(Published on Jan. 28, 2015 in The Philly Soccer Page)
I learned this lesson from a book I read some years ago, a book purchased in part because of the large, friendly letters on the book cover that said, “DON’T PANIC,” and in part because it was on sale at a slightly lower price than its rather encyclopedic competitor.
(I also learned to carry a towel, of course, because a towel is one of the most useful things for anyone who finds himself in a difficult situation, for a variety of reasons ranging from esoteric to absolutely logical and which will not be laid out here, lest you forget your purpose for arriving at this page.)
This lesson would be well-served for anyone following Philadelphia Union, including those people who run Philadelphia Union (although one could easily make the argument that the latter collection of individuals should have begun panicking long ago — and maybe they did).
After all, you can always save your panicking for later, once all doubt has been removed about the horrible fate that is about to confront you, and you can fully let loose without any concern that someone will say you are panicking too early.
Why you might be panicking
So let’s consider the premise of panicking now, if you are a Philadelphia Union fan.
Preseason has started. You see cellar-dweller clubs Montreal and Chicago making quality signing after quality signing. New England is lining up Juan Agudelo for an attack so talented that Diego Fagundez spent much of last season’s second half on the bench. Orlando and NYC FC are building pretty interesting rosters. True, you have no idea what to make of the New York Red Bulls, other than that Mike Petke is so much cooler than Ali Curtis and that the team needs to be sold. But then you remember the Columbus Crew made a bunch of quality signings in November and later robbed Colorado of Chris Klute, so you’re worried again. Then there’s Toronto, who seem to be evolving beyond the “throw lots of money at big names” phase into the “throw lots of money at potentially great and complimentary players in their prime and then build an actual team around them” phase. Plus, D.C. United is better than you.
Meanwhile, your team — that would be Philadelphia — has made few signings, none of which is the big signing you’ve been led to believe that your team needs (a top-tier striker or starter-quality, true left back), and you still have no idea who will start at either center back position or defensive midfield. (Maurice Edu will start somewhere, to be sure.)
It’s about now that perhaps you recall the poor track record of MLS signings who do not join teams until long after training camp was over, and you begin devising a list that includes all sorts of big and famous names like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and other less famous and rather smaller names that you don’t include on the list because you forgot them after they got cut.
Alas. That’s actually a rather convincing case to panic, isn’t it?
You can always panic later
No. You have time. As one smart fan put it, you can still panic later.
Because you remember that your club still has players named Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana manning the midfield, flanked by two other players named Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux, and all four of these players demonstrated last season that they can be among the league’s best in their roles when healthy and deployed in the right spots.
Your team also has two good right backs, although you are still faced with the conundrum that, despite Philadelphia’s best efforts to the contrary, a team only deploys one player at a time in this right back position. It is rather much like a soccer team only deploys one goalkeeper at a time, although in Philadelphia, this last point is fairly up for question.
And, believe it or not, your team does have some potentially impressive talent at center back, provided that Austin Berry has suitably armed himself with an effective towel and a suit of armor to protect from every injury possible and Richie Marquez can take the next step from minor league stud to major league pro. There’s also that guy named Ethan White, who played fairly well last year but has, sadly, a tendency to (yes) panic with the ball at his feet.
But … goals?
But what striker will score the goals?
Now is when you come back to that decision over whether to panic or not.
You look down in front of you and see a big, red button that looks something like this:
Do you press it?
Right now, you must have faith in Conor Casey, who has scored an impressive 18 goals the last two years but just three of them on dates before May 31 or after Sept. 6, a pattern that resembles an old car entirely too much: He takes a while to get started, hums along perfectly once he gets in gear, and then breaks down after being driven too much. Similarly, one must believe in C.J. Sapong, a talented player who nonetheless has never hit double digits in goals for a season. Second round draft pick Dzenan Catic sounds like a potential steal in the draft, but MLS draft picks are such a crapshoot that you might get better odds laying bets on the end of the world — the dolphins know more than they let on, so consult them first — than you would betting on individual MLS draft picks experiencing success in professional soccer.
Even so, these are not bad players.
You might even have a really good goalkeeper.
(Again, don’t panic at the mere mention of the word “goalkeeper.” It’s just a word. The Union don’t plan to sign any more of them. Oh, wait. They do. Still, don’t panic. It’s actually rather rational to have a backup goalkeeper who won’t get called up for international duty — you know, like Zac MacMath, except not Zac MacMath — and if it’s the reigning USL PRO rookie of the year who also happens to be a Philadelphia-area product — that would be LaSalle University’s John McCarthy — then even better, so go ahead, sign him, and please, for the love of God, assign him the jersey number 42.)
Trust, logic, and the question of when to panic
In the end though, it comes down to this:
Do you trust that, when Jim Curtin says that reinforcements are on the way, they actually are?
Here, based on what Union fans are saying lately, the answer seems to be yes and no.
As one fan put it, there’s a trust that Curtin is telling the truth, as he believes it. Curtin seems to lack a filter between his brain and his mouth, which often leads to honest words falling out and which also is exactly how a true Philly guy should be.
Whether the club will actually pull those deals off and sign these players is another matter altogether.
Then again, look at this way:
Carlos Valdes and his ridiculously South American transfer rights situation, which lingers from the Peter Nowak-Diego Gutierrez days like a bad breach-of-contract lawsuit, are probably on their way out on loan again. This is probably a key domino that needs to fall in order to clear salary cap room for another signing.
Once Valdes goes, it should open room for one or two key new arrivals. There is a potentially logical pattern here, regardless of the Union’s track record with logic outside the Hackworth years.
So there is still time. Hit this button instead if you like.