Commentary / Union

Who is Elías Aguilar?

Reports filtered out Wednesday afternoon that Costa Rican international Elías Aguilar was training with the Union in Chester.

A product of perennial Costa Rican top-tier powerhouse C.S. Herediano, the attacking midfielder could be an interesting pickup once the summer transfer window opens if the training is more than just an off-season workout for Elías.

This is all speculation based on the fact that Elías Aguilar trained with the team on Wednesday. Jim Curtin made clear that this is simply a training visit and nothing more. On one hand that’s exactly what he said about Oguchi Onyewu, but it’s also what he said about Ronaldo Damus (who is now back in Haiti with Real du Cap). Meanwhile, other reports state that the Union have already made an offer. The probability of Aguilar’s signing with the Union remains unclear, but it is certainly a very real possibility worth considering.

Naturally left-footed, Aguilar occasionally plays as a left winger, but he could very well be brought into Philadelphia at central midfield. It’s the position he plays most often for club and country, and it’s been a position left essentially vacant for the Union since Tranquillo Barnetta returned to Switzerland. That isn’t to say Ilsinho hasn’t stepped up admirably to fill the role, but like Alejandro Bedoya before him it’s clear this isn’t Ilsinho’s position of choice. As for Roland Alberg, the fact that he hasn’t found reliable playing time despite how thin the Union are at the number 10 spot says plenty without even considering the implications of a new signing like Aguilar.

As far as performing the duties of a number 10, studying highlight reels leads one to believe Aguilar is a serious threat on goal, especially from distance or on set pieces. He has the skills to worry a defense at close range as well, showing an ability to hold and move the ball under pressure that could surpass Ilsinho if it’s as good as it seems. To an extent, his play seems to have more in common with Chaco Maidana’s style, though with a better nose for taking shots when they present themselves. On the negative side of things, he may struggle with MLS’ physicality, as more than a few of the fouls he suffers (which worryingly appear to count as a highlight) wouldn’t make an American ref reach for his whistle, let alone a card. That isn’t to say other Central American players haven’t overcome the same cultural difference, but how he manages it, and how quickly, would be something to watch early on if he signs with the Union.

Video via Super Pollo Digital Solutions

In 2013, Aguilar was loaned to Ascenso MX’s Zacatepec at a market value of €300,000, but since 2015 TransferMarkt has had him consistently around €400,000 (approximately $450,000). That’s a fairly consistent value for a player who’s just 25 years old, but it also means his value hasn’t gone up in four seasons. So this isn’t a project player, it’s not a case where you buy low and hope to build value for a future sale. And it’s also not the high-value designated player that redefines how a team plays. He would be the type of player brought in to fill a specific need on a team, working with the pieces already in place and ideally helping them all work better together.

Sometimes a training visit is just a training visit, and it’s very possible that we’re reading too much into this. But for what other reason would a player with no connection to the area or the team decide to kick around in Chester in his off-season? Even if he did, what reason would the Union have for letting an outside player disrupt their regular training schedule? Especially if that player is one that could very probably make a direct impact on how the rest of their season plays out.


  1. Clearly this is an audition. There is no other explanation. And clearly this is an attempt to get a #10 at a relatively good rate. Whether it’s a good fit, for both club and player, remains to be seen.

    • I think you’re probably right, but couldn’t another explanation be that he was just looking for a place to warm-up/practice ahead of the Gold Cup in a couple weeks? (Honestly, I have no idea if that’s a reasonable explanation, it just seemed plausible)

  2. Clearly this is the usual Union but on the cheap deal. Not saying that negatively, that’s just the truth. My question here is, does this satisfy everyone? Will you be happy with this as the summer move and this as the savior #10? Let’s be honest, that’s what we need at this point. At least he is on the younger side at 25. I don’t know much about him but the Chaco style doesn’t necessarily mesh with this lineup setup, it’s just a better ilsinho.
    I will tend to be happy that we’re making a move and an upgrade, however a little disappointed at the low ceiling budget nature of it. CAM is a major impact position, I can where big money is justified. This shouldn’t be a bargain position. However, I will appreciate the upgrade.

    • Maybe Sugarman can’t afford more, short of DP money. Maybe spending DP money will depend upon the removal of Maurice Edu’s contract. I don’t know. (Cue rants about Philly is not a small market blah blah blah…)

      • John Harris says:

        How about a rant that Sugarman is cheap and taking advantage of Union fans (like all Philly owners do)?

    • We need a number #10, which we all can agree on. Would I call this guy a “savior”? Not yet. The Chaco comparison, I didn’t see from the highlights. First, Chaco never ran that fast in his life. Nor did he take as many shots. I did like Aguilar’s ability to take on players and get around them. But what I really want for a Union #10 is the ability to control build up play and control possession. That wasn’t necessarily present in the highlights, but they’re highlights so…
      I do like that they are hitting the South American market in search of talent. More please.

      • Would you say Barnetta controlled build up play and possession? I feel that type of thing is more for the 8 and 6 (and Nogs played that part perfectly).

        But that is an interesting expectation. I don’t think Haris can do that as much, he seems more of a direct final pass type of player.

      • I do think Barentta controlled build up play and possession, through mostly his movement, either with the ball or without. He was able to make a player or two miss with little moves, and not blazing speed. He’d find that little patch of space, either to receive the ball, or to pull defenders to him, to create space for others. He also had the line breaking pass to set someone up for a shot on goal. But he also knew when to control it, to keep possession. Which worked best when playing with Nogs. Now I’m not saying Aguilar can’t do these things. I did see the ability to make little moves and create space. There just wasn’t a protracted clip of build up play over a minute or two (hope I’m making that clearer).

    • This is not enough. I hope the guy comes out and proves me wrong, but with this signing we’ll still have the worst or second worst number 10 in the East.

      • John P O'Donnell Jr. says:

        That’s a big statement based on highlight video or do you watch a lot of Liga National de Futbol?

  3. Please sign this person so I have a reason to care about the games

  4. Zizouisgod says:

    I refuse to be excited by watching highlights of any player. They can be so misleading as you don’t get a sense of the entire player’s game. I remember being impressed when I saw Pajoy’s highlights and then when you saw him play in a match, you saw all of the mistakes that he made (e.g. – not being in the right body position when presented with a scoring chance).

  5. Chris Gibbons says:

    According to Twitter sources, this contract is ready to go, as is the one for Damus who will be making an alleged return in September. Who knows if they’re true, of course, but that would mean the Union would be shipping another international player off to make room, I think. Alberg seems like the obvious guy right now, and I imagine he would welcome an opportunity to get back to Holland and his newborn, or fulfill his dream of getting to England.

    • Jim O'Leary says:

      The proto-rumors I’ve seen about Damus are that he’ll be on a Steel contract, and thus not count against the Union’s International Slots. But they’re not even full on rumors, so take from that what you will.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Has anyone checked to see whether the Steel have any free international slots?

    • John Harris says:

      Alberg has a dream of getting to England? That’s delusional. England has a league for overweight guys who don’t try particularly hard? … Sure that’s actually part of what defines a Britton: a stiff upper lip, fake politeness, jingoistic zenophobia, and of course… a love of bad soccer! Alburg will fit for in. Might be a bidding war for him.

  6. His “highlight” reel is so underwhelming. He’s not Chaco, he’s Najem.
    This doesn’t move the needle.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    I would take this guy. We have no real 10 other than Najem, so unless you want to play him now, sign this dude. Give him a shot

  8. This guy is likely an improvement over Ilsinho and Alberg if only for the fact that of the three, Aguilar actually plays the position. I say sign him and ship the other two next chance you get.

  9. Old Soccer Coach says:

    In the interesting and fruitful discussion above, neither the verb, noun, adjective nor adverb derived from the infinitive “to defend” appears.
    It is a safe bet Big Jim has not omitted them.
    Secondly, the Union roster currently utilizes every loophole available to stand at 31 players.
    To add they must subtract in some fashion. Who gets subtracted and how?
    That topic could be an interesting column, or possibly a poll.
    One obvious move would be to declare Maurice Edu’s injury season-ending.
    Another would be to sell Ken Tribbett to Bethlehem to practice being a defensive center midfielder, the position that he has been playing for them and a position in need of depth after August 1st when Dawson McCartney goes to Dartmouth and Josue Monge goes to University of South Florida. Fontana will be available, but he and Wingate are the only ones after August.
    If BC’s back is unresponsive he could go onto the season-ending injury list as well.
    And the salary cap implications of season-ending injury list occupants need reviewing.

    • Brotherly Game’s article yesterday said, “The Union have one open first team roster spot and an international slot, both of which were freed up by the season-long loan of midfielder Eric Ayuk to Sweden.”

  10. Elias Aguilar is pure talent that still needs to be polished. He is a bit lazy in effort but compensates with his raw talent.

    He was discovered late in Costa Rica (2013) and quickly became a reference player.

    Costa Rica’s league despite having less financial resources is arguably a better soccer league or better similar than the MLS (won more Concacaf champions cups, better history between leagues, etc.)

    Player of the year in Costa Rica’s 2015 league and wanted by teams in Mexico, Europe and MLS would be an awesome addition to the team IF the coach can push him towards a more physical style of play and for him to work on his physical baseline.

    Just my two cents…

    • He has showed us he is not that good… He was the next Costa Rican big star and failed, may do play in CR but outside will fail even worse

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