Though the Union haven't signed any new players yet this offseason, they have made a few deals to bring back players who are likely to serve as depth in 2018.
The team announced Wednesday that it has re-signed winger Fabian Herbers, playmaker Ilsinho and left back Fabinho to new contracts. Herbers and Ilsinho had seen club options on previous contracts declined, while Fabinho's previous contract had expired.
"Fabinho and Ilsinho provide excellent veteran quality, and Fabian is a young player with lots of potential," Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said in a statement. "We did not want to lose any of them following last season, and we're happy to reach agreements to have them return to Philadelphia."
Herbers' option had been declined because he previously was a Generation adidas player, which meant his $135,500 salary didn't count against the cap. Had the Union picked up the option, that number plus a raise would have come onto the books. The Union always wanted Herbers to stay, even with his long-term injury absence this year. They just didn't want him to stay at that price.
"We need to keep Fabian fit," Stewart said. "When he gets into the 18-yard box, he always gets the ball on target. He has an excellent cross when he reaches the endline.
If Herbers can stay healthy, Stewart said, "his skill set will show more and more during the season."
Stewart said at the end of the season that he'd be willing to keep Ilsinho around at a lower price than the Brazilian's previous $518,333.33 salary. The team has made no secret of wanting to spend a significant sum on a playmaker of a higher caliber than not just Ilsinho, but many of his predecessors in Chester.
The resulting questions are not just who that signing will be, and when; but also how keeping Ilsinho affects prospects Adam Najem and Anthony Fontana. Najem showed promise as a playmaker in 2017, but could also be deployed in a deeper role. Fontana, an 18-year-old Delaware native, needs playing time in which to show his potential.
This much is certain: Ilsinho will continue to take up one of the international slots on the Union's roster. On Wednesday, Stewart praised him.
"During the course of the season, he showed what his capabilities are," Stewart said. "Talent-wise, it's undeniable."
Fabinho plays an important position, left back, and is a great presence in the locker room. But there will be questions if the 32-year-old is a starter. Matthew Real, an 18-year-old Union academy product, has made his way up the ranks this year. Union manager Jim Curtin would like to give him a shot. For now, the depth chart is in limbo.
"Finding a left back these days is not easy at all," Stewart said. "We have this rating system that we follow, and Fabinho is still one of the top backs in MLS. So from a soccer standpoint, that's kind of like a no-brainer, even though he's getting a little bit further in age."