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Union trade Sergio Santos to FC Cincinnati

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated after publication with confirmation of the trade from the Union.

Philadelphia Union traded striker Sergio Santos to FC Cincinnati on Friday afternoon.

In return, the Union will receive $300,000 in GAM, with the potential for another $625,000 GAM if Santos hits certain incentives. The Union will also receive 50% of any future trade fee that Cincinnati receives for Santos.

“We want to thank Sergio for his time spent with the Philadelphia Union,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said in a press release. “He played a major role in our first-ever playoff win and his charisma has contributed to many memorable moments over the past few seasons.”

Pat Brennan of the Cincinnati Enquirer was first to report the deal on Thursday. His report was later echoed by Tom Bogert of MLSSoccer.com and Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Santos, 27, signed with the Union in December 2018 from Audax Italiano in Chile. He started 47 games in his 3.5 seasons with the Blue and Gold, making 75 total appearances. He chipped in 19 goals and 7 assists in MLS.

But Santos was streaky and his time in Philly was marred by injury issues. He never started more than 17 games in a season, and his high in minutes was 1,365. The Union hoped he could develop into a 10-to-15 goal scorer, but his high mark for goals was eight in 2020.

This season, the Brazilian has just one goal, scored against Portland at the end of May. He’s been away from the team finalizing his green card and has missed the club’s last four matches.

In Cincinnati, he’ll join a burgeoning cast of Union alumni, led by general manager Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan. Haris Medunjanin, Ray Gaddis, and Alvas Powell are among Santos’s new teammates. He’ll be competing for minutes up top with the likes of Brenner, Brandon Vazquez, and Yuya Kubo.

For the Union, the deal looks a good return for a player who was unlikely to return to the club in 2023. (Santos’s contract expires after this season.) And it’s fair to say that Santos hasn’t offered much attacking force this year. Although our James Nalton recently observed that Santos is second in the league in xG plus expected assists per 90 minutes, Santos has just the one goal and three assists to show for his appearances this season.

But the move also leaves the Union a touch short at striker. Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza are locked in as starters, but their backups are now Cory Burke (who’s also underwhelmed) and Chris Donovan (a young player who hasn’t really flashed at MLS level). Neither looks capable of leading the line on a regular basis if Uhre or Carranza missed time or lost form. (Carranza started the season hot, but has gone nearly two months since his last goal, against LAFC on May 8.)

The GAM acquired in the deal could allow the Union to bring in a new attacking player, either an out-and-out striker or a winger that could give the club a different look late in games. Santos’s departure could also open minutes for Quinn Sullivan and Paxten Aaronson, two Homegrown attackers who impressed at the recent Concacaf U-20 Championship.

Whatever the solution, there’s work to be done for a Union attack that is averaging just 1.22 goals per game and is yet to score more than two goals in a game this season.

Reports: Stuart Findlay to transfer to Oxford United

It appears Santos isn’t the only player who’ll be leaving the club in the coming days.

The Union are also expected to transfer little-used center back Stuart Findlay to Oxford United in the third tier of English football, League One. Terms are not yet known.

Friend of PSP Kevin Kinkead was first to report the deal, again later echoed by Bogert. The Union have not confirmed the deal.

The Union signed Findlay, 26, from Kilmarnock FC in Scotland before the 2021 season. Expected to compete for playing time after the departure of Mark McKenzie, Findlay found himself boxed out by the All-Star caliber play of center backs Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott. He started four regular season games in 2021 and two more so far this season, totaling just 554 minutes across his nine appearances.

Findlay’s brightest moment in a Union shirt may have been in the 2021 Eastern Conference Final, when he stepped in to the lineup after Covid forced both Glesnes and Elliott to the sideline. Alongside Aurelien Collin, Findlay put in a massive shift in what was ultimately a heartbreaking defeat for the Union.

Findlay also scored his only goal for the Union in the club’s U.S. Open Cup defeat to Orlando City earlier this season.

The move makes sense for all parties. By all accounts, Findlay loved his time in Philadelphia, but he was always overqualified to be the third-choice center back. The Union won’t mind moving his salary of $450,000 off the books, and can turn the third center back role over to Brandan Craig, another Homegrown who impressed at the Concacaf U-20 Championship.

But an injury to Glesnes or Elliott would be asking an awful lot of Craig, who’s just 18 and has never played a minute in MLS.

De Vries sold, Oravec leaves by mutual consent

Two more little-seen players are officially on the move, the club announced on Thursday.

Homegrown Jack de Vries has been sold to Venezia FC in Italy’s Serie B for an unknown fee. De Vries played four matches for the Union in 2020, but a head injury derailed his start to the 2021 season. He then left for Venezia on loan, spending most of his time in a youth league. His production there — 14 goals and six assists, per Transfermarkt — earned him the permanent move.

Finally, Matej Oravec has left the Union by mutual consent. The Slovakian import, 24, signed with the Union prior to the 2020 season, with all expectation that he’d claim the No. 6 role. Instead, Jose Martinez seized the job, while Oravec left Jim Curtin and the Union technical staff cold. He never played a minute for either the Union or Union II, and has spent the last season on loan at Železiarne Podbrezová in the Slovakian second division. His signing — for a transfer fee and a salary of over $300k per year — was a rare miss for sporting director Ernst Tanner.

The Union are back in action tonight night against D.C. United, with kickoff on Alumni Night at Subaru Park scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

18 Comments

  1. Big day of moves, and can’t argue with any of them in the end. Hopefully, there’s a seasoned MLS vet CB to backfill into that 4th CB spot in case of emergency, and some money can be spent to give the attack a little boost. Whether those things happen or not, definitely looking forward to seeing the US under-20 crew get more minutes and show what they can do.

    • Aurelien Collin has to be hanging around somewhere, right?
      .
      (Jokes aside, it looks like he’s moved back to Europe permanently, based on his instagram. But I agree there’s probably easily obtainable vets who could fill that role.)

      • What’s the GAM to Euro conversion rate these days? Lure Collin back!

        But yes, you’d think there’s someone out there willing to collect a check to be our 4th guy.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    The Union have played the first half of the 2022 season with 24 players. It rose to 25 with the signing of Donovan. Now it is down to 23.
    .
    July is customarily when the Union announce new homegrown signings.
    .
    Two years ago, after Union II had officially left the USL Championship and was playing a series of friendlies that fall against local opposition, a 15-year-old Ecuadorian who had recently enrolled at YSC Academy got less than ten minutes at the end of one of those matches. His name was Marcos Zambrano. By playing in that match he checked one of the boxes needed to qualify as a Homegrown International under MLS rules.
    .
    Zambrano is now 17.5 and just won the Golden Boot at MLS Next Cup with the champion Union U-17s. if he is not ready to jump from U-17 practice straight to the first team, Anton Sorenson’s pathway this season shows that the organization will allow a homegrown to practice primarily with the second team as a stepping-stone.
    .
    And there are two USA-born center backs who also got some Union II bench time in 2021. Gavin Wetzel is now almost 16, and Daniel Kreuger is 16 & 1/2.
    .
    These boys will not help the first team now. They must climb the plateau to the level of MLS Next Pro first. But they may be names to keep in mind.

  3. Interesting news of Union linked to Czech attacker Adam Vlkanova. Certainly seems very much like an Ernst kind of player. I’d really like to see this team adopt a more consistent attacking posture. a 4-3-3 in which we get three forwards across the top and wide, Martinez where he belongs and two attacking midfielders Gazdag + take your pick of Bedoya/Aaronson etc.

    Sad to see Sergio go. The deal makes total sense, but I think he had potential he never quite realized here. Also seemed like a tremendous human being. Best of luck to him.

    • I totally agree about Santos. It’s a shame he never put it all together, because he’s very talented and does seem like a good guy. Will miss his ever-changing hairstyles.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      Taking bets on him suddenly having a breakout season? 😛

      • I played Union in FIFA tournament mode and won three straight games 3-0, all Santos hat tricks. I will miss him greatly. Whenever I yelled SERGIO at the river end while he was warming up he would turn and wink. I hope he gets properly coached and thrives. Although my heart is bummed, from a financial point of view (and considering how long Burkes visa issues took) this is likely a brilliant move

  4. Gruncle Bob says:

    Best of luck to the departures. I’d love to see Sergio in LigaMX, but instead he gets to toil with Union West.
    .
    14 of 20 senior spots occupied. Cap hits for 15-18 whether occupied or not. Tanner has a ton of flexibility.

    • Tim Jones says:

      Matt Freese currently is listed in a reserve roster slot. He turns 24 on September 2nd, and by a memory not re-checked will no longer be eligible for a reserve supplemental slot next season. That same memory suggests he can finish the current season in place.
      .
      it is also worth mentioning that if the earlier listing of Chris Donovan as a supplemental reserve slot holder was accurate — it has subsequently disappeared and is not in limbo as “drafted” — that would give them six players in four slots. (they are by no means the only club with such anomalies amongst their roster slots.)
      .
      The actual rules are probably rife with all kinds of exceptions, and enforcement is probably gentle and “understanding.”
      .
      I think I once figured out that the cap hit for the unoccupied slot is the senior minimum salary, now c. $ 81 K. Slot 18 is probably still Portella, and they can transfer supplemental slots to senior ones anytime they want. There is no penalty for not having all 11 supplemental slots filled.
      .
      And as I have written elsewhere, they may fill them because it is homegrown signing season.
      .
      I have no read on whether they may sign Boubacar Diallo to a first-team contract. He has to be under consideration, at the very least.

  5. Portuguez says:

    Ah. Sad to see Sergio go. I really quite liked him and agree with others who said he had unrealized potential.

  6. Andy Muenz says:

    The depth at striker will be tested next Wednesday when Carranza is ineligible to play against Miami.

  7. Deez Nuggs says:

    I totally get why Findlay leaves. Poor guy. I feel for him. He deserved to be starting, but just couldn’t with Elliot and Glesnes being so darn good.
    .
    Sergio though… that one hurts. I will miss him the way I miss Fafa.

  8. Looking at social media posts I think we aren’t the only ones surprised and a little disappointed with the trade. Some of his now former teammates with interesting reactions. Seems like a really positive guy and good locker room influence and sorry to see him go just from the entertainment value.

    By the way, is tonight alumni night or is it August 6th when we next play Cincinnati?

  9. George r says:

    Cinci really leaning into the Philly West thing, huh

  10. McMohansky says:

    Really sad to lose Santos, one of my favorite players. I loved his play, his energy, flamboyance, style, interaction with fans, teammates and opponents. He was delightful and I always rooted extra for him.

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