The 2015 season has been a roller coaster ride for Union fans as the team picked up steam in May and June after an abysmal start to the season. With the Union beginning to push for a playoff spot and making another run at the U.S. Open Cup, many fans expected the Union to utilize the summer transfer window to add some needed talent and drop some dead weight for the team. Let’s first look at the Union’s needs heading into the summer transfer window:
The Union entered the 2015 season with what they thought were two of the best wingers in the league in Andrew Wenger, a former number 1 overall pick out of Duke, and club legend Sebastian Le Toux who is only a year removed from a 12 goal season and two years removed from a 12 assist season. Wenger seemed to make the left wing spot his own at the end of the 2014 season as took defenders head on and made chances for himself and others. Le Toux, although a year old, is recognized as being one of the faster players in the league. But as 2015 began neither one lived up to expectations, Wenger seemed to have lost the confidence he had built up the year before and Le Toux proved ineffective as he had lost a step of his sped. Offseason trialist, 18-year old Eric Ayuk outperformed both of them at times but even with Ayuk and his raw, undisciplined style playing one wing, the Union still needed a veteran winger who could create chances for strikers CJ Sapong, Fernando Aristeguieta and center attacking midfielder Cristian Maidana.
Center Defenders/ Center Defensive Midfielder:
The Union have had a hard time solidifying their center defense since the days of Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes who led the 2011 Union team to its first and only playoff berth. In 2014, a revolving door of converted center midfielders and castoffs from other teams comprised the Union center defense which allowed 51 goals. The Union came into the 2015 determined to not let that happen again and signed Steven Vitoria on loan from Benfica in Portugal. Vitoria was supposed to be the rock that kept the defense together but he soon went down to injury. With no other real defensive threats to replace him, the Union decided to push Maurice Edu back from his natural position of center defensive midfielder to center back to cover for the inadequacies of Ethan White and eventually Richie Marquez. This worked for a time but left a gapping whole in the center midfield that was filled by 34-year-old Brian Carroll. Carroll has performed admirably given his age but lacks the speed and skills that he used to have to help shield the defensive line from opponents. With Vitoria on the trainer’s table, the Union’s defense really began to suffer like it did in 2015. The Union currently sit last in the league and much of that has to do with a league worst 40 goals allowed. The Union’s chief need is to consistently play players in their natural position while having quality depth to fill in when need be without hurting the team in other areas.
The Union began the 2015 season with the much maligned but improving young 25 year old fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams. Although both were naturally right backs, Gaddis converted to left back so Williams could be on the right side. Gaddis had been rapidly improving over the last few seasons and played very well at right back when Williams was hurt. When Gaddis moved to right back, 2013 signee, 30-year-old Fabinho started at left back. Fabinho has been extremely inconsistent since he signed with Union and tended to be a liability defensively. In Williams absence in 2015 though, Fabinho strung together a few solid games giving Union fans hope that they finally had answers and depth at both left and right back. Head coach Jim Curtin decided Gaddis should start full time over Williams at right back and decided to leave Fabinho at left back, leaving Williams to back up both positions. The only other fullback on the roster was rookie draft pick Raymond Lee who didn’t appear to be ready to play professional soccer when forced to play against Sporting Kansas City back in April but with 3 starting quality fullbacks, that didn’t seem to be a worry.
During the 2015 season, both CJ Sapong and Fernando Aristeguieta have performed very well up top of the Union formation. Aristeguieta was leading the team in goals with 3 before his injury and CJ had a red hot June and is now up to 7 goals on the year. The problem with those two is they essentially are the same type of striker, bigger and more physical. The Union were missing their Jack McInerney type player (who they traded away in 2014 and now is in Columbus) who could sprint past defenders and poach goals.
Transfer Rais M’Bolhi/ decide on a keeper:
The Union have been without a quality starting goalkeeper since Columbian International Faryd Mondragon left at the end of 2011. In 2014, they had Zac MacMath and first overall draft pick Andre Blake on the roster. Zac was having a breakout year in between the posts and at 22 years old began to show for the first time he could be the goalkeeper of the future. Then during the World Cup, Algerian International Rais M’Bolhi had a fantastic game against eventual World Cup Winners, Germany recording 11 saves against the best team in the world. The Union swooped in to try to sign a top level goalkeeper in hopes that he would solve their defensive problems. Now in 2015, after car crashes, visa issues, Zac MacMath getting loaned to Colorado, disputes with his teammates, and generally very poor play, Rais M’Bolhi has essentially been kicked off the team. He hasn’t even been in the United States since April. But the first chance the Union could remove his $350,000 salary from their books was the summer transfer window. In his wake, M’Bolhi left a hurt Andre Blake, recently signed Philadelphia native John McCarthy and loaned Brian Sylvestre none of whom have been able to lock down the position for themselves.
Now that we have looked at what needs the Union had entering the 2015 summer transfer window, we can now look at what moves they made in the transfer window and whether it filled the needs of the team as they push for a trophy this season. Check back tomorrow as I breakdown the Union’s recent signings