The Union's pursuit of French playmaker Vincent Nogueira finally crossed the finish line Thursday, as Sochaux announced his departure. Philadelphia confirmed the deal a few hours after the French club first made the news official.
Past reports on Nogueira, including some from me, stated that he would likely be a designated player. But the Union's official release on his signing made no mention of that status. A source confirmed to me that Nogueira will not be a DP, meaning that the Union have the flexibility to pursue another major signing if they want to.
(I should add that another of the aforementioned reports was on this blog post earlier Thursday.)
France Football reported Tuesday that Nogueira will get a two-year deal with the Union. It's likely that the Union won't confirm that, because MLS teams don't publish contract terms. But it would fit in with common practice across MLS.
Nogueira will get a sendoff ceremony at Sochaux's home game against Nantes on Saturday, then cross the Atlantic to join the Union for preseason training in Florida. The 26-year-old's final game for the only club of his pro career finished in dramatic style, as he scored the game-tying goal with literally the last kick of second-half stoppage time.
Although Maurice Edu got the biggest headlines, Nogueira is likely to be the piece that truly brings the Union's midfield together. John Hackworth has talked often about wanting to play a possession-based 4-3-3, or at least a 4-2-3-1, similar to the style Jurgen Klinsmann has installed with the U.S. national team. Nogueira, Maurice Edu and Cristian Maidana should help Hackworth do just that.
There are still some spots in the lineup to be determined. Chief among them is central defense, 23-year-old Ethan White and rookie Kevin Cope will battle it out to start alongside Amobi Okugo. If neither steps up, the Union will likely have to go shopping for a reasonably-priced MLS veteran.
At left back, the competition will be between Fabinho, rookie Robbie Derschang and Ray Gaddis. The last of those is the incumbent, and deservedly so, but it's problematic for the right-footed Gaddis to fill a spot that demands a left-footed player.
Finally, it will be interesting to see the dymanic at forward - especially if the Union play with just one true striker. Jack McInerney should be No. 1 on the depth chart because of his age and versatility, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him platoon with Conor Casey. Nor would it be a bad thing, because it would allow the team to adapt to various styles from opponents.
Here's what Hackworth's starting lineup could look like on opening night in Portland:
You can see from that graphic why Nogueira is so important. In addition to filling a crucial position tactically, Nogueira allows the Union to play Maidana, Edu and Carroll in the positions that will best help the team to succeed.
An even bigger takeaway from the Nogueira signing, though, is this. In the two months and change since the 2013 MLS season ended, the Union have gone from having two Designated Players in their entire history to having two at once.
That is a major statement of the team's intent to compete at a higher level than what we've seen the last two years.