This season made it clear that the Philadelphia Union needs a lethal forward that can put this team over the MLS Cup hump. Currently, there are 3 pure forwards on the roster and Kacper Przybyłko was really the only one who got consistent minutes. Kacper had 12 goals and 4 assists in 37 MLS appearances and 5 goals and 1 assist in 6 Champions League. Not a bad season by any stretch if just looking at the goals and assists, but if we take a deeper look we will discover a deeper-rooted issue.
Per whoscored and the games they have listed (does not include CCL), Kacper had an average match rating of 6.91 while having 4 games at over an 8.0 rating. What this shows is that in games he does not score or assist in, he doesn’t really help the team. To compare to another MLS forward, Valentín Castellanos of NYCFC had an average match rating of 7.39 with 11 games of over an 8.0 two of which being over a 9.0. You can argue oh he scored more than Kacper so it skews the data to which I say, isn’t that part of the problem? What this team needs is a match-winner leading the front line and I am about to give a couple of names based on my own views and the views of Union Twitter that could do just that.
This will be my list in order of realism with 1 being the most realistic and 5 being the least and I will explain why these transfers make sense how each forward can help improve the #9 position.
This is of course assuming the rumors that Ruidiaz wants out of Seattle are true, but if they are nobody makes more sense than him. He averaged a goal every 126 minutes this year, which for context, is 95 minutes better than Kacper. The best part about Ruidiaz is that he is already proven in the MLS scoring double-digit goals every year he has played in the league.
He also is a very good combo play forward boasting a pass accuracy of 83.7% this past season which is something the Union could desperately use. He can also fit in a two or one striker system which is another plus as the Union has employed both and he has the pace as well as the combo/hold up play ability to do wither job in a front two and both jobs in a loan striker. Having a forward who can score double-digit goals while also creating, through assists and just general interplay, goals for others (Gazdag specifically) will put this team over the edge.
There are rumors brewing that Kramaric is looking to move on when his contract with Hoffenheim expires. It is important to note that this move would not happen until the summer window, however, the Union could announce that they are signing him to a pre-contract 6 months prior to the expiration (January). Kramaric is a fantastic forward and at 30 years old he has plenty of years left to continue to play at a top-level.
In 34 games during the 20/21 season (all competitions) he averaged a goal contribution (goals and assists) every 88.8 minutes which is absolutely wild. This season he has come down to earth a bit with his minutes/contribution falling to 125 which is 23 minutes better than the Union’s current starting forward. His pass accuracy is also in the 80’s so he can really do it all in terms of scoring and creating for himself as well as creating for others. He will cost the Union quite a lot in salary but if they can get him without a transfer fee this would be the guy to “back the brinks trucks” up for.
Teemu Pukki is an interesting prospect as he is in his early 30’s and playing in the prem. So the question is why wouldn’t he stay? Well, more than likely Norwich will be getting relegated yet again which could signal Pukki’s departure. Another potential “free” transfer as, like Kramaric, his contract expires June 2022. He has proven that he is an elite Championship striker netting himself 26 goals and 6 assists in 41 games during the 20/21 season and 29 goals and 11 assists in 43 games during the 18/19 season.
He hasn’t been as prolific in his two years in the Prem but the Championship, in my estimation, is fairly on par with the level of the MLS. Pukki is a great all-around forward who can hold up, play combos with players underneath, stretch the backline, and of course score goals at a high clip. There is no rustling saying he wants to depart Norwich or England in general but the Union should do their due diligence and at least inquire about a forward of his caliber.
I know what you’re thinking, “Jamie Vardy?!?! This guy is nuts. That would never happen”. Hear me out though. Jamie Vardy is 34 (almost 35) which seems old but when you watch this guy play it looks like he’s still in his mid-20s. He has been as prolific as it comes in the Premier League currently on his 8th season only failing to score double-digit goals once in his first season. This year he is sitting at 9 goals and 1 assist in 15 appearances so is currently on his way to another double-digit year.
He is a perfect fit for Philly in so many ways as well. His story of being a factory worker while trying to make a career in soccer only to lead his team to a 5000/1 Premier League title and becoming one of the most iconic players in league history is the stuff of legends. He is gritty, hardworking, and a bit of a clown which the Philly fans, Union or not, would love. He has killer pace and a work rate to press like Jim wants and would thrive in the 4-4-2 formation. Vardy would be far and away the Union’s most expensive transfer currently valued at around $8 million which for a 34-year-old is steep, but he would be a legend before he even put on a kit and would truly help this team with an MLS Cup push.
This one I agree would be insane, but why not have a little fun. Griezmann would, like some of the others, be able to be brought in for free in June if his contract isn’t renewed. He has not been in the upper echelon of goal scoring in league play recently, but he is no slouch as the past shows. I think the lack of goals in recent years has to do with a change in his role at the Athletico but as a member of the Union, he would be a pure striker who could thrive in a one or two-striker system.
One of the most vital tools he will bring to the #9 position is his ability to pass at an elite level. His assist average over the past 5 La Liga seasons is 8.8 wherein all but one of those seasons he also netted 13 or more goals. He is also lethal in the air despite his height of 5’9. This would add another layer of unpredictability to the Union attack which is something they have lacked in recent years. Griezmann is obviously the best of the bunch and his friendship with Kevin Durant (Union part-owner) makes this plausible, but his national team aspirations and only being 30 and still playing at a high level make this transfer the most unlikely.
Could Tanner sign one of these strikers?
All of these forwards would greatly improve the Philadelphia Union. Out of the five the two, I want the most are Griezmann and Kramaric. These two bring the most in terms of complete forward play and are also young enough to contribute for a couple of years. All of the forwards on this list make sense and don’t make sense for different reasons, but what they all bring is someone the Union can look to when they need a goal from nothing. Big names and big money aren’t something the Union brass is usually into, but this offseason seems different which is exciting for all Union fans including myself. If they don’t bring in a big name I am inclined to trust Ernst Tanner, and if they do it will be an even more exciting time to be a Union fan than it already is.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych