For Pete's Sake / Union

A look at the Union’s offseason so far

Photo: Rob Simmons

It’s hard to believe that Philadelphia Union will open preseason for their 2020 campaign just one week from today.

After a week of training in Delaware and two two-week sessions in Clearwater, Fla., Jim Curtin’s men will be getting ready for their season opener against FC Dallas, the kickoff to a season that carries real expectations.

The Union have had a fairly quiet offseason, with more departures than arrivals so far. Before we get to the annual surprises of preseason—who will show up 17 pounds overweight this year?—let’s take a look at what we’ve learned from the offseason so far, and what moves might still be in the offing.

Monteiro’s big move

The news on Friday that the Union had reached a deal with FC Metz to bring Jamiro Monteiro over on a permanent transfer caught many people by surprise—including me.

Everything I heard last season about the on-loan midfielder indicated that Metz would require a substantial transfer fee to complete a permanent deal. Worse, it seemed like Monteiro’s strong desire to fight for his place in Europe might be an insurmountable barrier to a deal.

And yet, there was the announcement on Friday—a $2 million transfer fee to Metz, a three-year DP contract for Monteiro (plus a club option for year four).

Credit for the move should go to all three levels of the organization: ownership, sporting director, and coaching staff.

Ernst Tanner had to make the financials work with both the player and the transferring club. His constant acquisition of TAM and GAM in moves over the last two seasons—shipping out players like Keegan Rosenberry, David Accam, C.J. Sapong, Auston Trusty, and Fafa Picault for decent fees—helps fit big contracts like Monteiro’s within the salary cap and team budget.

But the move couldn’t happen without substantial backing by ownership. The fee is twice the size of the previous club record (bringing in Alejandro Bedoya in 2011). It’s a good sign that Jay Sugarman and partners put up the cash necessary to make such an important move happen.

And, setting aside the financials, the Union had to convince Monteiro that committing to Philadelphia was the best move for his career. Just turned 26, Monteiro is entering his prime. That he was willing to commit some of that prime to Philadelphia—to, essentially, bet that this is the best platform for what he wants to accomplish in his career—speaks to the work done by Tanner, Jim Curtin, and the rest of the organization.

Make no mistake: this is a move the Union needed to make. Monteiro’s arrival took the Union to a new level last year, a move that made Philly look like a serious championship contender for the first time in club history. To replace Monteiro, Haris Medunjanin, and Marco Fabian in one offseason would have been a tall task.

Instead, the Union have their foundation for another run at the top of the conference in place.

The Wizard arrives

Meanwhile, the Union have only signed one player this offseason who wasn’t already in the organization: 25-year-old Venezuelan midfielder Jose Andres Martinez.

Like you, I’ve never seen Martinez play, but all indications are that he’ll be a textbook CDM in the system Tanner wants the Union to play. A storyline to watch in preseason will be whether Martinez will be the guaranteed starter there, whether there will be some competition, or whether Curtin is planning an entirely different midfield configuration. (We haven’t heard from either Tanner or Curtin in a press conference setting since the end of last season, so the question hasn’t been asked.) My read: you don’t pay a transfer fee (reportedly $500K) for a 25-year-old—and move on from the player who’s played almost every minute in his position over the last three years—if you don’t expect him to have a big role in this campaign. It’ll be exciting for Union fans to see how Martinez fits in and what he brings to the side.

Perhaps more importantly, Martinez brings something the Union have really been missing: a fantastic nickname. It’s “El Brujo,” which I understand translates variously as “The Wizard,” “The Sorcerer,” “The Magician,” or “The Warlock.” I suppose we’ll have to settle on one of those, but they’re all excellent. It’s been a while since the Union have had a great nickname. (My efforts to christen Kacper Przybylko “Striker Muffin” have been largely, and disappointingly, unsuccessful.)

What’s left to do

The Union have 23 players under contract next season, plus the still-on-loan Cory Burke. Tanner indicated last year that he thinks 26ish players is about the right size roster for MLS play. What else might he do before the season opener on Leap Day?

  • The only name currently linked to the Union, per the Twitter rumor mill, is 21-year-old Slovakian Matej Oravec. Oravec is an interesting name; he is about the same age profile as Kai Wagner and can play as either a center back or CDM. If he signs, that gives the Union cover in two spots on the pitch where they need it. (I don’t think you can be comfortable with Aurelien Collin as your third CB, and the midfield is generally a little thin right now.) How the Union use Oravec—again, if he signs—will be one of the most intriguing questions of preseason.
  • There’s still some sorting to do in the attacking department. As it stands, the Union are handing the No. 10 keys to Brenden Aaronson, with little in the way of veteran support (other than playing Monteiro in a more attacking role). I liked some of what I saw from Aaronson last season, but he still needs to pick up a lot of sharpness with his final ball and is way too easily dispossessed or marked out of a match. No. 10s are hard to find, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanner looks to bring in an MLS vet on the downslope of his career—in the mold of Collin, signed around this time last year—to back up Aaronson.
  • Striker, meanwhile, is interesting. Given the club’s commitments to Kacper Przybylko, Andrew Wooten, and Sergio Santos (plus some interesting prospects in Michee Ngalina and Jack De Vries), I’d be surprised if there are any more additions there. (What’s going on with Burke, who’s reported to be going out on loan again until May, remains a mystery.) The preseason question, then, will be which pair of those guys can form chemistry and rise to the crop. If Santos can make the leap in his second MLS season—and stay healthy—he has the tools to be an x-factor for this iteration of the Union.
Miscellaneous thoughts on the outgoings

Finally, here are my one-sentence thoughts on the big departures of the offseason.

  • Marco Fabian: A shame it didn’t work out, but letting him go was a move they needed to make.
  • Haris Medunjanin: Shouldn’t be a full-time starter at 35, but moving on from him entirely might cause a bigger hole than the club would like—both on the pitch and in the locker room.
  • Auston Trusty: Can’t complain about the return, but the way Trusty’s relationship with the club deteriorated—like that of old (and new) teammate Keegan Rosenberry—raises uncomfortable questions.
  • Fafa Picault: Getting at least $300K in allocation money for a player who didn’t fit the club any more was excellent business by Tanner.

58 Comments

  1. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    On the Trusty and Roseberry sentence…. is it really uncomfortable? Curtin has coached 6 season and has had at least 50-60 different players play for him. Everyone else seems just fine with the guy. So maybe it’s a reflection on the 2 players and not the coach.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I can’t figure it out, honestly. They’re both very good local players who, by all accounts, were good with fans and teammates. Letting them go shocked a lot of people, even though both spent time in the proverbial doghouse.

      Year after year, Jim Curtin gets more points out of his team with less spending (respective to the league) than the year before (37-42-42-50-55), and Ernst Tanner is as unsentimental as they come.

    • Bada boom. Trusty wanted to get paid it wasn’t merited. He learned an adult lesson and now lives elsewhere. It’s a shame but them’s the breaks, kid.

    • Even if the answer turns out to be “Rosenberry and Trusty were both immature and needed some tough love,” it’s an uncomfortable question as to why two players who were were fan favorites/Homegrowns ended up getting shipped out of town.

      Auston Trusty played every minute of the 2018 season and almost every minute of the 2019 season through July. Then he hit the bench, stopped even making the 18, and then is traded to Colorado in the offseason after publicly hinting that some stuff went on behind the scenes. That fact pattern raises questions for both Curtin and Tanner as to what went on.

      • I don’t think it’s much more than a lack of sentimentality and German business acumen.

      • I’m sure I’m in the minority where the “homegrown/favorites” issue, isn’t one for me. This is professional soccer, and homegrowns, are assets, whether you like it or not. So not using all of the assets to better the club would be negligent of a sporting director.
        .
        It seems to me there is some misconception that just because a player is from the local area they have some greater value. They don’t. It’s a novelty. It’s literally the least important thing about a player. It gives you the feel goods. I get it. Get over it. It doesn’t help the club.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        Fan favorite is the last thing that should be considered when determining a players fate, in my opinion. My other counter argument would be that home grown players are grown to be sold. So again, not uncomfortable, just business. Would you rather have Rosenberry/trusty or Monteiro?

      • @Dan C +1. If selling homegrowns means we get Miro, then I am all for it.

      • I don’t mind transferring Homegrowns. I agree that the point is, in part, to make a profit on those guys. (Dan C. makes a good point that selling these guys helped finance the Monteiro acquisition.) What I do wonder is what happened behind-the-scenes to cause Trusty to fall out so spectacularly with the club in advance of his transfer. That matters for non-sentimental reasons because it may have affected the size of the offers available for him.

        The Union specifically brands themselves as committed to “developing talent from the Delaware Valley.” (That’s from their recently updated club “about” statement.) The Union believe that how they develop Homegrown players matters, so it’s appropriate to evaluate them on that score, and to ask questions about what happens along the way to their departure from the club, whenever it may be.

      • Perhaps, this is found in the player exit interviews (I am sure they are private) but you do bring up good points. What happened behind the scenes with Rosenberry, Trusty, and Derek Jones? Maybe someone needs to start a Philly Union tabloid type site with WAGS and gossip a la English press 🙂

        The Monteiro transfer is also ripe with speculation, but it’s not hard to see what Jamiro may have been thinking. Maybe get a spot on the bench for a Ligue 1 team that may very well be relegated OR go where you are wanted and will play a key part of the next season.. Not a hard choice.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        Solid points Peter. What I find most interesting is the stated goal of the academy when SO many come from outside the area. I have no problem (actually encourage it)with bringing in the best regardless of where you are from, just find the statement at odds with what they do.

        As far as looking at why the one who were transferred didn’t work out, well how many homegrowns haven’t worked out for other clubs?

        Dallas and NY pump tons of kids through their pipeline with mixed results as well. And technically Rosenberry and Jones are only quasi home grown.

      • My guess, with no actual evidence, is that Jim is a player’s coach but expects a certain level of commitment outside game day especially for younger players. So me might give vets like Bedoya some space and rest, but expects 100% from the “youth”. Without getting into any millenial assumptions, a young MLS starter might want to coast a bit, or go out on the town on a weeknight, etc. If your coach doesn’t like or agree, he can bury you on the bench as a lesson. I don’t agree with it, but can easily see it happen.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        Yet one of the reasons Jamiro returned to the Union he stated was because of his relationship with Jim Curtin.
        .
        Just a guess and nothing more but last year Jim praised McKenzie for realising development wasn’t a straight line up. It was how players reacted to adversity and the willingness to fight once they are faced with it. I think the thing that Rosenberry and Trusty have in common is that lost their starting positions and maybe just maybe whined about it instead of fighting to regain and get better. Just A guess but if it’s the case, I understand why they sold while they thought they could get a good return.

      • I think in the case of Rosenberry, it was definitely a case of getting value while we had it. I think it was purely shrewd business on Tanner’s part. Perhaps the same is true of Trusty, though his benching likely hurt his value.

        I get the sense that Curtin is a real player’s coach but his dog house is really hard to get out of once you’re there.

      • So Peter, what part about trading away Trusty and Rosenberry negates them being developed as homegrown talent? Was it that they didn’t stick around a certain amount of time for you? Do you think that the players themselves should have reached a certain level before they were let go? Or flipped, should the players need to prove beyond a doubt that they are not capable of progressing? I’m just not sure what constitutes development for you.
        .
        As far as I’m concerned, the Union filled that mission statement. The Union also determined that said players were not going to progress to a point where their value would increase with the club. The club then moved on.
        .
        Again this is where I think there’s a hang up about “homegrowns” or “local talent”. In what you quote Peter, there is nothing that states development of talent from the area means they stay in the area. I also don’t see why this should be seen as a bad thing if developing local talent is a key goal for you as a supporter. If a player has been deemed surplus to needs and they are still young enough to develop why shouldn’t they move on to a place that might give them that chance. They are still being given the chance to develop and the Union benefit. All positives for me regardless if some feelings were hurt on the way out.

      • It isn’t a mystery why those guys are gone. Both players were making LOADS of boneheaded mistakes.
        .
        A lot of revisionist history going on here.
        .
        We finally have the coach and FO on the same page regarding what they want in a player and the chemistry of their team. That doesn’t involve lingering on players who aren’t performing or who aren’t a good fit in the locker room.
        .
        Fan sentiment is the worst damned metric you could use to make player decisions.
        .
        Excited for the next moves forward.

      • All4U — what constitutes development, to me, is how well the Union maximize a player. Whether that’s turning their raw talent into production on the field as a longtime player, or moving the player on for value, or — as will happen in many cases — the player never making it at all. The Union have made clear that this process is a key part of both the club’s ethos *and* its business model. So, when evaluating a player’s career with the Union, it’s appropriate to ask, based on what we can observe from the outside, whether the club maximized that player’s development.

        Trusty is a player who many, including me, believe has the potential to play in Europe. The Union used him for nearly every minute in 2018 and most of 2019. Then, almost without warning, he was relegated to the bench and out of the 18 for the rest of the season. Instead of a move overseas, he was sold within MLS after publicly expressing some displeasure with the way it all went down. I do not know what happened behind the scenes. Based on what we know, though, it is absolutely fair and appropriate to question what happened between the two sides and whether the Union did everything possible to maximize Trusty’s development before moving on. Maybe they did! But the question is worth asking — which was my point in the story above.

        I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is nothing requiring the development of local talent means that you should never sell your local players. In fact, I think it’s very important that the Union are able to sell the players they develop. But I think Union supporters should care about how *good* the Union are at developing young players and whether they are able to maximize the talent that comes through the program. Either as players, sales, or both, youth development is key to the club’s ability to seriously compete for an MLS Cup title. The weird situation with Trusty is a data point that is worth examining in evaluating how the Union are doing in meeting their stated goals. It is, in my mind, too simple to say that Trusty suddenly became surplus to needs on one day in August 2019.

      • Sixth time starting this..
        .
        Ok Peter, so I guess I feel that there isn’t anything really sinister behind these trades. I just believe they were cold calculations in trying to do what’s best for the club. Nor do I agree that, staying here, Trusty had a pathway to Europe anymore. I think it at one time may have been possible here, and still might be possible somewhere else. I just think there’s a naivete or immaturity to his game while also having a mistake in him. His distribution also leaves a lot to be desired. I think a change of scenery will do him some good.
        .
        In the end I guess I’m just expecting less and admiring the decisiveness of the decisions and maybe that’s given me a bit of the rose colored glasses. I can best describe the difference between our views by saying that I think the Union are trying to make the best pizza dough they can. While you are expecting the Union to make a damn good plain pie that someone might just gourmet by throwing good quality toppings on. Sorry for whatever reasons this has been really hard to express what I was trying to say and I’m sure there’s a good chance I’m spewing jibberish but hopefully some sense made it through.

  2. Any rumblings on another RB option? Love Gaddis, but isn’t there an opportunity to upgrade that spot?

    • I haven’t heard or seen any rumblings there, but I agree the Union should look to upgrade. (Especially because Gaddis, love him or not, is not the type of fullback Tanner would prefer.) Preseason offers a big opportunity for Olivier Mbaizo to stake a claim to the starting role, if he’s ever going to do so.

    • The year is 2052. Ray Gaddis, in his 40th year as a pro, collapses on the field doing what he loved, passing it and killing off a Union offensive.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        correction….the year is 2052. Ray Gaddis, in his 40th year as a pro collapses on the field doing what he loved… and is carried off the field by his peers…like Maximus Decimus Aurelius.
        .
        everything first starts with respect for Raymond Gaddis.

      • +1 El P

  3. Medunjanin will leave a hole in the locker room but not on the pitch. He already left a big hole on the defensive front (*points at the ball going by*). He brought a lot to the table offensively so we’ll have to wait and see if the new midfield can make up for his production. I’m about 70/30 with my comfort level on his departure. Excited to see Martinez an Oravec.

  4. Is there any chance we can start calling Martinez “The Witcher”? Toss A Coin needs to get into the SoB repertoire!

    • I’m for “The Warlock”. It’s always good to have a “Lock” in the party to summon the dead and control mobs. I’m all in on a little black magic.

    • How about…”EL BRUJO” (pronounced ‘El Brew-Ho’). Stick to the original..it sounds better in spanish..IMHO

    • O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

      Let’s see if the guy can play before we give him the honor of having a nickname…. I’ve seen too many signings come with big expectations only to be disappointed. It’s the guys you’ve never heard of that seem to produce. Harris, dockal, Wagner, montiero…. let it play out fellas. If he’s earned it we’ll call him whatever he likes. Savvy?

      • now THERE’s a thinking man…and a long term union fan. Too many have come with hype and left with ….nothing.
        I’m with my captain…let him earn it, then call him whatever he wants.

  5. Really hope they pick-up Oravec for right back. Love Ray-Ray but the MLS game has passed him on. He just got his masters though and got married, so he will be as great off the field. Thinking this is his Fabinho year with a few cameos.
    Oravec is a really interesting option based on his age and flexibility between DM, RB & FB. He could start games at RB, but would give the U the option to go to a 3-5-2 later in games – I am assuming that McKenzie has the chops to handle the other side with Jack in the middle and Wagner pushing up to wingback.

  6. “Striker muffin”? Really? Plus any athlete with any variation of the name Casper has to be nicknamed “Ghost.” It’s a rule.

  7. Section 114(Former) says:

    It’s time for an entire squad of supernatural nicknames. We already have Kasper the Ghost, now we have the Warlock. Who else? Jack Elliott can be the Vampire. Help me out here!

  8. Like you, I was completely taken aback at the signing of Jamiro who I figured Metz would lock down. So I haven’t had much time to think about the team with him on it. Towards the end of last season Jamiro started working on his highlight reel instead of cohesive team play and I am so excited to have him back, committed to the organization. My main fear is that Aaronson and him are a combined 200 pounds and we will need some more strength.

    Been waiting on Mbazio to break through, hopefully this is the year. As Kascper is always going to be a risk to re-injure his foot, holding on to Burke is essential in my mind. I am really hoping the loan to Austria is just to get him in form.

    • ” My main fear is that Aaronson and him are a combined 200 pounds and we will need some more strength.”

      Jamiro in particular punches well above his weight. Dude is fearless and plays with an attitude. I love it when he gets in opposing players’ faces. Smaller players just need to be quicker and smarter.

  9. FWIW, I completely agree with you that the way Trusty *AND* Rosenberry exited the club is a bit concerning. If it had just been one guy, you could call it a fluke. But twice makes me wonder… It is really weird how Trusty got flicked off like a light switch. He went from every game starter to not even making the 18 in like 2 weeks, without an injury. Something is amiss when that happens.

    • O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

      Agree, Derrick Jones too. All three looked to have such promise. I’d like to know more about what really went wrong with them.

    • I feel like it was off field attitude or activity. Rosenberry made some childish social media comments, and I feel like Jones kinda had off field issues. I read some stuff that made it seem that way. Can only assume Trusty is in the same boat. No real sources to go to. My rusty ole memory is all I got!

  10. John O'Donnell Jr says:

    Curtin was on the Fox radio the gambler today and stated that at least two more big signings in the back are coming. Martinez doesn’t sound like he’s an instant starter as Tanner called him more of a project. Things might be getting even more interesting in the coming days….weeks.

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