Earnie Stewart says the Union aren’t done shopping for new players yet

CARSON, Calif. - I spent a few minutes chatting with Earnie Stewart at the MLS Draft Combine on Tuesday. There was plenty to talk about, so I don’t think I need to write much more of an introduction. Let’s get right to it.

You started the week by signing English striker Jay Simpson. He has an interesting pedigree, having played over the years for Leyton Orient and Arsenal, but his name was new to most folks in Philadelphia. How did you find him?

Jay came through the network that we have in Europe and the contacts that we have over there. He came to our attention, and after our first evaluations, we made sure to go and watch him.

A lot of the fan base is wondering if Simpson is going to be the top-of-the-depth-chart striker that they’ve been waiting to see the team sign this offseason. Is he that player, or is he meant as a complement to incumbents C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies?

The thing that we were looking for in this offseason was somebody whose alarm bells go off when we get into the 18-yard box. That’s what we were looking for, focusing on and targeting, and Jay has that. Once a ball falls into the 18-yard box, he has those instincts as a center forward to be in and around the ball. That’s a very important quality that a center forward needs.

That was something that we wanted to address, and with Jay we feel we’ve definitely done that.

How do you judge the caliber of play in England’s League Two, where Simpson played with Leyton Orient? How do you compare it to MLS and other leagues that you scout?

I don’t look so much at leagues and where they play and all that, because it doesn’t say that much. I remember in Holland, they always said, “You know, in the second division you can’t find anybody,” and we found Vincent Janssen [bringing him from Almere City to AZ Alkmaar in 2015]. A year later, we made a transfer for $22 million to Tottenham [Hotspur of the English Premier League].

So I don’t look at it that way. I look at certain qualities that people have and we’re trying to find. And then obviously, with his experience in the Premier League, but also in the Championship and being with Arsenal in the academy, it brings a certain thing to the surface. It does not necessarily always say, where you play at that moment, what kind of center forward you can be for the Philadelphia Union.

What’s left on the shopping list between now and the start of the season in early March?

We still have a couple of positions that we want to address, where we believe we can make an impact and where we can make a difference. A couple of those positions we’ve addressed [including] left back with Giliano Wijnaldum, to find somebody to make sure Fabinho has a competitor. Bringing Jay [Simpson] in, we believe we addressed that.

In midfield, we’d still like to go get a controlling midfielder that we’re busy with right now. Then, for the most part, we’d like to be two deep in every spot, and that’s especially what this draft is for - some young talent that can fill those holes that we still have.

Jim Curtin told me a few weeks ago that the team was also looking at signing a veteran centerback. Is that still the case?

Yeah, that’s also a possibility, but things have to happen on our roster. That’s the great thing about this league, and obviously something else - you can’t address everything that you would like.

There would have to be something that happens for us to get that done, but let’s hope. That’s one of the things that we’d like to do. We have a young back line, and we’ve seen that on some occasions last year we could have used some veteran experience in helping us. That’s what we’re looking to do.

Does that kind of signing help off the field as much as on it?

Yeah. You have to have a good locker room, and we had a good locker room last year. But especially toward the end of the season, when those moments became nerve-wracking for us, it’s not easy. It’s good to have someone in your locker room that’s had that experience, that’s been through those motions to help you through that point. That’s what those kinds of players can do for you.

When it comes to the young players on the team, it’s obviously going to be up to Jim to decide how much playing time guys like academy products Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty get with the senior team this year. What do you hope for when it comes to what level those guys, and any other academy products who join the senior team this year, will be at?

You hope as a club, and it’s what we work for every single day, that they make a lot of minutes. That’s what I hope for, because that validates what you do in your academy.

And I do believe those two players - I’ve seen the progression they’ve had, from the academy going to Bethlehem Steel and then joining our first team and training among the Ilsinhos of this world every single day, and the Roland Albergs. You see them getting better, and that’s a great part.

They’re both in camp now with the [U.S. national team] under-20s, which is also good, getting international experience at the same time. Then once they come into preseason, we’re going to give them minutes and see how they do, see how they fare. But you can see the progression every single day with these guys. It’s going up. So I hope they make a lot of minutes this season in MLS.

Auston in particular seems to have the mental side of life as a professional pretty well in place for a kid of his age, 18 years old.

He’s very adult and wise. I see that with all of the kids that come out of our academy that have gone to [the Union’s] school. Auston is one of those examples that we have. The belief system that they have set in place at the school really puts the personalities out there. He’s one of those kids that goes out there every single afternoon and makes sure he works on his weaker points. He’s been fantastic at that.

When you’re out here watching these games at the MLS combine, where the players are thrown together largely at random and probably haven’t played much with or against each other, what are you watching for?

It’s like I said - if it’s League Two or if it’s college, you look at certain players, and what we try to see for a Philadelphia Union player is that everybody has their roles and responsibilities on the field, and you try to address those. That’s how we look at these types of players.

We’re not necessarily looking for good players, but we’re looking for good players that fit with the Philadelphia Union. If you can identify who you are and what’s important for you, it makes it easier for you to look at these games and those players that might fit into that system and the style that we like to play.


 

The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.

Earnie Stewart says the Union aren’t done shopping yet

 

CARSON, Calif - I spent a few minutes chatting with Earnie Stewart at the MLS Draft Combine on Tuesday. There was plenty to talk about, so I don’t think I need to write much more of an introduction. Let’s get right to it.

 

- You started the week by signing English striker Jay Simpson. He has an interesting pedigree, having played over the years for Leyton Orient and Arsenal, but his name was new to most folks in Philadelphia. How did you find him?

 

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/soccer/20170110_Union_sign_English_League_Two_forward.html

 

Jay came through the network that we have in Europe and the contacts that we have over there. He came to our attention, and after our first evaluations, we made sure to go and watch him.

 

- A lot of the fan base is wondering if Simpson is going to be the top-of-the-depth-chart striker that they’ve been waiting to see the team sign this offseason. Is he that player, or is he meant as a complement to incumbents C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies?

 

The thing that we were looking for in this offseason was somebody whose alarm bells go off when we get into the 18-yard box. That’s what we were looking for, focusing on and targeting, and Jay has that. Once a ball falls into the 18-yard box, he has those instincts as a center forward to be in and around the ball. That’s a very important quality that a center forward needs. That was something that we wanted to address, and with Jay we feel we’ve definitely done that.

 

- How do you judge the caliber of play in England’s League Two, where Simpson played with Leyton Orient? How do you compare it to MLS and other leagues that you scout?

 

I don’t look so much at leagues and where they play and all that, because it doesn’t say that much. I remember in Holland, they always said, “You know, in the second division you can’t find anybody,” and we found Vincent Janssen [bringing him from Almere City to AZ Alkmaar in 2015]. A year later, we made a transfer for $22 million to Tottenham [Hotspur of the English Premier League]. So I don’t look at it that way. I look at certain qualities that people have and we’re trying to find. And then obviously, with his experience in the Premier League, but also in the Championship and being with Arsenal in the academy, it brings a certain thing to the surface. It does not necessarily always say, where you play at that moment, what kind of center forward you can be for the Philadelphia Union.

 

- What’s left on the shopping list between now and the start of the season in early March?

 

We still have a couple of positions that we want to address, where we believe we can make an impact and where we can make a difference. A couple of those positions we’ve addressed [including] left back with Giliano Wijnaldum, to find somebody to make sure Fabinho has a competitor. Bringing Jay [Simpson] in, we believe we addressed that. In midfield, we’d still like to go get a controlling midfielder that we’re busy with right now. Then, for the most part, we’d like to be two deep in every spot, and that’s especially what this draft is for - some young talent that can fill those holes that we still have.

 

- Jim Curtin told me a few weeks ago that the team was also looking at signing a veteran centerback. Is that still the case?

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/thegoalkeeper/What-does-it-really-mean-to-be-a-soccer-coach-The-Unions-Jim-Curtin-seeks-an-answer.html

 

Yeah, that’s also a possibility, but things have to happen on our roster. That’s the great thing about this league, and obviously something else - you can’t address everything that you would like. There would have to be something that happens for us to get that done, but let’s hope. That’s one of the things that we’d like to do. We have a young back line, and we’ve seen that on some occasions last year we could have used some veteran experience in helping us. That’s what we’re looking to do.

 

- Does that kind of signing help off the field as much as on it?

 

Yeah. You have to have a good locker room, and we had a good locker room last year. But especially toward the end of the season, when those moments became nerve-wracking for us, it’s not easy. It’s good to have someone in your locker room that’s had that experience, that’s been through those motions to help you through that point. That’s what those kinds of players can do for you.

 

- When it comes to the young players on the team, it’s obviously going to be up to Jim to decide how much playing time guys like academy products Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty get with the senior team this year. What do you hope for when it comes to what level those guys, and any other academy products who join the senior team this year, will be at?

 

You hope as a club, and it’s what we work for every single day, that they make a lot of minutes. That’s what I hope for, because that validates what you do in your academy. And I do believe those two players - I’ve seen the progression they’ve had, from the academy going to Bethlehem Steel and then joining our first team and training among the Ilsinhos of this world every single day, and the Roland Albergs. You see them getting better, and that’s a great part. They’re both in camp now with the [U.S. national team] under-20s, which is also good, getting international experience at the same time. Then once they come into preseason, we’re going to give them minutes and see how they do, see how they fare. But you can see the progression every single day with these guys. It’s going up. So I hope they make a lot of minutes this season in MLS.

 

- Auston in particular seems to have the mental side of life as a professional pretty well in place for a kid of his age, 18 years old.

 

He’s very adult and wise. I see that with all of the kids that come out of our academy that have gone to [the Union’s] school. Auston is one of those examples that we have. The belief system that they have set in place at the school really puts the personalities out there. He’s one of those kids that goes out there every single afternoon and makes sure he works on his weaker points. He’s been fantastic at that.

 

- When you’re out here watching these games at the MLS combine, where the players are thrown together largely at random and probably haven’t played much with or against each other, what are you watching for?

 

It’s like I said - if it’s League Two or if it’s college, you look at certain players, and what we try to see for a Philadelphia Union player is that everybody has their roles and responsibilities on the field, and you try to address those. That’s how we look at these types of players. We’re not necessarily looking for good players, but we’re looking for good players that fit with the Philadelphia Union. If you can identify who you are and what’s important for you, it makes it easier for you to look at these games and those players that might fit into that system and the style that we like to play.