CHESTER, Pa. – Just as the Philadelphia Union finally closed in on a deal for Freddy Adu, the club now must search for a potential suitor for another high-priced and well-known player: Bakary Soumaré.
Following his confirmation that Adu will likely soon be shipped to the Brazilian club Bahia, Union manager John Hackworth also confirmed a Philly Soccer Page report from Tuesday that Soumaré (above, right) has requested a trade because of a lack of playing time.
The 27-year-old center back has only played one total game for Philly, partially due to a knee injury last season and partially due to the emergence of Amobi Okugo, who has played every minute on defense since Hackworth became manager last June, two weeks before Soumaré was acquired.
“We’re hopeful we can find a resolution for both us and him,” Hackworth said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “We value Baky. That’s the reason we brought him here. That’s the reason he’s still here. However it plays out over the next couple of weeks or days or months, we’ll have to see. It’s unusual a player would come out in the press and do what he did.
“As far as I was concerned, we were dealing with this in a very positive way. That changed a little bit when I read an article last night.”
Hackworth revealed that Soumaré first approached Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz with his trade request following Philly’s season-opening loss to Sporting Kansas City on March 2, because he “wasn’t happy not being a starter” and he “felt like he was in the prime of his career.”
Hackworth then told Soumaré that he could be in line to play against the Colorado Rapids the following week and asked if that would change his request – to which the manager said Soumaré told him, “No, right now I just want to see if there’s any opportunities out there for me.”
“It changes the coach’s mindset when you have a player that says, ‘Hey, I’m not happy. I want to be somewhere else,’” Hackworth said. “It certainly has a major affect.”
Hackworth hasn’t entirely soured on Soumaré. He commended the Malian’s professionalism for much of his Union tenure and claimed that he’s an “important part of the team right now” and that his trade request threw “a little bit of a wrench in our plans overall.”
Hackworth also maintained that Soumaré had a fair chance to win the starting center back job in the preseason but was simply beaten out by newcomer Jeff Parke and rising star Amobi Okugo. And efforts to move Okugo back into the midfield, which was the original plan, proved more complicated because players like Keon Daniel, Roger Torres and Gabriel Farfan all performed better than expected in a crowded midfield during the preseason.
“That’s the clear thing I want to get across to you guys: the reason that Baky’s situation changed from when he arrived here to now is that Amobi Okugo’s been a revelation,” Hackworth said. “We put him at center back, he was really good for us last year and he has continued that.”
Hackworth said the team will “explore all options” in terms of what they’ll try to get back in a trade for Soumaré – whether it’s for a player or whether it’s more financial-driven. Until then, Hackworth said the former MLS Bext XI defender will remain an important part of the team.
And if he is shipped away in the near future, the Union manager said he’s comfortable with the Union’s depth at center back, citing veteran Chris Albright and right back Sheanon Williams, who has a little bit of experience playing in the middle of the defense for the Union.
“That doesn’t mean we want to lose Baky,” Hackworth said. “But if he did leave today, I would feel absolutely comfortable that, if something happened with Jeff or Amobi, we could deal with it properly.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.