Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the team's many end-of-season roster moves, and what could be to come during the winter. The session lasted for over 45 minutes. As a result, this transcript is long, but it is edited only slightly for clarity.
Earnie Stewart's opening statement:
First, I'll just give a brief overview of the season, how I — we — have looked upon that. Obviously, starting with the 2017 season, one of the main points was building our roster and making that foundation stronger as we have done, and as we started in 2016. For the most part, I can say that the building of the foundation was more from the bottom and from the side, with [Tranquillo] Barnetta leaving and bringing Haris Medunjanin in, and not being in the possibility to sprinkle in [signings] from the top yet. From that part, I think the roster that we had for 2017 was a roster that was better than it was in 2016.
Obviously, when we look at the season, and the start of the season, I think that kind of determines how people look upon a team, as us, the Philadelphia Union. Going into those first eight games and not coming out with a win is a difficult period for each and every one of us within this organization. But I truly believe that part is something that was, when you talk about progress and where we were last year in 2016 — where we got off to a great start, everything was new, and went toward the end of the season and it became a little bit more difficult to handle the stress situations that were there.
The beginning of this season was totally different in that regard, because we were in a stress situation right away. If I see how the technical staff and the team responded after that, after those first eight games [winless], everybody counted us dead and out at that moment. It was asked for change [by fans]. In my view, it was the worst thing that could happen at that moment. I believe I made a couple of statements on that. I don't believe in that. And I think the system-based approach that we had, and that we had put in place in 2016, actually shows how important that is.
You can see that in this 2017 season. We came back from being down and out. A lot of words went on in our locker room area. I think the group responded, the technical staff responded, to what we set out to do. Stress situations are never easy. It comes down to having players do the things that we feel are important, and once we do that, you can see that we can get results at the same time.
Obviously, still disappointing, because in everything you want to win. You want to become MLS champions. And that is more, maybe, ambitious than a realistic goal, but I do feel you have to set the bar as high as possible. Because if you just set it at making the playoffs or anything like that, sometimes you see you make the playoffs and then you go out. So I do believe in setting the bar high, and we'll do that for the 2018 season just as well, because I believe that's very important in getting the best out of everybody.
The end of the season, I would say, when you look back and everything: the same amount of points [as 2016]. From 2016, where we had a goal differential of minus-13, to 2016 where we had a goal differential of minus-3, to 2017 where we had a goal differential of plus-3. So when we talk about progress, and what we're trying to do in the system-based approach that we have, and making sure that people get chances, and can show themselves, I think that part has shown throughout this year.
I don't think there were too many games that we were in when we were blown out at any moment. I can pretty much say that in three or four games, five minutes from time we weren't in a position to get anything from the game, but other than that, our coaching staff has done an excellent job in making sure that we were in a position to get results.
Obviously, disappointing from the fact that in the end, one, we did not make the playoffs, and two, that we did not — even though we were in the position — we never really capitalized, especially in away games, to make sure that we can make that next step and take those points. Because that's where the difference lies. That's where we have to make sure that we're a lot better towards the 2018 season. When I look at our home games, for the most part we can be very satisfied with the amount of points that we got there.
The beginning of the season, I thought we played a couple of games where we should have got more, and maybe there were some games toward the end, or in the middle there, where maybe it would have been a little bit less. But it is what it is. That's real simple. That's the way we look at things. That's the way we view things.
We've got to get better, especially on the road. And that's something that we're going to do in the offseason, make sure that we evaluate the season as much as possible, and what we haven't done, because evaluation doesn't only start here, but it starts a little bit earlier. Where we've done that, make sure that in those away games we can get those points to make the playoffs in the next season.
Having said that, building to to the 2018 roster, obviously, one important part of it is the head coach. So I'm very pleased and proud to announce that Jim Curtin will be the head coach in 2018, and we'll make sure that we keep going in the same direction that we have been going on. I think he's a big part of this foundation that we've laid down.
Once again, when we talk about progress, I think the system-based approach and the stability of a good organization, continuity is very, very important. And I think that has shown in this season.
In a time when everybody thought we were down and out, at one point we were in a position once again to get back in the playoffs, and that is a great credit to Jim and his coaching staff. So I'm very pleased with that. Very pleased that he will be back. And on that behalf, I had some people write some things down for me.
[He read from a sheet of statistics prepared with the help of the Union's PR staff.]
When I look at Jim and what he has done over these past years, I am very pleased that he's going to be part of us in 2018. All-time Union wins leader with 39; led the club to consecutive [U.S. Open] Cup finals; first head coach in Union history to record double-digit wins in three consecutive seasons. Under Curtin, the Union own a record of 10-2-4 when scoring the first goal in a match in 2017. At home, under Jim Curtin, the Union own a record of 27-6-9 when scoring the first goal of a match since he took over as head coach. He has won 30 matches at Talen Energy Stadium as head coach of the Union.
[He looked back up from the sheet of stats.]
And, I mean, those sound real simple, but when you look back at the progress that we have — when you look at players, and obviously there will probably be questions about that, what is the progress of a player? I also look at my head coach the same way, and I think he has progressed in a great manner. Once again, I'm very pleased that he's going to be part of this 2018 season, and that we can build on the continuity that we have, and look forward to the 2018 season.
Earnie, you mentioned the same record as last year, the same points, and an improved goal differential. So the team has improved in absolute terms, but against an improved Eastern Conference.
How do you estimate how much the Eastern Conference has improved from last year to this year? Do you think you maybe under-estimated how much the conference has improved, and how you'd need to keep pace with that in making moves last offseason?
No, I don't believe that. We are who we are, and we do what we do. We can look at the other side in our Eastern Conference and see what others do, but that doesn't necessarily mean we can do that. I don't think it's a question of underestimating anything.
But you look at yourself, and the way you can better yourself, and that's the most important part. To look at the neighbor, where the grass is greener at times, I don't think is the way to go. You look at what we're able to do as a professional organization, and I think it's been great, in 2016 and 2017, what we've set out to do.
Obviously, disappointing not making the playoffs. But yes, I do agree with you, that when you see how fast the Eastern Conference has gone, and have seen in this season what the teams put out on the field — yeah, that says something.
But I don't think that has anything to do with underestimating, because that would say that if we would have over-estimated or anything like that, we would have done things differently, and I don't think that's the case. I don't think that was possible.
Earnie, CSKA Sofia's announcement that it had signed Roland Alberg came before the Union announced Alberg's departure. Were there any offers to you for Alberg, or any thought of selling him before his contract option was declined?
In the offseason, I remember we talked about Andre Blake, and I can still and will say there were no offers for Andre Blake. That doesn't mean that there was not interest for him, but not that we were aware of as a club.
There were two players on our roster whom there was interest for: Oguchi Onyewu and Roland Alberg, and one [Alberg] was CSKA Sofia. But in the conversations that I did have with the agent [for Alberg], it never really materialized that there was going to be a substantial transfer fee. Otherwise, we would have maybe looked at that option. But it wasn't something that was there.
Earnie, Jim is staying, but what about the rest of the coaching staff?
For the most part, everybody is going to be staying, except Oka Nikolov [the team's goalkeepers coach] will be leaving us at the end of the season.
I'm not aware of that. Up to now, we've been talking to Jim, because we're talking about his coaching staff. We'll see how we fill that out. But Mike hasn't come to us to say that he's going, so up until today, I can say the rest will stay. But yeah, soccer is soccer.
Jim, what does it mean to be coming back, and to be given the public backing that Earnie has just given you?
I'm grateful, obviously, but at the same time, I think back to the support that I got in the hardest time. I think that's when you learn the most about people. Earnie backed me in what was the hardest moment of my young coaching career, and that was at the beginning of this season when we lost games.
There's very few people that you can trust, and Earnie's a guy that I trust, I believe in. It's advice from my parents from when I was young: "Love many and trust few." A guy that showed a real belief in me and what I was about. Saw more than just results, saw a team that stuck together and continued to fight. So yeah, I'm very grateful for the opportunity.
Obviously, the focus now is on 2018. Both Earnie and I want to win more than anybody. We understand that there can be frustration from the fans, and there can be noise from the outside. But I'll be loyal to him forever, because of the fact that he showed a belief in me in a tough time. I do believe that's when you learn the most about people, and Earnie is a real leader in that regard.
Again, I'm grateful, and I'm still very confident in the roster that we have, the players that we have, the flexibility that we now have going into an offseason that Earnie and Chris [Albright] have done a great job presenting. So again, now, the work starts on a new year.
And things can change fast in MLS, as you guys have seen. There can be highs and lows — even week to week, as you look these playoffs, There's no better example than that right now. We know that we can achieve big things here. I'm not going to do any promising or talk out of turn, but I believe in the group that we have, and we will push forward towards 2018. That starts with [the fact that] first and foremost, I'm grateful for Earnie's backing.
Earnie, we've heard a lot this season about a lack of consistency at the No. 10 midfield playmaker role. Alejandro Bedoya started the year there, then Ilsinho and Alberg alternated in it. What are you looking for in 2018 out of that position? Does that, in MLS, need to be a double-double guy with goals and assists? And where might you look to find that player? In the league or, obviously, you can look outside the United States as well?
First and foremost, you look in your back yard. And if you can't find it in your back yard, you go somewhere else. That's the way we do business here. So, you know, without saying where we're going to search or whatever that is, and if it's going to be that position — because I don't believe it's only one position, it's as simple as that. I don't think one person is going to make all the difference in the world.
Will it be better? Yeah, for sure.
But at the same time, when we look at the No. 10 role and what we expect, we've seen from Tranquillo Barnetta, who was a great signing that they've done in the past, and the amount of work rate that he has when we have the ball and when we don't have the ball. Which all of a sudden comes to a lot of touches on the ball. That is a very important part.
And you see that throughout MLS. When you look at Sacha Kljestan [of the New York Red Bulls, MLS' assists leader in each of the last two seasons], and the amount of touches he has on the ball — once you have your creative person on the ball as much as possible, I think that's fantastic.
So when it comes to that position, that's something that we search for. On the other hand, I can say Ilsinho has shown, for the most part, in this season, for certain periods of time, [he's] not always perfect, but he's progressing in that direction. So having said that, first look in the back yard, and then we'll see what we can do in that regard.
Earnie, if Ilsinho wants to come back for less money, would you consider re-signing him?
Yes. I think there's more players on our roster [like that]. Obviously, you guys have seen the decisions that we've made in — when I say the recent week, it kind of sounds stupid because [it would seem] that's when we started thinking about it, and that's not it, it's been a lot longer that we think about those things.
But at the same time, you guys have seen the roster moves that we've made, and there are certain players on that roster that we have not picked up an option for, and that we are still interested in. And I dare to say that Ilsinho is one of them.
Earnie, Chris Pontius is a free agent. Do you plan to make him an offer, and has he expressed interest in coming back, or will he test the free agency waters?
We've made a decision that Chris Pontius will not be coming back, so Chris will be a free agent.
Earnie, with the options declined on Giliano Wijnaldum and Roland Alberg, that's two Dutch players whom you brought in through connections you have in the Netherlands. How do you evaluate those connections at this point? Many outside observers wondered how you'd leverage those connections when you joined the Union.
How would you evaluate how those two players did, what they brought to this team, and how the pipeline has worked out?
First, for Roland, I think Roland has had a very good role within the Philadelphia Union. When you look at Roland Alberg and his biggest quality, anything that gets close to the 18-yard box, he gets everything on target. I'd want to say, even though he's a midfielder, he's one of the most scoring [oriented players] that we have out there. So I'd say his role was very good. When we talk about possession and when we talk about touches on the ball, that's something we knew we wanted to add that special part of Roland to the group.
But now that we are transitioning and trying to go a little bit further in that, we came to the conclusion that at the [salary] number he was at, or at the option number, it wasn't the right fit. Then it becomes a game of who has the opportunity, and he has the opportunity now to go to CSKA Sofia – that he also kind of had in the summer, but that we weren't willing to think of. Now he's going to be making that step. I think his role has been good in the last two years.
Giliano was, especially for the money he was [earning] on our roster — I think he got to a level that he took the job over from Fabinho, and then lost it again. That's something that's always been in Giliano's career path, I almost want to say.
He's a very talented kid. He's very athletic. He pretty much has everything. But to be consistent is one of the things he needs to stay, and that was a part that we did not see in this season, that consistency.
It was a discussion Jim and I had with him at the beginning of the season: "That's what we want to see from you, day in and day out." Not only because I realize for a lot of players it's about output in games, but for us as a technical staff, it goes way further than that. It's day in, day out on the training field too.
Yes, in the weekend, you guys get to see a certain player, and [some] of you guys come [to practice] more frequently than others. So you see that constantly. That's what we look for, consistency in players, and that part, I have to say, for the number that we had in his contract for the option year, it was not enough.
So I'd say Roland was a very good for the time he was here, for what we expected of him. And Giliano, for a short period of time, was there, but in the end he also had some, I almost want to say, family issues — missing his kids. So it was a good time to part ways.
Earnie, with Fabinho out of contract and Wijnaldum leaving, there's space on the depth chart at left back for now. Are there discussions of bringing players at that position up from within, or looking elsewhere?
I would say left backs and left center backs are like dinosaurs. You don't see too many of of those. Now, I don't reference Fabinho's age [he said with a laugh], because we just spoke about that. "Experienced" and "seasoned." But to have a good left back — and I still consider Fabi as a left back in the league, we have this rating system of ours where he still rates very high — maybe that answers the question a little bit.
Earnie, if Fabinho would like to stay here down the road — perhaps not just as a player but working in the academy alongside fellow Brazilians Kléberson and Fred — would you like to have him?
I think Fabi is, he's part of this family. Apart from what we can do, because everything has its constraints in what we can do, so to make those promises now is a little bit too early — and I think it's a little bit too early in his career to do that. But at the same time, I do think when it comes to a person who belongs to this club, yeah, he's one of those players.
Earnie, with Fabian Herbers, was declining his contract option simply a math question, because he was going to lose his Generation Adidas salary cap exemption next year?
Yep. Exactly. We still believe in Fabian Herbers. It's always a difficult discussion to have. with players, where you decline the option. He had GA status in the last two years, and the option, if we had taken it, the GA status would be gone, so he would come on to our roster. So it had more to do with the roster itself, and the number. But we are still high on Fabian Herbers, and we're looking forward to him being part of the 2018 team.
Jim, how many talks did you have with Keegan Rosenberry, and what did you experience with him in his sophomore year? He was in discussion for Rookie of the Year last year, and struggled this year. What were some of the things you said in your end-of-the-year meetings to get him geared up for a better year next year?
He's a very good young player that we still strongly believe in. Every player goes through highs and lows, peaks and valleys in their development.
If you think back to when he was drafted, obviously the homegrown player issue comes up [he was denied homegrown status by a narrow margin]. But at the same time, when we selected him [No. 3 overall in 2016], we were maybe crazy for doing so from the public perception.
Then he went on to a very quick rise. All-Star in his first year, on a playoff team, U.S. national team player. So a real high. This year, there was the feeling of a real low for him. We have full confidence that he can bounce back quickly.
Is he as great as the guaranteed, penciled-in right back, starting national team player? Maybe not. But he's also not defined by just how this year went. So again, a developing young player that is a very strong right back. An important position, because we like to attack with our outside backs.
But when you talk about development, there's on-the-field development, there's off-the-field development. There's handling success, there's handling down time. These are all part of growth. To now write him off and say his development has stopped is silly, I think. Because now, if he bounces back and we're a playoff team next year and is an All-Star, did we all of a sudden re-develop him? I don't think that's the case either.
So it's an ongoing thing. We can talk about different things and who develops players and who gets the most credit. I'm still the biggest believer that mom and dad develop players first and foremost, and he's a good kid that I still think learned a lot this year.
We believe in him. We'll continue to see him get better. He has all the tools, all the assets on the field to be successful, and now we'll work hard to pull that out of him. I know he's going to attack this offseason with a chip on his shoulder and come back ready to go. We have great competition now with him and Ray Gaddis.
[Stewart chimed in here.]
If I could add to that. Development is, especially for young kids, development goes like this [he waves his hand up and down]. And then once you get to the age of Haris [Medunjanin] and Alejandro Bedoya, you get more linear, you get continuity. You get players that can weather storms by themselves. And for young players, that goes up and down.
I dare say that every player developed this season, except the output wasn't always the same on Saturday or Sunday.
That's something totally different. It's like riding a bike. You ride your bike every single day, and after you've done that for a couple of weeks, you're not going to fall anymore. Development never stops. And our players are out there every single day, and sometimes twice a day. So they do develop themselves. Except the output at times can be totally different. And that all has to do with where you are as a team, and how that goes.
I believe at the beginning of the season, in those eight games, it showed that we were a young team. Young teams need help, and the help that we try to give them is consistency. Consistency in what we ask of them. Not to tell C.J. [Sapong] to go out and score three goals a game, no. But to tell him what to do when we don't have the ball, where does he go to. And when we do have the ball, where does he show for it? And making sure that everybody does that.
Soccer, in the end, is about decision-making, and decision-making, you do under stress. Once we start making the right decisions — because stress makes sometimes you do stupid things, sometimes things that you can't place — and trying to get them back to what we want, that consistency, it's something great.
We had a guy here who does a lot of mental training for stress situations. He showed a clip of [former Barcelona goalkeeper] Victor Valdés that is the best example of everything.
Victor Valdés is playing in front of 100,000 people away against Real Madrid. The first ball he gets back, as Barcelona does, they try to build out of the back and he makes a huge mistake and Real Madrid scores within a couple of minutes. The second ball that he gets back, after three or four minutes, he does the exact same thing [playing it out of the back without fear].
That is class. That is the difference between top players and very young players that are not there yet and are trying to reach that. Because Victor Valdés, time after time, did the exact same thing, and it went right every single time. So they end up winning the game, Barcelona away to Real Madrid.
But it starts there, and I think that's one of those examples of what the difference is between the top players, and players who are still young and trying to do the same thing, or are not doing the same thing constantly. Decision-making under stress becomes different. And then the reaction of players at that moment kind of says everything.
In the beginning of the season, we had problems with that. You could see that we were very young, and that guys did not have that consistency. They were scared at times. Which is normal. Which is totally normal.
And that's why I think it's a great credit to — because we haven't mentioned him yet, and I will mention him — Jack Elliott. He's one of those young players that when you talk about where he came from and what he's done, what I like in Jack — and not only Jack — is he's very consistent in what he does. And hopefully he can continue that.
But also, Jack is still young. He's going to also get to some moments, and Jim experienced that in one game before the end [of the season, at Chicago on Oct. 15] where he [Elliott] didn't have his best game. But he bounced back from that against Orlando within a week [on Oct. 22].
So when we talk about development, I truly believe every player has developed himself. Some in different ways than others, but when you're on the practice field every single day, you keep developing. Except sometimes, the output is a little bit different.
Jim, to follow up on that: With Josh Yaro, and even Derrick Jones, what can you do to get them back on track too?
If you went through each individual guy, it would take a while, but I can go through quickly on Derrick. People will look negatively on his season, and that's not the case. The kid, first of all, played in a U-20 World Cup where he wasn't a starter, worked his way into the starting lineup, in the competition, and dominated some of the games in that competition at a pretty successful World Cup.
He [also was] with us, and wound up starting at the beginning of the year, and was one of the better players on the field for us. We see Derrick every day in training. He's getting better and better. It's not his fault that he doesn't start yet over Alejandro Bedoya, who plays for the United States, and Haris Medunjanin, who plays for Bosnia. That's not on Derrick. We still see the positives day in and day out.
Auston Trusty, same thing. People will say, "Ah, he didn't play enough this year for the first team." His trajectory right now is going perfectly. We love the 34 games he got in the USL, showing that he can be a left-footed, dominant centerback in this league.
Will you now look at the roster moves and start to see, yeah, maybe a little bit has been cleared now for a Trusty, for a Derrick, just by evaluating our current roster? There's young players that are going to be coming, and they're pushing. We believe strongly in the job that everybody has done in our academy. It's a real positive.
Josh, specifically, people will point to a red card, or a technical mistake on a penalty kick, or an own goal, or a mis-trap, and see just that moment. The kid was injured this year. No one wants to talk about the fact that he missed the first four and a half months of the season.
Injury is a hard time to develop. It's a lonely time to develop. You're by yourself. We can do our best as a staff, and try to make everyone feel involved, but when you're hurt, it is brutal. You're alone, you're isolated, and dealing with the mental side of that is something that he had to do this year.
He got opportunities to get back in. He played some very good games, but had key moments where there was a technical mistake. Can those be fixed? Absolutely. Josh is a kid who's hard on himself. We talk a lot about with him about having, as a defender, a shorter-term memory, forgetting the last play and getting on with it.
So,o a hard year for him, but a year where he still learns. And again, a kid that we're not going to write off because of a couple of bad moments. No one looks at the injury part of the year that was lost.
Herbers was hurt a lot too. These are young guys. We recognize that the season was not perfect and it did not go that way. But look at the spine of the team, the experience that we have with Andre [Blake], with Bedoya and Haris and Sapong.
That's a strong, exciting group that with a couple pieces sprinkled in, we can rise quickly. We believe that. And it will be the young guys that drive the roster, as well.
Earnie, to take that specific point out to a bigger picture: You've talked so much this year about the team's foundation. Has anything changed in the way that you evaluate the foundation as a whole that this club is built on?
No. You evaluate your players every single day. You evaluate your coaching staff every single day. And once you have young players, you know that development, like I said — you don't un-develop, you keep developing. Except the development stops somewhere. And that's what you try to get to every single day.
So, are there parts in the development of these players that you look at, and you think, "Oh, we've really got to do something about that," and does that have a different roof? Yeah, that happens every single day.
I'd say for the most part, a lot of clubs — and I think Toronto is maybe a good example — they first brought in all kinds of DPs and then built a foundation around that. That's a way to go. We tried to do it the other way around. We make sure that there's a foundation, and then we sprinkle some other players in to make sure we become better every single day.
The evaluation is every single year. And once they reach certain heights, and we think that they can't go any further than that, or it's not enough for us, then we'll make those decisions.
But up to now, I have to say — and I think the best way to put it is — when you look at Bethlehem Steel, and what they have accomplished this season, that has a lot to do with those players.
When we talk about the bottom half of our roster and trying to go two-deep everywhere, having these players play on the weekend, last year we had difficulties winning games with Bethlehem Steel. They did not make the playoffs, not that that's holy. But at the same time, it's important, because you want to win games. This season, I'd say, was very good.
So those young kids who come through the academy, but also those players — the Marcus Eppses of this world, the Jack Elliotts of this world, the Jake McGuires of this world, the Auston Trustys — that play those games there, and play valuable minutes, they show that if you keep constantly pushing the needle every day in practice, that the can get better. And that has really shown with Bethlehem Steel.
That part of the roster is strong. That's the foundation. And that's what you've got to keep building on: those young players in practice every single day, getting better and better and making the choices for our head coach more difficult every time. That's what development is about, and that's what pushing the needle is about.
Jim, what is Oguchi Onyewu's legacy with the Union?
A guy that we brought in for his experience, to pass on some messages to our young defenders. A player that now came into a new environment, had been off for several years, and stepped in and gave us everything.
It's a hard conversation at the end of the year, but he did everything that Earnie and I could have asked of him. Gave good minutes, was a big part of a lot of our wins this year.
It's a difficult decision in sports, but one where we gave him an opportunity and he did a good job for us. At the end of the year, we had a hard decision that we had to make. And for the club, with the depth that we had at that position, we decided to move on from him.
It's hard, but at the same time, we wish him success going forward, and we thank him for his contributions for the club.
Earnie, there have been rumors and reports that there will be an increase in the amount of Targeted Allocation Money that MLS teams have to work with this winter, though it hasn't been confirmed yet. That would boost the team's available spending money beyond the large sum that is coming off the payroll already.
Is there a limit on what can be spent, or will there be more invested if needed, from owner Jay Sugarman, if certain players become available throughout the offseason? Is there a set total on what you guys are working with right now?
Yeah, there's a set total of what we can work with. That has nothing to do with any of the rumors going around in MLS of what's going to happen with TAM or all that. In the end, it's [about being] the best way to spend money.
That's the way that Jay looks at it, that's the way that we look at it. Which mechanism that you can use at what moment, we'll have to take a look at that once that becomes available to us, or not.
And then you look at the mechanisms, what's the best way to improve yourself? That's still an ongoing process as we speak right now. But up to now, things in that regard are going really well.
Earnie, to follow up, have you talked with Jay Sugarman about needing to spend more money to keep up with some teams in this league? Are those conversations ongoing?
Yeah, of course we have those conversations. And I have to say that our ownership group, with Jay leading that, has been good. But we've also chosen a path that we have as a club, that we started — at least since I've been here [for] two years, that's our pathway. That's who we are, that's who we want to be, and the most important part is we've got to come to grips with that.
It's who we are, and I think a lot of times this is — you know, can we spend like Toronto? No, we can't. It's as simple as that. So we have to do it in a different way, and I think we've found that way. Those discussions are going on, and Jay has been good in that.
So when you look around at what we have here at the club, and the facilities that we have — and we're still building. A lot of times, it's only seen in player spending. But this is such a young club. There's so much that needs to be built.
You can bring in the best player that you want. If you don't have the right infrastructure, it's not going to work. I'm pretty sure about that. And time has proven that as well. Making sure that we're good in all aspects and players is an important part of that — yes, that's the case — but when you look at, at least, the last two years of what was spent and the job Jim has done, I think it's been great. It's been an amazing job.
Now we're looking forward to doing more than we have in the past, and that's very exciting. But not going overboard, because we are who we are, and we'll go forward from here with the same attitude and the same ideology we've had in the past.
Earnie, how many conversations have you had with Eric Ayuk while he has been on loan in Sweden? You seem to have not made a decision yet on whether his contract option for 2018 will be picked up.
We haven't had a conversation with him after the season yet. I'd like to do that with him first before we go out and say anything about that.
Jim, you seemed to change your tactics a bit toward the end of the season, from a high-pressure system to a low-pressure one. Will that influence what kinds of players you go looking for during the offseason — particularly the way you inverted the midfield triangle at one point?
And is there anything else about the way the team played, or what you learned as a coach, that's going to influence the types of players you look for this offseason compared to last?
I think we're at our best when we are pressing. That is when we had our most success, when we were at home. When we're a little bit, maybe, reactive to the opponent, our group does not respond our best to that. I'll just put it that way. And that was seen in a lot of our road performances where we came up short this year.
So, we'll continue to aspire. I'm a [Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio] Pochettino, [Liverpool manager Jurgen] Klopp — though Klopp is struggling a little bit right now — I still aspire to that type of soccer where you're imposing yourself on the opposition. That's the kind of target that we'll have in the offseason. It's the kind of system that our group is used to.
Can there be a little more — as we add players and they get more familiar — sophistication with turning that five or six yards of a holding midfielder to give a different look? Absolutely. I think you saw some of that evolve in the later part of the year.
But in short, we want to be aggressive home and away. I think that's what our group responds best to, when we are proactive and not reactive. We'll plan our offseason scouting — and it's already well underway, the process — and look forward to adding some exciting pieces for our fans for next season.
Earnie, when you say that left backs and left center backs are "dinosaurs" and pretty rare, does that sort of indicate to you that you need to fill those positions with guys from your back yard, like Trusty? Or is it sort of an indication of that being where you need to spend the scouting resources to go out and find someone who you can afford and can fill that role on a consistent basis, starting in 2018?
Without going into too many specifics — I've already talked too much — that is true. When you look in the market in the world, at how many left center backs are right-footed, it's amazing to see. There's even right-footed left backs these days, where it used to be that it was always a left-footed left center back and a left-footed left back.
But when we look at Auston Trusty and the way he has developed himself with Bethlehem Steel, playing those valuable minutes with them, he's been excellent. Defending is also — as Jim sits here, and he knows that a lot better than I do — defending and goalkeeping are like fine wine. It takes time to get there and get those experiences under your belt.
Obviously, we hope that goes very quickly for Auston. But at the same time, we want to make sure that there is a competition going on.
So, we will look in our back yard, and we have something in our back yard, so we're very pleased with that, because we kind of have a dinosaur [in Trusty] who is left-footed, who is tall and who can jump [to] planes out of the air, and is developing himself, and is doing really well.
But we do want to get competition, because competition makes sure, and that's what we set out to do at the Philadelphia Union, that every position is two deep and they're competing against each other. And making sure everybody gets better. That is something that we will be on the lookout for in this offseason.