As soon as the Union teased a "big announcement" for Monday, the laughs began.
Once it was clear that the press conference was scheduled to unveil a player who technically has been under contract with the team all along, the eye-rolling only got louder.
It's hard to blame Philadelphia Union fans for being cynical these days. After all, we're just a few days removed from another "big announcement" that saw the Union sign a high-priced player at the one position where they really don't need help.
In the past, the team has teased such announcements, only to announce a new sponsor, a fancy third jersey, or progress on a training facility that still doesn't exist.
This time, however, the hype is absolutely, positively, entirely warranted.
Yes, technically, by unveiling defender Carlos Valdes on Monday, the Union did nothing more than hang onto something that was rightfully theirs.
In reality though, they:
- Added a player who is immediately one of the top 2 or 3 center backs in Major League Soccer.
- Pulled off a coup for a player that could have easily landed in almost any league in the world.
- Filled one of the most glaring needs on the roster with a "multi-year deal," according to CEO Nick Sakiewicz.
- Can now move Maurice Edu and/or Amobi Okugo back into the midfield where they belong.
Valdes was a fixture for the Union at center back in 2012, and appeared in the all-star game against Chelsea that year at PPL Park. He was only loaned to his old team in Colombia after that season because Colombian national team coach Jose Pekerman apparently doesn't have DirectTV, insinuating that anyone playing abroad (not named Falcao) would not be considered for the World Cup team.
So it was hard to blame Valdes for wanting to go, and impossible to blame the Union for letting him live a dream that landed him a spot on the World Cup roster.
Combine Valdes' strong play with the Union, his move to the top flight in Argentina, and a spot on a World Cup roster, and it was easy to see why a return to the Union was looking less and less likely.
Just 29 years old, Valdes is an imposing force who anchored a Union defense that allowed a league-best 23 goals in 2012. He immediately gives the Union a center back pairing that rivals any in MLS, regardless of who plays beside him. Add in the revelation that has been Raymon Gaddis this year, and a player in Sheanon Williams who was at his best playing with Valdes, and the Union instantly (on paper, at least) have one of the top defenses in the league.
"I’m very, very happy of being back, and I want to say thanks Nick (Sakiewicz) for everything you have done for me, and the same Jimmy (Curtin), and all the guys who are helping me out to reach my dream of playing in the World Cup," Valdes said Monday. "I want to come back to help my team, to make our team much better and play as much as I can to be in good position in the highest level of this league."
If you look at the Valdes return in its most literal sense, then yes, you might be skeptical about how big of a deal this actually is. The Union did nothing more than bring back a player who was theirs all along.
But, given that almost no one expected Valdes to ever return stateside, it's far better to view the move as a new player signing.
In that perspective, the move is an absolute slam dunk for the Union, especially given reports that Valdes is returning on a long term deal that is NOT for Designated Player money. In reality, you just got great value on a World Cup-caliber defender who has proven he can shine in MLS, is more than comfortable living and playing in Philadelphia, is only 29 years old, and should be well-rested and in mid-season form.
If Valdes starts Saturday at PPL Park against Montreal, and the rest of the roster is healthy, you could very well see the most talented starting XI the Union have ever fielded.
When I left from Philly, I always was thinking to come back one day because as I told you before, I think this is my second family and I love the fans, I love the team, I love the people in Philadelphia, I love my teammates," Valdes said. "As soon as the World Cup finished, I was starting thinking again about coming back to Philadelphia.
There are plenty of reasons to question some of the moves the Union have made in the last year (or five). There are still plenty of questions left to answer before fans can feel like the team is close to the top tier of MLS. There's still that whole head coach thing to figure out.
But right now, today, at this moment ... this is one move the Union got absolutely right.