Philadelphia finding you don’t need to buy good goalkeeping

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If I had written a story about the Philadelphia Union a week ago, I might have rightly considered them the worst team in Major League Soccer. However, a victory and a draw over New York City F.C. has at least bandaged some wounds. But a team in 2014 that had a playoff position in their grasp still has some major questions.

The strange thing is, the squad based in Chester, PA could actually have the talent to compete for MLS Cup, at least by my estimation. Depth is certainly an issue, but there are some excellent players in Philly’s squad.

But with all that, there was a wrench in the Union works up until recently.

The Union thought they were buying a proven leader last summer as they lined up Algerian goalkeeper (and World Cup veteran) Rais M’Bolhi to take up between the posts. In the grander picture, it became a move that still provides punch line after punch line for pundits around MLS. Not only was M’Bolhi a big ticket item, he was a big ticket item at a position of abundance in the United States – and on the Union.

M’Bolhi came in and supplanted Zac MacMath, a 2011 first round SuperDraft pick, and also vaulted Andre Blake, the first pick overall in 2014. While the SuperDraft isn’t the quickest or most reliable way to add quality to your side, early picks often provide the best chances to gain solid achievers in the league. Few teams spend early draft picks on goalkeepers anymore, let alone two in four seasons.

I doubt it needs much explanation on how illogical it would then be to trump both of those investments at that position on a high priced Designated Player. Add it up, and that comes to three resources a team can use to develop its quality, or at the very least, its depth.

Certainly the estimated $500,000 salary is the most glaring, and M’Bolhi’s performances and attitude have done nothing to justify that costly maneuver. A major gaffe in the fall of 2014 cost the Union a shot at making the playoffs. Finally after a disappointing loss to Sporting Kansas City two weeks ago, Head Coach Jim Curtin pulled the plug.

The real irony is that John McCarthy, the Union’s goalkeeper in both Saturday’s 1-0 victory and tonight’s 1-1 draw against NYCFC, likely earns around the league minimum (salary numbers should be released by the MLS Players Union in May). He was the Goalkeeper of the Year in USL for the Rochester Rhinos last year, but theoretically was available for a song to all 20 teams for 2015.

So after a coveted Designated Player slot and two high SuperDraft picks, the Union got by with a guy they could have signed for little.

That’s not to say that McCarthy is going to be the next US international star goalkeeper – Andre Blake ought to be starting when he returns to fitness. But maybe the philosophy that thinks spending precious resources on the goalkeeper position is finally quieted (cough Nick Sakiewicz cough).

If not, maybe in the future they’ll at least try not to use them all in the span of a four-year period.

 

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