One of the things we’ve killed the Union for in recent years is the fact that they’ve been so close to a second trophy and have not made the necessary first team improvements to get over the hump. They’re in their second straight season of running it back after losing a heartbreaker in the 2022 MLS Cup.

Owner Jay Sugarman spoke with Jonathan Tannenwald at the Inquirer and delivered some absolutely horrific quotes on the topic of ambition.

A couple of those:

…knowing how close the Union are to being truly elite, is he more inclined now to push the boat out, to up the ante — and, yes, to spend more money?

“I ask Ernst [Tanner, the Union’s sporting director] every week, we have weekly calls, and I say, ‘What do we need to be successful?’” Sugarman said. “He’s 100 times smarter about what it takes to be a sustainably excellent team, so I defer to him. And if he comes to me and says there’s a piece we must have, he’s going to get support.”

And for emphasis, he added: “There’s no resistance to our technical staff saying, ‘Here’s a piece we really need.’”

This is a total crock of shit and backwards way of doing things. No one should believe that the sporting director, for two straight seasons, decided that running it back with the same starting XI and adding some fringe pieces was good enough. I’m not exaggerating. In 2023 they added three bench players (Damion Lowe, Andres Perea, and Joaquin Torres) and this season the only offseason addition who has played a single non-goalkeeper minute for the 1st team is Markus Anderson, who has been out there for 91 total minutes.

Also, it shouldn’t be incumbent on the technical staff and head coach to go to the owner and say “we’d like this player and this player.” An ambitious owner goes to the staff and says “tell me what you need.” That’s the difference between winners like John Middleton and Jeffrey Lurie and bystanders like Jay Sugarman.

One more quote:

Then came another caveat — but this one felt different from the past.

“It can’t block the longer-term plans that Ernst has and the players coming up,” he said.

The difference was not just in Sugarman’s words, but in the truth behind them. The players coming up do have that much potential: attacking midfielders Cavan Sullivan and David Vazquez; strikers Anisse Saidi, Jamir Johnson, and Diego Rocio; and centerbacks Brandan Craig and Neil Pierre.

Only Vazquez among them is truly close to playing for the first team. But the rest could be just a year or two away, depending on their ages. Their time truly is coming, and it’s a good principle not to block them.

“We don’t just play for every weekend,” Sugarman said. “We’re looking at how we’re going to be successful long-term, and that requires young players to have a chance to play.”

I’m so fucking sick of hearing about the academy. Yes, homegrown development is great. The strategy got them Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Nate Harriel, Jack McGlynn, etc. Everyone’s making a big deal about Cavan Sullivan, and rightfully so, but guess what? He’s 14 years old and not in a position to help this team win a trophy at this particular moment. To even suggest that you’d hold off on improving your team right now because it might “block” longer-term plans is one of the most ridiculous things you’ll ever hear.

Why?

BECAUSE THIS TEAM IS ON THE DOORSTEP RIGHT THE FUCK NOW AND CAN WIN ANOTHER TROPHY WITH ADDITIONAL FIRST TEAM INVESTMENT!

If I’m sitting in some room with these guys and they suggest not going out and getting a few more pieces because 16 year old Johnny Johnson MIGHT be ready to start in 2026, I’m asking how the hell that improves the team right now, a team that has played in finals and semifinals in just the last 2.5 seasons alone. And oh by the way, there’s no guarantee that Johnny Johnson is actually going to be able to hack it at the MLS level.

Let’s be real about home grown talent –

Even the best teams in the world, with the best academies in the world, need outside signings and foreign players. Look at those amazing Manchester United teams of 25 years ago. Did they internally produce David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes? They sure did. But that treble-winning team also had Denis Irwin, Jaap Stam, Andy Cole, Peter Schmeichel and a ton of players who had nothing do with the Man U youth setup and came from other teams. Same with Barcelona. For every Lionel Messi and Xavi and Iniesta there’s a Samuel Eto’o or Luis Suarez, Cruyff, Dani Alves, or Luis Figo.

For as much as we slurp the Union academy and tell these feel good rah rah stories, only three of the 11 starters on this current team came through the pipeline. The rest are outside additions, key contributors like Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Brujo Martinez, Julian Carranza, and Daniel Gazdag. Alejandro Bedoya didn’t come through the academy, nor did Jesus Bueno. Andre Blake and Jack Elliot were draft picks and Damion Lowe was acquired via trade. So on and so forth.

The academy thing is very nice, and it’s good to track former players as they go on to bigger clubs and/or the United States National Team, but the question every legitimate Union fan should ask is some version of “is ownership doing what it takes to build the best first team and win trophies right now?

The answer is unequivocally “no.”