LEAVE IT TO THE Union technical staff to double as bombardiers.
At 2:45 p.m. yesterday, the club sent out a news release that sure-footed defender Jordan Harvey had been traded to Vancouver for allocation money.
Initially, the trade came as a shocker to everyone. Especially to Harvey, who told Vancouver radio TEAM (1410-AM) that he found out late Wednesday night the trade might happen, but that it wasn't confirmed until late yesterday morning.
But Harvey also told the station that from what he'd ascertained, "At the end of the day, Philly got some kind of offer that they couldn't refuse."
Currently, the Union is seated second in Major League Soccer's allocation order, behind Chivas USA.
Manager Peter Nowak didn't respond to messages asking for a comment, but a Union spokesperson said that Nowak plans to address it following tomorrow's match at San Jose and in his subsequent weekly news conference next Wednesday.
It's smug, but it doesn't come as a shocker. After all, this is the same Nowak who shrugged off questions about the nonrenewal of defender Michael Orozco Fiscal's loan deal. The same Nowak who was noncommittal about why he left Shea Salinas unprotected in this year's expansion draft after Salinas said he was told by the technical staff that he was safe. He, too, wound up in Vancouver.
But is there a method to Nowak's obvious madness?
When Harvey said the Union received an offer it couldn't refuse, it turned on my incandescent lightbulb: What if the Union is preparing to announce a blockbuster signing, say, a player named Jonathan Spector, perhaps?
Now this is pure speculation, but Spector, 25, is out of contract, released by English club West Ham after the English Premier League season wrapped. Though a rightfooted player, Spector has been known to play anywhere along the back line, especially for the U.S. national team. He spent time within the Chicago Fire reserve system in 2003 (Nowak played there from 1998-2002) and attended U.S. residency camp in Bradenton, Fla. (2002-03). Union assistant John Hackworth was director at Bradenton from 2004-07.
They know Spector and Spector knows them.
As far as Harvey, sure his loss is a sin. He played in every match but one since joining the Union as an original in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft. He came cheap, too, collecting a base of just $61,875 this season. Union supporters flocked to Twitter expressing their discontent and for a while Harvey's Twitter handle was trending hard in the Philadelphia region.
But to improve, you have to upgrade, and it's hard to argue that Spector would not be a major one.
HUNTED BECOMING THE HUNTER
Despite having Columbus on its heels and New York looking down from above, in terms of pole position, the Union is perhaps one of the luckiest teams in Major League Soccer.
Lucky, because a consistent defense over the course of 17 league matches has allowed the club to sit at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, falling to the second spot just a handful of times thanks, in part, to a pesky Red Bull corps that mimics a fly you can't swat.
Lucky, because despite all of its immense firepower, that same Red Bull New York contingent can't find any consistency. Red Bull took first place by just one point by virtue of a 5-0 thrashing of Toronto FC on Wednesday night, but with even a tie against San Jose and a New York loss to D.C. United on short rest this weekend, the Union will take over first place yet again thanks to goal differential.
As the second half of the regular season kicks off for the Union out West, it's still evident that a set starting 11 is not in place. Each week, Peter Nowak "shuffles the deck,'' as he put it after the scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City, to find cohesion along the front. About the only constant is a defense that has allowed 16 goals, the third lowest total in the league. Faryd Mondragon is still giving up less than a goal a game (0.94) and is in the top five keepers in shutouts with five.
"I think the last two games against [Chivas USA and D.C. United] have shown that if we start to play to our ability, to our level, that we can move forward and score goals and we can defend as well,'' Nowak said. "Going on the road, you can't have those kind of moments where there is a lapse in concentration. That's my message for this team, especially after the last match [2-2 tie at D.C. United], because if you go on the road and score two goals, you should win the game."
What has been consistent?
How about the pairing of defensive midfielders Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll. Or Justin Mapp's control of the midfield from the flanks. Don't forget Danny Mwanga running at defenders up top and even Carlos Ruiz' newfound vigor, post-CONCACAF Gold Cup.
But mostly, the fact is that the Union competes in a perennially weaker conference. Sure, the Union may rule the roost in the East, but this club would be tied for fourth in the West, battling for a playoff spot. And what if the MLS ran on a single-table format? Look at the standings, even though Nowak doesn't, and see for yourself where this team would rank.
"We are not really looking at the standings, because the more you look at the standings, the more you shift your focus to something that is not really important," Nowak said.
ODDS AND ENDLINES
Shea Salinas said that he spoke with Jordan Harvey shortly after he found out about the trade. A baffled Salinas said, "[Harvey] played every minute of almost every game; it's shocking that Philly would let him go. I can only guess that Peter is confident in the guys that are backing up Jordan. I talked to [Harvey] and he's coming into town Sunday. I plan to show him some places downtown because he likes the downtown area." Salinas also said, "Look, I can't really speak for him, but he was definitely shocked and I don't know if he saw it coming. Again, I can't speak for Jordan, but there were definitely a mix of emotions. We don't have a whole lot of MLS experience on our team so his experience in the league is vital and I look forward to hanging with him again" . . . Where-they-are-now update: Former goalkeeper Brad Knighton is the hottest goalkeeper in the NASL. Knighton, who plays for Carolina, leads the league in goals-against average (0.82) and shutouts (five). With Knighton in goal, the Railhawks have a 12-1-1 record, are winners of 10 straight and haven't lost in 13 straight, since their season opener. *
SHOTS ON GOAL
Upcoming game: Union (7-4-6, 27 points) at San Jose (5-6-6, 21 points)
When: Tomorrow, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: The Union will either find a dejected San Jose or one intent on getting back on track when it travels to Buck Shaw to take on the Earthquakes. San Jose will host the Union on short rest following a 2-0 loss at Chivas USA Wednesday night. The result also meant the loss of goal-scoring threat Steven Lenhart (five goals, two assists), who will miss tomorrow's match due to yellow-card accumulation. Lenhart picked up his second caution in the 60th minute . . . However, San Jose still boasts a scoring threat in Chris Wondolowski, who was top scorer in the league last season and is at it again, leading the Earthquakes with six goals . . . Peter Nowak on Wondolowski: "Chris was included on the [U.S. national team] Gold Cup roster for a reason, he has been scoring really good goals as of late. We have to see what we can do to shut it down" . . . Penn Charter alum Bobby Convey is out for this match with a knee contusion. Convey hasn't played since a June 25 match against Los Angeles . . . The Union is in second place, though tied with Columbus on points thanks to goal differential.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Doubtful for the Union: Veljko Paunovic, MF (left hip strain). Probable: Danny Califf, DF (rib strain).
Out for San Jose: Bobby Convey, MF (left knee contusion); Andre Luiz, MF (left knee injury); Ike Opara, DF (left foot injury)
DID YOU KNOW?
Bobby Convey just can't catch a break from the injury bug. Convey has battled injuries for much of his career. Same can be said for fellow alum Chris Albright, midfielder for Red Bull New York, who returned to full practice just last week after intense rehab following major knee surgery earlier this year.