Commentary / Uncategorized

Storybook endings

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

It has been widely reported this is likely Kai Wagner’s final season in Blue.

Wagner has been fairly vocal about this on social media, including photos of a Hibachi-style “going away” party among other hints that he would be leaving the club. Wagner, 26, came to Philadelphia in February 2019 from the Würzburger Kickers who then competed in the third division of German football.

Since then, Kai has garnered a reputation as the best left back in MLS and arguably the best outside back in the Americas. He is far and away the Union’s best chance creator, and it speaks volumes that he is doing it from the defensive position. In 33 appearances in 2022, the German tallied 15 assists — the first defender in MLS history to register that many in a single season. His 3.79 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes and 2.57 key passes per 90 minutes in 2023 both lead the team.

Throughout his time in Philadelphia, plenty of rumors swirled of him looking to leave Philadelphia for greener pastures. However, it has been indicated by the player himself that he and his family are happy here and interested in staying.

With Wagner’s contract expiring at the end of this season, Ernst Tanner seems all but keen to give Wagner the designated player contract his countryman reportedly seeks. It appears as though the 2024 Union will likely have a gaping hole where number 27 used to reside.

El Capitan

Shortly after being honored for making his 200th MLS start, a tweet from the Athletic’s Tom Bogert stated that the Philadelphia Union did not have Alejandro Bedoya in their 2024 plans. The 36-year-old Union captain signed a one-year contract this past offseason to return to the Boys in Blue in what seemed like one last push to bring hardware to Philadelphia.

After missing five games with a hamstring injury earlier this season, Bedoya has not been logging the minutes that he ate up in years past for Philly. As expected, his usage is dissimilar to the game-in, game-out 90-minute man he was in his years with the club, and his overall speed of play has seemed to take a slight dip from last season — a career year.

That is not to say that he is not an impactful player when he does play, even in a reduced role. The midfield general commands respect. In his seventh full season with the club, he is still dangerous on the ball and in the air. An integral piece to the team’s identity and is still often at the forefront of many of the Union’s chances going forward and clearances from their own box.

Perhaps most importantly, he is a player who leads by example on and off the field. He has used his platform to make the world a better place, while also holding himself and those around him in the building accountable, as any great leader does.

Recently, on the CBS program “Golazo,” former Union player and colleague of Bedoya, Charlie Davies implied that Ale would have come back to the Union in a reduced role and on a cheaper deal for another season. “A player that is engrained in the fabric of the Philadelphia Union and to be told one thing from your coach that they are going to extend you, to then your sporting director saying ‘find a new club’? That is disrespectful,” Davies stated.

Hard to disagree with that sentiment.

For better or for worse

The truth is that both of these players have been integral pieces of the Philadelphia Union identity. Woven into the fabric of this team, both players have been here for the Union’s best ball.

Yet, the most disappointing part about this news is that the front office allowed these two situations to get to this point at the time they did. Heading into Decision Day with the playoffs looming — it adds another challenge to this already grueling season.

Would you want to fight for a club that doesn’t value your contributions enough to pay your worth? Or in an aging Bedoya’s case, pay you at all?

At the end of the day, it’s a business. To quote Davies, “It’s disheartening… For athletes, it’s almost really never a storybook ending as much as you want it to be.”

Unless the Union make a run this November, it appears that the storybook ending dreamt up from last season’s success will be but a peak in the Union’s timeline.


  1. I can understand the Bedoya decision from a pure soccer standpoint. It happens.
    But losing Kai just annoys me.
    for years left back was a giant hole in the Union’s roster. Once we got Kai it was solved. Like Blake we could pencil him in and we knew we had a top flight MLS caliber starter and we didn’t have to worry about that position.
    I don’t pretend to know what was going on behind the scenes, or the logic of not paying Kai but it seems like they new they were at an impass for a while. Why are we letting him go on a free transfer. We are the Union we gotta sell players.
    Just annoying.

    • The MLSPA released the salary guide last night. Combing throughout, Wagner is already one of if not the highest paid outside back in the league. Jordi Alba distorts the calculus mind you. He’s on $700K guaranteed. Glesnes is on a million dollars. Blake is on $800K+, and Elliot is below Blake, but a bit more than Kai.
      Making Wagner a DP, for as good as he is does not make financial sense the way that MLS’ roster rules allow for roster building. That DP spot is better utilized to replace Carranza after they sell him in January.
      Yes, losing Kai will hurt, however McGlynn and Gazdag can both take set pieces. From a defensive perspective, they’ll be fine. They’ll lose a bit going forward at that position. Flach and Harriel can fill in there until a replacement is found. Not ideal, burt far from awful.
      Bedoya…. it sucks too. I believe Andy’s reasoning below is correct. Perea can play there, so can Bueno and Sullivan. His leadership will be missed, and a void that someone will need to step up to fill.
      I Trust Tanner to find suitable replacements. They have a plan. They’ve delivered since the dark days ended and Earnie was hired, and then Ernst.
      Bogert for as good as he is, does like to throw bombs out there to get reactions and stir the pot. It’d be nice if he hones up on MLS’ rules (free agency for one) before speculating on things. Kai wants more than a 15% raise. Why is that number important? The Union are the only MLS team that can offer him more than that according to MLS’ free agency rules. So if it is truly about the money Kai is staying in Philly (if he opts for MLS) or Europe.

      • I don’t trust Tanner to be honest.
        No new player has really panned out this year

      • I think Lowe has been a success for the Union this year. Not perfect, but about the same caliber as Glesnes and Elliott were and he gave them added flexibility.
        One big difference between this past year and prior years is that most of the acquisitions were from other MLS teams whereas in the past they’ve come from overseas. The latter seems to be Tanner’s specialty.

      • Vince Devine says:

        Good points, except that Harriel cannot fill Wagner’s absence. We’re losing Mbaizo also, so Harriel will fill that role.

      • My Negadelphian response to Lowe (besides I think he has been pretty good but not as good as Glesnes and Elliot) Is that we seem to have two distinct forms of player acquisition.
        1. The entire Union technical stall collaborates in finding the best value players for a position.
        2. “Hey Andre we need a (redacted). You know anyone?”

  2. I’m actually a bit surprised by the decision not to bring Bedoya back at a reduced rate/role. He’s a real leader for the team and probably as responsible as Jim for the general good vibes in the locker room since he’s joined the team. He deserves a genuine send off and his name next to Le Toux’s in the circle of honor (or whatever our Mount Rushmore is called.

    On the other hand, I never expected Wagner to stay. I’d argue for the club to pay him what he wants, but I don’t know what that is. Hope he lands with a good club in Europe, which I thought was his ambition.

    • I have no information to support my theory, but I’m thinking that there may be a maximum cut that a team can make to a player’s salary (i.e. 10%) and even with that cut, Bedoya’s salary would be too high to make fiscal sense for the Union.

    • IF — and it is a big if — they could bring Bedoya in lower, it would free up some cash to pay Wagner (due to salary cap), but they could never make him as a DP. Those spots are used up. You would have to pay it down with TAM, and with all the wheeling and dealing I have no idea if they have any TAM to spare.

      • I believe the U have an open DP spot. Who other than Uhre and Gazdag is a DP. Carranza is a YDP.

      • As I read the DP rule last time I essayed it, Carranza counts as the 3rd DP. The “Young” designation affects both the budget charge to the salary cap (lowers it) and the team’s fee paid for having three instead of two. (Everybody with a third DP pays the league a separate fee that is pooled and divided equally among all the teams that do not have 3 Dos.)

  3. PaulContinuum22 says:

    When Wagner is let go due to financial reasons, he should go full Trevor May on Sugarman. May retired from the Oakland As and went nuclear on owner John Fisher on his way out. Once you read it, you’ll understand…

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Not really apples to apples.

      Kai owes a lot to this franchise – they gave him a platform to go from a nobody mired in the third division in Germany to potentially the Prem. Sugarman wrote the checks to make that possible.

      When Harris Medunjanin left, everyone was angry and no one knew where the assists came from. And then they weren’t angry anymore when the assists came from somewhere else and the whole team adjusted and was better.

      It’s easy to get stuck on one guy, but soccer isn’t a “one guy” sport.

      • Personally, I knew that moving on from Medunjanin was the correct move. Many things I loved about the guy, including his attitude, but he was too much of a defensive liability.

        About Kai, I say the exact opposite. At this level, at that position, he is almost irreplaceable. I do trust Tanner to find us some more good players for next season, but Kai is likely going to leave a gaping, unfilled hole.

  4. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Why was my comment deleted?

  5. Murphthesurf says:

    Pay KAI !
    Offer Ale assistant coach!
    Keep the good vibe !


  6. Every player on the roster ranked by importance,(my opinion)
    27. Nelson Pierre, Dont know much about him
    26. Anton Sorenson, Looks decent enough
    25. Holden Trent, Could probably become better then Bendik
    24. Richard Odada, Know nearly nothing about him but Tanner must have brought him in for a reason.
    23. Jeremy Rafanello, Haven’t seen much from him but he seems to have good energy and workrate. Not as young as the other prospects though.
    22. Brandon Craig, Promising young center back who needs more game time.
    21. Bendik, Why is this guy our 2nd choice keeper? He played horrible this year
    20. Chris Donovan, First player on this list to get regular game time. Fast, young, and a decent finisher.
    19. Joaquin Torres, Listen, I know he’s a bit one-sided but Curtin needs to play him more. He’s a bit of a wild card choice on the field though. It seems like hes either the crappiest player on the field or the best. More often crappy though.
    18. Andres Perea. I like this guy, Doesnt provide on defence but is looking really good for nycfc right now.
    17. Matt Real, Probably the most forgettable player on the first team. Plays sometimes, defends well, but is behind Wagner on the Depth chart. Maybe he’ll get more time next season.
    16. Quinn Sullivan, This is a hard one, He would probably be good if he had a good position to play in… He did have a good season though.
    15. Hopefully what we need in our attack, He’s hit the post once and runs a lot.
    14. Jesus Bueno, What a great year for Bueno. Had an amazing leagues cup and played well in an injury crisis for the position.
    13. Leon Flach, Ill give him the benefit of the doubt, He was injured for half the season and played well when fit. I really though this was gonna be his year to break through though.
    12. Damion Lowe. Best signing of the season. Really solid center back and was probably the reason we played the 3-5-2 so much.
    11. Olivier Mbaizo. I think Harriel is better then Mbaizo. Sue me. Good player with decent defending and dribbling skills. Loses the ball to much though.
    10. Nathan Harriel. Mbaizo but less dribbling and losing the ball and more defending. Scored a decent amount of corners though.
    9. Bedoya. Not the same Bedoya. His leadership gets him to this spot by itself.
    8. Mcglynn. What a player. The union always look better when he starts.
    7.Mikael Uhre. I dont know about Uhre. Could always be better but a 10 goal season is decent.
    6. Jack Elliott. Solid, tall Center back. What else is there to say?
    5. Glesnes. Everybodu from here on could be interchanged. ANother good year for the Norwegian had a couple terrible games combined with mostly great ones.
    4. Gazdag. Lots of penalties and lots of assists. Still feel lke his playmaking could be better though.
    3. Carranza. Great player. One of the unions best transfer business of all time. 13 goals. Amazing.
    2. Kai Wagner. Please dont go Wagner. Please. 7 assists and a coupe of goals too.Great defending. The perfect mls fullback.
    1. Andre Blake. I know, Its gonna be Blake evry year but seriosuly, the way the union play without bake is insane. If we lost blake we would be dead.

    • I assume 15 is Barbaro since he seems to be the missing forward.
      I would put Pierre up around 24th. He is only 17 or 18 and has the potential to one day start for the first team at forward. Sorenson is most likely gone from Union 2 next year as he has not really developed the promise he had shown when younger.
      I would raise Bueno above Bedoya. Right now he is the stronger player.
      While he is out tomorrow because of his 3rd suspension, I would probably include Martinez somewhere on the list around 6th or 7th. Great player when he wants to be but also has a habit of costing the team big time.

  7. John Fecile says:

    Love Ale, will miss him, not surprised. We had Kai two more years than I thought. I understand letting his contract wind down. I also understand not making him a DP. I hope he goes to Europe, it would annoy me to no end if he stayed in MLS.

    Here is my irrational thought: MLS tweaks the salary rules every year to cover up the latest big signing that makes a shambles of the rule – i.e. $20M to Messi (and worth every penny) plus the other hidden Messi money.

    So, with all the complaints with fixture congestion and the strain on depth for every team, is it unreasonable to hope that MLS tweaks the rules to allow us to pay more for non-DP players?

    Is there a rule change coming that would allow us to pay more for Wagner and for better depth pieces on the bench?

    How about a little extra space for teams competing in Concacaf Champions Cup?

    Did Leagues Cup produce enough revenue to create more salary cap room?

    Am I out of my mind? Probably, been rooting for the Union since 2010…

    • The Union already do this. Look at the players salaries. Before Jordi Alba signed for Miami, Kai was the highest paid Leftback in the league…
      The Union currently 8-9 players making over the League Maximum budget charge for a player.

  8. Wagner is arguably the best field player the Union have ever had. Also the best left back in the MLs for the last several years. His offensive contributions are unmatched by any left back in the league. He deserves to play in a better league and be paid at least 2 million for his abilities.Forwards come and go. Caranza does not have any desire to stay here. Good luck to Kai. Thank you for your hard play. He deserves to be in the Ring of Honor with Le tou, Bedoya and Blake when he eventually retires

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