For Union, no questioning value of veteran leadership

Union's Jordan Harvey (right) pursues ball after Chivas de Guadalajara's Marco Fabian goes down in Wednesday's game.
Union's Jordan Harvey (right) pursues ball after Chivas de Guadalajara's Marco Fabian goes down in Wednesday's game.
Posted: September 03, 2010

WHILE IT PROVED invaluable Wednesday night, the ongoing belief among the Union technical staff that youth over experience is the only way to go has yet to take hold with me.

I am sure along with Peter Nowak and Co., coaches on the youth level probably think I am crazy, but when it comes to a professional sports franchise, it's how I feel.

Perhaps this is why I am a writer and not a manager, but if Tom Veit and Nick Sakiewicz allowed me to build the Union's starting 11, you best believe the first thing I would have done is supplied it with a tenured goalkeeper and at least two seasoned defenders.

Of course, the big dig for capital always occurs when you are supplanting youth for veterans with known capabilities - and what they are worth. But it's not as if the collective pockets within Union ownership aren't deep enough to foot the bill.

And tell me what team's management wouldn't want to spend the money to ensure that a quality product takes the pitch each week? Especially considering the par-for-the-course product currently on display continues to draw near-sellouts?

I'll agree that the strength of this team has always been its midfield corps. On attack, what Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga have done warrants no reason for change. And I know it's a fact that three players under age 25 have scored MLS goals. Mwanga, 19, has seven, Jack McInerney, 18, has a pair, and Shea Salinas, 24, scored a beauty from practically the endline in Houston. Great for building confidence, sure, but has it paid dividends on the final score sheet?

Hate to use another MLS team as an example, but look what Seattle accomplished by fielding experience. Granted, the Sounders weren't built from scratch and brought a lot of talent over from the USL-1, but with the addition of Kasey Keller, 40, in goal and the acquisition of Freddie Ljungberg, 33, as a designated player, the 2009 season ended with the MLS expansion side only setting the league record for most wins by a new club and capturing the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

One name that continues to come to mind is FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.

Hartman was available in last November's expansion draft after he was left unprotected by Kansas City. He was bypassed by the Union, which had first dibs. Imagine the Union goalkeeper corps today with Hartman, who just wrapped up league player of the month honors and has been a major catalyst in Dallas securing a spot in next month's playoffs. In the case of the Union, you field Hartman as your one, Chris Seitz or Brad Knighton as your two/three (with the edge going to Knighton at this point) and that gives you three solid keepers and no need to waste a draft pick on rookie Brian Perk, who was released just last month.

"It's hard to build something unless you grow it and you have to provide these young guys the opportunity to go out there and show that they can be the future of this franchise," said Union assistant John Hackworth. "You have to have guys that are young in order to do that. You look at all the young talent [that played on Wednesday against Chivas] especially in the second half, having an experience like that is something they need to build confidence and get better as a player."

In his first season as MLS coach, Nowak collected an MLS Cup title with D.C. with an average player age of 25.2. It's also a fact that many of his former youngsters have gone on to spells in Europe (Bobby Convey, Freddy Adu) and have earned caps with the U.S. national team. This being an expansion club, I'm aware the Union wasn't expected to come out of the gate flying. Rome wasn't built overnight.

But don't tell me they wouldn't have one hell of a head start if the right pieces were in place.

I hope one day the movement proves me wrong, but I am just not sold on the deep-seated notion that in the long run youth will prevail over experience. Because I believe if you want wins, you have to put players out there who know how to get them. Dominating a game for 89 minutes is all well and good, but when a chink in the armor because of inexperience becomes the difference in earning a win in the match you just dominated, then what's the point?

Chalk Season 1 up to a "learning experience." But Season 2 should be a little late for learning experiences, wouldn't you say?

Last week, in a sit-down with Nowak to answer questions received via e-mail from Union Meeting readers, the manager proposed this question when asked about fielding experience:

"What is more important, winning a trophy or developing a player like Danny Mwanga and selling him to Europe for $10 million?"

Here's the answer, Pete. Most of the fans who pay to see the Union would rather see some hardware. In this "what have you done for me lately" world, championships and winning seasons are what continue to put derrieres in seats. We know the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are just a steppingstone to bringing baseball players up to the big time, but that doesn't mean IronPigs fans don't want to see them win the International League every year.

Seeing Mwanga in a Chelsea uniform, knowing Chester is where he got his start, will never be as rewarding as the bragging rights gained if his tireless efforts in a Union uniform brought multiple Alan I. Rothenberg Trophies to a glass display case on the Wharf.

In Philly, where a hometown team's win/loss record has disrupted work weeks, fans aren't paying to watch PPL Park become the satellite campus for the IMG Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Shots on goal

Upcoming game:

Kansas City Wizards (7-9-5, 26 points) at Union (5-11-5, 20 points)

When: Tomorrow, 3:30 p.m.

Where: PPL Park, Chester

TV: 6.2 ABC (LiveWell Network)

For kicks: Coming off a win over MLS best Los Angeles, Kansas City looks to increase its winning streak at PPL Park. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, coming off MLS Save of the Week honors, hopes to lower his 1.10 goals-against average and earn his ninth shutout . . . Forward Kei Kamara leads the Wizards with eight goals and is tied for the team lead in assists with three . . . Union forward Sebastien Le Toux is expected to start tomorrow's match. Le Toux has been trying to shrug off a knee injury he sustained in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Aug. 22. Union trainer Paul Rushing told the Daily News that he'd planned to move Le Toux' status from questionable to probable by week's end.

INJURY REPORT

Questionable for the Union: Alejandro Moreno, FW (right hamstring strain); Shea Salinas, MF (left fibula fracture); probable: Sebastien Le Toux, FW (left knee contusion)

Out for Kansas City: Zoltan Hercegfalvi, MF (right knee sprain/torn ACL)

HE SAID IT

"It's hard to build something unless you grow it and you have to provide these young guys the opportunity to go out there and show that they can be the future of this franchise." - Union assistant coach John Hackworth, on the youth infusion in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara.

TRIVIA TIME

What was the original operating name of the Kansas City Wizards when the franchise debuted in 1996?

A. The Kickers

B. The Wiz Kids

C. The Wiz

D. None of the above

By Jamie Clary, author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book, available at: www.soccerprofessor.com

Send search engine-free answer to: gabrielk@phillynews.com

Answer will appear in upcoming Union Meeting. Congrats to Mike Pelman, of Collingswood, N.J., who correctly answered the United States as the nation that has held a longer allegiance to FIFA than Mexico and England.

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