When it was announced on July 5th that Union would be loaning Homegrown defender Brandan Craig to Austin FC for the remainder of the season, I think most people’s reaction was something along the lines of “If you’re not gonna use him, let him get minutes somewhere else”. And to be fair, Centerback has been an enormous hole to fill all season long for Austin, so it felt like there was an opportunity for Craig to get some meaningful minutes without it costing Union on the field if it proved to be too early of an occasion for the 19 year old.
With one game left in Austin’s season, they are already mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs; which means, we probably know less about Brandan Craig and his development than we did when he left in July.
A bust of a loan for the Union and Craig
As I already stated, Centreback has been a nightmare scenario for Austin to figure out all season long. Throughout the course of their campaign, Austin used 8 different players at the Centerback position to see if they could find some form of consistency – but somehow Brandan Craig wasn’t given that chance, not even once. Though Craig made the bench for 9 of 15 games with Austin, he did not start and was not used as a sub a single time. 0 minutes played for Brandan Craig since his last game with Union II on June 29th.
Little Compensation; little playing time
It leaves one to wonder – Why? Well, the Union did receive a 3rd round pick in the 2024 SuperDraft and $125,000 in performance-based incentives in GAM in exchange for the loan, which might be enticing if ya know… Philly took their draft picks seriously.
Jack Elliott is the only pick in the previous 5 drafts Union’s participated in that gets first team minutes with the team, so I wouldn’t be holding out for a home-run with that one. Oh – and as for the $125,00 GAM from performance-based incentives? I’m going to say that Brandan Craig was well off from hitting those incentives having not touched the field for Austin.
Much ado about nothing
So again, why? Were the Union misled in the role Brandan Craig would play in Austin? Did Brandan Craig request a loan away to get a breath of fresh air, to see if Philly really is the best place for him? Even if he was never going to get minutes at CB here in Philly behind Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes and Damion Lowe this season, at least he would have been able to continue his development with UII and help them in their playoff run.
Instead, Craig spent the second half of the season sitting on the bench in Austin and learning the habits of a defense that’s allowed the 4th most goals in MLS. Not to mention, Union went out and signed Olwethu Makhanya to buff up the CB position down the pipeline while Craig was gone. Hindsight is 20/20, for sure – but I wonder if this move did more bad than good for Brandan Craig and his development and I hope he’s able to come back in the off-season with a clean head for 2024.
The Future is still bright for Craig
Something that might have him feeling better about himself is his recent call up to the US Men’s Olympic Soccer Team for its October training camp, where they’ll play games against Mexico and Japan. Craig is called up alongside Union teammates Jack McGlynn and Nate Harriel, and Union Academy Alumni Paxten Arronson.
It’s good to see Brandan Craig still being recognized as one of the best in his position amongst his age group despite not getting playing time this Summer and Fall. Hopefully Craig can step right back into the form he was showing for both Union II and USMNT U-23s prior to his move to Austin and carry that into the 2024 season.
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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire, Philadelphia Union, Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire, & Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire