Analysis / Union

Analysis: Union sign striker Andrew Wooten

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union have a new striker.

Andrew Wooten (pronounced “VOO-ten”), 29, joins the Union from Sandhausen in the 2.Bundesliga, where his contract had expired.

The Union used targeted allocation money to sign Wooten, a German-American. The striker will join Philadelphia when the transfer window opens on July 9, meaning that the Union will play four more matches before Wooten is officially added to the roster.

In 2017-18, Wooten nearly singlehandedly saved Sandhausen from relegation, with a scorching 13 goals in the final 18 matches of the regular season. Wooten has spent his entire professional career in Germany, beginning with Wormatia Worms in the fourth division in 2008. Wooten has also played for FC Kaiserslautern and FSV Frankfurt.

Born and raised in Germany, Wooten has earned one cap for the United States men’s national team, coming in 2015. He will wear the number 7 shirt for Philadelphia.

Let’s break down what this means for the Union.

Aggressive Ernst

When was the last time the Union made any moves of note during the summer transfer window?

You have to go all the way back to 2016. That summer, the Union brought in then-record signing Alejandro Bedoya, who is, of course, still with the club. They also traded Sebastien Le Toux for Charlie Davies and signed Kevin Kratz as part of a wink-wink deal with Atlanta United. So, a mixed bag.

However, the Union went through both the summers of 2017 and 2018 without acquiring any players. (Kacper Przybylko was technically a late signing in 2018, but due to an injury he was never intended to play a part in that campaign.)

Both of those teams needed reinforcements that ultimately failed to arrive, and both teams collapsed down the stretch.

The 2019 Union are in much better shape, both in terms of form and in terms of overall talent, than either of those squads. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to upgrade the side.

With the Wooten signing, Ernst Tanner has acted aggressively to make sure that at least one necessary reinforcement is en route.

Strike-r while the iron is hot

Make no mistake: striker is the one position where the Union absolutely needed another body.

With Cory Burke in Jamaica, Jim Curtin’s recent options have been Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos, and Fafa Picault.

None of those options are entirely convincing. Przybylko burst onto the scene with goals in his first three starts, but has only one in the seven matches since. Santos has been plagued with injury this season and is yet to go a full 90 minutes. Picault, a natural winger, often looks lost at striker and is not exactly a clinical finisher.

Adding Wooten to that group changes the dynamic. With more trustworthy options, manager Jim Curtin has the ability to play the hot hand when necessary, while (hopefully) having a quick hook for guys who are out of form. The Union should also have the ability to play tactically, using different pairings for different matchups. And if Wooten lives up to his potential — more on that in a minute — they might have the sort of reliable striker who can carry you through a deep playoff run.

One last thought: consider how much the Union’s striker depth chart has changed in less than a year.

  • End of 2018: Cory Burke, C.J. Sapong, David Accam (out – injured), Fafa Picault (primarily a winger), Jay Simpson, Kacper Przybylko (out – injured).
  • Summer 2019: Andrew Wooten, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybylko, Fafa Picault, Cory Burke (out – visa issues), Michee Ngalina.
Woot-en can we expect?

Much of the above analysis is premised on Wooten being a starting-caliber striker in MLS — not necessarily a superstar, but someone who can reliably put the ball in the back of the net.

Can he be that player?

  • The case for. At 29, Wooten is in the prime of his career, and his scalding-hot stretch for Sandhausen demonstrates that he’s the kind of striker capable of putting together truly great runs of form. The 2.Bundesliga isn’t a league to sneeze at — after all, Kai Wagner is impressing coming over from the 3.Bundesliga — and Wooten should be able to adjust quickly to MLS. He’s also the sort of veteran who should pair well with two younger, up-and-coming options in Santos and Przybylko.
  • The case against. Or maybe Wooten is a journeyman who got hot at the right time — just before his contract expired. In his five seasons with Sandhausen, Wooten’s season goalscoring totals are eight, six, nine, zero (injury), and 17. Which one of those numbers looks like the outlier? Rather than betting on upside, as the Union did with Santos, Tanner may have spent resources on a guy who’s unlikely to ever repeat his 2018-19 campaign.

The Union are in an unusual place — for perhaps the first time in franchise history, they have a legitimate chance to win the Eastern Conference.

For the aforementioned reasons, the Wooten signing is far from a sure thing on the field.

But as a sign of the club’s ambition this season, it’s undeniably a positive one.

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