I sat down, once again, with Keith Hickey of Goal.com and MatchFitUSA.com to discuss the Union. The following is my chat with him, which involves the game, the Union and the future. For more on the game or to follow the game with other Union fans, head to SBNation's Philadelphia Union blog, the Brotherly Game.
Scott Kessler: Last week the Union surprised a lot of people in the country and played a strong game, beating the New York Red Bulls 2-1. What should be expected of the Union when they face the Crew in Columbus today?
Keith Hickey: On the record, I think Columbus takes it. They're going into the playoffs, need to gear up. We've been out of it, and after the intensity of last week's game, this feels a little bit superfluous. However, the Crew look like crap right now. The only team they've beaten since August is DC, while the union is in decent form. I feel like there could be an upset if luck is on our side.
Scott Kessler: With the relative youth of the Union, is it important to end the season not only on a high note, but also with good form?
Keith Hickey: Right now, I don't think it matters. It'd be nice to win this, but Preseason next year will be much more important. The players who this will matter to are the fringe players. Guys like Zimmerman and Coudet could be playing for their contracts. And the dead men walking, like Stahl, Arrieta, and Noone will be looking to impress potential new employers if given the chance.
Scott Kessler: So it's your belief that Stahl is a lost cause at this point? Union fans should be especially upset with that considering the fact that he was drafted one slot in front of the New York Red Bulls starting center back Tim Ream.
Keith Hickey: I think his playing time alone answers that question. Regarding the draft, well, hindsight is 20/20. I think we got enough in Mwanga, McInerney, Okugo, and Nakazawa to make up for Stahl and Perk.
Scott Kessler: What was the reasoning for taking Stahl over Ream, though? Talent wise Stahl was thought of more highly but he is a 26 year old rookie.
Keith Hickey: To be fair, he was 24. I think Nowak was looking for an instant contributor and he's got the size. He's just not good enough for this level.
Scott Kessler: My mistake, you're correct. He's now 25. What are your predictions for the starting lineup today? Will we see Le Toux play despite this game being absolutely meaningless? Will Mwanga play today even though he is still not 100%? Will some of those fringe players you mentioned be given the opportunity to try to prove themselves?
Keith Hickey: I think we'll see the first stringers. There's nothing to rest them for. And goals could help Danny and Seba going for Awards.
Scott Kessler: Even with another goal (or two) does Mwanga have any realistic chance at winning Rookie of the Year?
Keith Hickey: Absolutely. I think he's the front-runner without any more.
Scott Kessler: He had my vote for the award until he went into cool mode. Andy Najar seems to be the name right now.
Keith Hickey: I think DC's record could hurt Najar.
Scott Kessler: Couldn't the same be said of the Union though?
Keith Hickey: The Union are at least mid-table. DC are cellar-dwellers.
Scott Kessler: I think the argument could be made that the RotY award should be solely based upon individual accolades, not team position.
Keith Hickey: The argument can be made, but it won't change how people vote. An expansion team is expected to fail miserably. This one not only is somewhat respectable, but a rookie is the second-highest scorer? I think that's gonna impress some people. Every outsider I've talked to or read who's visited has loved coming here.
Scott Kessler: As in to PPL Park?
Keith Hickey: to Philadelphia in general, but PPL specifically has gotten great reviews. That's a lot of goodwill towards Philly.
Scott Kessler: A question I get a lot from people who don't follow the Union (or who don't follow them closely) is about possible expansion to PPL Park. Most don't realize it already seats over 18,500 people but pretty much everyone asks about the possibility of expanding it to seat more. Have you heard anything about that situation?
Keith Hickey: I know it was designed to be expanded to 30,000 without refooting the foundation. But they won't be doing that for a few years, at least.
Scott Kessler: Surely an expansion would give the Union plenty of money to spend on say, I dunno, a designated player. In recent days the Union have stated they are open to signing a DP, changing position from earlier in the year when Piotr Nowak said the Union were not looking to sign one at all. Your thoughts?
Keith Hickey: He never said that. The Union's position, as I have always understood it, is that they were looking for a DP who wanted to be involved with the club long-term. They weren't looking for a merchandise mover or an empty name, or even a one-season star.
Scott Kessler: http://www.brotherlygame.com/2010/8/27/1653953/i-dont-believe-one-player-can. "I think it's a short-term solution, and I'll never fall for that."
Keith Hickey: Well that's contradictory to what he's said to us, and said in an interview with Ives Galarcep. If you remember, the Union were going after Robert Pires a few months back.
Scott Kessler: Was that ever truly confirmed, beyond the fact that Pires insulted Philadelphia?
Keith Hickey: That was confirmed. My sources intimated to me that it was a possibilty a few weeks before we actually heard about it.
Scott Kessler: Well it certainly didn't work out well at all
Keith Hickey: No it didn't. But I still think that with the new system, 3 moderately priced DPs could improve this team.
Scott Kessler: The problem with securing three DPs would be with the need to have one open for Le Toux. If he has another season like this one, can the Union deny him a DP?
Keith Hickey: I don't think we need that yet. He's had a good season, but I'm not sure if he's gonna be paid DP money.
Scott Kessler: At what point do you think a player deserves to be given the DP, ala Landon Donovan for the LA Galaxy?
Keith Hickey: You could double his money and he'd still fall under the DP threshold. He's better than some DPs, surely. But the DP tag is about money, not skill.
Scott Kessler: Right. What you're saying is max out his normal-player contract and then if he continues to produce eventually makes the decision to make him a DP.
Keith Hickey: That would be the prudent route. But given his age, you might never have to make him a DP.
Scott Kessler: He's only 26 right now. At what point does a player become too old for a DP?
Keith Hickey: After 30 or so, your value goes downhill. The end of this contract, you could probably sign him to 300k+ for four or five years.
Scott Kessler: When does this contract end?
Keith Hickey: I'm not sure. But I'd guess at the end of next season.
Scott Kessler: Did you happen to catch his chat on PhiladelphiaUnion.com?
Keith Hickey: I read it.
Scott Kessler: I asked him about the possibility of returning to Europe in a couple of years and he basically said he would only think about it when it happened. Do you think he has a chance at returning to Europe, though in a top league?
Keith Hickey: I doubt he's going back. He's the man in MLS. Why would he jeopardize that to start all over again?
Scott Kessler: Landon Donovan. That's my answer
Keith Hickey: Landon Donovan has been the face of American Soccer since he was a teenager. It's a completely different scenario. He's got s much higher profile, and International experience.
Scott Kessler: True, true. He's someone who has it all in the MLS and yet he has tried to move to Europe multiple times. I can't really think of anyone else.
Keith Hickey: There's really nothing left for Landon to prove in MLS. Seba hasn't won a title yet, and he's only had one good year.
Scott Kessler: Right. I won't attempt to argue that their situations are one and the same. And now to finally get to the topic I wanted you to comment on...
Keith Hickey: Feline AIDS?
Scott Kessler: You mind... it is...Odd? The topic: Mwanga's GA status. Your take?
Keith Hickey: I won't pretend to understand the innermost workings of Major League Soccer, but I'd imagine he's going to graduate.
Scott Kessler: There have been players with less games played/minutes played who haven't been GA and there are players with more of both that have.
Keith Hickey: Exactly.
Scott Kessler: The MLS isn't uniform on it.
Keith Hickey: I think Mwanga's been such a vital part of the team, he'll graduate.
Scott Kessler: If he does it would be Mwanga, Okugo and McInerney?
Keith Hickey: And anyone else we draft with GA status. No way Okugo and Jack graduate.
Scott Kessler: I must have mistakenly saw them on a speculative list
Keith Hickey: I'd be utterly shocked if either of them graduate.
Scott Kessler: Is there a closing statement you want to say?
Keith Hickey: Let's hear it for next season.
Scott Kessler: That's it? I expected so much more from you.
Keith Hickey: It's been a good season, but I think next year could be a great one.
Scott Kessler: With the addition of a couple of players at key positions?
Keith Hickey: Of course.