Matt Reppert: Teetering On The Drop-Off

After last week’s match against the New York Red Bulls, I came out with an article that tried to stay, for the most part, positive despite a heart breaking loss to our main rivals.  One or two people asked me, “What about the Califf trade?” and asked why I didn’t reference it in the article.  Well, first of all the trade hadn’t been finalized at that point and was still “speculation” while it was pretty decent speculation until I know the terms of what the deal is, I try to not jump into that and to be honest, there was a lot to be positive about from the NYRB game.  The offense looked good, and while we lost, the team seemed to finally be “getting” it.  Going into the FC Dallas match against a team that was without star player Brek Shea, as well as riding a 6 game winless streak, I honestly thought that if the Union played like they did against New York we could possibly pull out a road win.

That of course didn’t happen.

No, what I saw instead was a team that looked utterly, utterly inept for a good chunk of the match.

I was considering doing a breakdown of each player from the game, but screw that, you want a breakdown? Here is all the breakdown you need, Lionard Pajoy and Danny Mwanga, you click on those names and it’ll take you to their season stats, click on game log and right at the top there, you’ll see the stats for the Dallas match.  Notice that neither has any shots on goal or hell, shots at all.   Pajoy freaking dominated the match against NYRB and now he’s back to the same form that got him in my dog house in games prior to this.

But, I’m not going to focus on the players (but I will discuss my thoughts on the players later on) instead I’m going to tear down a few things that the front office have said and done about this team.  I said that I wasn’t going to speculate on the Califf trade, but now that it’s done, I’m going to dissect it and discuss it.  Also, I’m going to discuss what in the hell I mean by the title of the article, “Teetering on the Drop-off.”  I’m going to confront the Ghosts of Front Office decisions, Past, Present and Future.  But unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, I plan on making each of those ghosts my BITCH.  You ready? Oh boy I know I am, so let’s DO THIS.

The Califf Trade

I’ve said this before and I will continue to say it, I understand sports business, I understand trading players at the height of their value because you’re afraid of not being able to resign them.  I understand that sometimes, in order to free up cap space you have to get rid of some big names that you can’t keep on the roster, it’s painful for the fans, but most of the time, the team has young players that they feel are ready to step into the role vacated by the departing veteran.

The Califf trade however, flies in the face of all that.

First of all from the sounds of it, the Califf trade was handled with the same tact and professionalism as the Le Toux trade which is to say, none at all.   Califf apparently was caught off guard by the fact that the team was even considering trading him.  Peter Nowak said in a press conference,  “We’ve been in contact every day, getting his mind to embrace the whole situation,” as well as “He mentioned that at some point it was going to be time to go home with his family and go back to California. This will happen sooner or later. We decided to conclude this trade and that’s the situation.” As well as, “For player purposes, he wants to go this way and we try to accommodate as soon as we can,” Nowak said. “I’m glad we resolved this situation and he’ll go back home to play with some coaches he knows. Going home is always a good thing.”

Ah, well then.  At least that they made it easy on Danny Califf, right? I mean, the Le Toux trade was handled very poorly in terms of the player and how it was told to the fans, but at least Danny Califf was given a fair shake-

“It made me want to throw up.” – Danny Califf when asked about what Nowak said in his press conference.

Fantastic, so Peter Nowak outright lied to everyone when discussing the Califf trade, you see folks, Califf didn’t want to go back to California; it was either that or he go to Toronto FC.  Reports have indicated that Toronto FC and Chivas USA both bid for Califf and Nowak approached Califf and basically told him, “We’re giving you the choice between these two teams.”

As Califf said, “When it was presented the way it was, between Toronto and LA, of course we are going to choose LA because that’s our home. But did we ask for it? No.”

So yes, let’s not pretend that this was done for the “good of the team” or any of that crap.  No, Califf was traded most likely because he dared question the mighty Emperor Peter the First.

But in the entire hullabaloo about Califf, I forgot to mention what we got in return, Michael Lahoud…a midfielder and of course, allocation money.

Oh and did I mention that Lahoud, a force to be reckoned with who has managed to carve out a huge amount of playing time with…54 minutes this season.  In fact, going through Lahoud’s stats, the last time he played a full 90 minutes was July 23rd of last year against Houston which was also the last time Lahoud had a shot on goal.

But hey, I’ve heard that Lahoud has been used as a right back for a good chunk of his time at Chivas.  Maybe he’ll be used to help give us some defensive depth to cover Califf’s “slowing down” right?

That is why of course he started in the midfield against Dallas.

…Well at least Lahoud played well right?

Yup, yellow card along with a tackle that probably warranted a red card.

Well at least we dumped Califf’s aging, slow ass right? We MADE OUT of this deal didn’t we?

Oh, Califf was named the man of the match against the Los Angeles Galaxy by MLSSoccer.com?

Granted its one game, but so far we are just a single game removed from this trade and it seems like the Union traded away a player that helped stabilize the defense last season and got back a player who frankly put, looked like crap against Dallas.  The Union literally has a single natural center back on their roster, Carlos Valdes.  Valdes was of course hurt in the Dallas match and every blue and gold fan better be praying to GOD that he doesn’t have a concussion or else this team is in deep crap.  Nowak has once again exposed himself as a liar and as someone who will treat his players like utter crap if he feels the need to.  The Califf trade is another entry into the log that the front office has been writing since the Carlos Ruiz trade last year as to how to alienate your fan base.

The Ghost Of Front Office Decisions Past

Okay, I really, REALLY didn’t want to stray into this territory; however I must in order to explain how we got to where we were.  The sales/trades of Carlos Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux and Jordan Harvey, need to be looked at.  First of all, the first trade was of course, Jordan Harvey, sent to the Whitecaps for allocation money which started the dark precedent.  The defense was still good to decent though Gabe Farfan obviously showed some learning issues which was to be expected given the fact that he was a midfielder.  However, people were slightly upset because Jordan Harvey is a decent LB and came with a cheap price tag.

The second move was Carlos Ruiz’s sale and this is where people like myself began to raise their eyebrows, at the press conference announcing the sale, Peter Nowak heaped the blame on the fans for Ruiz’s departure uttering these sentences, “There were a lot of fans, even in the stands here, that have a pre-bias towards Carlos, and made some bad comments about him being a diver, or this, or that, not working hard enough, and all these little things. It was getting tiring to all of us, and we accepted an offer from a club. Carlos is no longer going to be with us.”

Wait, what? The professional soccer player didn’t like the fact that some people were critical of his play? Carlos freaking Ruiz, a guy who has played in 6 separate countries for 9 different teams at that time was upset because some fans were questioning him and the team rather than just saying, “Screw the haters, show them what you can do Carlos,” instead threw up their hands and said, “Alright, small minority of overly critical fans, you win, we’ll sell him.”

Wow.

Finally is of course the Le Toux trade, now I won’t go into details here about the trade since it’s been hashed out by everyone and their mom, however, the fact remains that by all accounts the team attempted to dump Le Toux to a Premier League team and when he didn’t really want that they instead just flat out traded him to a team that they knew they wouldn’t have to play more than once in the upcoming season.  It caused a storm of people attempting to dump their season tickets and put it in people’s minds that this season, we might have some trouble scoring goals.  The front office also said they did the move to give the young guys more playing time, a move that proved to be a lie once they brought in Lionard Pajoy and eventually Kai Herdling.

Furthermore it set the precedent that no player on the Union, no matter how productive, no matter how beloved by the fan base, was up to be moved if they questioned Nowak, and the team, after moving the player, would treat the fan base with utter contempt either by outright lying (Le Toux), vague mentions of offers “too good to refuse” (Harvey) and blaming those meanie fans for getting rid of a good player (Ruiz).

The Ghost Of Front Office Decisions Present

So now we come to the Califf trade, while I’ve detailed it earlier in the article, I wanted to point out the standard operating procedure of the team.  Sell or trade a player, show contempt for both the player and the fans when dealing with both.  The Califf trade makes NO sense because it further depletes the depth of our defensive line.  If Carlos Valdes has a concussion or gets hurt, we literally have no natural CBs to fall back upon.  Though it’s been widely hinted at the team will make moves in the summer transfer window, I would like to remind you all that the window doesn’t open until June 27th and in that time until it opens we have 3 more league matches and a US Open cup match.  Plenty of time for the team to possibly lose more defenders to either red cards or injury, the team has no depth and rotating around players to cover positions won’t work forever because teams will key in on those players that they know aren’t experienced at the positions.

The Ghost Of Front Office Decisions Future

So where do we go from here? Whom do the Unionpursue when the Summer transfer window opens? According to some, the team has quite a bit of cap space and allocation money saved up now from the Le Toux and now Califf trades, not to mention the cap space gained after Mondragon’s departure.  I’ve heard some people suggest that the Union will go after a player like Drogba, Ballack or Del Piero.

Okay, first of all, if you were a DP would you want to come to a team that looks like it’s going nowhere? Would you want to play for a coach that has shown a willingness to dump his star players, no matter how popular with the fans they are or how productive they’ve been? Do you think that any of the three players I named above would tolerate Peter Nowak being a total prick to them? Would they be giving their all for Nowak? Probably not.

Secondly, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Peter Nowak is going nowhere this season, the more I think about it, the more it makes a sick kind of sense as to the method of the madness of the front office.

The expression “saving face” comes to mind here.  As you all should know, the All Star Game comes to Philadelphiaon July 25th and the MLS All-Star team will of course be coached by Peter Nowak.  Now, this created a HUGE issue for the team and for us.  Here is the problem.

If the team fired Peter Nowak tomorrow, would he still be coaching the MLS All Stars?

The answer is most likely, no.  It would look ridiculous for a coach who has no team within the league to be charged with leading selected players from said league.  The Union can’t dismiss Peter Nowak at this point, not because they truly believe that Nowak can turn it around (unlikely), but because both they and the league need him to be in the league and having to go through the embarrassment of selecting another coach for the All Star Game.  TheUnioncan’t send John Hackworth or some other Interim coach to lead the MLS All Stars team, it would look ridiculous to many people.

So what do they do? They allow the season to crash and burn rather than fire Peter Nowak and for those of you who think that maybe they’ll get rid of him after the All Star Game, more than likely, Nick Sakiewicz and the rest of the Front Office will simply say, “Well, we HAVE to let him finish out the season, right?”

Given what we’ve seen from the front office, tell me I’m not wrong.  Tell me that you honestly think that the Philadelphia Union would put their team ahead of making the league look a little foolish.  Try and convince yourself that after everything that has been said and done with the team, that Peter Nowak will be shown the door at any point this season.

No, more than likely, Nowak and the Union will limp through the season, most likely miss the playoffs (more on that in a bit) and what will most likely happen, best case scenario, is that Nowak will be let go in the offseason.  Not because it’s the right thing to do for the team, but because it will be one of the only ways to drum up support for the 2013 season.

If the Union fail to make the playoffs this year, fans will NOT be renewing their season tickets for next year.  The front office in my opinion, should be worried already that the New York Red Bulls game wasn’t a complete sellout.  THAT should send up warning flags immediately to the team.  Now, you can argue that the start time was a factor and that it was Mother’s Day, but I would argue that fans are starting to shy away from a team that frankly put, hasn’t been performing.  If the Union are far out of playoff contention by the last game of the season, which is against New York, how good do you think attendance will be then?

The Philadelphia Union will look long and hard at their bottom line and realize that merely existing isn’t enough to bring fans into the stadium (as it was the first two seasons), no, they need to start winning, or at least putting a product on the field that the fans can get behind.  Firing Nowak may be the only thing that the Union might be able to do in the offseason that will bring some fans back that otherwise may not return next year.

I’ve heard people complain that the Union got rid of their kids favorite players (Le Toux and Califf) and as such, their kids are less inclined to come to Union home games and some parents are questioning renewing their tickets next season.

That should TERRIFY the front office.

The Drop-Off

On November 13, 2011 I watched on TV as the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 21-17.  The loss put the Eagles at 3-6 at the time and that is when I said to myself, “They’re not making the playoffs this year.”

THAT dear readers, is what I mean by “The Drop-off”.  The Drop-off is the point where you as a fan know that deep down, your team probably isn’t making the playoffs.  Hell, I continued to watch Eagles games after the Cardinals games and talked football with a lot of people.  But I knew that we weren’t going anywhere.  Were the Eagles mathematically eliminated? No, they weren’t.  But you knew that barring some sort of miraculous win streak against teams that frankly put, were better than yours, it wasn’t happening.

That’s the point I think we’re nearing with the Union.

Pretty much what might push us over the edge is the Toronto FC match this weekend. TFC is winless, 0-9-0, they have a midweek match against Vancouver playing for the Canadian Championship, so they’ll be tired and spent by the time the Union come to town.

So what happens if the Union fail to win?

This includes a draw by the way. Toronto is a team that we should be beating, hell; every other MLS team has been able to up to this point.  But what if we draw or, god help us, lose to Toronto?  Even if you are a Nowak apologist, you honestly think that the season won’t pretty much be going down the drain at that point? A sports saying loosely goes, “Good teams beat other good teams and crush bad ones.”

I think right now we can agree the Union aren’t playing like a “good” team so the best we can hope for at the moment is merely “beating” a bad one.

Now, draw or loss against Toronto, I’m not stopping my support, I’ll still cheer, still clap, still hope for goals, but deep down I’ll know that the Union aren’t going anywhere this year.  It HURTS me to say that because I KNOW that this team is capable of so much more.

I hold the player accountable for consistent play.  I hold the coaching staff accountable for how they play those players and even if they should play some of them.  This rotating of players in various positions has the team looking disjointed.  Other than the New York game, the Union attack has looked anemic all season.

I’ve said this before and I do mean it, if Nowak and the team prove me wrong and make the playoffs, I will gladly write up an article explaining how wrong I was.  Hell, I admit to being wrong about Veljko Paunović to this day, I thought that the guy was washed up and he showed quite a bit of skill in the time he was here.  I’m perfectly willing to admit to being wrong.  But, if we can’t get 3 points against Toronto, I fear that the hole that has been dug will be far too deep to climb out of, no matter who the team brings in during the summer transfer window.

I don’t want to sound defeatist about this season, but the team would need an absolute miraculous run in order to snag a playoff spot and given how improved some teams in the East have gotten, I just don’t see it happening.

– Matt Reppert (@MatthewReppert)

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About Section133

A Group for Supporters of the Philadelphia Union in PPL Park section 133. Our Purpose is to Defend Section 133 from the AWAY Supporters of ALL other MLS Clubs.
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6 Responses to Matt Reppert: Teetering On The Drop-Off

  1. Bud DeRobertis says:

    I agree.

  2. rustnroll says:

    this should be a must read for the Union front office.

  3. Dorian Gray 133 Founder says:

    OK, serious question. So you say even with a loss or draw you’ll still support the club. Does this mean there’s nothing that can happen that will cause you to say “fuck it” and spend your money elsewhere? I suppose that the other Philly teams are one thing. They have traditions going back decades (in the case on the Phillies back to the 19th century). They have championships, play-off runs, hall of famers, retired numbers. The Union have 2 1/2 years of an at best sketchy history. What’s the attraction? I mean for me it was the idea of being a supporter at the beginning and having a club and a home ground I could call mine. I was admittedly deluded. So with no history, a front office with a poor track record and horrendous football (not just Union but MLS in general), what’s the draw?

    • Matt Reppert says:

      I feel “closer” to the players, I support the players and the team. However, it pains me to see the team being underutilized as it is. I’ve never been a “fairweather fan” I’ve supported the Philly teams I love, no matter how shitty they’ve been. The Eagles and Phillies have borne the brunt of my love throughout the years. Both organizations have sucked for most of my life but I still love and support them despite that. The Union fall within that and perhaps receive more of my support because I was there “at the beginning.”

  4. Chris says:

    Well done. I’ve been wondering that exact thing re: Nowak and the All Star game. And if the MLS side beats Chelsea, he’s definitely set for the rest of the season.

  5. Steve L. says:

    I agree with the players under performing in general, the fact that we have forwards who don’t shoot the ball, let alone shoot the ball on target is discouraging. but I feel like we have been complaining about the same things since the beginning, and the one constant is our coaching staff, the team look unprepared and disjointed every game(the RBNY game disclosed), and to me that seems like a coaching issue. If I felt like we had no talent on the team and the staff was doing the best with what they have then I would give them a pass, but I feel like we have plenty of talent and yet week after week they look like 6 year olds just running around with no idea as to where they should be or what they should be doing, and also the constant line up shifts and players playing in unfamiliar positions adds to all of this, and yet again I put all of this at the feet of our coaching staff and front office. Now this is just my opinion, but it seems that others have the same one and those voices are getting louder. Don’t call me a fair weather fan, I have season tix, I’m even going to the USOC game on tuesday(mainly because I figure the young guns will actually get playing time and they always seem to look good) but as you wrote in the article, the seats are starting to look empty, and you can feel it talking to the fans around you that the general mood in the stadium is not a good one.

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