Analysis

Examining the Union’s forthcoming contract negotiations

Photo: Paul Rudderow

New contracts for Kai Wagner and Jose “El Brujo” Martinez illustrate yet again that the technical staff continuously evaluates the Union’s roster and negotiates with whom to renew ties for how long.

“El Brujo” was re-signed to new contract last Wednesday. The new deal is guaranteed through 2022 with options for 2023 and 2024. His 2020 season was good enough that he was stiff competition to Andre Blake for team MVP, and some national writers named him to their Best XIs.

Every other team in MLS was and is acutely aware of him, as are any teams that scout the North American league for talent. A pre-emptive reward has undoubtedly happened, although the announcement made no mention of a raise.

On the basis of compiled data presented in the appendix below, eight players seem likely to discuss their futures with the club soon, and a ninth is possible.

Non-homegrowns

Andre Blake had a superb season for the Union in 2020, being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for a second time. The 30-year-old is the only MLS netminder to win the award twice with the same club.

The Union announced it exercised his option to bring him back for 2021. Given that he signed his current deal three years ago in January of 2018 (with Earnie Stewart), it is possible that that deal had three years guaranteed with one further club option, since a guaranteed four-year contract seems long for Major League Soccer generally and for Philadelphia particularly.

If his 2018 deal had no further options, then Blake will be a free agent at the end of the 2021 season.  Were he to reach actual free agency more than just other MLS clubs might show real interest.

Second after Blake in the negotiations queue should be Sergio Santos. While the 26-year-old Brazilian striker did not shake the 2019 injury bug completely, he played twice as many minutes in 2020 (1218) as he did in 2019 (622).

When he was on the field, the Union threatened the space behind the opposition’s back line in a way they did not when he was in touch. He may be the Union’s fastest player in a sprint over ground. He adds excellent strength to that pace. He tied Kacper Przybylko for the team lead in goals with eight, while playing only 60% as many minutes.

While Cory Burke’s refreshed availability significantly strengthens the striker corps, there are only three for a system that starts two. And losing Santos to free agency for nothing would be bad management. Were he to have a healthy productive 2021, the attention he would attract from others could be lucrative, given the prices strikers command.

At the older end of the field-player age spectrum, Ray Gaddis is also returning for 2021 on an option. He remains the starting right back by merit and is a clear locker room asset.  He will be re-signed. But he is of an age when the deals will be shorter and the raises lesser, although the club will want to treat a potential Ring of Honor inductee respectfully.

Re-signing the last two non-homegrown players brought back for 2021 on options will depend on Olivier Mbaizo’s and Ilsinho’s performances and productivities during the season.  Mbaizo’s status will be influenced by Ray Gaddis’s performance and Nate Harriel’s progress, as well as his own improvement of his left foot’s effectiveness on offense.  Thirty-five-year-old Ilsinho now has to reprove every year that he can still play at this level.

Jack Elliott is in the same contract situation as Martinez.  Mark McKenzie’s departure together with that of Warren Creavalle, and the “growth opportunity” phrase that continues to describe all the rostered depth behind “El Brujo” Martinez at defensive center mid, means 2020 enhanced Elliott’s value.

It seems an even chance whether the technical staff will move to secure him beyond 2022 at this juncture. Any decision will be influenced by the success level of McKenzie’s left-footed center back replacement and the growth of the depth pieces at defensive center mid.

Homegrowns

As argued earlier in the end-of-season roundtable, Anthony Fontana will receive the “chance” promised by Ernst Tanner in the end-of-season press conference as the fourth striker not as a midfielder.

The 21-year-old homegrown was brought back on a 2021 option to a contract that went into effect three years ago (on January 1, 2018). While nothing more about Fontana’s 2018 deal is known, losing him for nothing as a free agent next January does not seem to be the Sporting Director’s style, given the promise he showed last season. He is playing for a new deal in 2021.

Fellow homegrown Matt Real is also playing 2021 for a contract. The 21-year-old is the only left-footed left back on the roster besides Wagner. He has the offensive dimensions Tanner’s system demands of a left back. But he lacks Wagner’s defensive physical bite, although he has been adequate fulfilling the defensive half of his two-way responsibilities when the German has been unavailable.

Real signed his deal 18 days after Fontana’s took effect, and like Fontana he returns for 2021 on an option year. A difference between them is that during Real’s deal his salary increased from the reserve roster minimum to the senior roster minimum.  It may have been an incentive to achieve club-desired goals. Fontana’s money did not start as low.

As a postscript, there is one other homegrown who has been with the club long enough that his contract may be approaching its end. Matt Freese’s current deal was signed in December of 2018. He seems a year behind Fontana and Real since his 2021 contract is guaranteed, not an option. Should he have an option for 2022 (see assumptions in the appendix below), need for renegotiation is less immediate.

Appendix

From what seems to be known of Auston Trusty’s departure, players whose contracts are guaranteed for the ’22 season or longer are assumed not likely to be offered improved deals, barring major outside expressions of serious interest.

Another assumption that governs this analysis is a pattern detected while gathering its raw data. Homegrown contract announcements never included details about length or options. Non-homegrown announcements did. Because of the difference we group the homegrown signings last within the charts below.

Option Exercised for 2021

Players

1-6

Current contract’s Announce -ment date 2021 season current contract status Age Comments
Andre Blake 17-Jan-18 O ‘21 GC 30.2 Re-signing is of the highest priority
Ray Gaddis 9-Jan-19 O ‘21 31.0 Re-signing is likely, but for a shorter duration
Olivier Mbaizo 17-Apr-18 O ‘21 GC 23.4 Re-signing depends in part on Nate Harriel’s progress
Ilsinho 24-Jan-20 O ‘21 GC 35.3 Re-signing depends on 2021 performance
Anthony Fontana 7-Jul-17 O ‘21 HG 21.3 Re-signing is a priority
Matt Real 18-Jan-18 O ‘21 HG 21.5 Re-signing is a priority

Contract’s last guaranteed year is 2021: Homegrowns’ further years or options are unknown

Players

7-15

Current contract’s Announce -ment date 2021 season current contract status Age Comments
Sergio Santos 14-Dec-18 ‘21 Intl 26.4 Re-signing is of the highest priority
Matt Freese 21-Dec-18 ‘21 HG 22.4 Re-signing is a priority
Jack de Vries 20-Aug-19 ‘21 HG 18.9 The need to re-sign is unlikely
Cole Turner 17-Jul-19 ‘21 HG 19.8 Need to re-sign is uncertain
Brandan Craig 12-Nov-20 ‘21 HG 16.8 Need to re-sign is unlikely
Nate Harriel 17-Jul-20 ‘21 HG 19.7 Need to re-sign is unlikely
Jack McGlynn 17-Aug-20 ‘21 HG 17.5 Need to re-sign is unlikely
Paxten Aaronson 19-Aug-20 ‘21 HG 17.4 Need to re-sign is unlikely
Quinn Sullivan 12-Nov-20 ‘21 HG 16.8 Need to re-sign is unlikely

Contract’s last guaranteed year is 2021: Option available for 2022

Players

16-18

Current contract’s Announce -ment date 2021 season current contract status Age Comments
Jack Elliott 22-May-19 ’21, O ‘22 Intl 25.4 Re-signing is a high priority
Jose Martinez 23-Dec-19 ’21, O ‘22 Intl 26.4 Re-signing is a high priority
Alejandro Bedoya 27-Feb-20 ’21, O ‘22 33.7 Re-signing is likely, but for a shorter duration

The rest are not likely to get future negotiations soon, aside from current renegotiating

Players

19-26

Current contract’s Announce -ment date 2021 season current contract status Age
Jakob Glesnes 31-Jan-20 ’21, O ’22, O ‘23 Intl 26.8
Kai Wagner 15-Jan-21 ‘21, ’22, O’23 Intl 23.9 Just re-signed
Matej Oravec 20-Jan-20 ’21, ’22, O’23 Intl 22.8
Jamiro Monteiro 10-Jan-20 ’21, ’22, O ‘23 Intl/DP 27.1
Kacper Przybylko 28-Feb-20 ’21, ’22, ‘23 Intl 27.8
Cory Burke 2-Dec-20  ‘21, ’22, O ‘23 Intl 29.1 Just re-signed
Joe Bendik Renegotiating 31.7 Probably being negotiated down
Aurelien Collin Renegotiating GC 34.9 Probably being negotiated down

2 Comments

  1. Nice article, thanks for doing the research on this! On another note, I’m really wondering about Blake resigning. He seems happy enough in Philadelphia as far as MLS goes, but he’s definitely always had an eye towards Europe. At 30, he’d probably have a hard time getting a team to pay a huge transfer fee for him, but I’m sure he’d have some suitors if he were to be available on a free. If I were him and wanted to try for Europe, I’d definitely be tempted to run my contract down.

    Though I guess the Union could negotiate some kind of a deal where Blake has a low release clause if he gets an offer from Europe…

  2. Thank you!

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