PBPP: Week of surprises changes face of the Union
A 48-hour period that began on Monday has certainly changed the face of the Philadelphia Union for the present and the future. In many respects, the future is now for Philadelphia. Gone are number one goalkeeper and captain Faryd Mondragon, and the Union's top scorer and most popular player over the club's first two seasons, Sebastien Le Toux.
Let's take at look at the two moves and what it means:
Mondragon was an All-Star in 2010, and to me, the main reason why the defense was so improved from year one to year two. His reading of the game, along with his communication skills, helped him to post a 1.06 goals against average and seven shutouts in helping the Union get to the playoffs.
The Union announced that they mutually decided to let Mondragon return to his native Colombia to play for his original team, Deportivo Cali. Citing family reasons, Mondragon wanted to return home. Mondragon was a difference-maker, especially in the early going for Philly. No doubt, his guidance and mere presence were major factors in young backup Zac MacMath's successful rookie season.
Now in 2012, perhaps a year before they wanted to, the Union will annoint MacMath as the number one goalkeeper. While he could have benefitted from another year as a backup, many feel he is ready to assume the goalkeeper throne.
MacMath's stats -- 1.07 goals against average (3-0-4) -- in his rookie year were comparable to Mondragon's, and for sure his play down the stretch helped to carry the team into the playoffs. Prior to his insertion in goal after the Mondragon injury, the club had been winless in six. Under MacMath, they went unbeaten in seven, playing some of their best soccer down the stretch. He played with the confidence of a number one GK.
It's important now for Philadelphia to acquire a veteran backup goalkeeper. They will need someone who can push MacMath at training, as well as help him to become a better goalkeeper. In addition, this veteran may need to play a half dozen games or so if the USA qualifies for the Olympics and takes young Zac with them to London. MacMath had a very good rookie season, giving Union coaches and fans plenty of optimism in terms of their goalkeeping future. As stated earlier, that future starts now.
In the other major news, on Tuesday, the Union traded their all-time scoring leader Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver for allocation money.
With 25 goals and 20 assists in two years, Sebastien represented a significant portion of the Union offense. I enjoyed watching him play and am sorry to see him depart. On the other hand, this trade does other things for the team. The money received from the Whitecaps enabled the team to complete the transfer of 20-year-old playmaking midfielder Roger Torres from America de Cali. Additional money is expected to go to Sheanon Williams, who deserves a bump in pay. Still, there is more money available to go to future signings, including Colombian striker Lionard Pajoy, who has been rumored to be Philly-bound.
In addition, the club now has more playing time available for Danny Mwanga and newcomer Josue Martinez. Mwanga has to step up big in year three as this trade opens up a huge door for him. For depth you also have Jack McInerney and top draft choice Chandler Hoffman. Le Toux wanted to play up top in a 4-4-2, which was good for him, but it also limited the offense in other ways. This trade will also give manager Peter Nowak more flexibility with his formation and a chance to create more offensive balance on the squad.
To call this an interesting week for the Union would be a gross understatement. Two huge moves were made, followed by the Kyle Nakazawa deal to the LA Galaxy that gave the Union another international spot on their roster. The fans are talking about the changes, and will continue to do so as the Union get ready to head to Orlando, Florida, where training camp continues. Most of the fan reaction to the Le Toux trade has been negative, which comes as no surprise to anyone. Union fans have seen their star player exit without seeing the full tangible return.
All this talk is healthy. Whether you liked the week's transactions or didn't, Union fans have plenty of passion, and that's a great thing. It's one of the many reasons why this is one of the best franchises in Major League Soccer. It's great that you care. There are other MLS franchises who have lost a star player, and the reaction was more of apathy than anything else. That's not the case in Philadelphia.
The time to judge this week's moves is not now, nor is it in the preseason. The end of the season is a better barometer in terms of knowing how the transactions of this past week worked out.
I can't wait for the season to begin.