Replacing the registas

Photo Earl Gardner

The defensive central midfielder for the Philadelphia Union, Haris Medunjanin, is 34 years old. The defensive central midfielder for Bethlehem Steel FC, James Chambers, is 32. As Sporting Director Ernst Tanner considers the longer-term strengthening of both clubs, finding the next set of long-range distributors has to be on his list.

In 2019 – touch wood – the Philadelphia Union and their fans have no idea how the team performs without Medunjanin. He has played every minute. (Please touch wood again.) In 2019, without James Chambers, Bethlehem has floundered offensively. Only one pairing has ever kept Bethlehem’s offensive ship above water this year without him.

Replacing the registas may not be the most immediate priority for the 2020 season. That label probably goes to right wing back for the Union. But regista replacement is fundamental for the longer-term future of the club. Its only competition would be replacing Alejandro Bedoya at center mid. The Union’s captain is the same age as Bethlehem’s.

Are there internal candidates?

At the USLC level there used to be an internal replacement candidate, but he is now loaned to Nashville SC, and is already signed to a 2020 MLS contract with the Music City’s new MLS expansion side. He was never a real like-for-like candidate. When Chambers missed several games with a non-ligament knee problem two years ago, Derrick Jones did fill in capably and effectively.

But Jones did not bring the same long-range vision and long-range passing as does the Irishman. He was a ball winner to match Chambers, but distributed more on the dribble and the short pass than on instant vision with instinctive, precisely placed long balls. Failure both to improve the deficit and to do it at the first team level may have contributed to his departure.

Warren Creavalle is primarily a defensive replacement at DCM, although there was one first half early this season where his offensive creativity was a pleasant revelation.

Anthony Fontana is also a possible first team candidate. And Cole Turner, currently Bethlehem soon to be Union, will join him. Each has the same glaring deficit as did Jones, the long distance thing. Turner has had several USLC opportunities this summer and fall when he has replaced Chambers in the starting lineup for Bethlehem.

The last internal first-team name to mention is Jamiro Monteiro, but he has never replaced Medunjanin because the Bosnian has never left the field. We therefore know little-to-nothing.

At the USLC level there is one other possibility, Chavany Willis. Earlier in the season when Chambers was suspended, Willis was called upon as the distributing DCM. Earlier than that, in preseason when no one was 90 minutes fit, Willis was the alternative to Chambers, consistently so. He has not appeared there since Turner’s signing. Comments made earlier by the Bethlehem technical staff have emphasized Willis as a member of the more offensive part of the midfield triangle or trapezoid.

The filters on Tanner’s long-term radar need to be set to find a pair of younger registas somewhere, soon.


  1. My biggest fear is that we build the team’s distribution around Medunjanin again and that he goes down to injury early next season.
    Guy is super skilled and in some ways is almost like an assistant coach but it’s pretty terrifying to effectively not have a back up that can even remotely fill his role in distribution.

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    I’m certain Haris thinks he can go another year or two and Ernst knows that might not be true. I also think fans (myself occasionally included) wildly undervalue the work Haris does on both sides of the ball.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    My question is why do we need to play with a ‘regista’.
    What’s wrong with a HDM in the 6 and a 10…. I even like the idea of buying a legitimate 10 on the market…and playing Aaronson as a false 9. He has shown an ability to score and to make the tight little runs inside the final third to drag defenders or create a bit of space for himself.
    What I am almost positive about is he is not a pure Central Attacking Midfielder.

    • I agree. I love how we just assume we are going to continue with a glaring black hole on defense at our #6 for the rest of time. Like expecting your #6 to play real defense is some crazy thing.

      It’s not impossible to find a defensively sound #6 without elite long balls and still play attractive, aggressive and decisive soccer … plenty of other teams do it. Most, even!

  4. Couple thoughts to add:
    In a world sport, there are always options somewhere. Tanner has hit on his signings more than missed so he has earned some trust here.
    No more “regista” – Tanner has said he wanted to be better in transition, has spend time in the RB system, and rumors at one point were that he wasn’t high on Haris. All action midfielders like Bedoya and Monteiro might be all he wants in more of a 4-2-2-2 (RB teams have done this before and the Steel have played this shape) or a 3-5-2 (with the width coming from Wagner and a Gaddis replacement).
    Jack Elliott – formerly played center mid, defensively sound but can also ping the ball around, while Trusty has struggled recently this team has more than 2 MLS starting quality centerbacks. I’ll go on record now saying that I do not think this is a good idea save for in emergency situations, but it is still an option.

  5. Nice article. I really think that Monteiro is the guy. He seems to be very similar to Haris and I’d like to see him alongside him more.

    The whole Jones thing confuses me, but he’s gone now, so whatever.

  6. Follow-up thought

  7. Follow-up thought, well, question really
    We have all noticed an increasing return to the 4-2-3-1 and a love of the long ball. (I can hear El Pachyderm warming up his trumpeting trunk already!)
    The question the shift posed is three letters.WHY?
    All ideas welcomed.
    It is most definitely NOT Tanner’s preferred system, so what gives?

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I’m unsure but my guess is it has something to do with Marco Fabian being a bust.

    • I think the better question is: why NOT??

      I have said this in other places, but Medunjanin doesn’t provide enough defensive cover at the 6, which has left us vulnerable to late runners in the box all year long.

      In addition, we only have one striker who’s playing well. Yet there are half a dozen starting-caliber midfielders vying for playing time. Why NOT go where your personnel will be best used??

  8. The problem is that the whole offensive system is built around Medunjanin and his unique skill set. There is no directly replacing him. You put someone else at the 6, but then the offense has to change. (The defense too, but that’s the good part.)

    The way I see it, there are two options for when the Union might replace Medunjanin: too soon, or too late. I would vote for the former, which means throwing a bunch of $$ at Monteiro to re-sign him, and putting him at the 6, where he belongs.

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