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Union sign forward Chris Donovan

Photo: Ben Ross

Late Friday afternoon the Philadelphia Union announced the signing of striker Chris Donovan from the Philadelphia Union II of MLS NEXT Pro.

Because during preseason Donovan had been drafted and then waived by the Columbus Crew, the Union had to acquire first position in MLS’s waiver sequence from the Chicago Fire to sign Donovan. The Union sent $50,000 in 2022 GAM to the Fire for the right to sign Donovan.

MLS NEXT Pro professionals sign contracts with their individual clubs specifically not with the overall organization. Whether the first team had any type of priority to sign him over other MLS teams remains unclear.

Donovan’s signing is the first opportunity for Union fans to understand details of how the new relationship between the first and second teams will work in practice. The system is not the same as in Major League Baseball, where the parent club selects the contract of a player in their farm system who is not on the 40-man roster without having any apparent need to deal with any other major league club.

Tuesday, June 14 was the first day the waiver claim could be made. The Union have apparently completed the deal in three days, suggesting thoroughness, efficiency, and advance planning.

Sporting director Ernst Tanner’s comments reinforce the idea that the signing may have been intended for some time. “Chris has truly capitalized on an opportunity at this club and has made incredible strides since arriving in Philadelphia. His mentality and dedication to his development is a perfect example of what can be achieved in our system and what the Philadelphia Union stands for. We brought in a solid MLS NEXT Pro player, and we now believe Chris can immediately contribute to our first team. We look forward to seeing what he does with this opportunity.”

Donovan, 21, graduated locally from Conestoga H.S. in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. He then played four years for Drexel earning several local and regional honors along the way. This season he has appeared in all eleven matches Union II has played. Ten have been in MLS NEXT Pro where he has started seven times and come off the bench thrice. The eleventh was a fundraising friendly played against Ukrainian Nationals of North Wales, PA, where he came off the bench in a match that was being used to get Union II reserves needed game minutes.

In MLS NEXT Pro he leads Union II with three goals and 30 shots, of which 12 have been on target, and he has an assist. He also leads the team in total minutes played, with 736 among the 11 games between the regular season and the friendly.

He has met former Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke’s old standard of needing 700 to 900 minutes for a fair evaluation, and Tanner has now moved decisively.

Donovan practiced with the first team when everyone was together during preseason in Florida, and did so again during the international break. He now joins his game-mates Cole Turner, Anton Sorenson, and Brandan Craig in practicing daily with the first team. Like them, he is likely to get most (if not all) of his game minutes with Union II, especially since at the moment one of their other three strikers is unavailable due to injury.

But the Union are light up top right now, with Sergio Santos temporarily away getting his green card and Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan away on international duty. There may be an opportunity for Donovan to reach the gameday roster.

Donovan is listed as being on the Supplemental Roster in slots 25-28. He is the sixth Union player listed for those four slots. A partial survey of other first team rosters shows that the Union are by no means the only MLS team currently fitting five or six players  into four slots.


The most obvious implication is that now Union II practices will feature teenagers Jose Riasco and Nelson Pierre as the primary strikers, especially while Stefan Stojanovic is recovering from injury. Each teenager will increase dramatically his numbers of repetitions since Donovan will no longer get any. The learning curve for both youngsters should accelerate.

The change further implies that Riasco is better able to absorb instruction than he was when he arrived, and that the coaching staff is better able to provide it than they were at that time. PSP has been assured that both teachers and students have been working hard on improving their appropriate second languages.

A further inference is that once the U17s finish their postseason and enjoy some well-earned days off, there is probably at least one striker among them ready to move up to Union II, perhaps more.

If Union fans see Chris Donovan on a match pitch with the first team, they should first expect a player committed to defensive dirty running whose physical and mental transitions are almost instantaneous. Offensively they will see a player who will have to adjust to the speed and strength involved in MLS but one who suggested during preseason that he could handle them, at least at their February levels. He has a knack for creating opportunities. Now he needs to learn to finish them more reliably.

He is discussed at greater length in part three of PSP’s midseason Union II roster review. He is the first player discussed under the heading “Four strikers.”

He will wear number 25, most recently worn by Ilsinho.


  1. Thanks for the great scouting report!!

  2. Great report.

    So good to see the lads getting into the main squad! Wishing them all the best.

  3. Great report. Thanks!

    So good to see the lads getting into the main squad! Wishing them all the best.

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