Analysis / For Pete's Sake

In Marco Fabian, Union on the verge of the biggest signing in club history

Photo Credit: Paul Rudderow

News broke Tuesday that Philadelphia Union are in “final discussions” to sign 29-year-old attacking midfielder Marco Fabian from Eintracht Frankfurt.

While a tweet from Taylor Twellman isn’t exactly a Woj bomb, the Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald confirmed Twellman’s tweet, as did a number of other reputable outlets. Independently, PSP has heard the same information.

Fabian, who has 42 caps for the Mexican national team and appeared in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, would be a real statement of intent from sporting director Ernst Tanner as he caps his first off-season in charge.

Let’s not mince words: If the deal is consummated, Marco Fabian would be the biggest signing in Union history.

Yes, bigger than Alejandro Bedoya. Yes, bigger than Borek Dockal and Tranquillo Barnetta.

And, yes, bigger than Rais Mbolhi.

Who is Marco Fabian?

Let’s start with the basics.

Fabian is an attacking midfielder. His career started with Chivas de Guadalajara, where he made 253 appearances between 2007 and 2015. He also spent one season on loan with Cruz Azul. From Chivas, he made a 5.5 million Euro transfer to the Bundesliga, joining Eintracht Frankfurt.

Things, unfortunately, did not go smoothly in Germany. After an excellent first season with Frankfurt, Fabian suffered a severe back injury that the midfielder played through in the first part of 2017 before undergoing surgery in August 2017, which limited him to just 11 appearances over the last year and a half. Fabian feared that his career might be over, but he returned to his team in 2018 and made Mexico’s squad for the World Cup.

Returning from the World Cup didn’t improve Fabian’s club situation, however. A proposed move to Fenerbahce fell through last summer, and Fabian has been out of favor in Frankfurt. Reports linked him to clubs in China and the United Arab Emirates during the most recent European transfer window, but nothing materialized.

Fabian’s market value, according to Transfermarkt, is about $3.4 million, though with his contract expiring this summer it seems unlikely that Frankfurt will command his full value. (Fabian could sign a pre-contract deal now and leave Frankfurt for free in the summer.) Paying even a fraction of that would shatter the Union’s previous transfer record — $1 million on Alejandro Bedoya in spring 2016.

How does he fit in?

One of the beautiful things about soccer is that you can describe a dozen players as an “attacking midfielder” and find that they approach the position a dozen different ways.

What’s Fabian’s style? A piece by European freelance journalist Manuel Veth offers some hints. Veth describes Fabian, who clocks in at a towering 5-7, as a “Mexican magician” who is “technically gifted.”

What makes Fabian unique, according to Veth, is the “somewhat demonic side” to his game. Citing Fabian’s experience in Central American football, Veth concludes that Fabian “often beats opposing players not just with his technical abilities, but also through physical play and by using mind games.”

Fabian has unique upside on and off the pitch.

On it, he should fit right in as Borek Dockal’s replacement, though his game is both a bit more technical on the ball and aggressive than Dockal’s gliding presence. Though he’ll be hard-pressed to notch an 18-assist season, he should make life easier for Sergio Santos, Fafa Picault, and whichever other attacking players  earn playing time. It shouldn’t take Fabian as long to adjust to the physical nature of MLS as it has for some imports from European leagues.

Meanwhile, Fabian’s status as a bona fide Mexican national team star could significantly strengthen the Union’s ties to Philadelphia’s Hispanic community, particularly Mexican fans, an endeavor the Union have had little success with in the past.

Of course, there are risks, too. (If he was perfect, you wouldn’t think Frankfurt would let him go.) Fabian’s history of injury is fairly troubling, and a situation where he ends up coming in and out of the lineup won’t help build cohesion, let alone a major injury that leaves Fabian in Maurice Edu-like limbo, unable to play with multiple years left on his contract. Fabian has also had precious little playing time in the Bundesliga this season, making just two appearances for Frankfurt. Depending on when he joins up with the club, Fabian’s fitness and chemistry might take time to blossom fully.

Fabian’s signing carries risk, but given the Union’s constraints, it’s unlikely that any major signing would come risk free.

Where do the Union stand?

So, less than four months from the season opener, what’s the big picture?

  • On paper, Ernst Tanner’s first offseason seems to be a success. Tanner showed that he’s willing to make pragmatic, even ruthless deals in trading away fan favorite Keegan Rosenberry for more ammo in the transaction market, and he’s backed up that pragmatism with logical signings. With Fabian and Santos in the fold, along with a young keeper and left back and quality veteran depth at center back, the roster is in better shape than it was at the end of 2018. Fabian could set a new Union transfer record.
  • Two major questions remain for preseason: How will the Union line up, and who will rise to the top in the attack? Fabian adds another piece to a crowded stable of strikers and wingers, where seven players are competing for two or three starting jobs. The three official preseason games will give us fairly concrete answers about who will have the edge on opening day. (Remember: Creative solutions exist.)
  • This year is officially “put up or shut up” time for manager Jim Curtin, who returns for his fifth full season on a one-year contract. I’ve obviously been quite critical of Curtin in the past, but it is fair to point out (as his defenders have) that he’s often had to work with severe roster constraints. That excuse is gone this year. The Union should, with the talent on their roster, be contenders for a home playoff game (i.e. a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference). Tanner has given Curtin a mandate to be more tactically flexible and a roster that should compete in MLS. If the Union underachieve, there is no question who will take the fall.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    I woke up… the sky was upside down. Green grass painted the firmament. What world is this.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      May I refer you to the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Ran” [“Chaos”] his version of King Lear.

  2. It sounds good on paper, but how quickly will Fabian join the team? How long will it take for him to gel? Will it be the same thing as last year where it takes until May for things to really start to click while the Union start the season floundering? I realize he is joining earlier than Dockal did, but it is still well into training camp.

  3. I’m excited by this. But also cautious. Gotta wonder about his fitness level. But a player of his quality will be fantastic for this team. It could be a real coup for Tanner. Great business.

    • I’m with you on this one. The injury history worries me a bit. Let’s hope the doctors had their V-8’s and were on their game when giving him a physical .

  4. I nod in approval of this. High risk, high reward. Gonna be the biggest bang or bust in Union history. I reserve judgement till at least his 5th appearance…if he gets to that point without another vertebrate surgery.

  5. Is this another 1-year BS loan (no option to buy) like Dockal?

    If so, whats the point? Just play the academy guys. After all, they are our future (i.e. 2030 season) keys to success?

    This should be the 1st of many moves prior to the start of the season…….but knowing the Union, it will the last.

    • the point is to win this year. that should always be the point

    • It won’t be a loan deal, as he’s actuslly a free agent this summer. That said, it is possible that it would only be a 1-year permanent deal which would be disappointing. I imagine that’s not what they’re going for though…

    • Some rumors are saying he’d come to the U for 2019, will plans to join Beckham in Miami for 2020. We’s be just a stepping stone to allow him to acclimate to the league before moving on to greener (and warmer) pastures.

  6. It’s completely unclear to me when he will join the team. During the summer transfer window or sooner?

  7. This sounds amazing, assuming they close the deal.

    But what I don’t get is: why doesn’t he go back home? The guy was a Liga MX fixture for years, he’s only 29, and he made the recent World Cup squad for a major footballing nation. Wouldn’t a Mexican team want him? And couldn’t they pay more than we could? Or is his injury history scaring them off?

    And: if we’re able to “punch above our weight”, so to speak, and sign this guy because we’re willing to take a calculated risk with his injury, then does he only sign a 1-year deal to prove that he’s back in good shape, and THEN go back to Mexico (or Europe)?

  8. Vince Devine says:

    Are we out of International Roster spots after the Wagner signing?

  9. How long till we learn Beckham inked him weeks ago? If I had back problems I’d surely want to settle down in sunny Miami.

  10. IF the Miami rumors are true, and we are just taking him on loan for a season, I’m officially done with the team.
    It’s one thing to do this with a Kevin Kratz type player, but our biggest & most ambitious signing would be cheapened by being a 1 year rental. I’ve had enough of the “Rent-A-CAM” (Maidana, Barnetta, Alberg, Dockal) from the past 5 seasons.
    This would be the front office flat out saying they’re a second-rate team that refuses to compete in a growing league. That’s just not worth any more time or investment from me.

  11. This piece was written a day too soon.

  12. So if we play 4-4-2 with diamond midfield, is Bedoya pushed out wide right and Medunjanin at the back of the diamond defending our young back 4, while the outside backs are being told to push up on offense?
    Sounds like a counter nightmare.
    Alternatively, if Bedoya plays the bottom of the diamond, how does Medunjanin find the field?

    • I have a feeling Medunjanin is not going to get nearly the game time he did last season. Though in a tight midfield diamond, you could have Fabian at the top with Jones, Bedoya and Medunjanin. Jones is your destroyer/holder and Medunjanin the regista. Bedoya covers a lot of ground and will be your all-purpose 8/shuttler. I have no idea how this will all work in a press. Both Fabian and Medunjanin aren’t going to be the most mobile players out there…. We’ll find out.

  13. Now Fabián’s father is publicly saying that he will only sign a short-term deal, because he wants to get back to Europe as soon as possible. I knew there had to be a catch.

    So, do we take him, figuring that it gives us a year to find someone who wants to be here longer?? Or do we pass, and basically write off this season without a #10 for at least the first several months?

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