Why is it that the Union have failed to fill their most important open roster spot? The attacking midfielder is the most important piece in making an attack click. The Union’s formation is built around the position being filled by a playmaker. The right playmaker seems to be something the Union can’t find, or can’t afford. Let’s dive deeper into the Union’s problem of finding/signing a #10.
Flashback to the end of the 2016 season. It was the final home game of the 2016 season, a 2-0 loss to New York Red Bulls. After going 0-5-2 since August 27th,The Union floundered their way into a playoffs for the first time in four years. The fans were not happy, in fact it was a dreary atmosphere around Talen Energy Stadium. I can remember vividly a father and a son watching the team walk off the field for the final time. The father pointed to the Union’s number 10, Tranquillo Barnetta, and said to his son: “This may be the last time we will ever see him on the field for the Union, he could go down as one of the best to put on a Union shirt.”
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) September 27, 2016
He was right, Barnetta never played at Talen Energy Stadium after that night, and the Union started a search for his replacement. Little did anyone know, that search would still be on a year and four months after Barnetta played his final game! The Union have been tasked with fixing this issue, and they’ve had a hard time doing so. There are three different ways to fill the position;
- Use the existing roster to fill the position
- Search the globe for a diamond in the rough who won’t break the bank
- Spend money on a player who is worth the price tag
It’s not rocket science, these are all options the Union could use to full the attacking midfielder spot. However, some are more Union-friendly.
Using the existing roster:
The Union have used this tactic last season. Relying heavily on Roland Alberg, Alejandro Bedoya, and Ilsinho to fill the void. This option produced okay results, but it was obvious that none of these players were a replacement for Barnetta.
The Union have also developed young attacking players with Bethlehem Steel FC and through their academy. Adam Najem is a promising youngster that shined with steel last season but has not been given a chance with the first team. Anthony Fontana is an academy product now with the first team, could he be the playmaker the Union crave? Maybe these guys will get a chance to shine in 2018.
Whether it be a Veteran who adapts to the position, or an up-and-coming player, the Union will use this option should they fail to sign an attacking midfielder
Finding a diamond in the rough:
The Union’s scouting network seems to be at a loss for finding talented players to fill the 10 spot. This makes a lot of fans think that they aren’t looking in the right spots, or at all. The problem is, the Union are probably looking for a diamond in the rough type of player. These players have a high-risk, high-reward factor. It’s obvious that the Union have been looking for that type of player. More realistically, they’re looking for this type of player because of the price tag. This could be the reason fans hear the team say it’s hard to find a talented player.
Spending on a star player:
The Union front office isn’t stupid. They know that they can easily find talented attacking midfielders who check their boxes. The only problem is, that these players don’t come for a discount price. These are the stars that would take this team to the playoffs.
A player like Clément Grenier, who was rumored to be interested in the Union earlier this off-season, would’ve been that type of signing. A player like Adam Mahar who has been a player many Union fans have wanted to come to the team since Kevin Kinkead mentioned him. Or even a player like Lee Nguyen, an MLS vet with the skill set that would really help the Union.
These players won’t come cheap, which is why they haven’t been signed. Even though Jay Sugarman has preached that he will spend money, the consensus is that that isn’t the case.
Will they or won’t they sign a #10:
@philaunion and @SoundersFC interested in 20 y/o Venezuelan midfielder Ronaldo Lucena – has played once for national team. Atlético Nacional (Colombia) looking to send him on loan. https://t.co/1Qnmr1YtLJ
— Union Rumors (@UnionRumors) February 14, 2018
There have been plenty of rumors that the Union could be interested in multiple CAM’s services. The above tweet mentions the most recent, and possibly the best option for the Union at this point. Ronaldo Lucena is a young player who could be looking for a loan spell. The kid is good, and wouldn’t break the bank. Why not bring him on, and look for a permanent replacement in the summer?
Curtin on Ilsinho: "Sounds like the best thing will be to send him home, get an injection … likely at a minimum a couple week injury"
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) February 15, 2018
Ilsinho picking up an injury could force the Union to find a last-minute option, or play their kids. Either way the Union will probably be looking for a bigger signing in the summer. Maybe they try to get some results with their kids, and Ilsinho when he’s healthy, and hope to find a savior in the summer!
My thoughts on the matter:
Honestly, it’s really hard to get a read on what the Union’s front office will do with this important position. The sporting director, technical director and coach all said they would find a 10. They have also preached that they want to develop the talented young players at this club. So what do I think will happen?
They’ll probably look to develop Najem and Fontana, and throw in Ilsinho when healthy, for the first half of the year. Then they’ll probably look to bring in a talented European player who is either out of contract or looking for a new start. Who knows if that is actually what they do. However, it would make a lot of sense after looking at their track record, and knowing the quality on the field has to improve to make this team a playoff contender.
Update- Borek Dockal the 10 the Union have been looking for:
A Czech report came out stating that center attacking midfielder Borek Dockal could be on his way to the Union. The 29-year-old has been looking for a change of scenery after his 9 million dollar move to Chinese side HN Jianye hasn’t given him what he wanted. Dockal was a long-standing starter AC Sparta Praha in the Czech first division before his move to China. In him, the Union would be getting a skilled attacker, one who could shift the team’s trajectory.
Bořek Dočkal odletěl společně se zástupci @SPORT_INVEST do Ameriky jednat o možném angažmá s týmem Philadelphia Union. Hráče ještě čeká lékařská prohlídka i jednání o finální podobě případného kontraktu. pic.twitter.com/hPaeIxNXFi
— SPORT INVEST (@SPORT_INVEST) February 20, 2018
Dockal is a sharp shooter, and a skilled passer. He is great in possession, and loves to drift to create offense. He’d fit nicely with the Union’s front three, and would be able to fill the hole that’s behind them at the moment. The Czech is also a set piece specialist. He would add a level of depth to the Union’s free kicks; having Medunjanin and Dockal would create a lethal right footer and left footer.
On the Borek Dockal move to Philadelphia Union:
Source confirms, “Negotiations are going well. Everything is ok.”
The work permit, however, is delaying the process. The hope is Dockal’s move will go through next week.
— Nick Fishman (@nick_fishman) February 23, 2018
As of now, Dockal is still in negotiations with the Union. He is looking for a permanent move, but HN Jianye are not willing to let their investment leave. This is looking like a loan option, the Union are likely pushing for an option to buy. Who knows when the deal goes through, but it’s looking pretty certain that he will join Philadelphia.
— Michael Holman (@MikeHolman_) February 25, 2018
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Union Editor of Soccer Content
A passion for the beautiful game drives me.