For Pete's Sake

Glesnes signing completes the defensive depth chart

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

With less than four weeks to go until the 2020 MLS season kicks off, the Philadelphia Union roster is nearing completion.

Unlike last year though, the final splash of the shopping window won’t be for an attacking player with an international pedigree.

Instead, the capstone to an offseason focused on beefing up a defense that leaked fifty goals last season looks to be the signing of Norwegian center back Jakob Glesnes, a 25-year-old with a face so angular that it looks like it was designed on graph paper.

Without professing to know much of anything about Glesnes before his arrival in Philadelphia, I think this is (yet another) smart signing for the Union. Glesnes not only fills a position of need on the pitch — he may turn out to be a key piece off it, too.

Three birds in your hands are worth…

When Auston Trusty got on a plane to Denver in November, the Union’s defensive depth chart left something to be desired.

Sure, Jack Elliott played every minute for the 2019 Union at a very high level, and Mark McKenzie might be the organization’s most promising prospect. But questions could reasonably be asked of both players — Elliott, too tall for his own good, is always going to have physical limitations, while McKenzie played in 12 fewer games and nearly 1100 fewer minutes in 2019 than in his debut season in 2018 (plus is expected to miss a good chunk of matches this year for Olympic qualifying and possible participation).

Behind them was… not much else. Aurelien Collin, while a good teammate and a solid veteran presence, appeared to be aging faster than the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade every time he set foot on the pitch last season. Simply put, the Union could not go into a new campaign and expect Collin to match or improve on the six starts he made in 2019. The club also wasn’t at the place where an Academy prospect could be called up to serve as center back depth. (Cole Turner is a holding midfielder, but he’s just 18 — and a holding midfielder is not equivalent to a competent center back.)

At the start of preseason camp, the Union completed the signing of Matej Oravec, a young defensive midfielder from Slovakia. Although Oravec has past experience playing center back, comments from Ernst Tanner and Jim Curtin made it seem as though Oravec would be seen first and foremost as a No. 6, not as defensive cover.

Were the Union really comfortable entering the season with just Collin behind Elliott and McKenzie?

Enter… Jakob Glenses.

Glenses ticks every box you could possibly want from a second or third center back. He’s young but not inexperienced, with four seasons of top-flight football in Norway under his belt. He captained his last team at age 25 — more on that in a moment. And — at least according to Tanner — he fits the style of play the Union intend to use this year. Glesnes should be capable of both filling in in the event of injury or national team duty and pushing for a starting spot should either Elliott or McKenzie struggle.

He also fits the club’s long-term roster construction. In an ideal world, the Union hope to regularly turn a profit on their young players. The Union now have three center backs where a profit is reasonably possible. Elliott and Glesnes, entering their primes at 24 and 25 respectively, both have European passports and could, with a solid season or two in MLS, draw interest from European leagues. McKenzie, meanwhile, just earned his first international cap at age 20 and is poised to have opportunities on the world stage this year. Tanner could sell one or two of these players this offseason or next, getting both a chunk of cash to reinvest in the squad and still having at least one talented player to anchor the backline.

Captain crunch

We’ve talked at length this offseason about the club’s conscious uncoupling with Haris Medunjanin, the most significant departure from a roster that was the best in club history.

While the Union have acted aggressively to replace Medunjanin on the pitch — bringing in Oravec and Jose “El Brujo” Martinez to battle for minutes at the No. 6 — his departure may be more strongly felt off the pitch.

Although Alejandro Bedoya is the club captain and the team’s vocal leader, Medunjanin’s role inside the dressing room should not be discounted as a key part of last year’s success. Medunjanin was not afraid to call out the team for poor performances, setting high expectations for a club that has too often been comfortable settling for mediocrity.

Neither Oravec or Martinez will be expected to carry that kind of leadership role immediately. Glesnes might. At age 25, he was the club captain for Stromsgodset Toppfotball — either a club name or a randomly generated set of syllables, it’s hard to tell — a fact that Tanner flagged in the press release announcing the transfer.

“To become a captain of a club at 25-years-old is a remarkable feat for a young player and what attracted us to Jakob in addition to his strong aerial presence and front-foot defense,” said Tanner.

It may, of course, take Glesnes time to settle in — this is his first club outside of his home country, and such transitions are not always smooth.

But if it works, the Union may have found a way to both upgrade and replace what Medunjanin gave them last year.

Just with three players instead of one.


  1. If there is still a chance Gaddis is starting then the depth chart is never complete.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Peter. What physical limitations do your eyes see because ‘Jack Elliott is too tall for his own good?’
    Guy seldom gets beat in a straight foot race… and is pretty agile for being 6’5”….. 6’3” 6’4” 6’5” are absolute sweet spots for a blend of needed height and athleticism. I could list 50 top flight players in this window in two breaths.
    If anything I’d argue the only thing Jack Elliott could use …is about 6-8 lbs of muscle which would make him an absolute beast.

    • +1. He’s got Virgil van Dijk height, with a Peter Crouch build…

    • I, too, thought that was a curious comment. Thought it might have been offered in jest, but I’m not sure. I think Elliot’s been very good most of the time. And I’ve always thought height was an advantage at that position.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I’d take Jacks height, passing and feet over Mark McKenzie’s athleticism who in my opinion has questionable feet and for sure less passing skill -particularly in flighted balls.

    • Yeah, got to agree with everyone here, Elliott definitely has the kind of height you want back there. Yes, he could use an extra stone or two, but he doesn’t appear to be getting overpowered now anyway. I saw several instances last season where he leveraged himself effectively against different body types.
      I wouldn’t be upset if they cloned him and played an Elliott tandem back there.

    • It was mostly a poorly executed joke about his gangliness, hah. I admit that I am not as high on Elliott as the PSP commentariat is — he is a very capable MLS center back, the kind you need to be a good team in the league, but not much more than that — but it is a fair point that size is not a bad thing in central defenders. Overall, my point is simply that I vastly prefer having Elliott’s backup be Jakob Glesnes than Aurelien Collin.

  3. In Tanner We Trust says:

    To everyone saying Glesnes will be a starter, I have an outside the box thought: Maybe, just MAYBE Ernst is teaching Jim roster rotation. Maybe all 3 will log a similar amount of starts. Especially earlier, because if Glesnes is THAT good, it’s good to experiment and see who he pairs better with.

    • If somebody could teach that to Jim it would be glorious. But you’re talking about the guy who let Haris Medunjanin play every minute last season, so I will be skeptical that he can learn this until we see some evidence.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    In reference to whether Glesnes is the starter, I like Peter’s point about leadership in the back line.
    I also note that he was put into the starting lineup immediately, although one datum makes a sparse data set.
    My own emphasis is to look at the clues of how much they spent in transfer fees, about which we know nothing directly, but there are indirect clues. He is a TAM player which tells you he is — roughly — above $400,000 in salary at a minimum, so he is already in the top ten in the club that way.
    And the Norwegian club’s announcement said negotiations took a long time. They sold their captain as he was coming into his prime as they are getting ready for their own new season — Norway is also a spring summer fall league — when they finished in the bottom third of their league last year. And they know as well as all of us do that the Union gave up 50 goals last year.
    They are taking a significant risk, and they held out a long time. They made certain they got paid. Vikings have always valued gold and silver, and they know that defense wins championships as well as anyone else.
    Glesnes is here to be the captain of the defense, and from his point of view to prove to Norway’s national team coach that he deserves call ups to their national team because he has moved up to a higher league — look at the langue of the Norwegian club’s announcement — and is doing well. There may be elements of similarity to Carlos Valdes’s arrival, the first time.

    • Good logic. I agree with you and am curious to see how things unfold.

    • I agree that this makes sense, and suggests to me that they may be shopping Elliott and want to have someone who can step in when he’s sold.

      However, I do not see how a 25-year-old guy moving away from home — and stepping up to a higher league — could possibly be a team leader this season. That would’ve been like asking Kai Wagner to be a team leader last year.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Peter Andrews has looked at the Union’s depth chart, and it is two deep everywhere, even if you allocate Jack de Vries and Cole Turner to “the two,” as I suspect strongly you should.
    But the irganization’s professional depth chart still has one hole, left back. The third known left back is a 2002 birth year amateur with the U19s who has never played a minute with Bethlehem/“the two.”
    Everywhere else the professional depth chart goes three deep. But not left back.

  6. old soccer coach says:

    MLS Roster Rules as they have been require 18 players on the Senior roster. There can be four on the Supplemental roster, and four on the Reserve roster.
    At some point last season I seem to remember Tanner said they had enough players when the Union’s roster totaled 26. And when arguing against spending money on charter flights, he thought players would rather have that money spent on their salaries.
    So I assume his roster target number is 26, not 28, with the money from the extra two slots used to sweeten the pot for the others.
    I do not expect the international player who is a trialist to remain with the first team past Jamiro Monteiro’s arrival. I have not considered whether he would be offered — or accept — a USLC contract with the Union II, partly because information about their roster and preseason activities is so scarce.
    Of the first team’s 26 players, nine will occupy international roster slots so they have to acquire one more slot before February 28th (the day before the opener has been roster compliance day in the past). Five have or are expected to have green cards, and seven are homegrowns. Five are non-homegrown domestic players.These numbers include Cory Burke, so I expect they will play with 25 until he returns.
    Major injuries would change these expectations, as might the new CBA.

  7. Thank you, Peter.
    A point of nitpicking… “Cole Turner is a holding midfielder, but he’s just 18…”
    As Gio Reyna just demonstrated at the age of 17, age is not the issue. Inexperienced? Unproven? Need more muscle? Okay, sure. But age in and of itself doesn’t bother me one bit.
    If you can play, you can play.

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