End-of-season house cleaning with a twist
CHESTER >> Wednesday’s end-ofseason housekeeping for the Philadelphia Union came with a twist.
Options were exercised and declined. Preliminary results of the autopsy of the 2016 season, which expired a week ago in Toronto, were publicized. All the routine stuff.
What was unusual was the hour-long organized session of weightlifting and on-field exercises, helping players transition into the offseason and extending the invitation to use the new Power Training Complex through the winter to prepare.
“It’s part of the culture change and how we want to raise the level,” club captain Brian Carroll said. “I think it will be beneficial for all of the guys that are here doing stuff and this being here for us for the entire offseason for us to do stuff on our own with the strength group will be valuable for us.”
Those shifts illustrate a larger change in the tenor of the Union’s valedictory media address. While the timing is more premature than hoped, the conversation with coach Jim Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart was unquestionably peppered with more positives than previous incarnations. But it was tinged with the disappointment of an eight-game winless run to end the season, the cause of which remains under inspection.
Stewart offered a variety of symptoms: Untimely injuries, a back-loaded schedule, the bulk of the roster experiencing their first games of meaningful late-season soccer. But he was also encouraged by the progress of players and a young coaching staff.
“We had a young group,” Stewart said. “We spoke about this weeks before the end of the season where you never know how people are going to react. It’s the first time a lot of players actually came into a playoff stretch and playoff run to get there, and the stress level hits and you never know how people react to that. The best part of it is that everybody’s been through it now. We can only gain from that experience as a young group with the foundation that we have to be better in the future.”
In a half-hour conversation with the media, Stewart offered his appraisals on a variety of topics, from a decisive vote of confidence in Curtin’s managerial ability to the potential of the club’s young defensive corps to the oftcited “foundation” that powered the playoff run. He was particularly impressed with Curtin’s tactical steadfastness even as the team slumped. He also recognized the perception of the season as partially a matter of perspective.
“I’d say expectations changed during the season, and if you can go back in time during the season, it’s weird how the brain works,” Stewart said. “We could’ve had the exact same season and not done well in the beginning of the season and finished very strong and everybody would’ve been very positive about it. But it works the other way around.”
With all the positives, the offseason priorities are less expansive than recent years.
“Going into this offseason and our targets and the players we’d like to go after to strengthen the squad is clear, because a lot of the foundation has been laid,” Curtin said. “We have a very good core of young players to build on, and we’ll be aggressive in the offseason and we’re excited to keep working.”
The first batch of moves came down Wednesday, in a rarely decisive sweep of announcements. The Union declined options on five players — loanees Anderson and Matt Jones, rookies Cole Missimo and Taylor Washington, and Walter Restrepo.
Stewart also announced that Kevin Kratz would be returning to expansion club Atlanta United, from which he was apparently on loan in a detail never announced publicly. An Atlanta spokesman later clarified that the Union had agreed to trade the German midfielder in a deal to be ratified when the window for player movement reopens Dec. 11.
Leo Fernandes and Charlie Davies are out of contract, and the Union are still mulling decisions on that pair. All other players, including Fabinho via a vesting option in his deal, are under some form of agreement for next year.
That’s enough of a platform for the Union to look forward with rare quantities of hope.
“Right now, you have to forget everything about this year,” Fabinho said. “I think we have to work for next year. I think the staff will look for other players and what we have to do for next year. And next year has to be better than this year.”