Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner and Chief Business Officer (CBO) Tim McDermott answered questions from fans and spoke openly for over an hour last night inside the Union club at Talen Energy Stadium during a team-sponsored Town Hall style event. Below are 5 main takeaways from an informational-packed night.
Before we get to the ‘main takeaways,’ it’s important to highlight the increased accessibility and transparency from the franchise this season. Prior to last night’s Town Hall, Philadelphia held round table discussions featuring McDermott and Tanner separately, hosted a Facebook Live Q&A, an annual Meet the Team night, and a handful of other smaller-scale meet and greets with players.
From a distance, it may seem like a sports franchise deciding to focus more on fan engagement while trying to establish culture not only within the locker room but throughout the entire club, from the front office to the player, to the fan.
But look a little closer and you’ll appreciate it all for what it is: a club trying it’s hardest to win back the loyalty and trust of a fan-base that once was integral in the team’s inception after nine years of under-performance on and off the field.
So let’s take a look at some quick hitters from last night Town Hall with Tanner and McDermott.
1) Development, development, development
Tim McDermott reaffirmed a long-standing truth regarding Philadelphia’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC last night. “Steel FC has and always will be about development,” said McDermott. “It’s never been…” designed to be a profitable outfit for the franchise.
And that last part is crucial for some segments of the fan base to realize. Even if Steel FC is on the books as a minor loss in profit, the future yields of its existence are the main focal point. By providing a pathway to the pros (MLS in this case), Steel FC’s positioning as a bridge from YSC Academy ranks to USL to MLS remains as important as ever before.
To highlight that importance, the newest Academy player to ink a professional contract (effective January 2020) was announced during the Town Hall last night. 17-year-old Jack de Vries signed as a Homegrown player and in doing so became Philadelphia’s 12th Homegrown signing to date. Recent notables include Brenden Aaronson, Cole Turnerand Matt Freese.
By reaffirming the fact that Steel FC’s main existence is to aid in the development of young talent. “It’s not there just so we can say ‘Hey look! We have a second division team,” said McDermott. He also reaffirmed the goal isn’t necessarily to win the USL Championship either. So for now, McDermott solidified the notion that Steel FC will continue to be the main point of not only pride for the organization but also a crucial piece of the puzzle when gaining an edge against other MLS clubs.
Tanner mentioned his goal is to have at least two Academy players sign professional contracts each season. So far, he’s gone above and beyond that commitment with the signing of De Vries.
2) The Larimer, Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County, and more future development plans in Chester
Where to start with this one?
Tons to unpack here thanks to McDermott shedding light on a number of future hopes, ideas, and tentative plans for economic development in the areas surrounding Talen Energy Stadium and the club’s campus.
It’s important to keep the reality of things in check though when talking about future plans around the stadium though. For starters, the Larimer Beer Company’s friendly brew spot at 15 Engle Street is the first of its kind in recent years. So far, the reviews and fan fodder revolving its existence has been overwhelmingly positive. At this point, a future with more brew spots, food trucks, or dining spots becomes a bit easier to envision. Yet, after nine years of nothing, it also becomes easier to put the cart in front of your horses when talking about the future of the area.
For me, my position is well known. If you build it, they will come. Major credit is due to Larimer and with some patience more will follow in their footsteps.
“That’s the first seed in growing an entire campus,” said McDermott of the Larimer’s positive embrace.
The Union has done its part and continues to do so. Not only have they slowly built up the surrounding areas they own along the river with state of the art training and operation facilities, but they’ve also been integral in beginning new dialogues for development plans in the area.
“I am a board member of a group called Riverfront Alliance [of Delaware County] and with the Union’s effort has gone through a process involving architectural master planning firms,” said McDermott. “We have recently selected one firm who will now master plan about 200 acres. Some of that land we own and some of that land we don’t own.”
“If you envision that as a sports and entertainment district and programming that 365 days a year…” said McDermott of the area along the river nearby the stadium’s current location.
Take that and run with it if you feel inclined. But as of now, it seems the Union, the Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County, Delco officials, and the Chester city government seem to be placing the proper groundwork in motion to hopefully yield some meaningful results in future.
3) Tanner shared his thoughts on transfer market and the impact of big spending clubs on the market
Perhaps – for me at least – the most interesting and satisfying moment of the night occurred when Tanner was asked about his future plans and strategies moving forward in regards to transfers and signings.
It was a satisfying moment because Tanner took the time to analyze the recent trends occurring throughout MLS and offered his reasoning as to why he isn’t on board. Currently, two major trends are in place: spend a ton of money on a player in the latter stages of their career OR search for talent in South America at a high price in hopes of selling them for a return on investment.
Tanner admitted that Philadelphia – at least under his watch – will never be a team that flashes cash at an aging player in search of a cash grab move to MLS. He also mentioned that currently, Philadelphia is not fitted to enter the realm of buying and reselling players either.
During his answer, Tanner expressed he feels some clubs spend high dollar amounts “just to show off their capital.” In other words, they’re spending just for the media attention and to have the ability to say ‘Hey, look here! We’re throwing tons of money for a single player,” when in Tanner’s mind, this mentality is actually having negative effects league-wide.
“It creates a market that just isn’t there,” said Tanner when talking about some over-priced transfer fees and salaries. “A player’s agent asks well this play got this amount with that team, why can’t he get that fee here,” said Tanner. And he makes a solid point.
In conclusion, sure it may be a nice headline to see a team like Atlanta or LA Galaxy throwing millions of dollars at players, but in reality, they overspend and tilt the market in disadvantageous ways.
4) More roster moves to come
This should come as no surprise.
Since Tanner took the reigns as Sporting Director nearly a year ago, he’s made a healthy amount of transactions to bolster not only the first team but also Steel FC with the signings of Academy players like Cole Turner and De Vries.
The list of additions is as follows:
Aaronson, RJ Allen, Joe Bendik, Carlos Coronel, Aurelien Collin, Marco Fabian, Matt Freese, Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos, Kai Wagner, and Andrew Wooten
Sure, perhaps Tanner ran into an unexpected roadblock with the goalkeeper crisis earlier and the need to sign Bendik last minute following a collapse of Coronel’s loan – but overall the additions have been heavily influential.
Monteiro, Przybylko, Wagner, and of course Fabian are the headline acquisitions to date. And each of those four players has made considerable impacts.
Fabian perhaps continues to leave some to be desired but ultimately his presence on the field and in the locker room is a net positive. Wagner has been a refreshingly steady presence at left-back despite some discipline issues. Przybylko has been a revelation of sorts and Monteiro has been one the best players to ever sport a Union jersey.
Safe to say Tanner knows his way around international transfer markets while also having a keen eye for potential talent.
5) Will Monteiro extend his stay?
The shade Tanner threw towards MLS teams overspending for players who deserve less could have been in direct relation with the club’s efforts to extend Monteiro’s stay in Philadelphia.
“The expectations from his club in France are high and the expectations from the player and his agent are high,” said Tanner of the ongoing discussions.
Ultimately, “it’s no secret,” said Tanner of Philadelphia’s pursuit to lock Monteiro up long term. Yet, changes in the transfer market make it difficult for a club like Philadelphia to justify a more conservative money offer.
On one hand, Tanner deserves some high praise for finding and securing the loan rights of Monteiro in the first place. To not only find a guy on the fringes of his current club and to convince him to make a jump to MLS at age 25 is a major accomplishment in and of itself.
On the other hand, a loan is a loan for a reason, meaning the understanding began with the expectation that Monteiro would simply rejoin his French lower league club once his time is up in Philadelphia. But Tanner now realizes he may have found a diamond in the rough so to speak and will try his best to keep him under wraps.
I’m sure there’s plenty of other topics, quick comments, or big-picture ideas that could have been mentioned here. But personally, these are the five main takeaways that I focused on immediately.
If I missed anything you feel needs to be covered, send me a message on twitter to continue the conversation.
Now, Philadelphia prep for a home clash with DC United this Saturday in what will most likely be English superstar Wayne Rooney’s final appearance in Chester.
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