He continued in his post-game conference, “the club has shown now that we have an identity of good young american players…”.

There’s a reason why he’s standing by his young, defensive line. You can check out my earlier article about it here where I explained and highlighted players such as Trusty, Mckenzie and Real and their recent call up to the U-20 Youth National Team.

That being said, growing pains were bound to be present – sometimes during  unfortunate circumstances. They failed at the US Open Cup Final in Houston and they failed against NYCFC when it mattered most. We live and we learn.

The potential is there. It’s evident.

After all, this team went 15-14-5 this season, the Union’s all time best.

2. Key Players Still Needed

The moment David Accam was acquired from Chicago, I was ecstatic. I thought, “finally, a dynamic winger that won’t be afraid to go mano a mano with a defender.”

Accam had scored 33 goals with 15 assists in the past three seasons in Chicago and supporters were hoping this would be our light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

A quality player who had proved his worth in the MLS was coming to Philly with an impressive resume.

The Ghanian would go on to score one lone goal in 23 regular season appearances. A sports hernia surgery saw him ruled out for the rest of the season in early October.

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It’s crazy to imagine what the Union could have accomplished with this winger in prime form. But, like all our ex-girlfriends, we must move on. Philly needs a clinical winger if they want to transform into a legitimate threat in the attacking third.

Imagine dropping a player of Accam’s caliber (again, in prime form) with the likes of Corey Burke and Fafa Picault? Each of those two players notched 10 goals this season.

But I’ll hold my tongue. Early this year, Technical Director Tanner Ernst filled the role previously occupied by Earnie Stewart. Ernst arrived with 24 years of European experience and has been credited with the discovery and/or development of Roberto Firmino, Kevin Volland, Sven Bender, Lars Bender, Niklas Süle, Sebastian Rudy, David Alaba, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Duje Caleta-Car and Sadio Mane.

Philadelphia could use a sprinkle of foreign talent, Mr. Ernst!

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Haris Medunjanin

Haris transferred from Maccabi Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017 for a two-year deal with an option for a third. That two year deal is about to expire and Philadelphia need to execute that third year option. At 33, a player with his work rate can still provide another year of service with the likes of Bedoya and Dockal in the midfield. It was an absolute pleasure watching these three players exchange the ball and transition from the back line to the offensive line.

Borek Dockal

Speaking of Dockal, the 30-year-old walked away as the assist king of MLS with 18 assists while knocking in 5 goals. Unlike Haris, Dockal was only brought in on loan from Henan Jianye in early 2018.

Locking him down as a permanent transfer would be the number one thing the front office has to do. He’s Philly’s perfect number 10 and has the stats to prove it. Rarely do we see foreign players have such a great impact on MLS soil in their first year.

At 30, he might not be the future of Philadelphia, but he surely can provide answers right now.

3. Keep Curtain

Jim Curtain is currently the longest serving Union coach since the club’s inception in 2010. The Villanova University Alum also has the highest win ratio with 40.12%.

And to be honest, it’s hard not to like the guy. He’s one of those leaders with a great demeanor. You can tell he’s humble, straight forward and he cares about his players.

The players spoke highly of Curtain after the conclusion of their 2018 season. Per MLSsoccer.com:“He did an amazing job,” defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “We achieved the most points in club history. He controlled us every game. He told us what we need to do. He showed he’s a good coach and can be the leader of this team.”

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“With the young kids, to give them the opportunity means he believed in them and that he likes to take the risk and that he believes he can win with them,” Medunjanin continued. “I think to be that confident says a lot.”

“I have a lot of respect for Jim,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “I think he’s done a fantastic job. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”

“He’s a great coach,” stated Blake. “I’ve been with him my entire pro career. He takes care of his players. I think he’s got a great relationship with us all.”

I’ll ask you a question: With everything Curtain has done so far, what if Philadelphia would reward him with a Rooney, Zlatan or David Villa-type of player?

With the resources he’s had, I’d say he has exceeded all expectations.

Are there better options in the league instead of Curtain? Possibly.

Outside the league? Yes, definitely.

We’ll continue marching forward with Jim Curtain and Tanner Ernst. Forget stagnancy and optimism, maybe confidence is a feeling I’ll make room for heading into 2019.

 

 

 

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Andy Moran

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