For Pete's Sake / Season Review

Season review: Ernst Tanner’s very good first season, part one

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It’s fair to say that much of the most successful season in Union history can be attributed to Ernst Tanner.

Nearly every offseason move that the German sporting director made ended up paying off in a big way.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight (and the glorious 20/20 vision that comes with it), it’s time to evaluate Tanner’s first season in charge, move by move.

Back in February, before the season kicked off, I wrote a report card for Tanner’s first offseason. It’s interesting to go back now and take a look at what I thought of the moves at the time. Notably, two of the best moves Tanner made — signing Kacper Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro — didn’t make the list, Striker Muffin because he seemed like an afterthought at the end of the 2018 season and Monteiro because he didn’t join the club until mid-March. As I go through each transaction, I’ll include a little blurb from my February writeup (if there was one), just to see how right (or more likely wrong) I ended up being.

There are a lot of moves to cover, so today we’ll tackle the first half, with the second half coming tomorrow.

Signing Kacper Przybylko from free agency: A. At the start of the season, Przybylko was something like seventh on the Union’s striker depth chart. The rest of the story, as you know, worked out pretty well for the Union, as the striker pumped in 15 goals and four assists and generally being the Union’s most consistent offensive player (up until a devastating late-season injury). Tanner picked Striker Muffin up off the scrap heap and signed him to a deal that included a team option for 2020, which the Union have already picked up. As Marc Zumoff might say: that’s turning garbage into gold.

Extending Jim Curtin’s contract for one year: A. The Union’s manager made the most of his one-year extension, evolving as a manager in ways that his detractors (me included) didn’t see coming. Tanner’s decision to give Curtin a chance worked as planned, and he extended the manager’s contract again this summer.

What I said: Tanner’s decision to sign Curtin to a one-year “prove-it” extension was a brilliant move. If the manager is able to implement Tanner’s tactical systems successfully, few will argue that he doesn’t deserve more time in charge. (Grade: A.)

Resigning Ray Gaddis, Fabinho, and Ilsinho: A-. Fabinho didn’t bring much to the pitch, but Ilsinho enjoyed his best year in Philadelphia, even if the Union were too reliant on his magic off the bench for stretches of the season. As for Gaddis, he remains thoroughly mediocre, but he did start every regular season game for the Union this year. Tough to complain about these moves.

What I said: [S]igning Fabinho as a talisman and Ilsinho to do wild stuff off the bench makes a lot of sense. Gaddis is… [a] useful piece to have, but Union fans will be annoyed if he gets the majority of the starts at right back this year. (Grade: B.)

Signing Sergio Santos from Audax Italiano (Chile): B. Santos didn’t have the first year in America that he would have hoped for, starting just five games and accumulating four goals while in and out of the lineup due to injury. However, I liked what I saw from Santos in his limited minutes, and it’s far too early to call him a bust.

What I said: Santos is the sort of prospect that the Union should be looking for: young, a record of success in a lesser league, and the potential to bloom into a star. (Grade: A.)

Trading Keegan Rosenberry to Colorado Rapids for up to $400k in allocation money: C-. It’s tough to evaluate this move without knowing what the allocation money eventually turned into — it’s a good chunk of money, but Rosenberry was also a fan favorite who went on to play every minute for Colorado while presumptive replacement Olivier Mbaizo failed to take the necessary step forward in Chester. How many more points would the Union have this season if Rosenberry took all of Gaddis’s minutes?

What I said: It’s reasonable to wonder whether this move saw the Union turn a strength into a weakness, with the tandem of an untested Olivier Mbaizo and an all-too-tested Ray Gaddis not necessarily inspiring confidence. (Grade: C+.)

Trading all of the Union’s SuperDraft picks to FC Cincinnati for $150k in allocation money: A+. With reports indicating that MLS is planning on massively downsizing coverage of the draft this year, it’s fair to ask whether Ernst Tanner killed the MLS SuperDraft. Hard to imagine that there’s any single player who was available that the Union would rather have than a nice chunk of allocation money.

What I said: The German pragmatically assessed the field of available players and concluded that there was no point even bringing any of them to camp. (Grade: LMAO.)

Signing Aurelien Collin from free agency: B. Collin was hit-or-miss in his six starts, and the weird stretch in August where Collin started three straight games was pretty… weird. (I bet Auston Trusty would agree.) But Collin gave the Union exactly what they needed: an adequate veteran centerback who had the trust of the coaching staff in a pinch.

What I said: Brought in to be the fourth defender, the Union will be thrilled if he makes fewer than ten appearances in all competitions. (Grade: Sure, why not?)

Signing Carlos Miguel Coronel on loan from Red Bull Salzburg: C. Coronel’s tenure with the Union ended up being deeply strange. He struggled to beat out rookie Matt Freese for the job of being Andre Blake’s backup, though he looked decent in his four appearances — only allowing two goals. His tenure got cut short when a spot opened up back in Austria, and Coronel popped up again just last month in… the Champions League? Soccer is a funny sport. Anyway, devoting an international roster spot to an on-loan backup goalkeeper was a bit of an odd decision by Tanner, and whatever dreams Chris Gibbons had of Coronel supplanting Andre Blake will not come to pass.

What I said: If he impresses, the Union can buy him and sell Blake on to the bigger club that he deserves. If he faceplants, the Union don’t have to keep him. (Grade: Win-win-win.)


  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    Nihilists don’t dream, we simply are. We exist in the world, noticing its intricacies and subtleties, and nothing more.

  2. Gonna miss Coronel, to be honest. Never really did poorly for the Union and he was amazing the one Steel game I went to at La Salle. Shook my hand in the parking lot afterwards, too. Class act. I will miss him, but good on him for playing in the greatest club competition on earth.

  3. Coronel must be the only person to play in the USL and the European Champions League in the same season…that’s incredible.

  4. The Ray bashing is pretty funny. He is moderate cost (180k), appears to be a complete professional and class teammate. He plays above average defense and below average offense. He plays a defensive position people. What he does going backwards is more important that what he gives going forward. If he was above average at both, he wouldn’t be here at that salary.

    • I think Gaddis is, at best, average defensively. And you can’t write off the offensive portion of his game when fullbacks in the Union’s system are expected to provide offense. (Look at what Kai Wagner was able to do on the other side of the field.) The Union can get more from that spot on the pitch from both an attacking and a defending perspective, and they should be trying to find a replacement for Gaddis regardless of what qualities he brings in the locker room.

      • Vince Devine says:

        Every sentence is 100% correct.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I will always defend Ray. It always comes back to this point: we know who he is. He has a role and he does his job. He surprised everyone by improving at the end of the season as well. I have no complaints.

      • Ray did seriously shift into another gear in the playoffs, becoming more aggressive on the offensive end without sacrificing defense. Can he play that way consistently?? I dunno. Would it be nice to have a upgrade?? Sure. Should that be our priority given that we probably need 2 center midfielders for next season?? Eh…

    • If asking more of a player, or wanting better for your team, is a bad thing, then I’m just a terrible person. Mediocrity shouldn’t be a goal or accepted by a fan base. Maybe it’s acceptable to you, but it’s not to me.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        What I’m saying is you can’t blame Ray, if anything blame the front office. Ray works hard and puts in 100% every game, not to mention is a huge plus in the locker room. If you’re not happy that he’s mediocre, blame the front office for not signing an upgrade. Or blame Mbaizo for not taking the job from Ray.

      • I don’t blame Ray. Don’t know where that idea came from, but whatever. I don’t think most people here do specifically blame him. If they do, I’m pretty sure it comes from the frustration that we had Rosenberry and traded him without a sure fire replacement. I’m not saying he should go or be banished to USL2. He has value. He just isn’t what the team should be looking for as a starter. And I’d say the rest of the league also knows what Ray can and cannot provide by their lack of respect covering him defensively. He’s not going to drive the end line and make a threatening cross into the box. He’s not going to take a man on and beat him. I know that. You know that. He knows that. Curtin knows that. And the REST of the league knows that. So why are we pretending that it is acceptable? Why are people trying to settle for something that just isn’t good enough?

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I agree. I’d love an upgrade, but I won’t be surprised if other positions take priority this offseason. I’d take it as a sign that they believe in Mbaizo long term.

  5. Mediocrity in a salary capped system has to include cost. I am not saying that he is a underappreciated all star. He is an average to slightly below average player getting significantly less than an average salary (180k vs 365k for non designated senior players). Just because he is mediocre doesn’t mean he isn’t a good deal. In a salary cap system, good deals are important.

    • It’s hard to argue with your point. Especially since I’ve argued that the Union have wasted too much money in the defensive half of the field. But if the difference between Ray and Wagner is 150k-200k, give or take, then I’m pretty sure Ernst could find some funny money somewhere to make up the difference.

  6. Where’s part two.

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