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Does the Philadelphia Union's Transfer Spending Make Them MLS Cup Contenders?

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 5, 2016

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 16:  Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States dribbles against Ecuador during the 2016 Quarterfinal - Copa America Centenario match at CenturyLink Field on June 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

One of the biggest winners of the Major League Soccer transfer window was an unexpected club that doesn't have a strong history in the transfer market. 

Instead of refusing to make a splash like they have in the past, the Philadelphia Union made a pair of moves to strengthen their squad at the end of the transfer period. 

The move that earned the most attention was the acquisition of United States men's national team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya from Nantes. In order to bring in Bedoya, the Union swapped spots with the Chicago Fire in the allocation order and gave up their first-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft as well as an undisclosed amount of general and targeted allocation money. 

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 16: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of United Statesduring the Copa America Centenario Quarterfinal match between United States and Ecuador at CenturyLink Field on June 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The United States won the match 2-0. (Photo b
Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Philadelphia wasn't done on Wednesday, as it locked up a trade with the New England Revolution for forward Charlie Davies in exchange for its first-round pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and allocation money. 

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 31:  Charlie Davies #9 of New England Revolution shoots on goal during a MLS soccer match at Camping World Stadium on July 31, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Alex Menendez/Getty Images

In addition to bringing in a pair of big names, the Union shipped fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux to the Colorado Rapids for general allocation money. 

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The trio of moves should set the Union up for a charge at the top seed in the Eastern Conference as long as Bedoya and Davies fit into the roles they're supposed to in Jim Curtin's lineup. 

Bedoya will likely fill the hole in midfield left by the departed Vincent Nogueira. Although he's played on the wing at the international level, the 29-year-old can also be employed in the center of the park in the right setup. The experienced midfielder should bring stability to Union's defensive setup because of his relentless work rate on both sides of the ball. 

The arrival of Bedoya should move Tranquillo Barnetta back up to his natural No. 10 position. In the weeks since Nogueira left the club, Barnetta dropped back to the No. 8 as the Union attempted to find an internal solution to the problem. 

However, the Union were left exposed on plenty of occasions and have let in 18 goals since Nogueira's departure right after the Copa America Centenario break ended.

On Sunday against Real Salt Lake, the Union went too conservative with their formation, as Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle played in the double pivot with no true attacking linkup between the back four and the quartet in attack. 

With Bedoya in the fold, the Union should fix that issue, since he works well as a box-to-box midfielder. If Bedoya can be the link between the defense and attack, the Union should get back to their old ways when Nogueira was in the lineup. Bedoya also contains more talent in certain departments than Nogueira, so the swap should be seen as an overall upgrade.

USA's Alejandro Bedoya (R) vies fot the ball with Ecuador's Enner Valencia during the Copa America Centenario football tournament quarterfinal match, in Seattle, Washington, United States, on June 16, 2016.  / AFP / Omar Torres        (Photo credit should
OMAR TORRES/Getty Images

The one problem the Union were faced with when the Bedoya deal was announced was an overcrowded midfield. That took care of itself when they sent Le Toux to Colorado on Wednesday night. Despite being a crowd favorite and club original, Le Toux's playing time diminished this season due to the arrivals of Roland Alberg and Ilsinho and now Bedoya. 

Philadelphia also upgraded its depth at forward with the addition of Davies, who recently announced he is in remission after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. The 30-year-old forward won't take the starting job away from C.J. Sapong up top, but he'll be a vital part of the squad off the bench. 

With Davies in the fold alongside rookie Fabian Herbers, the Union have two striker options to use off the bench if they are in a bind. Before making their moves this week, the Union were starting to get a little predictable with their strategy, as Herbers seemed to be the only player to come off the bench and earn significant minutes. 

Mar 6, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies (9) celebrates with forward Diego Fagundez (14) after Fagundez scores a goal during the first half against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taor
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While all the shiny transactions are nice, the Union still have to get results on the pitch, which has been a difficult thing to do of late, even in their home fortress Talen Energy Stadium. Both of the losses suffered by the Union at home have come after the Copa break to Vancouver and Real Salt Lake. The Union also earned just a point against the Red Bulls on July 17.

The only comprehensive performance Philadelphia has put in since the Copa break came on July 9 against D.C. United at home. Since then, the Union have been knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup and have dropped eight points in the Eastern Conference playoff race. 

Jul 31, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward Chris Pontius (13) reacts against Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. Real Salt Lake won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for the Union is they are not completely out of the postseason discussion because of their fast start, but their hold on a spot in the top six of the East is slipping a bit.

Entering Week 22, the Union sit in fourth place on 30 points and are closer to the red line than the No. 1 spot. A win over D.C. at RFK Stadium on Saturday would change that in a heartbeat, but winning won't be as easy as the Union want it to be over the next three months. 

Seven of the club's next 10 matches come on the road, where the Union have a 1-6-3 mark after July. In order to remain in the fight for the postseason, the Union and their new acquisitions must find a way to pull out results on their travels.

Although their schedule seems daunting, the Union have a good chance to snag points against D.C., New England and Columbus, all of whom have been shaky at best this season. If the Union are able to get four or five points out of those matches and beat Toronto and Sporting Kansas City at home at the end of August, they should be in fine shape to qualify for the postseason. 

The impact of Bedoya and Davies may not be felt immediately as they begin to form a chemistry with their new teammates and Bedoya works to full fitness, since he was in preseason training with Nantes. But once Bedoya is thrown into the starting lineup, the quality on the pitch and on the bench should grow, since one of Alberg or Ilsinho will shift to the bench to make room for Bedoya and Barnetta at the No. 10 position. 

Alberg will one of the candidates to shift to the bench with Bedoya in the lineup.
Alberg will one of the candidates to shift to the bench with Bedoya in the lineup.Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When that occurs, the Union will be able to bring more quality off the bench instead of throwing on Leo Fernandes or Walter Restrepo, both of whom are reserves at best in MLS, to try to secure some type of result.

The creativity Alberg and Ilsinho have shown in starting roles should work well in 30-minute stints as well. A move off the bench for one of the midfielders and the addition of Davies or Herbers to the pitch should provide enough of an extra kick off the bench to motivate the Union if they struggle early in a match. 

Philadelphia did the right thing by finally breaking its transfer frugality to improve its squad, but now it's time for the new signings and current players to finish off what has already been a tremendous season at the club. 

As long as the proper chemistry is built between the additions and they earn results on the road, the Union should build up enough momentum to be considered true players in the race for MLS Cup.

            

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90

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