It was an impressive debut campaign for Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner. They established an identity under manager Jim Curtain. They’ve also built a starting XI without many weaknesses, and their strong academy provides quality depth.
Let’s run through some important parts of their offseason, and where Tanner will focus his efforts.
Philadelphia Union offseason preview
2020 contract decisions
Philly have already released their 2020 contract option decisions. They declined the options of DP Marco Fabian, RJ Allen, and Fabinho. They picked up the options of eight players, including Alejandro Bedoya and the exiled Cory Burke, who spent the second half of 2019 stuck in Jamaica due to visa complications.
We’ll get to the Fabian issue in a second. The most consequential decision came on Haris Medunjanin, whose contract has expired. While Philly said in its press release that they will offer contracts to their other out-of-contract players, Jamiro Monteiro, Fafa Picault, and Aurelien Collin, they said specifically that they will not be seeking a new contract with Medunjanin.
After Medunjanin played every possible minute in 2019, the Union will apparently look elsewhere for their d-mid, a significant decision. Medunjanin is 34 with a ton of minutes under his belt. He played all but three minutes in 2017, and started 29 games in 2018. It would have been hard to expect him to take on a similar workload in his age-35 season.
He was often bandied about as a trade candidate over the past year due to his lack of defensive acumen. Tanner has shifted Phily from a possession-based team to a pressing team, and Medunjanin is known as a passing midfielder who is not a high-level defender. Monteiro and Bedoya protected Medunjanin last year. Per the Inquirer, Tanner cited Medunjanin’s defense as a reason for moving on from him.
Finding a player who can distribute as well as the Bosnian won’t be a simple task. Medunjanin played some of the best diagonal switches in MLS, and he hit precise, threatening balls on set pieces. He was the fulcrum of their 4-4-2 diamond midfield. Tanner will try to find a younger, more mobile version.
Keeping Ilsinho and Monteiro should be a priority
In addition to Monteiro, Picault, and Collin, they’ve extended a contract offer to Ilsinho. They should attempt to keep all four of those players, particularly Monteiro and Ilsinho.
Ilsinho is the best super-sub in MLS. He scored 5g and 8a despite starting only seven games last year. His age, 34, should only be a mild concern. He is a critical part of what the Union do.
Monteiro is probably even more important. Philly should be willing to give him a significant contract. He played at a best XI-level for much of the year, and his role in pressing and chance-creation can’t be overstated. Picault is a versatile and field-stretching attacker. Collin takes on more relevance as a depth center back after the Union traded Auston Trusty to the Rapids.
So long, Fabian
Fabian, one of the most significant signings in Union history, is out the door. He’s a big-money brand name, as a prime-aged Mexican international and Bundesliga veteran. He had his moments as an attacker, scoring seven goals, but he ended up on the bench for the stretch run and the playoffs. His lack of defense didn’t fit Philly’s desire to press, and he did not live up to his lofty expectations near the goal.
Finding the right fit up top
The most pressing need for the Union is up top. A high-caliber striker or winger could put Philly over the top as a contender for trophies. They’re already deep at forward, with Kacper Przybylko, Andrew Wooten, and Sergio Santos, plus Picault and Burke, if they return as expected. With Brenden Aaronson starring as an attacking mid, a complementing star up top would push Philly even farther forward.