Fans' View

Fans’ View: Changes ahead in the offseason

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union are headed into a weird offseason. On the one hand, they are coming off their most successful season to date, albeit one that fell short of silverware at every turn. On the other hand, the team is very much in flux heading into next year, for a variety of reasons.

Jamiro Monteiro doesn’t appear to be returning to the club. His technical ability and undying motor will be missed in the heart of our midfield. He will be very difficult to replace.

Marco Fabian is also likely done, meaning the Union will head into next season with a new Number 10 for the fourth year in a row.

The trio of young center backs all had their struggles in a defense that leaked goals all year.

Haris Medunjanin, for all the work he does in possession, is consistently a liability in defense, and is now another year older.

Andre Blake had his worst season since winning the starting job, culminating in the disastrous playoff game against the Red Bulls.

Cory Burke is still banished to Jamaica.

Ray Gaddis is still the starting right back.

And important depth pieces Fafa Picault and Warren Creavalle may not return next year.

Much of the team that made 2019 such a success may not be back for 2020, or at least not in the same roles. With that in mind, here is my wish list of five places the Union could improve heading in to next season.

  1. A New Number 10

It seems that once again the Union will be on the hunt for a number 10. Marco Fabian was a significant downgrade from Borek Dockal, but he did still “score” the only winning playoff goal in Union history, so I tip my hat to him for that at least.

While I’m as high on Brendan Aaronson as anyone, I wouldn’t be comfortable going into the season with him as the full-time starter at the 10. He filled in well there, but his inexperience, lack of offensive stats, and the tendency for young players to experience sophomore slumps under Jim Curtin give me more than a little pause.

There are a couple of domestic options here. The aged trio of American attacking midfielders, Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, and Sacha Kljestan could all be available next year. I could see a situation where one of them splits time with Aaronson for a few years, until the young midfielder is ready to take the keys for himself.

But I think I’d prefer if Ernst Tanner dove into his connections to find a foreign option. I feel the lack of production from the attacking midfield spot hurt the team this year, and in order to take a step forward in 2020, the 10 needs to be a strength, not a weakness.

  1. Monteiro Replacement

Jamiro Monteiro was an integral part of the Philadelphia Union’s formation in 2019. He was able to line up all over the midfield and provide stability on the ball, tireless work rate, and feisty tackling. Together with Alejandro Bedoya he helped cover up for Medunjanin’s shortcomings, and allowed us to play with the ball in possession.

This is another position that Aaronson could step into, but again, I’d rather Tanner find someone new. However, it will be tough to replace all that Monteiro brought for his relatively low price tag. Keep an eye on this space for now.

  1. True Defensive Midfielder

Medunjanin may have been the most important player for the possession based play that the Union have utilized over the past two seasons. He is calm on the ball and able to pick a pass with the best of them. I love watching him ping a classic left footer across the field to an onrushing attacker.

But the truth is he is a defensive midfielder who is bad at defending. When you play someone like that, you have to build the team around him. Curtin did this by flanking Medunjanin with Bedoya and Monteiro, to high-energy, tough tackling players.

The Union were limited in what they could do, defensively and offensively, by Medunjanin this year. They were never able to fully establish the high-pressure system touted by Tanner during last preseason. And the weak defense would be aided by having a true ball winner in front of them. That’s why I’d like to see the Union sign a true defensive midfielder going into next season, to offer the team a different look and to compete with Medunjanin.

  1. Upgrade at Right Back

Ray Gaddis has been a loyal servant to the team, and has the most appearances in Union history. His performances during the playoffs were immense. But in the new system, outside backs have to be able to get forward and join in the attack, and Gaddis is simply not good enough in that regard.

When the team traded Rosenberry last year, Tanner indicated that Mbaizo was next up for the job. Clearly that didn’t work out, so hopefully Tanner will find a new right back this offseason who is able to perform the role as he envisions it, and Gaddis can stick around for his ninth season with the team and provide defensive cover in late game situations or tough matchups.

  1. Another Striker

Besides Kacper Przybylko, the Union’s corps of strikers is talented, but mercurial. Sergio Santos showed flashes of his potential, interspersed with long periods of anonymous play. Midseason signing Andrew Wooten was a nonfactor. Fafa Picault may be more suited to play winger, and may want to join a team that would allow him to play his best position. And Cory Burke is still stuck in Jamaica with Visa issues. Any of these strikers could get hot at some point, but I’d feel a lot better with another consistent option to start alongside Przybylko. Especially if Picault and Burke don’t rejoin the team.

So there you have it. Those are the five biggest needs I see on the current roster. And while I obviously hope the team fills them, more than anything I’m excited to see what Tanner can do in his second year on the job. He has earned some trust from the fanbase after one very successful year. Here’s hoping to more Kai Wagner’s and Jamiro Monteiro’s on the horizon.

5 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    While it was only a tangential comment made about Cory Burke during the end-of-season press conference with both Curtin and Tanner, I did hear a short throwaway line that Burke is taking care of whatever the problem was that caused him to lose his P-1 visa.
    .
    The Union seem to be publishing nothing about roster developments, which seems to be a different approach from those taken in the past.
    .
    The league has said it will publish the list of those players eligible for the Inter Miami – Nashville expansion draft on the 16th.
    .
    And all decisions about players on options must be taken by November 21st, so that may be a day when Union roster questions come into focus.
    There has been no indication of when Bethlehem information may become available.

  2. Federico Higuain might be worth taking a chance on. He’s aging and just came off an injury, but I could see him being a very positive influence on Brendan if nothing else. Again, it would just be another #10 bandaid for a year though.
    .
    I am a bit bummed we didn’t snag Lee Ngyen last year when we had the chance.

    • I would have liked Nguyen, too. Only knock on him was has age. That’s the main reason I’d be cautious about Higuain, too.

  3. So Fabian was about $2M. How about Ernst use his Dutch connection and pickup Siem de Jong for #10? His contract is expiring and I imagine Ernst knows him well.

  4. I would imagine Fafa is doing everything he can to move to Miami

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