We’ve made through the first off-season in the Ernst Tanner era. As we prepare for the Union season opener on Saturday against Toronto FC, it’s time to look back at the changes brought about by club’s new Sporting Director.
The highlights are listed here in chronological order.
Jim Curtin gets new contract
Head coach Jim Curtin’s contract expired at the end of the season, so the first order of business for Tanner was to decide if he wanted keep Curtin on. The answer was yes, but only on a one-year deal. Tanner is kicking the tires with Curtin, and he will be under pressure to improve on the Union’s 50 point finish last season.
Options picked up and declined
Curtin wasn’t the only Union person with an expired contract. John McCarthy, Raymon Gaddis and Warren Creavalle also were out at the end of the season. Tanner said that McCarthy and Creavalle both wanted to look for clubs that would give them more playing time, so Tanner didn’t pursue new deals with them.
There were also several players who had contract options. Tanner decided to exercise the options on Jack Elliott, Ilsinho, Olivier Mbaizo, Keegan Rosenberry, Derrick Jones, Fafa Picault, and Cory Burke. Options were declined for Jake McGuire, Fabian Herbers, Joshua Yaro, Richie Marquez, Marcus Epps, Adam Najem, Jay Simpson, and Fabinho (though Tanner did say they were negotiating with Fabi on a new deal). Borek Dockal’s loan from Chinese Super League club club Henan Jianye had ended too, with it looking very unlikely it would get renewed. This meant Tanner would have to find a replacement at thenumber 10 position before the season started.
Tanner promises “Tactical Flexibility”
Some Union fans were getting frustrated at Curtin’s rigid adherence to a 4-2-3-1 formation. The excuse was always that former Sporting Director Earnie Stewart had built the roster specifically for this formation. At the same press conference where Curtin’s new contract was announced, Tanner said it would be “something totally different from what you have seen before,” including two-striker formations.
Herbers gets traded to Chicago
A couple weeks later the club announced that Herbers was traded to the Chicago Fire for a second round Super Draft pick. To do this, the Union had to pick up the contract option they declined earlier.
Sergio Santos signs with the Union
On December 14, the Union announced the signing of striker Sergio Santos. The 24 year old Brazilian had been plying his trade with the Chilean club club Audax Italiano. With Burke, Fafa Picualt and C.J. Sapong still on the roster, this created a little bit of a logjam at the number 9 position.
Kacper Przybyklko, Fabinho and Creavalle sign new contracts
Warren Creavalle must not have found the opportunities he was looking for, as the club announced his new contract on December 19. To the surprise of no one, a deal with Fabinho was also announced, along with forward Kacper Przybyklko, making the logjam up top even larger.
Rosenberry traded to Colorado for Garberbux
On December 19, Tanner shocked the Union faithful when he traded away Keegan Rosenberry for some General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money. Rosenberry’s departure meant there was now a hole at right back, though Tanner suggested that Mbaizo may well enough along in his development to take his place.
Trusty and McKenzie called up to USMNT January camp
Both Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie were invited to join new USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter’s first edition of “Camp Cupcake.” Both centerbacks left camp without their first caps, as neither were involved in the January friendlies against Costa Rica and Panama.
Matt Freese signs Homegrown contract
Goalkeeper Matt Freese became another Homegrown signing on December 21. Even though Andre Blake is the clear number one, at this point in time there was no number two. However, it was obvious that 20-year old was going to be third string and will probably see time with Bethlehem Steel.
Raymon Gaddis signs new contract
Gaddis will be back, and with Rosenberry gone, he will be able to move to his preferred position at right back, after spending a significant amount of time at left back this season. While he’s competent defender, Gaddis contributes very little offensively. This seems like a downgrade at this position, so Union fans were left hoping that Tanner would get something good for all the MLS funny money he got for Rosenberry.
Union trade away all their SuperDraft picks
In a move that sent shockwaves throughout MLS, Tanner traded all the clubs’ SuperDraft picks to expansion club FC Cincinnati for a pot of Garberbux. Tanner said he was not impressed with the talent available at the college level, and that he doesn’t appreciate that college players don’t train as much as professionals. Part of the reason a SuperDraft even exists is that MLS is trying to look more like the other (and more established) North American major sports league, and the MLS brass probably weren’t happy about it. But this move shows the level of the players in MLS has progressed well beyond the need for bringing in relatively old amateur players to build rosters. MLS should remove “Super” from the draft’s name.
Union sign Aurelien Collin
Veteran MLS defender Aurelien Collin accepted a deal with the Union on January 22. The 33 year old will adds depth to the back line and leadership into the Union’s locker room. With Trusty and McKenzie potentially disappearing during the season due to national team duty, this addition makes a lot of sense.
Union get GK Carlos Miguel Coronel on loan
Needing a number two goalkeeper, the Union brought on Brazilian Carlos Miguel Coronel. The 24 year old netminder wasn’t getting playing time Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, and lent the Union the GK with an option to buy. Unfortunately for Coronel, he is likely to spend his time on the bench like he was doing in Salzburg. He may get a chance if Blake is called away to Jamaican national team duty, and he’ll probably see some U.S. Open Cup action.
Kai Wagner signs with the Union
22 year old German defender Kai Wagner joined the club on February 6. With an opening at left back, he could see some significant minutes on the pitch.
The Big Signing: Marco Fabian
On February 8, Tanner announced the Union’s biggest signing to date: Mexican national team midfielder Marco Fabian. Fabian will be taking over the number 10 role that opened up with Dockal’s loan expiring. The Union seemed to get a great deal, as they didn’t have to pay a transfer fee from his previous club Eintracht Frankfurt. Fabian did suffer a back injury a couple of years ago and that surely brought down his value. But Tanner says he believes Fabian is completely healthy, and ready to contribute right away. He will be the Union’s highest paid player ever, and could be just what the team needs to bring back fans to fill the empty seats in Talen Energy Stadium.
Sapong traded to Chicago
With the Union stocked with forwards, Sapong was the odd man out, and Tanner did both him and the club a favor by sending him to the Chicago Fire for more Garberbux. Sapong failed to reach his potential during his stint with Philadelphia, and a change of scenery may do him some good.
Preseason in Florida
The Union spent a good chunk of February in Clearwater for preseason training. They played a few friendlies against competition of varying levels with mixed success.
Season starts Saturday
The fans will get their first chance to see the new-look Union on Saturday when they open the MLS regular season in Chester against Toronto FC. With the signing of Fabian, the front office is going to want to see some return on investment from their new playmaker. And with Curtin being allowed to show some coaching creativity, he will be under a lot of pressure to win. If they don’t end the regular season in at least fourth place in the Eastern Conference, this season will probably be deemed a failure and Curtin likely loses his job. A home playoff win would be considered a positive step forward for the boys in blue.
Good luck, Union! DOOP!