February 12, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
Union moving forward or stepping back?
Professional athletes leave teams. Happens all the time. Trades, retirements, contract disputes, free agency, teams trying to stay under the salary cap.
But seldom does a team trade away its best player, the face of the franchise, and seemingly get nothing in return.
That's what has Philadelphia Union fans so upset up the recent, unexpected move of Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for allocation money.
Sure, the Union say they have used that money to secure the permanent transfer of Roger Torres. But Torres was already here, albeit on loan, so forgive the fans for finding that statement a bit hard to swallow.
Itís also quite possible that Union fans would have been more forgiving had LeToux been transferred to Bolton of the English Premier League after his trial there. After all, a move to the EPL, even to a team battling the possibility of relegation, is a step up. And while MLS and the Union may not have announced what the transfer fee was, it certainly would have come out in the English press, as these things almost always do, and a team that would pay a reported $2+ million for young New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream could be expected to open its wallet at least as wide for a proven goal scorer like Le Toux. A move to Vancouver is seen as lateral at best. And for an undisclosed amount of allocation money.
The move seems even more incendiary to the fans coming at the end of an offseason in which a team that made the playoffs, and narrowly missed advancing to the conference championship in only its second season, a team that was perhaps a veteran player away from being a true contender, appears to be going through a rebuilding phase.
It started with the loss of Justin Mapp to the Montreal Impact in the MLS expansion draft, and then letting Stefani Miglioranzi go in the re-entry draft. Veljko Paunovic retired, all-star goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, suddenly and mysteriously as training camp was about to begin decided he wanted to finish his career in Colombia. Then Le Toux was sold and Kyle Nakazawa was traded to the LA Galaxy for a draft pick.
Peter Nowak did a masterful job assembling an expansion team the last two years, with a mix of veterans and young talent, seemingly building a winner for years to come. That might still be the case, but the team was a winner last year, and it did that with a mix of both veteran and young talent.
The team's roster as it is constituted now is made of youngsters, a good number of them who will likely miss chunks of the season with U.S. U23 National team as it prepares to qualify for the Olympics, and then as it hopefully prepares for the Summer Games in London, and exactly two players of 25 years old with Major League Soccer experience-Danny Califf and Brian Carroll.
Yes, the team has brought in 30-year-old Colombian striker Lionel Pajoy, but he has never played outside of Colombia. The team's other signings are all youngsters. MLS is one of the most grueling leagues in the world. Rosters are not as big as in many countries, and the travel across four time zones and some 3,000 miles is a tough adjustment for newcomers to league. Veteran experience is needed along with the young fresh legs to really build a team that is winner year in and year out.
After a taste of winning last year, the fans of Philadelphia might not be so accepting of a team that once again looks like an expansion side.