The Philadelphia Union put together a sensational 2020 MLS season, claiming a first-ever trophy in club history. Now the goal will be to carry that level of consistency over into next year and beyond.
Jim Curtin will be without one key cog in his midfield in 2021 with Brenden Aaronson making the move to Austrian Bundesliga side Red Bull Salzburg. The 19-year-old will officially join Jesse Marsch’s side on January 1st, embarking on a new chapter of his professional career.
Aaronson’s departure opens a hole in the Union midfield, leaving Anthony Fontana and Brenden’s bother Paxten, as possible replacements. Fontana impressed with six goals in 17 appearances last season, providing a spark off the bench in several Union wins. His role is set to increase even more in 2021, but the Union will also aim to bring another player in for that position as well.
“We might not forget that Paxten is one year younger than Brenden when he stepped in so we’re probably going to bring in a No. 10,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said. “At the same time Anthony [Fontana] can do various jobs as well. We used him as a No. 8, a No. 10 and he can play as a second striker. He really stepped up and he will get his chance.”
“You can assume that we were not sleeping the last couple of months since we know that Brenden is going overseas,” Tanner said. “We have a few candidates and we have priorities but you know with a transfer it’s not that easy. There are at least three parties who have to agree and to bring everyone together is not that easy.”
This will be the latest season in which the Union lost an attacking playmaker with Aaronson joining former players Borek Dockal and Marco Fabian on that list with his move abroad. The Union will still have Jamiro Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jose Martinez to call on in 2021, but the fight for Aaronson’s replacement may go down to opening day next season.
After progressing in each of the last three seasons, the goal for the Union will be to get back to those same expectations and more next season. The club will also debut in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time and hope to retain the Supporters’ Shield and return to the playoff for a much, deeper run.
“We want to keep our group together as good as possible in order to be as competitive in the next season,” Tanner said. “Of course we need to work in terms of the competitiveness as it’s always harder to stay up top than to reach the top but we will certainly do our best.”
Cory Burke signs new deal
While at least three Union players will be heading out this offseason, one familiar face has been locked up over the next two seasons.
Cory Burke signed a new deal on Wednesday, with his new contract set to run through the 2022 MLS season. The Union also holds an option for 2023, but overall it is a rewarding deal for Burke who returned to the team after Visa issues and contributed at the tail end of this season.
“We’re excited to have come to an agreement on a new contract with Cory. He is a very talented striker who instantly strengthens our attack and solidifies our depth up top,” said Tanner. “Cory has consistently shown his value on the pitch with his dedication, hard work and ability to finish. He has become a valuable striker who runs hard in the box and has the ability to make a play defensively to start the attack.”
Burke, 29, returned from his loan at Austrian side SKN St. Poelten this fall and scored two goals in five matches for the Union. The Jamaican international excelled while on loan in Austria and his native Jamaica over the 2019-20 season and was able to play a role in the club’s Supporters’ Shield triumph back in November.
He will now work with Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos to continue earning consistent minutes for the club in 2021.
Creavalle, Wooten, Ngalina have options declined
Warren Creavalle, Andrew Wooten, and Michee Ngalina will be looking for new clubs this winter after seeing their options declined on Wednesday.
Creavalle saw the most playing time out of the three, featuring in 88 matches for the club since joining from Toronto FC in 2015. The 30-year-old New York native registered five assists from his defensive midfield position, while also playing a vital role for the club off the field in the fight for racial equality.
“Selfishly I loved working with [Warren] every day,” Curtin said. “He is a winner on and off the field. His work with the Black Players For Change group and how much of a role he took in our locker room in the off-season was incredibly valuable.”
“He is at the stage where he needs to be playing minutes at the age he is and those minutes may not have been able to come here. We had a hard and honest discussion and I think one he’ll respect. No one will respect Warren Creavalle like I do so it’s a hard one, but it’s time to move on.”
Wooten struggled for consistent playing time for the Union after arriving in 2019 from German 2. Bundesliga side Sandhausen. The 31-year-old striker failed to score a single goal in his 25 combined league appearances, but did finish with five assists for the club.
With Przybylko and Santos both impressing over the past two seasons, and Burke returning to the club, Wooten fell to fourth in the striker depth chart and will now look for a new opportunity elsewhere.
“He gave everything to the club,” Curtin said about Wooten. “I can reference the goal-line clearance that he had that contributed a small way to us winning the Shield. He is a great kid, a great player. He just didn’t get the opportunities he would have liked and when he did get the opportunities he would tell you they he could’ve done a little bit better with.”
“Sometimes the fit has to be just right and in this case things just didn’t work out. Both sides understand the situation and were in agreement at the end of the year. Winning a trophy together takes everyone and is forever. He is a still a big part of this season and lifting the trophy for the club.”
Ngalina, 20, first got his chance with then-USL side Bethlehem Steel in 2018 and totaled 13 goals in 46 appearances for the club. The Congolese international made one senior appearance for the Union in 2019 against the Portland Timbers, but found it tough to crack the first team roster in 2020.
He made the match day squad four times this past season, but was low on the attacking depth chart with several more experienced players in front of him.
“I think his level is right in between, just above the USL level and at the fringe of a MLS roster,” Curtin said. “I think he can play in MLS, but positionally, system, and philosophy wise it’s best to give him the opportunity to move on rather than be the fifth option with our group. It was best for both sides that he has the opportunity to move on.”