We haven’t heard much from the Philadelphia Union since their exit from the postseason at the hands of Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference knockout round. The club is historically busy later in the offseason, but anyone is willing to bet that sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin have a plan in place to upgrade the squad during the January transfer window.
After years in the cellar of the East, the Union took a massive step forward in Stewart’s first year in charge of the front office. Expectations will be higher for the club in 2017, which means not just any player is going to be walking through the doors of Talen Energy Stadium. The club has been tight-lipped in terms of who it is targeting and when new signings may be brought aboard, but the Union shouldn’t remain this quiet for too long with the transfer window swinging open.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what has been done this offseason and what business the Union still need to take care of before the season kicks off.
Matt Jones, Anderson, Taylor Washington, Cole Missimo, Walter Restrepo, Tranquillo Barnetta, Leo Fernandes, Kevin Kratz
Round 2: No. 33 overall, No.42 overall
Round 3: No. 55 overall
Round 4: No. 77 overall, No. 82 overall
The biggest loss suffered by the Union came with the exit of Tranquillo Barnetta to his hometown side St. Gallen. Barnetta may not have received a ton of attention on a national level, but he was a vital cog in attack for the Union during his time at the club. Not only will the Union have to replace his skill set at the No. 10 position, but they’ll also need someone to step into his leadership role.
The Union improved greatly in defense with the additions of Keegan Rosenberry and Joshua Yaro, but there’s still a need for depth at center back behind Yaro, Richie Marquez and the heavily criticized Ken Tribbett. There’s an outside chance the Union may need to dip in the goalkeeper market, which is something they’re not afraid to do, if Andre Blake is sold during the January window. If the right offer comes in, the Union should sell the Jamaican international.
There’s also a need at the forward position, with just C.J. Sapong, Charlie Davies and Fabian Herbers currently employed at that position. Sapong only scored seven goals in 31 appearances in 2016, and Davies barely got off the bench after he was acquired from New England. Herbers was lined up in a variety of positions, and he could see more time on the wing if he progresses more in preseason.
The Union are in much better shape than they were this time a year ago thanks to their success in the MLS Draft. Yaro, Rosenberry and Herbers helped form a young core around pieces like Marquez and Blake that were already at the club.
If they can purchase a playmaker to replace Barnetta and let some of the pressure off Roland Alberg, the Union should be right back in playoff contention. Finding the right scorer is key as well. The Union relied too much on the midfield to score when Sapong’s form dried up toward the end of the regular season. If the Union can find the right combination at striker, they won’t run into that issue at the worst time possible in 2017.
Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu will form a formidable pairing in defensive midfield as long as Edu fully recovers from his latest leg injury. The depth in central midfield is already there if Edu runs into more setbacks. Marquez, Rosenberry and Fabinho are already locked into starting spots on the back line, but who partners Marquez is still a big question. The defensive situation will come into question more if Blake is sold in January. If that is the case, the Union could either dip into Stewart’s long list of European connections or find an MLS veteran to fill Blake’s shoes, as hard as that may be to do.
The foundation is set for a successful 2017, but more pieces must be added in the competitive East that is only getting stronger with the addition of expansion side Atlanta United. Based off the first year of the Stewart-Curtin partnership, the Union will make a few shrewd moves in the transfer market to build on a surprising 2016 campaign.