Philadelphia Union acquired a second round pick from Orlando City as part of the deal that sent Amobi Okugo south. That pick turned into defender Tony Alfaro, but the Union had already dealt it away in exchange for Warren Creavalle, and it's safe to say they don't regret the decision. Creavalle hasn't played over 700 minutes in a season since 2016, but, tellingly, it would be impossible to find somebody in the Union locker room that doesn't want Creavalle in there with them.
Creavalle's biggest moment was a start in the Union's playoff matchup with NYCFC. Sitting in front of the defense, he tried to provide more freedom for Haris Medunjanin to step forward while offering greater protection to the defense. New York City, though was not to be denied, and Creavalle was subbed off as Philly sought to climb back into the contest. This disappointing conclusion to the season, however, cannot overshadow the Guyana international's enormous contributions that helped the Union get to the point where they could contend for the postseason.
The first huge moment for Creavalle came in Atlanta. Ale Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin were sent off, and the Union were facing the MLS Cup favorites not only down two men but down two of their veteran leaders. Jim Curtin turned to Creavalle. Over the remaining 70 minutes, Atlanta predictably dominated the ball. But Philly never backed down or looked broken, only overwhelmed numerically. The feeling among the players after that match was not one of resignation, but one of pride. They had made life incredibly difficult for the Five Stripes' expensively assembled squad, and Creavalle even emerged with an assist. It was a match -- and the start of a run of games - in which the team could have folded, but, playing alone in midfield, Creavalle wouldn't let that happen.
The second big moment came against Sporting Kansas City. Again, it was Creavalle and one of the best teams in the league going head to head, but Philly's midfielder rose to the occasion. As part of a dual pivot with Derrick Jones, he held KC scoreless and nabbed three points that would propel the Union to the playoffs.
Pointing to standout games on the pitch, though, elides the most important role Warren Creavalle has had with the Union over his four seasons in blue and gold. Creavalle is a training machine; he dominates in small spaces with incredibly quick reflexes and long, rangy limbs. In fact, if you had to choose one Union player to try and stop Ilsinho in a 1v1 situation -- you should probably point to Creavalle. That combination of intensity, tight-space domination, and willingness to put the team first is symbolic of the Union's culture in 2018. Ernst Tanner recognizes that developing a strong culture and creating a roster of players that embody the attributes the club wants to elevate as their own is critical to becoming a consistently successful side.
Creavalle is out of contract this offseason. The Union could still bring him back, or he could take the next step in his career elsewhere. If the former occurs, it will happen because the club recognizes that Creavalle is a quiet but key piece of a roster that weathered a lot of emotional highs and lows in 2018. If the latter is the final outcome, the club will certainly lose a big part of their behind-the-scenes identity, and they will look to replace the kind of quiet leadership that is born from earned respect.
Blue collar, Philly Tough -- these are phrases that lose a bit of meaning from the breadth of their use. But you can find that meaning again in Warren Creavalle. His true toughness is the mental kind that turns a talented roster into one that can push through adversity, and he helped the Union do just that last season.