Photo by Daniel Mick.

The Angle

Trust the Process?

by on 24 August 2017

As Minnesota United has been building its roster before MLS and now as a team in MLS, there has been a frustrating lack of results. If fans are going to “trust the process,” just what is that process?

One of the unique aspects of American sports is the process of “tanking,” by which a team (usually while strongly denying it) knowingly builds a substandard roster, or the coach makes deliberately bad personnel decisions, all for the purpose of being one of the worst teams in the league and subsequently reaping offseason rewards in the form of high draft picks.

The ultimate manifestation of this strategy recently played out with the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team, which for a period of years traded away their top players, drafted badly injured young players who needed at least a year to recover, and badly undershot the salary cap. The team’s front office was up-front about their plan: to play so badly for multiple years that they would amass enough high draft picks to create a top team in the future. This strategy polarized fans across the league, but retained a durable popularity among 76ers fans, whose mantra became #TrustTheProcess. That painful process ended up leading to the firing of its chief architect, but ultimately his successors did not orchestrate a major deviation from the strategy, which is just now starting to bear fruit.

In MLS, the fundamentals are different. The SuperDraft is an infrequent source of truly gamechanging talent, and American soccer sits in the middle of a massive global marketplace for talent, not at the top as our baseball, basketball, and hockey leagues do. But there is one thing in common—fans are remarkably willing to tolerate and even support awful teams, if they can be convinced that what they are watching is a necessary step towards greater success.

For instance, this past weekend, Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen was badly beaten from an acute angle in a game against Orlando, which ended a 1-1 draw. Those two points dropped are ones the Crew can ill-afford, as they stand just a point above the playoff line. But fans of The Massive will likely grit their teeth and tolerate the error, because Steffen is 22 years old and viewed as one of the top American goalkeeping prospects. He needs to play, because that’s how you get better. In three years, Columbus is betting on having one of the league’s best goalkeepers and brightest stars. If that comes to pass, the little bumps along the road will be forgotten.

Which brings us to Minnesota United FC, now mired in their first MLS season. The Loons aren’t tanking, but they’re not good. On Sunday, the Loons were beaten in agonizing fashion by the Seattle Sounders, who converted a stoppage time penalty kick. But the postgame frustration among many in the fanbase, including myself, had a lot less to do with the result than with the manner in which the team was set up and managed. The bad result was not wholly unexpected; Seattle are a better team than Minnesota. But the greater disappointment was the apparent lack of any larger plan from the coaching staff, and perhaps the front office as well.

Adrift on the table

To be clear on one point, the Loons are out of the playoffs in every respect except the math. They sit twelve points and 22 goals behind the current six seed, Vancouver, with ten games left, and the Caps have a game in hand. For Minnesota to make the postseason, they would need to make up this ground in a stretch of games in which they play just three more times at home. Meanwhile, not just would Vancouver need to collapse, but San Jose, Salt Lake, Los Angeles, and Colorado would all need to not go on a similar run. What slim chances the Loons have rely on them winning games, not just drawing them. They are in last place, and a Toronto win or another loss would mathematically eliminate them from the supporters shield in August.

No supporter wants to see the team start mailing it in. On the contrary, it would be much more fun to see the team play without pressure and try to build something positive and exciting that they can build on next season. As Alexi Lalas asked in Sunday’s pregame, “what do they have to lose?”

After Ethan Finlay scored the opener, the Loons ceased trying to play soccer, and instead resorted to hoofing the ball up for Abu Danladi to chase.

But apparently the coaching staff doesn’t see it the same way. The Minnesota roster in Seattle was conservative, and the game plan was even more so. After Ethan Finlay scored the opener, the Loons ceased trying to play soccer, and instead resorted to hoofing the ball up for Abu Danladi to chase. On the rare counter-attack the Loons mustered, it looked like they couldn’t get rid of the ball soon enough. They made low percentage hero ball passes or tried to beat very good defenders on the dribble. There was little patience to pick the right pass or to retain possession. There was little attempt to put Seattle under sustained pressure. This persisted throughout the game, even after the Sounders equalized off a set piece, where Michael Boxall unfortunately slipped while marking Chad Marshall. From the moment they scored, the message emanating from Minnesota’s play couldn’t have been clearer: we want a 1-0 win or a 1-1 draw.

That’s the kind of realpolitik that would be celebrated if the club were in the thick of the playoff chase, or perhaps in another country, battling relegation. But the club is not hunting postseason glory, nor does it have to worry about the drop. In theory, it has the freedom to take risks, play soccer, and try to build something better than before.

Parking the bus

The ultimate expression of this defeatism came when Kevin Molino was replaced by Jermaine Taylor with roughly thirteen minutes to go in the match. Taken in isolation, the sub made sense. Molino had his worst game yet, while shoehorned into central attacking midfield and forced to do battle against the likes of Ozzie Alonso. Taylor is a smart, competent defender who has acquitted himself well as a center-back for the Loons and for Jamaica this year. But in context, the substitution was infuriating.

The Loons needed that point on the road like we all need a sock with a hole in it. If it’s really about chasing the distant playoff dream for Minnesota, then only three points would do. The game was tied, and Seattle were leaving themselves exposed as they pushed for a winner. Why not insert Brandon Allen, a proven goalscorer at the lower levels, for his MLS debut? Or if was about preparing for the future by challenging the team to hold a tie game with one of the league’s toughest crowds, then put 22 year-olds Collin Martin and Ismaila Jome into a fray to get experience that they’ll draw on for years to come. Instead, we got Jermaine Taylor, who was the right man for the wrong job.

It was a game managed as if it was the road point that mattered. But the road point didn’t matter. Experience mattered. Building for the future mattered. Playing optimistic soccer mattered. It’s almost beside the point that they didn’t even get the point anyway.

It may seem unfair to harp on a game which was, in reality, one of Minnesota’s best performances in recent weeks. But the way it was handled was a microcosm of a lot of grievances that fans have been nursing about the way the technical staff has gone about managing this team, dating all the way back to last year.

The process

Although it was only announced in August of 2016, everyone knew for a year before that the Loons would likely join MLS in 2017. In the 2015-16 offseason, the club made a number of acquisitions that seemed geared towards that end. They added MLS veterans like Ben Speas, Danny Cruz and Jeb(!) Brovsky, up-and-comers like Damion Lowe, and lower-league stars like Lance Laing and Stefano Pinho. Yet the 2016 season was a disappointment, and the team seemed to completely abandon its approach after the season. None of those players were brought along to MLS, and only one member of the coaching staff was retained. Given how poorly that year went, it’s understandable. However, whatever master plan the club had been working from was clearly reset.

After the NASL season concluded, the team hired Adrian Heath, and proceeded to go about building a roster. They were crunched for time, but with Heath’s knowledge of the league and other scouting trips, they had a base from which to work. But once the season started, it became clear that the team’s offseason had been a disaster. Players brought in from Manny Lagos’ Scandinavian trips, especially Vadim Demidov, but also Josh Gatt, Rasmus Schüller, and Bashkim Kadrii all struggled. Players from MLS that Heath appeared to have targeted, especially Johan Venegas and Collen Warner, also were not as effective as hoped for.

So just four weeks into the season, the team again had to reset their plan. Demidov was abandoned, Gatt was traded, and slowly but surely throughout the year, the offseason work has been undone. John Alvbåge’s loan was not extended, Schüller has been loaned out, and Johan Venegas and Kadrii haven’t been heard from. But the team was bailed out early in the season, thanks to sharp trades for MLS veterans, and the unexpected strength of the team’s NASL cohort. Suddenly, it seemed a shortsighted mistake to have abandoned the team’s initial plan, as players like Speas, Cruz, Lowe, Laing, and Pinho all have found success this season and the Loons found themselves relying on the same players they had relied on the year before. Thus did Plan B give way to Plan C, with Plan A looking right all long.

We are now onto MNUFC’s fourth iteration, with the fruits of the club’s summer transfer work bedding in. The current season is more or less lost, and the main task would seem to be finishing the season taking risks, testing the new and the young players, and setting in place a defined style of play that will be expanded upon in the 2018 MLS campaign. But Sunday’s match gave no indication that the team is operating on that wavelength. While summer signing Sam Nicholson is getting time, Brandon Allen has been conspicuously ignored and in all different types of game states.

Why, given that this entire year has demonstrated the prospects of lower division players, has he not gotten a single minute? It’s inexplicable why the club brought him in at all if they were going to so quickly abandon the idea of playing him. Ismaila Jome, who played left-back with plenty of hiccups throughout the summer, didn’t start on Sunday. Is the team committed to his development at that position or not? Abu Danladi is getting time, which is certainly welcome, as he continues to show flashes of promise (alongside head-in-hands moments). But for most of Sunday’s game, he was basically playing by himself. Did that really help him grow?

Gaps on the pitch

The team’s inconsistent approach to its youth is compounded by Adrian Heath’s absolutely maddening stubbornness in central attacking midfield, where he continues to deploy Kevin Molino in a role he is plainly unsuited to play. Molino began the season as the team’s best player, terrorizing opponents on the wing, and occasionally cutting across a wide-open center of the field as the team’s two forwards made space. But his production has cratered ever since Heath moved him to the middle of the park, and week after week this charade continues. The team has signed wingers upon wingers to challenge the likes of Miguel Ibarra and Kadrii, and yet Molino’s position has remained untouchable and no actual No. 10 has been signed at all, no matter how ineffective he performs. It’s not his fault, he’s being set up to fail. But as Heath has frequently extolled the virtues of competition at every position, why are only certain positions and certain players the “beneficiaries” of this philosophy?

The team has also yet to sign a single defensive midfielder to back up Sam Cronin, and Ibson’s particular skills are so beloved by Heath that he is allowed complete freedom to wander the field, which often leaves the defense exposed, and makes it so that Minnesota results often hinge upon which Ibson shows up to the stadium that afternoon.

I understand that the tenor of this complaint has been extremely negative, but I do not mean to advocate for hopelessness or despair. Despite plenty of misses, the team has its share of players to build a strong MLS core around. Ramirez, Molino, Ibarra, Finlay, Kallman, and Francisco Calvo are all 25 to 27 years-old. Danladi, Nicholson, Martin, Jome, and now Alex Kapp are all 22 or younger. Looking ahead for the next couple years, I think the Loons are in fine shape on paper.

The Loons have seemed to whipsaw through four different iterations this year, with the results of each being extremely mixed.

But what I need in order to rest easy is some kind of sign that there’s actually a plan in place, and that it’s being faithfully carried out. The Loons have seemed to whipsaw through four different distinct phases this year, with the results of each being extremely mixed, and each new one often trampling over the work of the old. In the process, good players have been cast aside and performances on the field have been spotty. I wish I had the confidence in the club to nail their first designated player signing (hopefully a No. 10 or a No. 6). I wish I had the confidence that the promising core I mentioned above won’t be cast aside for a new attempt at a different core. I wish I had the confidence in the technical staff to coach a team that plays the kind of easy-on-the-eye attacking soccer everyone pays lip service to. But what’s so depressing about games like Sunday’s is that they make it harder to hold that confidence. It’s hard to believe that there’s a serious and clever master plan at work that somehow involves clinging for dear life to a useless point on the road in Seattle.

The Loons have ten games left. It’s time to lay the groundwork for the future of this team, both near and long term. It’s time to aspire to the best soccer this team can play. It’s time to take risks with formations and personnel. It’s time to start building, instead of constantly tearing down and starting over. And it’s time to sell the fanbase on a strategy that builds upon all that we’ve learned this past year and charts a clear course for 2018 and beyond.

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  • Wes

    I have a bit more sympathy for Heath and co for some of the in-game decisions (not the stunning lack of subs until late). I think playing for a draw on the road against Seattle is understandable. Remember that Heath (and players) are still playing for their careers. Even if they can’t make the playoffs, they still want to finish high and look good and not be “the worst team ever.”
    But I agree with the idea that it’s hard to figure out what the plan is. New players seem to be just replacing the players from the last plan (more wingers? No fullbacks? No DM?). Maybe two years from now we’ll look back and it will make sense…

  • BJ

    If Health is the man, and Ibarra is not in his plans, why did we turn down the trade offers – rumors – for Ibarra. That, to me, is saying Health maybe on a shorter leash than we think.

    • David Sterling

      I would venture to agree with you. I do think Ibarra would make a good super sub, IF he can put the effort in. Clearly there is a side to him we don’t see.

    • Brian Scott

      Would you trade Ibarra for a third or fourth round pick? Because that’s what he is worth.

      • BJ

        I wouldn’t, and but I think he is worth way more than a 3rd or 4th round pick. We don’t know what the offers were for. We do know Ibarra has an above average salary and multi year contract.

        So….

        But I would, if I didn’t plan on using him. Unload his salary, get a pick and cap space. Bring in another player. Why keep a player you don’t want to play.

  • Jeff Rueter

    You showed impressive restraint by keeping your disdain for “Molino the 10” to one paragraph.

    • Alex Schieferdecker

      Appreciate the congrats.

  • Dave Williams

    I’m pretty much in agreement here Alex. I do get that Heath and players not wanting to be the worst team ever, but one horrid season cannot become years of mediocrity due to lack of vision. I actually think some of what Heath does will not earn him points around the league. If we’re asking questions like this, so are plenty of professionals in other front offices.

  • David Sterling

    Completely agree. I want to see this lineup:
    CR21 (Allen), Danladi
    Nicholson, Molino
    Cronin, Ibson
    Calvo, Kallman, Boxall, Thiesson

    I understand Kallman may not be fit, so move Calvo inside and put Jome on the Left.

    In terms of Heath, I think it is the front office. I think Manny has no clue of how to play with the big boys, and he’s failed. I have been very critical of Heath after hearing many complaints from Orlando supporters, but with such random personnel choices, and the complete disaster that was Scandinavia, I think it has less to do with Heath.

    • BJ

      >Manny has no clue of how to play with the big boys,

      I don’t agree. Yet.

      > complete disaster that was Scandinavia

      I disagree. While VD was a big disaster, the rest just didn’t work out.

      Remember he also brought in everyone else we love Jerry and Calvo included. How much was Heath on Calvo and Jerry?

      We know the Manny can spot talent and has in the past brought in a lot of really good players, this is not in question. The question is, can he bring in proven talent as well. That is the question that needs to be answered, can he sign – when the time is right – a DP, for DP money and get a DP performance from that player. He failed big at 1 TAM player, 1 -> VD. Calvo is also a TAM player. I believe Jerry is as well.

      So did VD fail because he is a failure, or did Heath not figure it out and put a actually good National Team player out to pasture and do a lot of what we have been talking about with him like we are seeing with Ibarra and VD said, puck it you suck I get paid no matter what.

      • David Sterling

        The salaries of that “scouting” trip totaled $1.3m (rounded down), we’ve let Alvbage leave, presumably recouping Schuller, and are still stuck with $933k sitting on the bench. $555k of that hasn’t seen the pitch since April. That is a complete disaster. The only saving grace is that Gatt went toward Burch and Cronin. While that trade was incredibly positive for us, I’m not sure it eliminates how terrible Manny’s ability to scout those guys was.
        I believe it was this very publication (or its FB page) that I called out both Demidov and Kadrii as unlikely to succeed well before the season, based simply off Google searches and translating random articles about them. I’m not remotely joking about that. I was also critical of Schuller, but if I remember correctly, not as bad as the other two.
        Calvo was signed nearly a full month into Heath’s tenure, and after Heath joined Manny in Latin America. “You can’t be anything but impressed with Calvo and the way he has been playing recently,” – Heath. That suggests to me Heath was finally involved.
        Thiesson was signed right before the season, and this is what Lagos had to say about him, “It’s a position on the field where we can always have more depth and experience”. Seriously, “depth”? Again, I am sure Heath was involved in that as well, and Lagos was sure JD and KV would start, Jerry was a glorious mistake (I still think he’s our best overall player as much as I am ridiculed for it).
        I’ll reiterate, Manny is the problem with our personnel. I know I don’t *know* this for certain, and he still has time to redeem himself, but one has to scratch their heads about him.

        • Dave Williams

          I seem to recall some suggestion Manny hadn’t actually seen much of Vadim in person before signing?

  • duluth_loon

    I completely agree that there is no player acquisition process being followed, apart from the team’s commitment to NOT signing any designated players in year 1. I will never forgive them for this line of thinking. It’s 2017 in MLS. Not signing DP-level players as an expansion team sends so many wrong messages to the fan base, team personnel, and potential players. If you are an owner who claims the team can’t afford to pay $5M in DP salaries each year, you need to find another rich person’s hobby. And Heath, stop playing Molino in central positions! Argh!

    • David Sterling

      I wonder if the “No DP” policy is a sign ownership does not trust, or questions, Lagos’ ability. It is almost as if they are testing the waters to see how his first season of scouting pans out, before letting him spend real money. We could even stretch that to their faith in Heath. It is a thought.

      • Brian Scott

        Or instead the team would rather place the $3 million dollars in upgrading their practice facility?

    • Benzino

      Exactly. There is huge need up the spine of this team, but all they did was sign wingers, one of which they vastly overpaid for his rights. I am not sure there is any rhyme or reason to their player acquisition model. But then again, when they publicly stated they wanted to sign DPs to support their “core players” I knew something was amiss. As small as it was, re-signing Burch was just another sign of a sub-par FO making poor decisions.

      • markgoody

        Exactly. They’re talking about spending millions of dollars to support their core? You build around DPs not vice versa.

  • Allan Evans

    While I still love the team, I am disappointed in the team we’ve assembled. We have a base of 5-6 players and the rest are in the wrong division. However, the worst part is the decision making.
    #1: Why wouldn’t you want a proven DP (#10) to build your team around? Atlanta is certainly thinking they’ve won the lottery of the expansions teams.
    #2 Game management has been less than astute. How often do we use just two of our subs? If you don’t have confidence with your bench, maybe they shouldn’t be here in the first place.
    #3 We seem to have the back passes and side-to-side passes down quite well. Maybe it’s time to try some forward passes too.
    #4 I’m just generally frustrated with the low bar we’ve set for ourselves.
    For those that don’t know, this is what it is like (at times) to be an Arsenal supporter.

    • David Sterling

      It’s like you’re inside my head.
      I wasn’t expecting much with four months to build the squad, but with a transfer window mid-season, and having realized early on that four or five players were not going to cut it, I expected more commitment to recovery. It’s like we’re golfing, and after our second shot heads into the trees, instead of trying to punch it onto the green, we decide to play it safe back to the fairway for par, and somehow end up in the bunker, losing a couple strokes. (if that made any sense)
      My thoughts on your points:
      1 – I don’t think the man holding the purse strings has complete faith in the man/men building the squad.
      2 – This was a complaint I heard from Orlando supporters, whether true own not, no idea. Based on this season, I’m thinking it is.
      3 – If Heath forced Ibson to stay put, this may actually change. I think those stat-padding passes are a result of a lack of confidence in midfield defensive capabilities.
      4 – I am frustrated as well, and I was thinking we feel a bit more like Everton of the 2000s; flirting with the top 1/4, but never really willing to make the final move that will make a difference.

      • duluth_loon

        The Loons are flirting with being the worst expansion team in the history of MLS. A better EPL comparison would be whatever team sets their bar at surviving relegation each year while spending as little money as possible. I can’t even think of a recent EPL team that sets their bar as low as the Loons have this year. I’m actually totally serious when I ask…what is the bar the Loons have set for themselves this year?

        • David Sterling

          I suppose you’re right. I always try to think of this squad in a more positive light. For instance, if they could stay healthy, and Heath could stop tinkering, I think they are a mid-table team, hence the Everton comparison.
          With that said, I don’t think there is a bar. They have the greatest get-out-of-jail-free card ever; “What do you expect with only four months to build a team?”
          From what I could tell, there hasn’t been an expansion team with less than a year prep, and the last handful appeared to all have two years or more.

        • Dave Williams

          Aston Villa in the final years under Randy Lerner. The year they were relegated, they did not bother to bring in one player in January

    • duluth_loon

      With all due respect, Arsenal has finished in the EPL top 4 in 18 of the last 20 seasons. IMHO, supporting the Loons is absolutely nothing like supporting Arsenal. The bars each team are reaching for are not even remotely similar. We should be so lucky as to one day equate supporting the Loons with supporting Arsenal. 🙂

  • Governor Squid

    One can only hope that the Powers That Be take the opportunity to use the last ten games of this season as a chance to have the preseason warmup our guys missed out on earlier. We tried throwing 11 strangers onto the field in our first games, and the results were less than satisfactory. At this point, I’d actually be happier to treat the next ten games as preseason friendlies, where we can test different formations and partnerships on the field.

    Hell, in hindsight, I’m kinda wishing the team had just come right out and said “We’re going to do a 12-month preseason program. Please bear with us.” Then we might have measured success by player growth and chemistry instead of wins and losses. Which isn’t to say we wouldn’t be just as disappointed…

  • Almontanello

    In May MNUFC got good results and here I wrote that:
    2 or 3 very good players have to be signed to keep alive the hopes of playoffs.
    I was criticized and considered as too pessimistic, given the good performance of the team at that time.

    Now no more dreams of play-offs but only one target:
    Avoid the wooden spoon.

    Then for the new season hire a new tech director which signs better players and a new coach to harmonize players and tactics and to give to the players high motivation and grit.
    At that point play-offs will be possible

  • Scherbs

    Great article. I would love to see something in the next month or two, about which players should stay and which should go(Demidov, Kadrii, Venegas, Venegas, Anor).

    • BJ

      Demidov is on a 3 year contract.

      Kadrii is a 1 year loan, bye bye after season is over.

      J Venegas was almost traded a week ago and still might be.

      K Venegas 2 year contract – could be released and picked up by someone else in MLS.

      Anor end of a 2 year contract so bye bye also even if we had an option probably will pass (2 years of him being injured very unlikely to pick up for a 3rd year)

  • John Asbury

    I do not claim to be a soccer genius and if anybody wanted to make me a coach of an MLS team or General Manager…they should be fired on the spot. However, it is mind boggling that we didn’t take 80% of our player budget and pick 11 MLS players who start and have 3 years experience, and then take the other 20% to make some wild bets for our first year. If the bets paid off, awesome. If not, we got our 11 that will make us competitive. Maybe the ratio is 60/40 or 70/30; but that seems like a rational approach. If MNUFC’s strategy is so so complex that nobody can explain it, then it is bound to fail.

  • Scott Anthony Kerssen

    Going to steal and refurbish an old Joan Rivers joke here…

    American sports fans are the type of people that stand in front of a microwave and scream “HURRY UP!!!”

    If I were to try to address all the complaints contained in Alex’s article and the comments section, I would have to write an article three times the length of the original. So, I am going to stick to two or three general points. First…

    We are an expansion team! What did you expect?!?! Anyone here know how expansion teams generally do in this league? Let me lay it on you.

    There have been 13 expansion teams that have joined this league before this season. Only 2 of them have made the playoffs in their first year. Not coincidently, they are the only two to have a winning record in their first year. The first one was Chicago who actually took the league title. In 1998. In a three year old league with only 12 teams. By the way, the quality MLS had in 1998 can be illustrated by the fact that the winner of the 1999 USOC was the Rochester Rhinos, a USL A-League club who missed the double when they were defeated in the A-League championship match by the Minnesota Thunder. The second expansion team making the playoffs in their first year was Seattle in 2009. NO other MLS expansion team has debuted with a winning record.

    Now let’s compare MNUFC with the remaining 11 teams. At the time of this typing (just after the Chicago match) Minnesota has 7 wins on the season. This puts us ahead of the full season’s total for 2004’s Chivas USA (4 wins), 2004’s RSL (5 wins), 2007’s Toronto (6 wins) and 2011’s Vancouver (6 wins).

    We have 9 matches left. If we win 1 of them, we pass the 2008 version of San Jose. If we win 2, we pass 2010’s Philadelphia. If we can scrape together 4 wins out of our last 9, we pass 2015’s NYCFC to tie 2011’s Portland.

    We are doing pretty close to average for an expansion team in this league. Considering the disadvantages we entered the league with (not knowing we were starting in 2017 until the middle of 2016, our disappointing Scandinavian signings, not having an actual scouting department, etc.) our current level of play should not be much of a surprise and it wouldn’t be fair to leave it solely, or even primarily, at the doorstep of Heath.

    I am also moved to address the complaint that we have not signed a top number 10.

    For crying out sideways, it’s not like you can find a quality attacking midfielder/second forward in the clearance shelves at Walmart. In the soccer world, they are as desired as holding the mortgage on the Louvre and are as rare as a Trump supporter in an East L.A. bodega. And we have tried getting one. Unfortunately, Al Alhi in Saudi Arabia was able to splash the better cash deal for Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz. Better to wait until the off season and see what quality 10’s are available during the rest of the world’s winter break. Should be able to find one at a decent price in South America or Europe not getting the time they deserve because some circumstance or other.

    Patience, grasshoppers. Give the club time to acclimate to the higher competitive altitude and the players to each other.