PHILADELPHIA – It is a testament to the recent flurry of activity and rumors surrounding the Philadelphia Union that the club signed the third Designated Player in club history last week and it barely even registered.
But for Philadelphia manager John Hackworth, the signing of Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana last Wednesday is proof that the club is committed to spending a lot of money this offseason and perhaps even bringing in the maximum number of DPs. The Union remain in negotiations for US national team midfielder Maurice Edu and French midfielder Vincent Nogueira after acquiring extra allocation money during last week's first and second rounds of the MLS SuperDraft – a draft that also netted them the consensus top player in goalkeeper Andre Blake and a potential playmaker in Pedro Ribeiro.
“I’ve been saying that for a long time, but I just couldn’t really prove it until we brought some of those guys in,” Hackworth said. “That’s been a work in progress – and a lot of work, to be fair. I asked the fans to be patient and trust that we were really trying to build this thing. This has been a long-term plan for us – to build through last year, build up these resources so that we could kind of go after it this year. We feel good about those pieces, and we’re still working hard on a couple of more.”
Whether the Union will be able to add Edu or Nogueira, the addition of Maidana alone should successfully change the face of a Philly midfield that struggled in 2013. In addition to being in his prime at age 26, with experience in the top leagues in Russia and Argentina, Hackworth’s favorite part about Maidana is that he can play multiple midfield positions.
“In Argentina, they call him an enganche – an attacking midfielder,” Hackworth said. “But he also has the ability to play wide left. He’s a very good winger. When I went and watched him live in a premier game down in Argentina, he played as a Number 10. But I’ve also seen him play as a left winger, so his versatility gives us a lot to work with form the start.”
A left-sided midfielder can certainly fill a position of the need for the Union, who played a defender (Fábinho) and a right-footed player (Danny Cruz) in that spot for much of last season. Should he be deployed there, the left-footed Maidana will offer more stability on that side of the field.
“Maidana is a terrific player,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. “He’s going to light up that left side in a nice way for us. He’s established. He’s still young. He’s battle-hardened, having played in the Argentine first division. He’s also traveled the world and played in Russia and other big clubs. So it’s a good start, but we have a lot more work to do. We have two or three more to land.”
Sakiewicz also noted that the Union “put a lot of money on the table” for Toronto FC’s prized acquisition, Michael Bradley, before “the money got to the point where it would have been irresponsible.” But that money now, it seems, will be allocated for at least one more Designated Player.
Potentially employing three Designated Players would be a big change for a club that has had only two total Designated Players in its previous four seasons combined, and that's just the way the Union want it.
“It means we’re serious about winning,” Sakiewicz said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.