The Philadelphia Union sit atop Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference at the season’s midway point.
In years past, mid-table Union teams probably would have sat back, stood pat at the transfer window, and looked for winter reinforcements. This year, it was easy to justify a summer addition considering how well the squad is currently playing.
So in comes Andrew Wooten, a 29-year-old striker whose father was an American military member stationed in Germany. As such, he has dual citizenship – Germany through his mother and the United States via his father. That means he comes to the Union not requiring an international slot, nor did the team have to pay a transfer fee, since Wooten was out of contract with SV Sandhausen in the 2.Bundesliga.
For those reasons, it was a move that made a ton of sense right off the jump, and I didn’t even mention that the Union really could use a consistent goal-getter up top, since the scoring burden has been shared by numerous players this year.
Here’s our conversation:
Brian Sciaretta: I think it’s a very good pickup; you know what’s interesting about Andrew when you look at his career, generally he’s been playing for bad teams but still scoring goals. He’s been safe at Sandhausen and his year at FSV Frankfurt, but generally he’s been in relegation fights throughout his career. He made his debut actually in the Bundesliga for Kaiserslautern when they were in a relegation fight, which was unsuccessful. When I spoke to him last, which was at the end of last season, you kind of got the sense that he wanted to play for a winner in the worst way, that he wanted to play for silverware. He always wanted to come home and play in the States. I think a chance to go to a team where he can play and be part of a winner checks a lot of boxes and I think he’s going to heavily motivated to show his stuff here.
Crossing Broad: It’s kind of crazy to me, actually I need a minute to process the fact that someone would want to come play for a winner, and that winner would be Philadelphia Union… But in a way you don’t need any coaxing I guess, it’s easier to justify this signing or go up the chain and tell Jay Sugarman, ‘hey we’re in 1st place, let’s go for it here.’
Sciaretta: Yeah absolutely, the optimism starts opening doors and all of a sudden you have a healthy belief in yourself. Maybe moves you were worried about making, you have the guts to make them now. On top of it, too, when you’re winning it’s a more fun environment, everybody’s happy and excited to be a part of it. The mindset is just different, and I like Philadelphia because there’s no real superstar, no one will ever confuse this team for Atlanta of last year, there’s no (Miguel) Almiron or anything like that. There’s a lot of balance on this team, and I think one thing they really needed to work on was up top, with the Corey Burke situation and David Accam’s departure.
Now they’ve got a guy who’s motivated to come here and he’s never really won anything in his career, because he’s always been on teams facing relegation. Now he wants to win and he’s coming at the right time. He lived for a while as a kid in Virginia Beach and he’s still got a lot of family here. He wasn’t getting much service on a relegation team. You have to be really clinical when you play in those kinds of situations, to do well. Now he’s going to be getting a lot better service and he’s going to be on a team that has the ball a little bit more and has more chances. It’s gonna be unique for him in a good way.
Crossing Broad: That segues me into a question about what kind of striker he is. He’s 6’1″, about 190 pounds and looks like he does a lot of finishing in the box. I saw a lot of back to goal center forward kind of stuff with his goals being scored at close range.
Sciaretta: Yeah, he’s not gonna be a guy who scores from distance. He’s not that kind of a guy. He’s actually a very scrappy guy. But if you see him, he’s built like a bull, in a good way. Like he’s a horse in the box. You look at him and you don’t think he’s fast, but he’s deceptively quick and strong. He’s pretty good on the counterattack. One of the goals that was getting a lot of attention was on the Union Twitter account, where he chipped the keeper, and he thinks very quickly, like ‘how am I going to score this goal?‘ He doesn’t have any hesitation. He pounces on things quickly. But yeah, it’s not like he’s a maestro with the ball in the box. If you think he’s gonna beat five guys off the dribble, that’s not him. But he’s going to be very effective and quick when he gets service in the box. He’ll finish it from close distance, or if there’s a defensive miscue, or if there’s a 50/50. He wins a lot of those. He’s a real clean up guy in the box and that’s the best way I can put it.
Crossing Broad: Two-part question here – At Sandhausen did he play as a lone striker, or did he have somebody next to him? And on the Union, I think I see him more of a complement for Sergio Santos in the 4-4-2, whereas I feel like Kacper Pryzbylko has more of those big man, those target man box qualities that overlap with Wooten’s skill set. It feels a little redundant to me, the idea of pairing Wooten and Pryzbylko.
Sciaretta: When teams aren’t doing well they tend to mix systems. There was a season where Wooten actually played right wing, and he just cut into the box. But playing with a partner or playing up top by himself, he kind of does it all. Sandhausen, by the way, is a very small team. The 2.Bundesliga can’t be confused with the (English) Championship, some of these teams are just really small. You’ll get like 4,000 people a game, 5,000 people a game. the Championship has some huge clubs. But he’s never played with this kind of service before, it’ll kind of be like a luxury for him.
Crossing Broad: It’s interesting to me that Kevin Kratz, who trained for a few weeks in Philadelphia, played with Wooten at Sandhausen. Kratz was a good player, came off the bench a bunch of times for a really good Atlanta team. And Kai Wagner, I was one of the many people who crapped on that signing, saying, ‘who the fuck is this guy from the German third division?‘ But he’s good, and Kratz is good, and it seems like there’s some quality in the 2.Bundesliga.
Sciaretta: Yeah, it is pretty good quality. The Red Bulls are seeing some success with Andreas Ivan coming off the bench and he played at a very low level (German third division). It’s not like Marc Rzatkowski, who was rated the best defensive midfielder in the 2.Bundesliga at one point. So yeah, you can get some real value there, of course there’s a big overlap, a bunch of teams go up and keep climbing. It’s weird in the Bundesliga because it’s not like these constant yo-yo teams (going up and down), like you get some really big teams who are relegated and end up staying there for a while. You’re seeing that now with HSV and you had Koln, and then you have teams that never go up and are destined to just slug it out, and that’s Sandhausen. There’s value there but it’s a mental test more than anything, to be able to play at that level, small crowds, very demanding. You’re hoping to catch an eye because no one ever wants to stay in a relegation fight year after year after year, like Wooten was doing. I think he’s gonna have a lot of unique experience to draw from.
Crossing Broad: Wooten made one United States appearance back in 2015, back when Jurgen Klinsmann was still in charge. That was back when a lot of the German/American guys were given chances in the squad. Is there anything you remember specifically about that experience, was it justified or was this just Jurgen calling up anybody and everybody with a German connection?
Sciaretta: I think he deserved it; he was scoring, I think he it was like a month and a half into the season and he had six goals already. He was off to a really torrid start. And this was a really bad time for the men’s national team, they were only a couple of days removed from losing the CONCACAF Cup, that one against Mexico at the Rose Bowl. The wheels were starting to come off the Klinsmann train at that point. And they had some good strikers back then, Jozy Altidore was good, Bobby Wood was still in good shape. So it was a tough time to find a role and a spot for Wooten. But it was just a bad time for the team and I really wouldn’t read too much into that. Last year he was injured, the season before this one, he had dealt with a lot then. He also played with the U.S. U23 team back when Caleb Porter was running it, had a couple of caps there, so he does have some some U.S. experience, but even that team wasn’t in a good situation. It’s never really been a good situation when he’s been trying to break in. But who knows, he makes a good run with Philadelphia there might be a door for him down the road. Age 29 going on 30 is not ancient, you might not be around for the next World Cup but you might be able to help the team with some important games along the way.
Wooten will be added to the active roster on July 9th, when the secondary transfer window opens.