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January 10, 2017

Is Jay Simpson the goal scorer that Union fans have waited for?

You might be underwhelmed with the Union's addition of Jay Simpson, a 28-year-old journeyman forward who has spent most of his career in England's lower divisions.

This isn't the seven-figure striker that fans were hoping for, but throwing money at foreign players has never been Jay Sugarman's modus operandi.

The best case scenario is that Simpson can emulate the path taken by Bradley Wright-Phillips or Giles Barnes, fellow Englishmen who found American success after decent, yet unspectacular seasons of domestic football.

You might have seen a bit of Simpson at Hull City when the Tigers played in the Championship from 2010 to 2013. He came through the Arsenal youth academy but appeared just three times for the first team, instead going on loan to Millwall, West Brom, and Queens Park Rangers. Outside of one season in Thailand, he's played the entirety of his career in England.

Simpson comes to Philadelphia from League Two side Leyton Orient, where he scored 36 goals in 99 appearances. He scored 25 of those goals in 45 matches during the 2015-2016 season.

I don't know a ton about Simpson, so I asked a couple of English writers if they would share some information about him.

Will Jackson, Hull Daily Mail (@WilliamJ93)

PhillyVoice: What can you tell us about Jay Simpson's spell at Hull City?

Jackson: "Simpson never really appeared to settle at Hull. He arrived from Arsenal in 2010, for a fee thought to be worth around £1m, which given the club’s financial troubles at the time, was a fairly large investment. He never lived up to expectations.

Despite being a regular member of Nigel Pearson’s side, he struggled with the pace of the Championship, taking him 18 appearances to notch his first goal in a black and amber shirt.

After hardly hitting the heights in his first season, he was farmed out to Millwall the following season on loan, which really seemed to give him the kick he needed heading into his final season of his three-year contract.

He hit the ground running in his final term and finally began to convert those skeptical fans, scoring four goals in the opening eight games, becoming a key part of Hull City’s promotion-winning campaign of 2012/13.

But with the club back in the Premier League, his contract was allowed to expire and he left the club as a free agent. In truth, in his final season he was an important member of the team simply because there were few other options up front. I have a great amount of respect for the efforts he put in with Hull City but in his absence, he was not missed."

PhillyVoice: What kind of striker can Philadelphia fans expect? Can you describe a bit of his skill set?

Jackson: "Although I am by no means an expert in MLS, from what I gather the tempo of the league is a lot slower than the English game and therefore better suited to Jay Simpson.

While there is no denying his strong work ethic, Simpson as a footballer lacks pace and stamina, meaning he often gets caught up in build up play and can’t get to the areas he needs to be to score goals.

Despite that, I honestly feel like MLS could be the perfect stage for Simpson to finally realize his potential. He’s good with the ball at his feet, and in fairness to him when he gets in the positions he can be dangerous.

It all depends what Philadelphia fans want from a striker. If they want nothing more than a goal scorer then Simpson is not the man for them. However, if they want a striker that works hard for the team and brings others into play, then Simpson is their man."

PhillyVoice: He doesn't look to have a great goal scoring record, but he did play very well at Leyton Orient these past two seasons. Is that the product of him improving, or playing at a League 2 club?

Jackson: "When he first joined Leyton Orient, I was surprised that he had taken such a step down in class after playing top end Championship football for so long. So, in that respect, the fact that he did well there is no surprise whatsoever.

As previously mentioned, at Hull he could never be considered a goal scoring striker, but with a bit of confidence and some backing he does have goals in him. He scored 25 last season for the O’s in League Two. That has to be put down to a mixture of playing in the fourth tier of English football and the confidence that comes with being a big fish in a small pond

I wish him the best of luck in America, and I believe that although he wasn’t good enough for Hull City, he could become a Philly fan’s favorite."

Dave Victor – BBC Radio London (@DulcetDave)

PhillyVoice: Your thoughts on Jay Simpson's time at Leyton Orient? Can he be successful in Major League Soccer?

Victor: "Jay has had an unusual career. He was seen to be a real star of the future at Arsenal but didn't quite make it. The switch to Hull appeared to be logical, but going to Thailand in his mid 20's was an odd decision and his record there was very poor (2 goals on 18 months). Jay returned to England and had a slow start at Orient where expectations were very high, but a change of manager and approach suited him - balls to run onto and plenty of chances in the box. His scoring record in 2015 was impressive, but when Ian Hendon was replaced, all the other managers have gone for more long, high passes. Jay has struggled as a result - 3 goals in 17 appearances. I expect that the States will suit him well. He is a goal scorer and a match winner.

Jay is a very skillful player and if he gets a good supply of quality crosses and through balls he will score a lot of goals

I've seen one MLS game live and several on TV. Life in the 4th division in England is very different, it's extremely physical and not suited to a skillful and quick player like Jay. I think the U.S. will suit him well. He is a very nice guy and has been a pleasure to work with. I wish him every success"

Take a look at this short highlight video, which has a bunch of Simpson's goals at Orient.

Here's the breakdown of how those goals were scored:

     • Five from crosses into the box
     • four from turning and creating his own shot
     • two poached goals inside the box
     • one long ball and teammate knockdown
     • one through ball at top of box
     • one goal from a broken play and defensive mistake
     • That's a good blend of goal scoring, and the diversity of finishing is important.

He looks to be a guy who can put away service, which is key in a Union system that has the fullbacks getting forward and putting crosses into the box.

The thing that jumps out to me, though, is those four goals where he is able to create his own shot. Philly really lacked in that department last year, at least at the center forward spot. Chris Pontius had success with some of those parallel dribbles across the top of the box, but C.J. Sapong didn't really have that as part of his skill set. Simpson looks like a guy who can receive the ball, create some space, and get off that shot.

I haven't watched a ton of League 2, so I can't make a great comparison to MLS.

I do think that most English players who come from the lower divisions have done alright in MLS. You have success stories like Wright-Phillips and Barnes, but there are also guys like Richard Eckersley and Luke Moore who have been pretty good performers. Luke Rodgers and Danny Dichio are two more examples, though Dichio was approaching the end of his career when he came to Toronto.

It's alright if you're not excited about Jay Simpson coming to Philadelphia, but I'll reserve judgment for now. Earnie Stewart has a proven track record of talent identification, so let's see what this guy can do on the field.