At times during his first two seasons with the Union, Vincent Nogueira has looked like one of the top players in MLS, a savvy midfielder with a calming touch and impeccable vision.
At other times, though, the diminutive French midfielder has struggled to stay in form while dealing with injuries and inconsistency on a Philly team that's mirrored those very issues.
With one game left in the 2015 season - the Union conclude their season Sunday vs. Orlando City at PPL Park (5 p.m., TCN) - Nogueira now has no choice but to look ahead to 2016 when he hopes he can find more consistency and help Philly make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
But some of that is also out of his hands as the Union hold a team option on his contract and figure to retool much of the midfield, especially with a soon-to-be-named sporting director set to take charge of the personnel decisions.
"I feel pretty good here," Nogueira told reporters following Wednesday's practice. "Of course, it's not the season we expected as a player or, I think, as a club. I really want to do much better. For me, I didn't do the season that I wanted to do. A lot of tough injuries, and when I was at my best level, it was good but it wasn't enough. I wasn't on the field at my best enough of the time but I still want to stay here."
Nogueira added that he "doesn't know" if the team will pick up his option, although it seems very likely that they will. Still, that doesn't mean his future is necessarily secure as they can look to trade him or Cristian Maidana (who also has a team option for next year) or change their roles within the club as they bring in more attacking players this offseason.
For his part, though, Nogueira believes the team as its currently constructed is close to making the leap from the bottom of the league, so long as they can stay healthy next season and find the consistency that has consistently eluded them.
"When you see the games that we were able to play, there's no reason why we cannot play this kind of soccer all season," he said. "Of course we are very close. But very close can be very far because at the high level of professional soccer, you cannot be bad sometimes and good sometimes. You have to be at your best level every time."
With just one more week of practice until the offseason, Curtin has brought in some trialists as he turns his attention toward building a roster for 2016.
Among the new players at practice this week were a few U-18 kids from the club's youth academy, which Curtin called a "reward" for having strong seasons.
Perhaps more important for the Union's short-term future was the presence of Onua Thomas Obasi, an English left back on the Rochester Rhinos, a USL Pro team that boasted one of the best defenses in that league and held the Union to zero goals through 120 minutes in a U.S. Open Cup game at PPL Park this year.
Curtin loves his size (6-foot-4), his craftiness on the ball (he has a futsal pedigree) and his winning pedigree (he led the Rhinos to a USL championship last week), and said he had a great first day at PPL Park on Wednesday.
"He's a guy we monitored all year, a guy we're high on," Curtin said. "He put in the 30 games that I talked about in the USL Pro, and we'll evaluate him now and see if he's ready to take that next step at a key position, a left back position that's a tough one for clubs in MLS and around the world to find."
Meanwhile, Scottish striker James McFadden recently saw his two-week trial come to an end but his possible future with the Union is hazy.
"He did a great job when he was in, did everything he could," Curtin said. "I think he was fit, he played at the highest level possible, showed very well for himself. We had a talk with him at the end and told him kind of where we're at in terms of our roster; obviously there's no flexibility now to sign anyone. But he did a good job in the short time he was here, and we'll have a discussion after the Orlando game with him about what makes sense moving forward."
Before the 2015 season, the Union signed aging veterans Brian Caroll, Conor Casey and Fred to one-year deals with a team option for a second.
Only Carroll provided much of an impact this season, so the Union may choose to cut ties with at least two of the three stalwarts heading into next year.
That said, each of them could end up being kept to transition into a coaching role, especially with the Union's new USL-operated team in Bethlehem starting up soon.
"It's no secret they are getting up there in age," Curtin said. "They've been active pursuing their licenses as coaches and preparing for that next phase of their career. I think all three guys - again, I don't want to speak for them - but they do have an interest to coach down the road.
"So yeah that is a possibility for one or more - the idea of a player-coach and keeping them in the organization because they're guys that have done it at the highest level and guys I respect a great deal."