By nailing down three veterans whose combined ages top the century mark, the Philadelphia Union is certainly not investing solely in youth. Conor Casey (33), Brian Carroll (33) and Fred (35) have all signed new (cheaper) contracts.
The options on Casey and Fred were declined; Carroll was out of contract. Casey is third on the team’s all-time scoring list with 18 goals in 56 games, Carroll is third in games played for Philly (117), and Fred – an original member of the team when it started up in 2010 – has come back to the Union as a player-coach following three years in the A-League.
The most significant offseason deals, however, are probably the conversion of Maurice Edu’s loan from Stoke City into a transfer and the trade by which C.J. Sapong arrives from Sporting Kansas City. Philly traded a 2015 SuperDraft pick to Sporting Kansas City for Sapong, who formerly played for the Union’s affiliate club Reading United. He takes a slot vacated when Pedro Ribeiro was claimed by Orlando City in the Expansion Draft.
Amobi Okugo departed in a trade to Orlando City. He was one of numerous players to line up in different spots throughout the season. Both Edu and Okugo played centrally in the back and in midfield as the coaches tinkered with formations. Ray Gaddis (18 games) and Fabinho (15) shared time almost equally at left back, and Gaddis played the other 19 games at right back. Of his 23 games, Sheanon Williams played 15 at right back. He also played at least one game in every other spot along a back line of four.
More changes may be coming. Colombian defender Carlos Valdes, who returned to the team last year after a pair of protracted loans, could be leaving again. Negotiations with Uruguayan club Nacional and there’s also reported interest from Colo Colo of Chile. Valdes played eight games for the Union last year after returning from the World Cup. He played the full 90 minutes in his only World Cup appearance, a 4-1 defeat of Japan.
Former Fulham manager and Manchester United assistant René Meulensteen has been hired as a consultant. He joins a staff that includes technical director Chris Albright, whose promotion from assistant technical director resulted from the John Hackworth dismissal. Union president Nick Sakiewicz gave Albright a lot of credit for negotiating the return of Valdes; if he leaves again the Union will be in the market for a centerback whether or not Edu winds up playing there.
Philly overloaded on goalkeepers last year by signing Algerian World Cup veteran Rais M’Bolhi after taking ex-UConn goalie Andre Blake with the No. 1 SuperDraft pick. Incumbent Zac MacMath kept his spot until late in the season, when M’Bolhi took over and committed a terrible blunder in a game against Chicago that ended tied and thus cost the Union two points.
The loan of MacMath, who played 29 of 34 league matches, to Colorado obligates him by league rules to stay with the Rapids for the entire season, barring a major catastrophe in the Union goalkeeping ranks. M’Bolhi (four games) and Blake (one) will battle it out for the starting job unless there’s yet another surprise move.
Without a pick in the SuperDraft first round, the Union used its two second-round selections on forward Dzenan Catic from Davenport University (No. 31 overall) and midfielder Eric Bird from Virginia (No. 41). Defenders Aaron Simmons (UCLA) and Raymond Lee (Saint Louis) were taken in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
Securing Edu to a long-term deal should strengthen the squad in the critical element of leadership, which last season’s collapse indicates wasn’t amply supplied. Driven by the Sons of Ben, a fan group so unique is it the subject of a documentary film, Philly has a backing that is crying out for sustained success.
“I couldn't be happier to return to Philadelphia and play in front of our great fans,” Edu said when his transfer was announced. “I believe in this team’s future and I am excited to be an integral part of that.”