Union

News and notes from the early part of the Union’s offseason

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

With MLS Cup lifted (and the winning manager celebrating with a strip-tease), the league’s offseason is in full swing.

That’s true for Philadelphia Union, too, still licking their wounds after a heartbreaking, frustrating end to a memorable playoff run.

Sporting director Ernst Tanner and manager Jim Curtin are expected to meet with the media today for the first time since the end of the season.

Before that happens, let’s get caught up with a quick look at some of the stories from the early part of the offseason.

Glesnes extension leads roster decisions

The end of the season always means roster machinations, and no machination was more important to the Union than signing stud center back Jakob Glesnes to a three-year contract extension.

The 27-year-old defender is the heart of the Union’s backline, having played every minute of the 2021 season, and scored some of the most memorable goals in the club’s history to boot. Glesnes will enter his third season in Philadelphia when the 2022 campaign kicks off.

Elsewhere, the Union exercised contract options on five players — Joe Bendik, Jack Elliott, Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos, and Cole Turner — bringing the total roster up to 25 at the start of the offseason.

Aurelien Collin, Ilsinho, and Alvas Powell are out of contract. It would be a surprise to see Collin or Ilsinho return given their age, while Powell might be able to chase a starting job elsewhere in the league.

The Union extended bona fide offers to Anthony Fontana and Matt Real. But it’s unlikely that either player will return to the club, having fallen out of the manager’s plans as the season went on. Look for both to get a fresh start elsewhere this offseason.

Finally, the club declined an option to buy Matheus Davo, who underwhelmed after joining the side on the loan this summer. Davo made one appearance in MLS play.

Expansion draft passes Union by

Almost every offseason sees a new MLS club go through the expansion draft process.

But as the league expands and fewer selections are allocated to the new club, existing clubs face less danger of having a player selected.

This year’s newbie is the imaginatively named Charlotte FC, who made their five expansion draft picks on Tuesday night.

Philadelphia announced their protected list the day before the draft, with the most notable exposed players being forward Cory Burke and defender Stuart Findlay.

Neither player, however, ended up in Charlotte. The club from Carolina picked Austin FC’s McKinze Gaines, Atlanta’s Anton Walkes, and DC’s Joseph Mora, while also drafting and trading Tristan Blackmon (from LAFC to Vancouver) and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (from NYC to LAFC).

Wagner on the way out?

As January — and the European transfer window — approaches, rumors will begin to swirl surrounding some of the Union’s stars, who may be looking to leap to a bigger club.

That’s already started in the case of All-Star left back Kai Wagner — and it’s come directly from the player’s mouth.

“I want to make the step to Europe in January,” Wagner recently told Transfermarket’s Manuel Veth.

Wagner acknowledged that nothing concrete has yet materialized, but told Veth that he wanted to prove that he could play in Europe and be closer to his family in Germany.

Should Wagner be on the move, the Union would have a big hole to fill. The 24-year-old isn’t just a key part of the backline, but his service from the left (and from dead balls) was a lifeline for the team’s stop-and-start offense this season. Options on the roster to replace him include Leon Flach and Nathan Harriel.

Noonan (not Curtin) off to Cincinnati

When Chris Albright left Philadelphia Union to become FC Cincinnati’s general manager, it was always likely that he’d look to his old club for a head coach.

While there were reports that Albright looked to poach Jim Curtin, those never looked likely, and he ended up with the next best thing.

On Tuesday, the Union announced that assistant coach Pat Noonan would be named Cincy’s new head coach.

“He is more than deserving of this chance and ready to be a head coach,” Curtin said in a press release.

Noonan spent four years as Curtin’s top assistant after joining the club in early 2018. The club made the playoffs all four years he was on staff. Noonan played ten seasons in MLS from 2003-12, and he scored the first-ever goal in Subaru Park history as a member of Seattle Sounders on June 27, 2010.

Who will fill the seat on the bench next to Curtin is unclear. My vote: Fabinho.

Schedule released

Finally, Wednesday saw MLS release the full schedule for the 2022 season.

For Philly, things kick off on February 26, when Minnesota United comes to Subaru Park for the season opener. The 34-match schedule will end about a month earlier than this year’s campaign, with the Union hosting Toronto FC on Decision Day, October 9. The schedule accommodates the 2022 World Cup, which begins in late November.

What matches jump off the page? Five games are on national TV, including the Eastern Conference final rematch with NYC FC at home on June 26. If you’re looking for interesting road trips, May is your month, with the Union traveling to Nashville (May 1), LAFC (May 7), and Portland (May 22).

And, from a competitive perspective, the early part of the schedule is very favorable to Philly. In the eight games before May 1, the Union have five home games, and just two matches against sides that made the playoffs in 2021.

10 Comments

  1. Lefthalfback says:

    A drive down to Nashville might be interesting. So might a flight to LA.

    Things swould be so much better for the Boys in Blue if the stadium was in Philly. So many young people are interested. It would be like Portland with marches to matches.

    I suppose that Chester seemed like a good idea at the time and of course the cost would have been staggeringly higher in Philly.

    LOL- just checked- it’s a 12 hour drive to Nashville. Probably have to give that a miss.

    • As a resident of the ‘burbs, I have to say that I wouldn’t be a season ticket holder if the stadium was in the city. Getting in and out of the city especially the stadium complex is way too much of a hassle.

      • Certainly, some suburban fans wouldn’t come into the city for games, but as noted, the team would gain fans, too, and maybe a different vibe. I think the risk of suburban fans not showing up is overblown. The Birds and Phils and Sixers manage it just fine, and the Union actually win.

      • Lefthalfback says:

        Soccer Dad

        I hear that, but in terms of the suburbs, Subaru is relly only convenient to Delco and those parts of Montco with good access to the Blue Route.

        And even as to Delco it is not all that good for anynbody who has to take 322. That road is a nightmare.

        But for sure, a Philly stadium would lose a lot of DElco and Chester County fans.

        Anyway, it is moot now. The cost of a Philly stadium now would be astronomical.

        But my daughter lives downtown and says that Center City is full of young would be supporters who either do not have cars and cannot get to Chester or who have cars and just will not drive to Chester.

      • I think the Union, the city, and anyone who has sizable passenger boats are missing an opportunity, to do a river cruise tailgate / soccer game package from some place in old city down to the stadium.

  2. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Well Tanner & Curtin just ended their press conference and some of the highlights are.
    New striker and possibly two might be announced soon.
    Anthony “Anton” Sorenson should be on the first team next year.
    The search for the new assistant coach has a lot of candidates.
    Curtin looking for Jay Sugarman to build a dome over the stadium for the home opener.
    The market in Europe to sell players is dead right now.

  3. Larry Guengerich says:

    Totally agree on SoccerDad’s comments. Get some small boats running before and after match from Philly to Chester. Make it easy for persons to bring their own boats as well.

  4. Coming in from S Jersey, I have my own ride. So my question is what about mass transit? I’m guessing there are a lack of bus runs into Chester? The boat idea is cool. I’m sure there is no train service. I don’t know if downtown would have stopped us from getting season tickets. But I think the location is unique. Bridge in the background and all. Phillies games would make traffic a nightmare.

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