Commentary / Season Review / Union

Season review: A player-by-player look at the Union’s offseason ahead

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

After the conclusion of the Union’s season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week, the question instantly becomes: what roster moves will Ernst Tanner make in the off-season? A new striker? Someone to shore up the midfield? A new wingback? But the major impediment to Tanner making any roster moves—besides, of course, Jay Sugarman’s readiness with a checkbook—is the players who can be kept.

Starting there, there is a long list of players who are already signed for next year: Aaronson, Bedoya, Blake, Elliott, de Vries, Freese, Gaddis, Przybylko, Santos, Turner, Wagner and Wooten all have contracts for next year and will all figure in the Union’s plans, even if they’re only salary on the books.

Beyond them, the list of players who are out of contract or have an option available for next year is long, too long, in fact, to cover in a single column. Here are the knottiest questions heading into the Union’s post-season maneuvering and this columnist’s guesses at the best answers.

The Midfield

The difficulties of keeping Jamiro Monteiro are well-documented, and it’s not totally clear he wants to continue to play in MLS, even if the Union could afford him. It’s a near-certainty he will depart and leave his space on the left side of the midfield diamond open. Verdict: re-sign (but it’s not happening)

This column was inaugurated with Marco Fabian skepticism, and the concerns raised there in mid-season turned out to be legitimate: he often made a difference when on the field, but he was not often on the field. Yes, he scored that goal, but Fabian was not enough of a difference maker over the course of the season to justify the highest salary the Union has ever paid. Free up that money for a designated player-caliber striker. Verdict: let go

Haris Medunjanin is perhaps the most difficult of the midfielder to consider. According to WhoScored data, the veteran regista led the team in key passes and was third in passing accuracy among the starters. Despite fan carping about his lack of defensive hustle, he averaged more tackles per game than Jack Elliott. That being said, Medunjanin is 34, and it’s undeniable that the Union gave up goals from defensive errors in the center of the top of the 18-yard box. If the Union continue to play the diamond, it might be a good time to slot a more defensive-minded player into his spot. Verdict: let go (but give him a Ring of Honor spot)

Forwards

In the 2019 season, Fafa Picault became more of a super-sub, though he did earn his way back into the starting eleven, earning five goals and five assists on the year. However, with Wooten, Santos and Przybylko already locked for next year, the Union find themselves in need of a high-caliber goalscorer to play up top beside Przybylko. Picault is not that. Verdict: let go (but he’ll be missed)

Ilsinho emerged this season as a better mascot for the team than Phang. The crowd at Talen erupted every time he headed to the fourth official to sub in, and he changed the map of the field as backlines moved out of position in order to shut down his theatrics. He should be re-signed if only on the merits of that one Red Bulls game alone. Verdict: re-sign (but this is the last year)

Defense

Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty should probably be considered together. Both academy products started beside the Union’s defensive stalwart Jack Elliott at centerback for significant portions of the season and both showed concerns and setbacks in their development, a worrying trend among Union academy products (see also: Jones, Derrick). McKenzie’s difficulties this season are well-documented: a rough start and an ill-timed bout of appendicitis just before his first scheduled start. He recovered from these early setbacks to anchor the Union’s defense late in the season, where he performed admirably. Trusty’s trajectory is murkier: a starter for most of the season, he fell out of the rotation for reasons that remain unclear. Both these young players have shown potential but have been inconsistent over the course of a season. There is clear room for growth, and these defenders are perhaps the best test yet—Brendan Aaronson aside—of whether the Union can turn its academy players into long-term members of its first team. Verdict: re-sign both (but look for chances to sell)

19 Comments

  1. I’m going to disagree with a couple of these. First is Haris. Losing both him and Monteiro (and Fabian) would be too big a change to the midfield and would lose a lot of momentum built from this season. I say keep Haris but reduce his minutes.
    .
    The other one that I would take a difference stance on is Fabian. Yes, if he insists on his current DP salary, then don’t keep. But if you can bring him back at a lower salary, then consider keeping him.

    • Another Haris positive is the clear mentorship role he has with Aaronson, perhaps others as well. But I agree, reduced minutes and start to transition in someone else.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I’m not sure Fabian wants to be here. And I’m doubtful that he’d consider a lower salary. If they re-signed him around 300k, I wouldn’t hate it. But it won’t happen.

    • Travis DuBose says:

      I’ll say that my Haris take is the shakiest of all these, and I tend to agree with you here.

      What I almost said was “Keep Haris but go ahead and sign his replacement.”

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Tanner said in so many words in the end of season press conference that they would “give him a chance!” But that he would have to work very hard.
        .
        Interpreted that to mean competition is coming for sure, and that he will be back to participate in the struggle.

  2. Without a verified playmaker, I think it’s nearly impossible to let Haris go. Let Aaronson make his place at the top of the diamond, or go out and get your South American number 10 (or Adam Lallana?)
    .
    We’ll need some serious reinforcements on both sides of the diamond if Jamiro leaves.
    .
    Let Ilsinho go. He’s a great trick but I felt like his presence waned later in the season. Would be great to see some time given to Michee, allow him to be that change of pace on the wing.

  3. I think you can make a case to keep Fafa around in a bench role if his salary isn’t too high. His versatility I think could be helpful next season.

  4. In Tanner We Trust says:

    My personal opinion:
    .
    Keep Fafa if he’ll take a low salary. He’s proven he can evolve, and he puts in as much hard work as anyone.
    .
    Ilsinho stays, no brainer. I think Curtin finally understands that he’s only effective as a sub, so he really doesn’t have any concerns besides maybe age.
    .
    Keep Haris but reduce minutes. Keeping Haris and Ale rested next year is a big priority.

    • I like the idea of keeping Haris and Ale, and reducing both their minutes, but is that possible? Who’s out there that can put in credible minutes for either spot that they could either sign or bring up? This is where our lack of $ hurts the squad, and we make decisions based on “well this is the best we can manage”.

      • This is as good a place as any for me to complain that Fontana was ready last year (dammit!). Maybe he can’t play in Haris’ spot, but there was no good reason he didn’t get 5-10 starts this year for Bedoya/Montiero with that experience leading him into a bigger role for next year in the shutters mix.

  5. How can both Trusty and Mcckenzie be out of contract? It seems to me like they should have option years or something, right? Aren’t they both academy products finishing their second season (or did they have a “contract year” in Bethlehem before that?)?

    As much as I love the hard work Fafa brings to the table and would love to have him back, you have to believe that he’s going to be offered a chance to play significant minutes – maybe Miami.

  6. Harris is a player that Curtin spent the first two years trying to figure out how to cover for. His quirks are solid wrinkles that we still hadn’t ironed out through the first few months this year. Curtin finally got the right team shape, but it has definitely been built around the Bosnian.
    .
    If the Union start limiting his minutes, we are going to have to have Harris specific tactics for next year – the 442, the 4231, and the ‘Harris’.
    .
    In Jim’s defense he did a good job individualizing various tactics to his players this year. I am just wary if we are not playing ‘cover for Harris’ all the time, that some of the guys switch off and forget the requirements of the ‘Harris’ when he is on the field.

  7. Has anyone ever put a GoPro on a player’s head and a fisheye cam on their chest and back during training so that they can walk players through their vision and decision-making? Because I can’t think of anything way to teach the long distance vision a player like Medunanin has.

  8. Agree with every one of these. I don’t think they necessarily have to let Haris go, and I would certainly sign him for a reduced salary with a reduced role. But he should not be starting in a 4-4-2 diamond. If Jim is absolutely that enamored of him, then we need to play a 4-2-3-1 with a destroyer next to him. But I would prefer that we move on.

    As for playmaking, there are 2 options:
    1. Use Fabian’s $$ to sign another playmaker and see if we can finally get somebody to work out who wants to stay.
    2. Hand the keys to The Kid and let him play CAM. Frankly, I would be fine with this. (We’d need a backup though, which is easier said than done…)

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Back up is in the pipeline two or three years away from the first team. He may start getting serious minutes with Bethlehem next year, assuming renegotiating the USL-MLS agreement does not throw too big a spammer into the works.

  9. I’ve always had the belief I’d rather let a player go a year early than a year too late. With that, I say let Haris go. I agree there isn’t another play maker on the squad like him, but that doesn’t mean Ernst won’t find one.
    .
    Fafa doesn’t really fit. Let go. Fabian, despite his goals, (IMO) never really fit. Let go. Monteiro we would all love to keep, but it’s just not happening.
    .
    Signing Trusty and McKenzie is a no brainer.

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