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Union sign Dutch left back Giliano Wijnaldum

Union sporting director Earnie Stewart's deep connections in the Netherlands reaped rewards on Thursday, as the team got itself some important defensive depth.

Union sporting director Earnie Stewart's connections in the Netherlands reaped rewards on Thursday as the team got itself some important defensive depth.

Giliano Wijnaldum, a 24-year-old Dutch left back, is the Union's first major signing of the offseason.

His first three seasons as a pro came at Dutch top flight club AZ Alkmaar when Stewart was a top executive there. At various times, he played alongside U.S. national team strikers Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson. His most recent stop was Germany's VfL Bochum during the 2015-16 season.

Before turning pro, Wijnaldum played with current Union midfielder Roland Alberg in Alkmaar's youth academy. The two have remained friends since.

"I came here because I talked with Roland about the club, and Earnie Stewart called me also," Wijnaldum said. "Roland said good things about the city and the club - that's why it was easy to come here."

"He has a lot of speed, he has physical ability, he can be good in the air," Stewart said "There's a lot of potential there for Giliano, especially in a league where you need to be an athlete... Not every player from Holland can play in MLS, because this is a very, very demanding league when it comes to the physical aspect of the game."

If Wijnaldum's name sounds familiar, it's because his brother Georginio plays for English powerhouse Liverpool and the Dutch national team. Giliano played for the Dutch under-17, under-19 and under-20 squads.

Neither Stewart nor Curtin would commit to calling Wijnaldum a starter, which is no surprise. It's not their nature, and Fabinho performed admirably as the Union's starting left back last season.

But when Stewart acknowledged that Wijnaldum "didn't just come to sit on the bench and warm the bench," that was enough to make the point.

"Everybody that comes here is a work in progress - if you are 31 or 25 or 18, it doesn't really make a difference," Stewart said. "It's up to Giliano now, together with others - and obviously Jim and his coaching staff make that decision [on the lineup]... He came here to compete."

Wijnaldum's arrival was very much under the radar, and not just because the Philadelphia media has been paying attention to other sports lately. Stewart and his colleagues did an admirable job of keeping the deal out of the transfer rumor mill.

They also found a player who might be the prototypical Union foreign signing: a young player from a European league that's good enough to matter but not so good that it makes him expensive.

"The guys that are on top of the radar are very difficult to bring in, because of salary," Stewart said. "That's not what we're able [to do] and capable of doing, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Yes, we do try to find those players that are under the radar, and I believe Giliano is one of those players that still flies under the radar, with great upside potential."

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