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Union Meeting: Euro star Pires could be headed to team

RUMOR MILLS in professional soccer swirl with the intensity of an F-5 tornado. However, until a press release is in hand, it's easy to dismiss most of them.

Villarreal midfielder Robert Pires' contract is up this summer. (AP Photo / Axel Heimken)
Villarreal midfielder Robert Pires' contract is up this summer. (AP Photo / Axel Heimken)Read more

RUMOR MILLS in professional soccer swirl with the intensity of an F-5 tornado. However, until a press release is in hand, it's easy to dismiss most of them.

In December, for example, there was some buzz that local soccer standout Jeremiah White (Haverford School) would be leaving his Danish side, AGF Aarhus, to join the Union. Hogwash. In fact, White is continuing his career in the United Arab Emirates.

The most recent rumor is that the Major League Soccer intends to add a crop of Euro stars by July's MLS summer transfer window. Believe it or not, this one holds validity.

Big names like Spain's Raul and the French connection of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires lead a group that - albeit aging - still is regarded as top-flight.

Pires is of special interest to the Union. In fact, it is conceivable that Pires, the 36-year-old former Arsenal star and current Villarreal midfielder, could be added to the Union this summer should the Spanish club decide against offering him a new contract. Memed Djemmal, Pires' American agent, told the Daily News that clubs in Germany, England and France also have shown interest.

It was a rumor I initially questioned, given Peter Nowak's initial coachspeak of team effort and team building as opposed to designing a club around one player. A mere mention of the term "designated player," or even "DP" for that matter, is enough to stand the hairs on the back of Nowak's neck.

However, in regard to Pires - who would certainly garner the Union's DP tag - it seems an exception could be made once his 4-year contract with Villarreal ends in June.

"The league [MLS] is definitely interested, there is currently a large number of teams on board and Philadelphia is one of them," Djemmal said. "We were first contacted by the team in February, and there has been back and forth since."

It's customary for MLS clubs to search for their own talent. Teams contact the clubs of players under contract, and can essentially knock on the front door of a free agent. Only when a situation evolves past interest does the MLS step in to formalize an agreement.

"It's a matter of the transfer window in July, but right now, I'd say it's 50-50 at this point [that Pires will join the MLS]," Djemmal said. "He's a big player and a lot of teams are interested."

While Nowak would not say the Union was actively pursuing Pires, he did admit interest on both sides and mentioned the impact "a player like Pires" would have on his team.

"There have been confirmation on both sides, I will go on record with that," Nowak said. "I believe that a player like Pires with a great pedigree and a great background could be a role model for these young players. But I don't like the name designated player, I think the term is artificial. Either you are a good player or a bad player."

Like rapper Flavor Flav, I have never been one to "believe the hype," but this is one tornado that could shred the soccer landscape in Philly right around the time the sod at PPL Park starts to collect divots.

"We want to have players that will help the team regardless of their name, label, whatever," Nowak said. "It's important to us to find the right pieces in the summer that are going to help the team; we want to have a guy with the qualities that we don't have yet. The dynamic of the team will change a little bit, but it won't be attention to only one player. I would never allow that to happen."

Red Bull, no bull

The Union (1-2) has a chance to get to .500 with a win tomorrow over the New York Red Bulls (3-1), currently tops in the Eastern Conference. A revamped team, coaching staff and a pristine, $200 million palace have the Red Bulls flying high.

While most know the prowess of DP forward Juan Pablo Angel, guys like midfielder Joel Lindpere and center back Roy Miller bolster a formidable side under the direction of former Manchester City assistant and Swedish great Hans Backe.

Defender Chris Albright (Penn Charter grad) is still recovering from knee surgery. Midfielder Carl Robinson (ankle sprain) is questionable, as is defender Jeremy Hall (knee sprain), but Hall did muster the strength to bust the chops of Union midfielder Nick Zimmerman. The two became friends during Zimmerman's rookie season in New York last year.

"I was talking with Jeremy [on Tuesday] and he was trash talking a little bit, you know giving it back and forth," Zimmerman said. "I have a lot of good friends there, but this is one of those games you want to win and you'll do anything to win it."

Not a good track record

Before you go swearing off the Union given its 1-2 start, know that MLS expansion teams historically have not gotten off to the best starts. In fact, only Seattle can lay claim to a winning season in its rookie year. Toronto, Chivas USA and even MLS champion Real Salt Lake have started off slow.

Chivas and Real Salt Lake entered the league in 2005. Chivas ended the year 4-22-6 and didn't pick up its first win until its seventh game. RSL celebrated a win in just its third game but finished 5-22-5. Toronto, which went 6-17-7 when it debuted in 2007, didn't earn its first win - or points, for that matter - until a win over Chicago in Week 5.

"We are evolving from week to week and people need to remember that we are an expansion team," Nowak said. "Right now, it's imperative that we beat the teams we are supposed to beat and earn at least a draw against the teams we should lose to. We do that, we'll be fine in the end."

Shots on goal


Union (1-2) at New York Red Bulls (3-1)

When: Tomorrow, 4 o'clock

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

TV: 6.2ABC (Live Well network); Comcast channel 245; Verizon Fios 466

On the Web: Streaming Webcast on

For kicks: New York has gone from the league's worst to one of its finest teams in less than a year. New coach Hans Backe and star forward Juan Pablo Angel have the Red Bulls boasting the best record in the Eastern Conference at 3-1 . . . Tomorrow's contest will be the first of back-to-back games against New York for the Union. The two meet again Tuesday in Harrison for a U.S. Open Cup play-in game.


Probable for the Union: Stefani Miglioranzi, MF (upper leg strain)

Out for the Red Bulls: Chris Albright, DF (knee surgery recovery); Giorgi Chirgadzem MF (hip surgery); Kevin Goldthwaite, DF (adductor surgery recovery); Macoumba Kandji (broken foot). Questionable: Jeremy Hall, DF (left ankle sprain); Carl Robinson, MF (right knee sprain).


What soccer league with teams in Philly and New York started up in 1978, competing with the North American Soccer League for players and media exposure? This new league contributed to the demise of the NASL.

A. Major Indoor Soccer League

B. American Soccer League

C. Major League Soccer

Submitted by Jamie Clary, author of "The First American Soccer Trivia Book," available at:

Send search-engine-free answer to:

First correct response receives a copy of Clary's book. Congrats to Ardmore's Ursula-Nicole McCarrie, who last week correctly answered Bob Rigby as the first soccer player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.