Thursday, June 9, 2011
Posted: 1:24 p.m.By Dave ZeitlinCSNPhilly.com Contributor
CHESTER, Pa. How does a team ascend from the bottom of the standings to the very top?
For the first-place Philadelphia Union, the steep rise this year can be largely attributed to a notable talent upgrade from their inaugural campaign. But, of course, that kind of success also comes with sacrifice, one we were all reminded of late last week when the Union cut ties with Chris Agorsor.
While some may view Agorsors release as only a footnote considering the rookie didnt play a single minute for the club, it shows a larger pattern that, for some, there is very little margin for error.
In the offseason, the Union parted ways with 11 players to make room for their new acquisitions, and the decisions were sometimes surprising. Fan favorite Shea Salinas was lost, as was promising midfielder Andrew Jacobson. Manager Peter Nowak has shown he can be unforgiving at times, too. David Myrie was cut just days after starting the first game in franchise history, and Shavar Thomas was dealt away after playing only 35 minutes.
Just about all of those moves turned out to be very good ones with the Union gaining a lot more than they lost, as their 6-3-3 record would indicate. But with so much roster turnover, theres always the possibility that you can get burned down the road. Agorsor could be an example of that.
Once considered the best high school player in the entire country, Agorsor suffered a brutal knee injury in 2008 while playing with the University of Virginia. Later, he tried catching on with a couple of different European clubs before he decided to join Major League Soccer this year.
Because he was previously offered an MLS contract before going overseas, Agorsor had to go through the leagues weighted lottery system to return. The Union won his rights, and the Philly coaches were thrilled to get him, especially assistant John Hackworth, who had tracked the Agorsors progress throughout his youth career.
Less than four months later, Hackworth was up at the podium at PPL Park, trying to explain why the Union got rid of a player they were once so high on.
With Chris, it was a decision by the staff, Hackworth said before taking a long sigh. Its not easy to answer this question because its not a one-line answer. Its not something thats very specific to, Hey, he didnt do this well enough. For Chris, we think he has to put himself, as a young player, in a position where hes going to get games. As we progressed in the season a little bit, the decision was maybe he wasnt going to get that here. Those opportunities werent going to happen for him.
We all like Chris, the Union coach continued. We still like him. We think he has a lot of talent. But if we cant find a way to develop a player, then I dont think its good for us or good for the player. Hopefully he can move on and find a place where hes getting games and can develop as a player.
Hackworths comments certainly make some sense. The Union knew when they got him that Agorsor was something of a project, and the best way to determine if the 21-year-old could make it as a professional was to see how he stacked up against professional competition.
And for what its worth, team manager Peter Nowak did make a point to say on a couple of different occasions that he would try to sneak Agorsor into a game. But in large part because the Union have a deep stable of strikers, including another young player who comes off the bench in Jack McInerney, Agorsor never did make his debut. And then he was gone.
It happened all of a sudden, said McInerney, an 18-year-old goal-scorer with enormous potential. Its unfortunate for him but hopefully the coaches help him out to find another place to play. It keeps you constantly on your toes and working hard every day. Its part of the business with the team.
When it comes to the clubs business matters, the coaches typically play their cards close to the vest, so we may never know for sure exactly why Agorsor was shown the door. Its probably fair to say, though, theres more to it than just not being able to find him games because, between the Reserve League and friendlies and the ability to drop players down to the clubs minor league affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders, there were plenty of opportunities for him to develop. Besides, other young Union players like Zach Pfeffer, Ryan Richter and Levi Houapeu have yet to debut, and the club has enough roster space where that isnt a problem.
The truth is, if Agorsor were showing the same kind of potential he had before getting injured, the Union would have kept him around because they are committed to building this team from the ground up, with young, cheap talent. And, perhaps, if they didnt have other plans involving new, yet-to-be-revealed acquisitions, Agorsor may very well be in training this week, still working toward that professional debut.
Chris is a good guy and I think hes gonna find some place and land on his feet, Union defender Danny Califf said. I think because hes a good guy and a quality player, hell find a spot that fits him.
Its tough. Every team is looking to get better. Were not privy to what the technical staff has plans for or who theyre talking to, but all of those factors go into making decisions like that. Well just have to see how everything plays out.
For better or worse, the Union have been very quick to make roster changes. So far, its been for the better but you have to wonder when it will be for the worse.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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