It was two months ago when the Union’s season ended with a thud. It took some time for the soccer team here at Pattison Ave. to recover from the disappointment of failing to get a home playoff match followed by the uninspired performance against NYCFC that got the Union bounced from the playoffs. The sting has since lessened, and now it is time to look forward to the 2019 season. Unlike the past couple of years, there has been plenty of news to consider from the first two months of the off-season.
Jim Curtin gets a new contract
The biggest question going into the off-season was would new Sporting Director Ernst Tanner keep Jim Curtin as his head coach. And the answer was yes, at least for one more year. Tanner also said the Union would now be more “flexible” when it comes to tactics, meaning the that the days of stubbornly sticking with a 4-2-3-1 formation were coming to an end. We can look forward to a more aggressive offense with two-striker formations.
There were several players with expiring contracts, and others with contract options that were not picked up. We’ll be saying goodbye to Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro, Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers, Adam Najem, John McCarthy and of course, Jay Simpson. Borek Dockal will also be departing as his loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye has expired. Raymon Gaddis is also out-of-contract, but I suspect he’ll get re-signed, as the club did recently with Fabinho, Warren Creavalle and Kasper Przybylko.
Atlanta United FC wins 2019 MLS Cup
Not Union related, but worth mentioning is Atlanta United’s easy victory in this year’s MLS Cup Final. Union fans can’t be blamed for feeling a little bitter seeing a team get the league championship in its second season, since the Union has gotten nowhere near that in their nine seasons. But The Five Stripes deserved it, as they were the best team in the league. The atmosphere for the match in Atlanta was fantastic, with 75,000 fans there to watch. The match itself lacked in drama, but sometimes it’s good for a league to see its best team win decisively. Upsets are fun, but a professional league doesn’t want to see one every year.
Fabian Herbers gets traded to Chicago
The Union got a second-round SuperDraft pick for Herbers in early December. Yes, the Union did decline Herber’s contract option, but Chicago agreed to pick it up. Nice for Tanner get something for a player who was no longer in the Union’s plans.
Union signs striker Sergio Santos
Tanner made his first big signing this month with the acquisition of 24-year old Brazilian striker Sergio Santos. The Union struggled finishing chances this past season, and Tanner is betting that Santos can help solve that problem. He scored nine goals in sixteen appearances for Audax Italiano of the Chilean Primera Division last season. If Santos can get anywhere near that scoring rate in MLS play, Union fans will be happily Dooping away. The Union also still have Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong in their striker ranks, but with a two-striker formation, at least one of them should also get a good amount of playing time.
Santos will take up one of the Union’s international roster slots, but he will not a be Designated Player since they were able to apply Targeted Allocation Money (aka Garber Bucks) to draw down his salary.
Keegan Rosenberry gets traded to Colorado
In what can only be described as a surprise move, Tanner traded right back Keegan Rosenberry to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for a pot of Garber Bucks. Rosenberry had bounced back from a sophomore slump the season before, and has established himself as one of the better young right backs in MLS, even earning a spot in the USMNT’s upcoming January camp. Tanner claimed he was expendable with Olivier Mbaizo waiting in the wings, and while Mbaizo looked good in his one appearance wearing the Blue and Gold this season, this seems like a risky move. Perhaps Tanner has a plan to use that MLS funny money, so the jury is still out on this one. Rosenberry is also skilled as a barber, and the Union players team will certainly miss getting those fresh cuts from him.
Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty get called into the January USMNT cap
Both of the Union’s young starting centerbacks were called into the annual USMNT January camp by new head coach Gregg Berhalter. They deserve it. Despite their youth, the Union are in good shape at this position, especially when you consider they still have Jack Elliott for depth. If they continue to play like they did this season, the Union should get more wins if they can generate more goals with their new formations.
Union sign Homegrown GK Matt Freese
The club announced the signing of Harvard GK Matt Freese to homegrown contract this week. With McCarthy gone, the club needs a backup to Andre Blake. It remains to be seen if Freese will be suiting up regularly for the Union or Bethlehem Steel FC. Either way, he’ll be in Chester as the Steel is moving to Talen Energy Stadium this year. It’s not out of the question that McCarthy could re-sign with the Union if he can’t find another team to commit to giving him more playing time this year.
Bethlehem Steel will play in Talen Energy Stadium this year
The USL has upgraded their stadium requirements and the Steel’s old home of Goodman Stadium at Lehigh University no longer meets the minimum criteria. They’ll be playing in Chester but keeping the Bethlehem Steel name while they look into options for a home closer to the Lehigh Valley. Union Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott confirmed that they are looking to play a couple matches close to Bethlehem this year and are looking into approved stadium solutions in that area.
Union announce preseason plans
The Union will be going back to Clearwater FL this winter. They’ll be going down twice: January 28 to February 7 and February 11-24. They will play preseason games February 16, 20 and 23, but the details have yet to be revealed. In the past, the Clearwater trips were in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Suncoast Invitational “tournament”. A fan event is scheduled for February 21 and a youth soccer clinic for February 19.