By Steve Moore
Do you know who Bakary Soumare is?
If you’re a dedicated Union fan, you know he’s
the (really) big defender with lingering knee problems who barely played
after signing last summer (one league start). If you’re a casual fan
who didn’t pay much attention in August and September as the floundering
Union played out the string, then you’re likely still trying to pronounce
He’s also the reason the Union don’t have a first-round
pick in this month’s MLS SuperDraft.
Instead of picking fifth and snapping up one of five
Generation Adidas players – players who sign with MLS before the draft
to pricier contracts than other rookies and don’t count against the
salary cap – manager John Hackworth and the Union will sit out the
first round before picking 26th and 29th overall.
The team shipped its first-round pick to Vancouver
so it could move to the top of the allocation order and sign Soumare,
6-foot-4 center back who now must fight for a starting spot with new
signing Jeff Parke (just called up to the U.S. National Team camp),
2012 MLS All-Star Carlos Valdes and one of last year’s lone bright
spots in midfielder-turned-defender Amobi Okugo.
Soumare’s role coming out of next month’s training
camp in Florida could provide some early insight into Hackworth’s
plans. If he’s healthy and competes for a center back spot, Okugo
could move forward into a holding midfielder position. The 21-year-old
(and No. 6 overall pick in 2010) was great last year alongside Valdes,
but it was his awareness and positioning that impressed the most –
skills that easily translate into his more natural midfield position.
As for Parke, the Abington native will turn 31 in
March, and has been one of the league’s top center backs for years,
most recently with Seattle. In a (read: my) perfect world, he would
start alongside Valdes in the middle, with Sheanon Williams locked in
on the right. Gabriel Farfan played on the left much of last year, but
often seemed lost, and may be better suited in the midfield or, ideally,
as a utility piece off the bench. Part of me thinks the starting left
back for the March 2 opener against Sporting Kansas City (get your long
johns ready) is not yet on the roster.
So, unless the whispered
Valdes-loan/sale-to-Colombia turns out to be true,
Soumare seems to be nothing more than a big man taking up a seat on
Depth is great, and real competition for starting
spots is even better. But defenders almost always go 90 minutes (barring
injury), and this is not Europe, where teams can be involved in four
competitions and play two or three games in a week.
With the semi-uncertainty about Valdes’ future
– reports are out there that Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe wants
him on a loan (or more) – Soumare could possibly
still find a steady role with the Union. But in the small-salary world
of MLS, Soumare’s $240,000 base salary is a steep price
to pay for a little bit of defensive depth (especially when Freddy Adu
is making $400,000 or more).
Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz have spent most of
the winter cleaning up from the disaster that was Peter Nowak’s ego
– both on the field, and in the minds of fans and paying customers.
So far, it seems to be working, as the mindset on my Union-heavy Twitter
timeline (@smoore1117) is closer to the excitement of 2011
than the expletive-laden vitriol of 2012.
Soumare’s place in the squad may not be as sexy
a topic as the return of Sebastien Le Toux, the signing of Conor Casey,
the team’s inability to score goals, or the enigma that is Freddy
Adu. But it could prove to be an early indicator of the team’s fate
Thanks to Enrico and The Level for letting me help out with Union
coverage this year. I’ve been a Union season ticket holder from the
start, and, like many “soccer nerds”, we are very particular about
news coverage of the sport and our team. This site has treated the Union
fairly from the start, and not as some novelty act. I hope to provide
intelligent soccer talk for the die-hards, while also helping the casual
fan keep up with the ins-and-outs at PPL Park. Feel free to compliment,
critique or criticize. Just promise you’ll try a little harder than
“no one cares about soccer,” OK?