Philadelphia Union: Grading the offseason signings

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Niall Canavan of Scunthorpe United battes with Jay Simpson of Leyton Orient during The Emirates FA Cup Second Round Replay between Scunthorpe United and Leyton Orient at Glanford Park on December 15, 2015 in Scunthorpe, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Niall Canavan of Scunthorpe United battes with Jay Simpson of Leyton Orient during The Emirates FA Cup Second Round Replay between Scunthorpe United and Leyton Orient at Glanford Park on December 15, 2015 in Scunthorpe, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /

With the Gold Cup break comes a time to reflect on the Philadelphia Union season so far.

I’m going to take a look at a few different aspects of the Philadelphia Union during this break but I’d like to begin with the newest members of the team. With half of the season behind us, there is enough data to begin judging the signings. After a rough start to life with the Union, some have turned their play around while others continue to struggle.

It’s tough for Earnie Stewart to hit on each transfer but with the financial state of the Philadelphia Union misses are punished pretty heavily. He’s had a mixed transfer record to start life with the team but this season, there have been more hits than misses. Let’s take a look at the new kids on the block below:

Oguchi Onyewu – Center back

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Not many people have had as large of a role in the Philadelphia Union turnaround as Onyewu this season. Initially signed as a mentor to the younger center backs on the roster, no one anticipated that he would play as much as he did. But as he is known to do, Gooch has proved us all wrong. He has shown that there is still some fight in those legs while becoming an entrenched starter at center back for the Philadelphia Union.

He has been the key to an improved defense as his style works perfectly with Jack Elliott in central defense. Gooch is the enforcer while Elliott is the finesse defender which sets up the bend but don’t break Union defense. The current defensive run that the team is on with Gooch in the lineup is one of the best in Philadelphia Union history and that must be added into his midseason grade.

Grade: A

Haris Medunjanin – Midfielder

“I came here to help the team build up from the back, to make that build up easier, and make plays from the back.” – Haris Medunjanin

Haris had a rough start to life with the Philadelphia Union as he and the team were being ripped apart defensively. But during that period, Medunjanin wasn’t only leading the Philadelphia Union in chances created, he was leading all of Major League Soccer. This showed that while things were rough, they would get better, and get better they did.

His role is to be a deep lying playmaker which is shown by his two goals and seven assists. That number of combined goals and assists is second to only CJ Sapong for the most on the team. A dead ball specialist, Medunjanin is always a threat from set-pieces which has helped dig the Union out of a few sticky situation.

Medunjanin has become a leader on the team showing the young midfielders the right way to work, taking the captain’s armband while Alejandro Bedoya is away on international duty and much much more. Not much more could have been asked of his signing as Medunjanin has taken to the Philadelphia Union like a fish to water.

Grade: B+

Fafa Picault – Forward

Another guy who took time to settle into life with the Philadelphia Union, Picault’s early days with the team were quite the roller coaster. He began the season making appearances off the bench but wasn’t able to make an impact due to horrible finishing. This led to a period during which Picault was dropped from the matchday 18.

He has since turned it around and has started every game since the end of April. Since then, Picault has netted four goals and bagged an assist since returning to the lineup and is beginning to look like one of the more dangerous members of the team going forward. The biggest change recently is that Picault is beginning to track back creating timely interceptions to start runs. I’m not sure what was said to him by Jim Curtin but it has made a positive difference in his play.

Finishing is still an issue for Picault but the sheer volume of chances that he is creating now has let to a nice uptick in production.

Grade: B

Jay Simpson – Forward

Where to start on this one. Simpson being on a 500k wage isn’t okay with him not getting playing time. While he was brought to battle with CJ Sapong, an untimely injury and hot form by Sapong has kept Simpson glued to the bench. While he does get runouts at the end of games, he hasn’t been efficient enough in those chances to earn more playing time.

Time and time again, Simpson has been so close to scoring yet he sits with one goal in 12 appearances (three starts). While it may be harsh to give Simpson a failing grade due to lack of playing time, he hasn’t looked good enough in his few appearances to earn an incomplete grade. It is unknown if he’ll have a chance at more playing time to improve this grade but for the moment, he stands out as Earnie Stewart’s lone miss on the transfer market this season.

Grade: F

Giliano Wijnaldum – Left Back

This was almost an incomplete grade but Wijnaldum seems to be a serious challenger for the starting left back spot on the Philadelphia Union. Fabinho is out of contract at the end of the season and while he hasn’t been particularly bad for the Union, now should be the time that the team is preparing for the future.

At the beginning of the season, Wijnaldum was struggling to find his feet in Bethlehem but once he got the minutes that he needed, Brendan Burke was able to straighten him out. Excluding the Open Cup, Wijnaldum has now started three straight matches with the Union keeping clean sheets in two of them.

Next: At the midway point, Jack Elliott is ROTY

With Wijnaldum as the starter, the Philadelphia Union have allowed two goals in four games. While it is a small sample size, it is enough to show that the changing of the guard at left back may be happening sooner than we expected. With more playing time in the future, this grade could easily rise.

Grade: C