The beginning of the 2017 MLS season is less then a month away. Teams pre-season camps are well under way. Pre-season scrimmages, friendlies and tournaments have started for all teams. The United States Men’s National Team January camp has concluded and all players are back with their respective teams. And for the most part all teams are almost done their roster moves and transfers until the summer transfer window.
The New Transfers of the Philadelphia Union
The Philadelphia Union were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the eventual Eastern Conference champions, Toronto F.C. Earnie Stewart, Jim Curtin, Chris Albright and company had plenty of time to review each players performance throughout the course of the season and evaluate their role for the 2017 season.
The Union since November have eliminated 7 players from the roster. Those players are:
- DEF Taylor Washington (Cut after rookie year, signed with Pittsburgh Riverhounds)
- MID Cole Missimo (Cut after rookie year)
- MID Tranquillo Barnetta (Contract expired, signed with hometown Swiss club St. Gallen)
- MID Walter Restrepo (Cut after one year with the club, returned back to New York Cosmos)
- GK Matt Jones (Loan expired, returned to Belenenses in Portugal)
- DEF Anderson Conceição (Loan expired, returned to Tombense in Brazil)
- MID Kevin Kratz (Traded to Atlanta United for 4th round 2020 MLS Superdraft pick/Handshake deal)
The Union lost one true starter in that bunch, the one being Tranquillo Barnetta. But improvements were blatantly apparent after the downfall of the club that was in first place in the Eastern Conference in June, but barely made the playoffs as the sixth seed.
The first was a replacement for Vincent Nogueira, who left the team in June (the apparent start of the downfall) because of personal issues. Nogueira was the No. 6 in the lineup, a spot in which it seemed no one, even Alejandro Bedoya, could do as good of a job as Vincent did.
The second position in need was a striker. After C.J Sapong went MIA for the second half of the season, and Charlie Davies didn’t see much action in his 3 months with the club, the need for a striker was near the top of priorities. U.S international MID Chris Pontius led the team with 12 goals, so a goal scoring striker was needed.
Lastly, a veteran defender was needed to give guidance and leadership for a young defense. Given the average age of the backline is 23, an experienced defender can come into the club and give the defense wisdom and advice.
The Union made six transfers in the winter window. Let’s first start with the top priority, a replacement for Vincent Nogueira. On January 31st, the club signed Bosnian and Herzegovinian international Haris Medunjanin. Harris has quite the pedigree in Europe, having played for Israel’s top team Maccabi Tel Aviv, as well as in Spain’s top flight league with Real Valladolid and Deportivo La Coruña. He also was apart of the Bosnian 2014 World Cup squad and made three starts with them. At 31 years old, he’s a little on the older side in terms of the age in which he came to the MLS, but he’s still a high quality replacement for Vincent.
Haris is a player who has excellent field vision and is impressively accurate with his passing. He is a lefty, which is quite uncommon in soccer, who also uses that foot for his deadly free kicks. He also will join in on the attack more than Vincent did as he was an attacking midfielder when he was younger. He has been dubbed “the bigger Vincent Nogueira.” He will fill the No. 6 role in the starting XI. Medunjanin was acquired on a free transfer.
Adam Najem is the next midfielder to join the club. He officially signed with the Union on February 8. Najem was a standout in college with the University of Akron. In his four years with the Zips, he netted 33 goals as well as 29 assists as an attacking midfielder. Fourteen of those goals came in his sophomore season, where he was also named to NSCAA’s All-American second team. He was part of the New York Red Bull’s academy prior to Akron. Had the Red Bulls not approached to sign him as a homegrown player, he was projected to be a top five draft pick in the 2017 MLS Superdraft. Najem’ right of first refusal was acquired from the Red Bulls, in exchange for a 2018 MLS Superdraft second round pick. Along with the trade, the Union acquired his right to count him as a homegrown player.
Addressing the need for a striker, on January 9 the Union acquired Jay Simpson from Leyton Orient in the third tier of the English Football League. In his three years with Leyton, he scored 33 goals in 87 games. Prior to Leyton, he played for some of England’s more well known teams, including West Bromwich Albion, Hull City and Queens Park Rangers. He was also a product of Arsenal’s academy system, in which he never appeared in a match for them.
Simpson is a forward who takes on a poaching role. He stands at 5’11”. Simpson will tend to stay around the penalty area no matter where the ball is in the attacking third of the field. The move from the English third tier to the MLS seems like a big step up. The New York Red Bulls did a move similar for an English striker in the same tier in 2013. That player is Bradley Wright-Phillips, two time MLS Golden Boot winner. He has a high ceiling in this move and will fight C.J Sapong for the starting role this year. He was signed using target allocation money from the team’s discovery list.
On February 2, the Union signed Fafa Picault. Picault has been capped once for the U.S Men’s National Team and spent the last few seasons in the German second division playing for St. Pauli. He scored four goals in 22 appearances for the team. Picault has speed to burn and was praised by Jurgen Klinsmann during his National Team call up for his attacking abilities. He most likely won’t see the field as a striker, rather he will play in the left wing spot behind Chris Pontius. As part of Jim Curtin’s goal to be two deep at every position, Picault will move to a different position. He was signed on a free transfer, after being officially released by St. Pauli.
In the hunt for a veteran defender, the Union signed former U.S Men’s National Team player Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu hasn’t played a professional game since 2014. He was a part of the U.S campaigns in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup runs. He has played all over Europe in England, Italy, Spain among others. Most notably played for A.C Milan. Last year he trailed with MLS side NYCFC, he was not offered a contract.
Despite not playing for two years, he has stayed fit and sharp from training with different teams, including the Union. On February 9th, Josh Yaro underwent shoulder surgery and will be out for three to four months. At 34 years old, he is on the older side. His experience in Europe as well as National Team experience will give Richie Marquez and Yaro advice and wisdom. With the injury to Yaro, he may start against Vancouver Whitecaps in the opening game. Onyewu was signed as a free agent.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the Union signed defender Giliano Wijnaldum on January 5. He was apart of Earnie Stewart’s academy at AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, so Stewart was well familiar with him. He played for three of the Netherlands top teams, including FC Groningen and Go Ahead Eagles as well as AZ Alkmaar. At 24 years old, he joins a young back line. He will slide into the left back role and is most likely the successor for Fabinho, who is on his last year of his contract. Wijnaldum is brother to Liverpool midfielder Georginio. He is a speedy left back who will join in on the attack. He can also play center back if needed. He was signed as a discovery signing, he was also a free agent after being released by German second tier team VFL Bochum.
Projected Starting Lineup
Rosenberry – Marquez – Onyewu – Fabinho
Medunjanin – Bedoya
Herbers – Alberg – Pontius