Let’s get it back to soccer.

Not too much to report on the Philadelphia Union front as of December 5th. Head coach Jim Curtin went to Germany recently on a scouting trip and Sporting Director Ernst Tanner is working on turning the best team in Union history into a better version of what we saw in 2019.

Only one rumor popped up so far, a European report saying that the Union made an offer for Djurgardens midfielder Fredrik Ulvestad. If Google Translate is to be believed, the 27-year-old Norwegian is interested in remaining in Europe and playing Champion’s League soccer next year. A Swedish guy got into my Twitter mentions and said the same thing, so I’ll take him at his word. Djurgardens finished 1st in their domestic league this year, so they get an automatic berth in the first qualifying round.

Beyond those two nuggets, here are 17 thoughts on personnel moves, positions of need, and how the Union might look in 2020:

1. Signal caller Medunjanin

The Union lost their point guard in Haris Medunjanin, the 34-year-old regista who was critical to their success in 2018 and 2019. He signed this morning with Cincinnati.

Normally you’d do your best to lock up a guy like Haris, considering that you built around him and played a style that complemented his strengths while attempting to mask his weaknesses. As poor as he was defensively, especially in transition, his ability to possess and move the ball was second to none, making him quite easily the #1 or #2 best passer in franchise history (depending on how you feel about Vince Nogueira). Medunjanin’s ability to get high in possession and “quarterback” the team really was a privilege to watch, and I hope Union fans are able to appreciate what he brought to Chester.

What you’ll probably see Philly do is go for a more traditional #6, which is what Tanner basically said at the season’s end. This will ease the burden on the young center back pairing of Jack Elliott and Mark McKenzie, who have essentially played their entirely professional careers without a bona fide defensive mid in front of them. You’re not going to find a possession guy nearly as good as Medunjanin, and deep-lying playmakers don’t grow on trees, but the U will likely be more defensively sound next season while looking more “German,” if I had to guess. You’ll probably see a younger squad that swaps a bit of possession for pressing instead.

You will not see sequences like this:

 

2. Ray Gaddis and the right back spot

Ray was a nice fit on Medunjanin’s right because his role was to stay at home, defend, and help put out fires. He was not asked to get forward and add to the attack, which is good, because he’s incapable of doing it anyway, despite being the longest-tenured Philadelphia Union player. His offensive game has not evolved in eight full seasons of pro soccer. Actually Kai Wagner, the 1st-year left back pulled from the German third division, contributed eight assists this season while Gaddis has nine assists in his entire MLS career.

I’d try to upgrade the right back position. Ray is a solid defender, a good locker room guy on a team-friendly contract who can play both outside back spots. That makes him valuable as a flex piece on the bench, but if we’re trying to improve a team that’s already pretty good, then right fullback is one of the spots that I think you can upgrade.

And look, if Medunjanin is replaced by a more traditional #6 who isn’t going to get forward as much, then the fullbacks will need to do a little bit more offensively to make up for his attacking qualities. You ideally want a guy who can get up and down the flank and serve a ball into the box and add something in the final third. Ray is not that player, so his value decreases when a guy like Medunjanin leaves the club. Think about how Keegan Rosenberry was much better with Brian Carroll on the field, because the latter covered for the former and allowed him to shine offensively. Keegan couldn’t do that with Haris, which is why Ray’s skill set played well in 2018 and 2019.

Keegan = better fit with Carroll

Ray = better fit with Medunjanin

3. Jamiro Monteiro

Seems like he’s gone. It’s one thing to agree to a deal with his club team, Metz, but does he even want to come back?

Tanner said this in late October of a permanent move:

“That’s what we already tried and it was unsuccessful. We’ve been focusing on other guys as well. I think we will get a real good team, if all the solutions work out that we are working on then we will get a real competitive team.”

Scenario:

Let’s say the Union have, pick an arbitrary number, something like $3 million dollars to keep Monteiro around.

Would you spend all of the TAM/GAM/etc on that? Or would you split the assets into two players that can replace both him and Medunjanin at the same time? I think I’d go the latter route and then just platoon Brenden Aaronson and Anthony Fontana at the ten.

4. Marco Fabian

Just didn’t really fit here and I’m not entirely sure why. Injuries hurt him at the beginning of the year and he didn’t seem to mesh with the other midfielders in the diamond. Still boggles my mind that he finished second on the team with seven goals. This will go down as one of the biggest head-scratchers in Union history.

5. Fafa Picault

One of those trades that will benefit both teams and the player, too.

Fafa gets a change of scenery and will see more playing time as a true winger in Dallas, which he was only able to play this year when the Union switched out of their 4-4-2 to play 4-2-3-1 instead. He had four goals and just did not finish with the same quality that we saw in 2018.

If you go down the list of the top scorers on the Union’s roster, Fafa’s 0.16 goals/per 90 minutes is one of the lowest totals on the board:

Four goals on 53 shots is not great. He only put about half his shots on target in the first place. Compare that to 2018, when he posted a 0.41 G/p90 and scored 10 goals on 70 shots, 33 of which were on goal.

Good player, Picault, just not the right fit for what the Union are doing under Tanner.

6. Auston Trusty

Right move to “sell” one of their young homegrown players, though I didn’t think it would be to another MLS team. Still, Trusty he wasn’t playing, and Tanner turned him into $600k with a performance add-on, which is a really good intra-league haul.

One of the biggest benchmarks for the Union from a player-personnel perspective was to produce a local player via the academy route, then turn a profit via sale. It would have made for a better story if Trusty or McKenzie had gone overseas, but this sort of, kind of, still works. It’s proof that they can bring a kid through the system, make him a pro, and then get something in return if his time with Philly expires. In a perfect world, they would have turned this into a foreign transfer, but it’s a good step forward.

7. Bimbo sponsorship renewal

Not a fan. Bimbo is played out and tired. We already had nine years of Bimbo and I guess I was just hoping for something different this time around, maybe a step up where they could get a better per-year dollar figure.

Does it excite you that they might put alternative branding on some of the jerseys this year? Does Entenmann’s or Thomas get you pumped? Sara Lee? Something about that just screams “bush league” to me, the idea that professional soccer players would be running around with jerseys featuring a bread brand on the front. All of this is a joke anyway, the fact that we’ve turned athletes into walking advertisements, but of course it’s free money and so you take the free money while looking ridiculous on the field. It’s the same in Europe.

For what it’s worth, we haven’t seen any hard numbers on this new deal, and the team is not making the figure public, but the previous deals went like this:

  • 2011 to 2014: Four years, $12 million, $3 million per
  • 2015 to 2019: Five years, $12 million, $2.4 million per

They took a step back on the second deal, giving up $600k per season at that time. Hopefully they didn’t agree to another lesser deal this time around.

8. Wanker Aubrey Huff

Wanker:

More people watched Alejandro Bedoya play in the 2014 World Cup than Huff in the 2010 or 2012 World Series.

Get fucked, Aubrey.

9. Joe Bendik

Capable veteran backup, nothing wrong with picking up his option. You have Matt Freese still in the fold so they can battle it out to be the #2 behind Andre Blake. Hopefully Andre has a better season in 2020.

10. Cory Burke

I don’t think he’s any better than Kacper Pryzbylko or Andrew Wooten, assuming the latter finds his feet and gets settled in. I guess they’re hoping Burke can build on the 10-goal season from 2018, but he’d be fourth on the depth chart right now if I had to write it out:

  1. Pryzbylko
  2. Santos
  3. Wooten (same player as Kacper)
  4. Burke
  5. Ngalina

Accurate? Inaccurate?

11. Warren Creavalle

Affordable backup midfielder, will play same role he played last year. You need guys like him filling out the roster.

12. Anthony Fontana

Would like to see him play more in in 2020. Just make him the backup #10 behind Aaronson and get him 800 to 1,000 season minutes. He’s had some nice moments in a Union shirt but keeps finding himself buried on the bench, or not in the 18, so I think it’s time to either play him or send him elsewhere.

13. Olivier Mbaizo

Is he ready yet? I’m ready for him to be ready. One of the reasons they moved Rosenberry is because they liked what they had in Mbaizo.

So… let’s see what he’s got.

14. Matt Real

Not sure how much he plays with Wagner locking down the left back spot. He looked good in a few spells off the bench actually, getting a little higher up the field. Could possibly be a winger sub off the bench, similar to how Picault played this past year.

15. A way too early starting XI for 2020

This is a combination of what I’d like to see and what I think it might end up looking like because Jay Sugarman is unlikely to break the bank:

Three new starters, minimum.

Honestly, not sure how having Wooten and Pryzbylko on the roster at the same time is gonna work. They can’t play together up top and I’m not sure Burke would fit in the same situation. Santos is really the only guy with a skill set that’s a little bit different and more complementary of the other three guys. Surely you’re not gonna pay Wooten a ton of money to sit on the bench…. are you?

With Aaronson, I’m assuming they just spend the Trusty and Picault money to replace Medunjanin and Monteiro instead. It’s a little tiresome, the constant one-and-done #10 rat race we’ve been running in recent years, so if you want to play similarly to the way you did last year, just keep Aaronson at the tip of the diamond and beef up at the six and eight instead. Otherwise, use the money on a #10 and make Aaronson the shuttler instead, right? He did pretty well playing opposite Bedoya as a central midfielder in 2019.

Either way, you’ve got two open DP spots, and I have this hunch they will only fill one of them. Any reason to believe otherwise?

16. Ilsinho

The book is out on him now; seems like teams did a better job defending him as the year wore on. He actually went five games without a goal, assist, or shot to finish the regular season, then put up a similar 0/0/0 in two postseason appearances coming off the bench.

17. It’s Always Soccer in Philadelphia

IASIP is Philadelphia’s premier sports podcast (all sports, not just soccer):

….

(kidding of course, there are a lot of people doing good Union podcast work out there)