After the Union’s 3-0 loss Saturday night renowned statistical gurus FiveThirtyEight lowered the probability the Union will make the playoffs to 15 percent. For giggles they’ve also gifted a 1 percent chance to win the MLS Cup. Those chances suggest to me that these last twelve matches should be building toward a future in 2018 and beyond. I know we will be hearing a song and dance from Curtin about how the team is still working hard in practice and gunning for the playoffs, but it’s time to roll the dice with players who will be around when the team will be better prepared to win. In the town hall a few months back Earnie Stewart himself said he was not expecting much this year. He said “I do concentrate that in three years, you will recognize what we’re saying.” What he was sharing at the town hall was a plan to build a winning team through improved scouting, analytics and the development of young players through the Academy. Sounds good! Let’s get going then.
There are a few players on the team that jump out as players who probably won’t be around in 2019 when Earnie’s plan should come to fruition. The first is Oguchi Onyewu. I have to be honest, I have really enjoyed watching him play this year. He and Jack Elliott’s play are the story of this disappointing season. They have turned a historically bad defense into a respectable one. However, Gooch is 34 and he won’t be the center back on this team by the time it gets good (if it gets there). Not only that, the Union actually have some depth at center back named Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro, not to mention U.S. U20 World Cup participant Auston Trusty (who for some reason is getting shifted to left back in Bethlehem). It’s time to audition who will play next to Elliott in the future. Onyewu certainly won’t play the Union into the playoffs, so there’s no way a different player will play them out of a spot.
The next player is Chris Pontius. Again, I’ve actually enjoyed his play this season despite the absence of a goal, but he’s standing in the way of some younger players, and he won’t be around when the going gets good. Exactly which younger players I’m talking about might be a surprise, so let me explain. Marcus Epps is obviously one but there’s another key player that needs to get on the field and his name is Derrick Jones.
Jones has shown a lot of strength in the middle of the field for a rookie and has as much star potential as a central midfielder can have. The trouble here is that Alejandro Bedoya has been much more effective as the box-to-box midfielder compared to his role at the CAM, and that leaves Jones watching from the sideline. Since we’re building for the future Jones needs to play, but Bedoya is part of this team’s immediate future as well. So what I’m proposing is to not put Bedoya back at the CAM, but to put him on the right wing, to replace Pontius. Bedoya may not like it and it may not be too smart to put your lone million dollar player out wide but that allows Jones to get minutes. Plus, I think we all saw Bedoya’s two assists from the right wing position for the US National Team against Nicaragua. He can play there alright. It might actually be the place he’s best suited.
Now it’s patently obvious that Ilshino and Roland Alberg aren’t part of the future of this team and sitting them would leave a tremendous gap in the 10 spot. I’m not convinced Najem is the long term winning solution there so am reluctant to hand him those keys, even in a rebuilding period. I’m okay rotating these three players and even Fabian Herbers for the rest of the year. The reality is the 10 will be THE MOST SIGNIFICANT OFF-SEASON ACQUISITION for the Union. Next year’s CAM is most certainly not on the team now. That’s another reason to push Bedoya out wide and get him used to playing with Medunjanin and Jones in that 6-8-7 capacity. That’s the best situation for the future of the club.
Last but not least is Ray Gaddis and Keegan Rosenberry. Gaddis has done a nice job solidifying the defense this year, no question about it. However, we know what we have in Ray Gaddis. He is very limited offensively and by no stretch a great defender. Meanwhile we have a runner-up to the rookie of the year who brings rare offensive skills to the right back position. Was Gaddis in his second season a better defender than Rosenberry? If so, not by much. It’s time to let Rosenberry get his confidence back and build around him for the future.
Here’s my rest-of-the-2017-season-build-for-the-future-pretty-please lineup:
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the transfer market. Jim Curtin made a statement that made it sound as though the team was looking for players as aggressively as a spoon approaching a poached egg. Let’s keep it that way. Unless a great deal reveals itself there is no reason to buy at this point of the season. Make all of the moves once some cap space has been cleared in the off-season. The fact that the Union aren’t being aggressive indicates they could be thinking along these same lines. Let’s hope Curtin is getting that message and begins to mix in the kids with potential. That would actually get me interested in the season again, and not some faint hope for a playoff run.