A View from Afar / Union

Ten good, available domestic players who could help Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Mario Balotelli isn’t signing with Philadelphia Union. You didn’t need Ernst Tanner to call you from Europe to hit you with that bombshell. Common sense and a passing knowledge of the Union’s history of spending on players would tell you that.

That said, there are plenty of intriguing players available domestically who could help the Union.

Here are 10 players who will likely be available on the domestic market via MLS Re-Entry Draft or free agency that the Union should consider.

Aaron Kovar, inverted right winger

Kovar, 25, is a left-footed midfielder who spent the season with LAFC, on loan from Seattle. When he saw the field for Los Angeles, he often looked dynamic as an inverted right winger, but he didn’t get a ton of time because he was lodged behind Carlos Vela. He is out of contract with Seattle and made just $70,000 this year. He could be a low-risk, high-reward type of signing who offers depth at worst and starting quality at best.

Ian Harkes, center midfielder

The 23-year-old 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy winner lost his starting spot with D.C. United this season amid a center midfield logjam. It seemed awfully early for D.C. to give up on him. With a 2018 base salary of $104,500, Harkes should be in demand in the Re-Entry Draft. He’s a 10/8 tweener who could fit nicely into a 3-5-2.

Juan Agudelo, striker

Agudelo is probably leaving for Europe, and who can blame him, given that MLS free agency rules could trap him with MLS’s worst franchise until he turns 28? The striker is still just 26 years old and has never started more than 20 games in MLS, but he has 28 international caps and has been in literally the league’s worst club situations — Chivas USA before their collapse, then New England — since departing the Red Bulls as a teenager. Imagine if he could just play striker for a full season. He made $600,000 this season and is out of contract, but New England maintains his rights until he qualifies for free agency and is the league’s most annoyingly difficult team to deal with on personnel.

Tommy McNamara, attacking midfielder

When McNamara actually sees playing time, he can be one of the league’s more creative and entertaining players, but time has been in short supply over the last year. He is 27 years old, can play the No. 10 or as a 10/8 tweener, which could fit nicely next to Alejandro Bedoya and in front of a deep-lying playmaker in a 3-5-2. He made $200,000 last year.

At worst, he’s a depth player. At best, he’s a cult hero.

Come on. You know you want this to happen.

Rodney Wallace, left winger/back

For a brief period, the left-footed Costa Rican international was one of MLS’s most exciting players flying down the left side for Portland and then New York City. This year, he got lost on an NYC team that was deep on the left flank. He could be an ideal left wingback for a 3-5-2. He is 30 years old and made $300,000 last year.

Luke Mulholland, center midfielder

Mulholland, 30, missed most of this season due to injury, but when he got healthy in September, Salt Lake suddenly got its glue player back. The center midfielder isn’t known for being great at any one thing. What he does well is all the little things, playing solid defense, connecting in the possession game, and being spatially aware. He’s a good depth signing who can contribute to any team in the league and, when healthy, start for many of them.

Tosaint Ricketts, striker

In three MLS seasons since moving from Europe, the Canadian international striker has scored 15 goals in 2,227 minutes. Most MLS teams would love that kind of production at striker. In Toronto, Ricketts was stuck behind Jozy Altidore on the depth chart. At 31, he probably has a few years left in the tank, and he made $203,000 last year for Toronto. If the Union are really going to try a two-striker set next year, Ricketts could be a good complement to a target forward.

Jordan Hamilton, forward

Hamilton, 22, couldn’t break in as a regular starter for Toronto, with a stacked group ahead of him. He could be an interesting depth signing at forward, probably near minimum salary, who could have a substantial upside.

Kei Kamara, striker

One of MLS’s most colorful and productive players is a free agent, and the free agent is still productive and reliable at 34 years old, with 14 goals and 6 assists last year in 2,167 minutes. Few in MLS are as good in the air or with hold-up play. He made $1 million last year.

Brek Shea, left winger/back

The former MLS MVP candidate doesn’t quite fit as a left winger in MLS anymore, and he hasn’t transitioned perfectly to left back. However, a role as a wingback in a 3-5-2 could be perfect for him. Shea is still just 28 years old. His talent has never been in question. The question is how much he really wants to play and whether his head is screwed on straight. He is worth taking a chance on — at the right price, which is probably around $250,000 to $300,000.


There are plenty of other talented players available in the same pool, but these 10 guys stood out as filling positions of need and being plausible, affordable acquisitions. (Yes, even Agudelo. New England general manager Mike Burns has to start being reasonable eventually, right? Right?)

So who else is out there, floating around USL or just beyond my glance?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


  1. good stuff, Dan. nice mix of youth, experience, needed position and age. literally anyone on this list, but i’d likely pass on Shea and Kamara.

  2. Would be very interested in Ian Harkes. Besides that would rather stick with our academy kids and give them a shot at playing time (see – Real (LB), Jones (DM), Fontana (CM), Aaronson (CAM)). Kamara could be a decent one-year stop gap but only if we got rid of Sapong and only if he was willing to take a lot less money.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    haven’t we all agree Brek Shea is the post child for a lost generation of American players?
    I would deeply consider abdicating fandom if Brek Shea became a Union player.
    As for Tommy McNamara… I’ve had a few knock down scuff ups with people along the way about Tommy McNamara- arguing he sees the game differently than almost any other player raised on these shores.
    I’d take Tommy McNamara on this team in a New York Heartbeat.

    • I like a lot of the players on this list, but if I could only have 1 it would be McNamara. The dude is really good and would be a low cost replacement for Dockal.

      • IMO, Aaronson needs another year at Bethlehem (ok for 2019, in Chester but in USL.)
        McNamara at the least would be a credible back-up #10 to a Dockal replacement.

    • Nah, we don’t all agree. There is no lost generation. There is just Shea. 😉

  4. I’m prone to nostalgia from time to time, but the Kamara-Sapong pairing was very formidable in KC. I wonder if being reunited would bring out the best in both.
    Or just kick the can of progress further down the road…

  5. Great list! Yes I actually would be interested in Harkes. And Mulholland would be good for depth as it remains to be seen how we replace Dockal. I just hate the mentality that we immediately brush off Balotelli as not being possible. Can we at least entertain the thought signing a true quality/international forward!? This team needs one.

    • To play striker for the Union you have to defend like a dire wolf hunting prey.
      That has not been a prominent Balotelli descriptor, as far as I am aware.

  6. I could see Tommy Mac being a fan favorite here. I could support that.

    I think a striker like Agudelo, fits the bill for how this team could play if it decides to jettison the target/holdup man-on-an-island approach and go with a 4-4-2. It’s hard to know how good any New England player really is. I’d prefer someone more proven in that role, but I wouldn’t hate a move for him.

  7. Benny Feilhaber is also out there.
    I would love to see Kei Kamara!! Tosaint Ricketts wouldn’t be bad either. Harkes and Wallace would both be on my list as well.
    Hard pass on Brek. He has never really lived up to his potential, and tends to be more of a distraction than anything else.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      F@#! Benny Feilhaber. That is all

      • Agree with the Wolfpack here. Feilhaber’s antics on the field have always rubbed me the wrong way. Talented player, but I would not be happy to see him on the U.

      • Agree with the Wolfpack here. Feilhaber’s antics & behavior on the pitch have always bothered me. Talented player, but I would not like to see him on the U

    • I considered adding Feilhaber, actually. I know a lot of folks don’t like him, but I always have. I left him off because I don’t think it’s as plausible a deal as some of these would be. He would help them, but I think, at this point of his career, he would prefer to play elsewhere.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    McNamara kills the Union. Or maybe it’s just in my brain cause whenever the Union played against hi, he stood out to me. Which is why I’d love to have him. I would also take Kamara and Kovar. Hell, it’s the Union… I’ll take just about anyone

  9. Soooo dissapointed!
    I thought Ernst was taking us to a 2 striker set with Balotelli poaching and Oliver Giroux for holdup play!

  10. Sorry, I don’t see any difference makers on this list especially at some of these salaries. Mostly squad players with some of them making serious bank.

    • i agree on the squad aspect of this comment. we’ll need some and my enthusiasm is more for change than for the players. difference-makers are a completely different topic that would be nice to explore in another article. but knowing the union, they’ll grab someone coming off injury, a 4th division striker, or chinese league player we’ve never heard of and brand them difference-makers.

      • Wasn’t Dockal a chinese league player we never heard of? We do need difference makers, but we are also going to need a couple of solid squad players. We could use a few players from this list.

  11. It seems that I interpreted Ernst Tanner’s comments on formation differently than most of you.
    I read his comments as the U are still a primary 4-2-3-1 club, but now the formation can change when a particular opponent (or venue *cough* yankee stadium *cough*) calls for something different. He wants to make it more difficult for opponents to gameplan against the Union, and will use formation flexibility to make that more complicated.
    Basically what I’m saying is don’t be surprised/disappointed when the Union line up in a 4-2-3-1 on opening day 2019.
    Also, I don’t see them making signings based on a 2 striker system. From Tanner’s comments, Fafa will likely fill this 2nd striker role when the Union use a different formation.

    • They always had three strikers under Earnie in a one striker system. I m assuming that if they want to be able to go to two they will have at least four to cover rest and injuries.

  12. Anyone else having trouble submitting comments?

    • not from here. I’m on a Mac and Comcast wireless.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      It seems like there is a long delay from when they are submitted to when they are posted. They almost always do show up tho.

    • Thanks for mentioning it. When you experience these problems, please let us know.

      We’ve brought on a new tech guru to look at our technical side, Steve Edling, because we’ve been having some problems for months now. He’s just getting started.

    • Yeah, I started having this problem at the beginning of the summer. I would post something, then come back 5 min later to refresh and make sure it went through because it wouldn’t be immediately visible.

  13. @JB – I’m having trouble submitting replies.

  14. Arjen Robben to Philadelphia, spread the rumor – https://www.bt.dk/fodbold/barndomsklub-droemmer-om-arjen-robben

  15. OneManWolfpack says:

    “Robben has since declared that he has no plans yet , but among the interested clubs, Manchester United and Philadelphia Union.”
    Just that sentence alone from that article made me laugh so hard I cried. There is better chance of a unicorn busting through my office wall, than there is the Union signing Robben.
    But hey… prove me wrong!

  16. None of these will happen. Should look at Chanot, but won’t.

  17. Zero of the players on this list give me optimism. They’re are either soft, don’t play regularly on their current teams or otherwise are uninspiring. There’s no one here that makes me want to pay that monthly recurring season ticket fee.

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