Sources are strange.
Sometimes the most reliable people just disappear entirely. They get new jobs or their flow of information is cut off. Maybe a situation changes and there’s no reason to continue the knowledge trade. Somebody sniffs them out and they need to lay low for a bit.
Then someone else will pop up out of nowhere with relevant info and nail two or three things with 95% accuracy.
A few weeks ago, one of those folks showed up, sliding into my email with the following:
- Bethlehem Steel will leave Lehigh University next season
- Jim Curtin will be the head coach in 2019
- Ernst Tanner wants to scrap the 4-2-3-1 and play with two strikers
Sure enough, all three of those things came true. Tim McDermott announced the Steel move a few days later, Jim Curtin signed a one-year contract extension, and Tanner touched on the idea of two forwards while talking about the predictability of the 4-2-3-1 in his season-ending press conference.
Accurate? Pretty much.
I talked to the same person again on Tuesday, who offered up the following, after the jump:
- Ernst Tanner is not high on Haris Medunjanin, David Accam, and C.J. Sapong and would not be opposed to moving one or more of those players.
- He highly rates Brenden Aaronson, who will “soon pass Anthony Fontana on the depth chart.”
- The top offseason priority is a DP striker and he’s willing to sign a big name European player like Mario Balotelli. Tanner has been “heavily” scouting the forward market.
Let’s go down that list in order.
I heard the Medunjanin thing from another source, and it makes sense. Haris is a unique talent who kind of needs specific pieces around him. What I’m trying to say is that he’s a defensive midfielder who doesn’t defend.
If the Union scrap the 4-2-3-1, I don’t know where you stick him on the field. I do think he would be a really nice fit in a 3-5-2, which I’ve blathered on about for something like three years on social media.
Think of something like this:
No, it’s not perfect, but I’ll explain:
When you stick Haris in that kind of shape, in front of three center backs, you mitigate his defensive liabilities. This is how Juventus used Andrea Pirlo in 2012, then New York City tried to play him as a #6 in MLS and he was a turnstile in transition. Medunjanin is slow, he can’t tackle, and he puts stress on the Union’s young center backs because he’s a deep-lying facilitator and not a traditional ball-winning midfielder. He’d rather point and pass off attackers instead of actually marking somebody himself.
As far as Sapong and Accam, a second source told me that they “would not be surprised at all” if the Union looked to move one or both players. C.J. had a down year after a breakout 2017 campaign and Accam was mostly ineffective while apparently playing with a sports hernia. The problem with Accam is that he earns seven-figures and the Union reportedly forfeit more than half of his transfer fee should he be sold this season, so I think they’re stuck with him. Sapong was given a one-year extension in March that will keep him here through 2019. The Union hold a club option for 2020 but they’re on the hook for half a million dollars for a guy who scored four goals in 32 games this season and was moved out to the wing after losing his starting job at center forward.
I don’t know much about Aaronson since I’m off the beat now, but Fontana didn’t get much run this season after showing a few early glimpses while Borek Dockal was being worked in. I think Fontana also had some injury stuff he was dealing with. Aaronson played 18 games for Steel this season and scored one goal while adding five assists. He’s 18 years old and signed a homegrown contract in September.
As far as a striker, it seems as though the Union aren’t going to make an effort to re-sign Dockal and instead want to focus on bringing in an elite goal scorer. Balotelli’s name was specifically mentioned in the email, but mystery source made it seem like this was more of a “kicking the tires” vs. any sort of real pursuit or contact with the agent. Jay Sugarman won’t pony up for that kind of player anyway.
I think the plan is that they’d like to replace their DP #10 with a DP forward and get on with life in a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 while leaning on the academy kids as significant contributors. Tanner also talked about the idea of playing Fafa Picault as a striker instead of a winger, and while Fafa has good goal-scoring instincts, he’s not exactly Major League Soccer’s most clinical finisher. He might be a really nice complement for a DP forward as a smaller guy who can slash and get through the lines, but he would likely have troubling tangling with bigger center backs if he’s asked to play as a lone striker. I could definitely see him up top in a 1-2 punch playing off a “proper” CF.
I personally am not too high on Cory Burke, who is basically a younger and more aggressive Sapong at this point in his career. You’re probably going to have a much easier time moving Burke than Sapong, but I don’t think either ends up going anywhere. You do have the Dockal and Jay Simpson money that you can use to find a DP striker, so I think they just try to look for a $1m to $2m forward and see what happens.
That’s what I’ve got. Mystery source came out of nowhere, but “this person” is three for three so far.