ONE GAME REMAINS in what has been a whirlwind first campaign for the Union, but the technical staff already has begun the process of how it can improve next year. Words like "salary cap" and "option year" are already circulating within the offices of manager Peter Nowak and assistant John Hackworth. In the immediate future, they will have the arduous task of deciding which 11 players to protect and who will go to the wolves on Nov. 24 when expansion clubs Portland and Vancouver have their pick of the rest in the MLS Expansion Draft.
The technical staffs of the league's 16 teams must protect 11 guys, and the draftee then can select one player from each team to a total of 10. Once a player from the unprotected list has been chosen, that team is eliminated from the draft and can not lose any more players.
Sounds easy enough, right?
This year, the rosters of the unprotected don't have to be submitted to MLS until 2 days after the Nov. 21 MLS Cup in Toronto.
"We have already gone through the process in two parts," Hackworth said. "The first is where we protect our 11 guys and then we mock draft who Portland and Vancouver will take based on what's left. It's similar to what Peter [Nowak] and I went through last year when we were making the picks, but it's one of those things where we take a look at a player's age, salary, contract and factor all that to try and make an educated guess."
The tough part for a young team like the Union is the possibility that two players who finally have been able to be a part of the dynamic will travel across the country to redevelop that continuity with a new team.
"We are trying to be mindful of that," Hackworth said. "It's tough because you just got your team together, but it's also tough because we know that with some of the contracts, and [smaller] salaries that a lot of our guys are attractive and if you are a coach on the other side you are licking your chops."
Much like the Union was when Sebastien Le Toux landed on the unprotected list of a Seattle team overloaded with quality forwards. In just a year, the 26-year-old Frenchman went from a situational attacker to the face of the Union, scoring a team-high 13 goals, 11 assists and in the running for league MVP.
"I feel for a lot of these guys because I know what that feels like," said Le Toux, who confessed to the knowledge that he is on Nowak's "keeper" list. "I had a good run in Seattle but I am glad that I got the chance to come to Philadelphia and prove myself. It would have been nicer if we could have had the success I was able to be a part of [in Seattle's expansion year last season], but I know we are going to be a lot stronger next year and I am excited to be a part of it."
The Union will end the 2010 MLS campaign tomorrow. The conclusion of this season automatically begins preparation for Year 2, in which changes will be made to improve a team that showed it can compete with the rest of the league.
"Any time you start looking at who you would protect from the expansion roster you are already thinking about next season," Hackworth said. "When you are evaluating individual contracts, potential free agents and option years, those are all discussions we are having right now and it leads you into the bigger picture."
As far as the ever-elusive "designated player" is concerned, Hackworth said the idea is still, for now, just that.
"Sure, absolutely we are evaluating that option," said Hackworth. "But Peter and I have said it all along that if you invest that kind of money they better upgrade your team in a huge way and historically that hasn't happened in MLS. A lot of clubs have invested in a DP and they haven't gotten a return out of it. So we want to try and make sure that if we have the opportunity to get a DP he comes in and really elevates both our level of play, leadership. We don't want some old guy looking to retire in MLS, that's not the direction this league should be going."
SHOTS ON GOAL
UPCOMING GAME: Union (8-14-7, 31 points) at Columbus (13-8-8, 47 points)
When: Sunday, 4 o'clock
Where: Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: 6.2 ABC (Live Well Network)
On the web: Streaming video at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: The Union will try to close out the season with a winning streak after a 2-1 win at home over Red Bull New York last Saturday . . . Despite some late-game heroics last weekend from goalkeeper William Hesmer to salvage a 2-2 tie against Toronto FC, the Crew is looking to break a six-game winless streak (0-3-3). . . . Hesmer (1.14 goals against average) became just the second goalie in MLS history to score a goal from the run of play. Ex-RBNY keeper Danny Cepero (Penn grad) scored the first (against Columbus) on Oct. 18, 2008.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
COLUMBUS: Questionable: Steven Lenhart, FW (illness). Probable: Frankie Hejduk, DF (illness); Danny O'Rourke, MF (back spasms)
UNION: Probable: Brad Knighton, GK (left shoulder sprain); Danny Mwanga, FW (left shoulder sprain); Alejandro Moreno, FW (right knee contusion)
DID YOU KNOW?
Sebastien Le Toux is the second player in MLS with double figures in both goals (13) and assists (11) this season. Seattle's Fredy Montero has 10 goials and 10 assists.
HE SAID IT: "I know my goals, I know where I want to end up and I am not there yet. I have a lot of work to do and there is a lot of room for improvement." - Union forward Danny Mwanga, on how he stays humble amid MLS Rookie of the Year talk.
TRIVIA TIME Which Brazilian is attributed to the advent of the bicycle kick?
By Jamie Clary, author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book, available at:
Answer will appear next week. Congrats to Adam Dvorin of Philadelphia who correctly answered Ron Newman as the coach with the most professional victories in the United States.