CHESTER, Pa. – Imagine you’re living with someone who doesn’t treat you how you think you deserve to be treated. So you tell this person you want to leave. And this person, though a little bit surprised, doesn’t want to change and decides to help you look for a new place to live.
Now imagine that after a couple of months of trying to coexist in the same house while essentially broken up, you both realize maybe it’s in your best interests to stay together – at least in the short term until you both find something better.
No, this isn’t the plot to a cheesy movie. (Or maybe it is? Did I just describe “The Break-Up” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? That movie didn’t really make a lasting impression on me.) It’s pretty much the sports equivalent of what’s going on right now with the Philadelphia Union and high-priced center back Bakary Soumaré.
Despite asking for a trade very early in the season because of a lack of playing time – and the Union telling him they’d grant that that request – Soumaré is poised to make his season debut Saturday against the Chicago Fire because of a hamstring injury to starting center back Jeff Parke and a one-game suspension to right back Sheanon Williams (who can also play center back).
To be clear: Soumaré still wants to be traded to a team where he can play regularly. And it seems unlikely Soumaré plays so well Saturday that manager John Hackworth opts to reshuffle the lineup and make him a full-time starter ahead of staring center backs Parke and Amobi Okugo.
But here’s the part that’s sort of interesting: there doesn’t seem to be any animosity between the two sides. Soumaré says he’s content with how the Union have shopped him around and is very excited to get back on the field and wear the Philadelphia uniform this weekend. And Hackworth seems happy that Soumaré has still worked hard in training for the past two months, thus making him ready to come off the bench and fill the void created by Parke’s injury.
Take a look at this Hackworth quote from Wednesday’s press conference when he was asked about the relatively good relationship he’s maintained with Soumaré despite the trade request:
“I think that speaks volumes to both sides and how we approach this. The term I would use is it’s a professional approach. We tried to leave personal agendas out of it. And from both ends, you have to look at it from a business side and what it means for our team. And you have to look at it on a personal level and what it means to a player. And you come to a point where both sides are working diligently to get something done. And then you have a little bit of respect that at least the process is going according to how it should be.”
Yes, it’s still sort of silly that the team’s second-highest paid player (behind Kléberson, another guy that doesn’t play) is being used as a backup until he’s traded. But, hey, it probably could have been worse. Maybe Soumaré could have simply decided to stop showing up to training until a trade is completed. Or maybe the Union could have decided to completely ice him out as a punishment for going public with his trade request, which has probably made the act of trading him more difficult.
Take a look at this quote from Soumaré, who seemed to be in very good spirits after Wednesday’s practice:
“If I’m called upon, I’ll be ready. Just like I was ready the week before. Just like I’ve been ready. The thing with Hack, it’s always been that we’re trying to trade you but you’re still a part of this team and if we need you we’re going to call on you so be ready. And this is what’s happening now.”
It seems likely that Soumaré will still end up playing elsewhere at some point this season. But I think it’s also fair to say this could have been a much messier break-up. Like in that movie “The Break-Up.” Or something.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.