WILMINGTON — The Union have gotten a lot better during Ernst Tanner’s tenure at buying low to sell high. It’s how the rest of the world scouts and signs players, so it’s good for this team to work the same way.
That’s a big part of the rationale behind the signing of Matej Oravec, a 21-year-old Slovakian midfielder whose arrival was announced on the first day of preseason training camp. He’ll slot in as a defensive midfielder, and will probably slot in above fellow new signing Jose Martinez on the depth chart.
“He is fitting exactly what we are looking for,” Tanner said of Oravec after practice Monday. “He’s a young player, and you saw what we did with Kai [Wagner] last year. But despite his [being] young, he is quite experienced.”
Oravec has played more than 100 games, including five in the UEFA Europa League during the 2018-19 season with Spartak Trnava, one of Slovakia’s bigger teams. He scored a goal against Belgian club Anderlecht, whose lineup that day included U.S. men’s national team winger Kenny Saief.
The following summer, Oravec moved across the Slovakian league to Dunajska Streda, and if you hadn’t heard of that club, well, that’s OK. Tanner was the first to say “you might not know it.” But he does, including a trip over there last year.
He “watched everything, and I was quite impressed with what they were establishing there,” he said.
This past season, Oravec played 19 games for Dunajska Streda, including a pair of Europa League qualifying games that the club lost. He lined up mostly as a defensive midfielder, and also played centerback a few times.
The Union gave Oravec a three-year contract with a club option for a fourth, and said they paid a transfer fee to Dunajska Streda to acquire him. Tanner didn’t say what it was, but he did dispute a Slovakian media outlet’s report that Dunajska will get around $1 million out of the deal, calling that number “a little bit high.”
Oravec’s move here was in the works for a while. The Union brought him to town a few weeks ago, and he posted a photo on Instagram from an Eagles game late in the season. A few days before the deal became official, he posted a video of himself working out with a Union logo overlaid on it.
“Philly invited me for four or five days, and they showed me the stadium, the city and everything that is here,” Oravec said. “It was great for me, and I was really happy.”
And what about the Eagles game?
“I’ve never seen something like this,” he said.
The Oravec deal was the third big piece of business the Union did before training camp kicked off, a very good sign for a team with a long history of not getting deals done until close to the season. Most of that history precedes Tanner’s time here, but he’s aware of it — and he said he isn’t done shopping.
“I’m probably well known now for getting things done earlier than later,” he said. “We are in a quite convenient situation having done most of our signings, but for sure there is more to come.”