As the 2015 season approaches its end for the Union, the Union have several key decisions to make before gearing up for the 2016 season. First—what to do with forward Fernando Aristeguieta and center defender Steven Vitoria? Both played the 2015 season on loan from European clubs. The Union have the option to buy either or both players, but should they? Given the injuries to both players this season, it is safe to say that Jim Curtin and the Union have not seen enough of either player in this season to warrant the $350,000 and $400,000 respective salaries, much less the transfer fees each would demand. Analyzing each player’s season can help reveal whether their presence has had a positive impact on the Union this season and what the team should look for in the last few matches to better decide on the players’ futures with the team.
Fernando Aristeguieta joined the Union this past February from FC Nantes in France. Fernando, the 23-year-old Venezuelan international, came in as a young Designated Player and was immediately slotted in as the team’s new striker. While the Union struggled out of the gate, the team’s new striker proved to be a bright spot notching three goals in the first month of play. Since then he has struggled with injury and has fallen behind CJ Sapong who had a red hot beginning of summer. Fernando has been seeing minutes off the bench and is making an impact, but is a bench player really worth $350,000 a year and a DP Spot? Hopefully over the next few weeks Fernando will see an increase in playing time. Many are calling for a partnership up top between Sapong and Aristeguieta which has proved fruitful in limited minutes together.
If anything, it is obvious that Fernando enjoys playing here and with this team. The iconic picture of him and McCarthy celebrating following the U.S. Open Cup win says it all. Fernando has dedicated himself to the Union and Jim Curtin’s scheme. He wants to be here. He helped push for an extension to his loan back in July. If Fernando can produce at the level he showed he could produce before his injury, I think a permanent transfer from FC Nantes would be beneficial for both the 23-year-old striker and for the Union, perhaps at a lower price if he cannot crack the starting lineup.
Steven Vitoria, on the other hand, is a different story. Coming in as the successor to a departed Carlos Valdes, Vitoria was supposed to solidify the back line for the Union that has been so porous the last few years. Coming in as an unused sub from Benfica, Vitoria came down the Union in search of playing time, perhaps seeking a future call-up to the Canadian National Team. After a disappointing start to the season for both player and club, Vitoria also went down to injury and was out several months. What looked to be only a minor injury ended up taking several months to fully heal, leading many to doubt Vitoria’s commitment to the team during down times. Since coming back and replacing a now injured Edu, Vitoria has been playing better partnered with Richie Marquez, most recently resulting in Vitoria’s nomination for MLS Team of the Week after his performance against San Jose.
But is Vitoria the right fit for a Union team that so desperately needs a start on defense? This season the Union have used 4 different players at center back: Vitoria, Richie Marquez, Ethan White and Maurice Edu. Statistically speaking, Vitoria is the best of the bunch when he is played at right center back (the worst at left center back, 1.889) with a 1.5 GA/ 90. Richie Marquez is second at 1.583 GA/90. White and Edu are at 1.636 and 1.833 at right center back (Edu is at 1.75). Based on the numbers, Marquez at left center back and Vitoria at right center back yields the least goals.
What is interesting though is that the Union have shutout opponents twice this season. The starting center backs in those games were Edu and White (against D.C. May 17) and Marquez and White (against RBNY on May 24). This suggests that White is the probably the Union’s best center back. But that is not necessarily the case. Looking at the team’s worst defensive outings, the beginning of the season and against the LA Galaxy on June 20, Vitoria and White allowed 5 goals, and Marquez and Edu allowed 5 goals together. From a partnership perspective, it appears the Marquez and Vitoria work well together and White and Edu work well together. That also means that Vitoria and White should not play together, and Edu and Marquez should not play together. This makes sense for Edu and White who played together extensively in 2014.
But Edu is a center midfielder by trade and not a center back. He is probably better playing there going forward as an aging Brian Carroll, while playing like a younger version of himself this year, cannot play forever. A center defensive midfield of Edu, to shield the defense and Nogueira, to utilize his passing prowess to start the offense, could be just what the Union is looking for on both sides.
My suggestion is to utilize the partnerships. Over the next few weeks, continue to start Marquez and Vitoria together, with Edu and White coming in together if one of the former two is out. If Marquez and Vitoria continue to work well together and lower the goals against average closer to 1, purchasing Vitoria may be a smart move for the Union on the field. $400,000 is unusually high for an unproven defender though so would only purchase him for a lower price. In addition, I want to see more from Vitoria in terms of his investment in the team. His unwillingness to return to the field and frustrated body language on it does not show that he has bought into the system. As a player making almost DP-caliber money, we need a star defender who will give it all for the team.
My prediction for what will happen? Both Fernando and Vitoria will play well over the next few weeks, but the Union still miss the playoffs. The Union front office will then have a tough decision to make. I predict the Union will buy both from their respective clubs or neither and begin the search anew. At this point, I’d rather buy both and give this team some consistency for the future.