Haris Medunjanin didn’t particularly want to leave Philadelphia, a city that became a true home for him during his three seasons with the Union.
But as sporting director Ernst Tanner moved to overhaul the team’s playing style this year, Medunjuanin could see the proverbial writing on the wall. So when his contract ran out, the 34-year-old Bosnian wasn’t surprised that the Union cast him off.
“I wanted to stay over there, but the sporting director didn’t want it,” Medunjanin said by phone from Amsterdam, where he’s enjoying some down time before reporting to Cincinnati next month.
“For me, if somebody don’t want you somewhere … then it’s better to to try to find something else," he continued. "I was always saying to the young guys [at the Union], there’s not only one club in the world, there are so many clubs, and there is always a possibility you can show your quality somewhere else.”
Medunjanin was a fan favorite for much of his time in Philadelphia, with his great passing skills and leadership honed from a diverse soccer career. He played in the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, and Israel before coming to America, and he played for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team at the 2014 World Cup against Nigeria and Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
His remarks Thursday were his first since leaving the Union, and he took time to thank the fans here for their support.
“I had a great time over there, I met a lot of good people, and I will always remember Philadelphia as a great city and great team,” Medunjanin said. “I can say that I contributed to the best season of the history of Philadelphia [Union]. So, you know, I’m proud and I’m leaving with my head up over there, and I wish them all the best.”
Medunjanin understands Tanner’s desire to build a Union team more suited to his high-pressing playbook than this year’s was. That includes a midfielder with more defensive bite than Medunjanin has.
“I wish him all the best,” Medunjanin said, and as phone calls go it seemed sincere. But not everything was sunshine and roses. Medunjanin said Tanner rarely talked to him, and that didn’t sit well.
“I think even before I started this season, I think he didn’t want me to play, but I proved myself every training that I could be in the first 11 [starting lineup], and the coach was behind me,” he said, referring to Jim Curtin.
“I had the feeling already, the whole season long, that he didn’t want me there, because he never spoke with me. I think when you are one of the key players, the sporting director should sometimes come to you to speak.”
That was as far as Medunjanin went. He closed the book diplomatically: “Life moves on, life goes on, we need to move on, and that’s how it is.”
Medunjanin heard from Cincinnati manager Ron Jans and general manager Gerard Nijkamp before the team called his name in last week’s waiver draft, gaining the exclusive right to negotiate a deal. Medunjanin remembered Jans from when the player was a teenager beginning his pro career in the Dutch league. Medunjanin played for AZ Alkmaar when Jans managed Groningen.
“It was a long time ago, but he’s a very good coach, very well-respected in the Netherlands,” said Medunjanin, who grew up in that country as a child refugee from the Bosnian war. “He will show for sure at Cincinnati what kind of coach he is. He understands the game, he wants his team to play attractive football.”
Medunjanin had interest from other clubs, including powerhouse Los Angeles FC. He said he was flattered by the interest from the team that smashed MLS records for points and goals in winning this year’s Supporters’ Shield.
“It was, for me, also nice that a club like LAFC showed some interest,” Medunjanin said. “But the real interest was from Cincinnati and the coach Ron Jans, and the sporting director Gerard [Nijkamp]. It was a good conversation … and they gave me the feeling that I could contribute to the team, help the team, and play like they wanted to play. That was most important for me.”
Cincinnati might have also helped its case with its salary offer. As he was with the Union, Medunjanin will be a targeted allocation money player, which means he’ll earn more than the designated-player threshold, but his cap hit will be paid down. Under MLS’d current salary rules, the 2020 DP threshold will be $556,500, though that could change in CBA talks this winter.
Medunjanin earned $595,008 this year, according to the MLS Players Association.