The Union cut ties with striker Andrew Wooten on Wednesday, declining his 2021 contract option to end a disappointing tenure that produced just one goal in a season and a half.
Wooten arrived to well-deserved fanfare in June 2019, coming off a 17-goal season for German second-division club SV Sandhausen. He nearly scored in his Union debut, July 14, 2019, at Real Salt Lake, but the goal was nullified because the ball crossed the end line just before it was passed to him.
In his second game, Wooten had a quality assist in a highlight-reel 5-1 win at D.C. United. But from then on, Wooten was snakebitten. And while it’s nothing new for midsummer MLS signings to need time to adjust, he wasn’t any better this year.
Wooten scored his first and only Union goal in the MLS tournament loss to Portland. In the 21 games after the regular season resumed, he played 445 minutes and took just three shots. His signature play might have been a stoppage-time goal line clearance on Oct. 28 that saved a 2-1 win over Chicago.
“His professionalism, he’s a great kid, a great player. … He just maybe didn’t get, and part of that is on the coach, the opportunities that he would have liked,” manager Jim Curtin said. “And then also ... when he did get the opportunities, he would tell you he could have done a little bit better with them as well.”
The Union also declined 2021 contract options for unused reserve winger Michee Ngalina and veteran defensive midfielder Warren Creavalle. Letting Creavalle go was a surprise, as he’s a locker room leader and a useful contributor on the field. But Curtin said he wants the 30-year-old to go somewhere he can play more.
“His work with the Black Players for Change Group and how much of a role he took in our locker room in the offseason was incredibly valuable,” Curtin said. “We had a hard discussion but an honest one, and I think one that he’ll respect.”
Backup goalkeeper Joe Bendik and reserve defender Aurelien Collin are out of contract. The Union are in discussions to re-sign both.
Seven players had options picked up: star goalkeeper Andre Blake, defenders Matt Real, Ray Gaddis, Olivier Mbaizo, and Kai Wagner; and midfielders Ilsinho and Anthony Fontana. Forward Cory Burke got a contract extension that will tie him to the Union through 2022, with a club option for 2023.
Picking up Wagner’s option doesn’t mean he’ll be here next year. He’s still got interest from European teams. But if the Union didn’t pick up the option, he’d be able to leave for nothing instead of what could be a multi-million dollar transfer fee.
Now the Union turn to their offseason shopping list, buoyed by Brenden Aaronson’s $6 million sale to Red Bull Salzburg. There will be more in the war chest if Wagner and Mark McKenzie are also sold, and the latter should be a when, not an if.
The rest of the world knows the Union have money to spend. Sporting director Ernst Tanner quipped that last week he got calls from three agents claiming to represent the same player.
Assuming Wagner and McKenzie both go, Tanner will have to shop for a left back and a centerback. If Collin moves on, make it two centerbacks, though they might promote from the academy for their depth slots.
» READ MORE: What's next for Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie
Tanner is likely going to look for a new forward, too, and fans will expect the team to get out the checkbook there. Santos and Kacper Przybylko have shown they can be a starting-caliber tandem, but Przybylko finishing the year with no goals in his last 1,100-plus minutes was a sore spot.
Tanner also said “we’re probably going to bring a No. 10,” which was a bit surprising. Obviously, there’s a hole to fill at playmaker with Aaronson leaving. But the outsider theory was Fontana would be next year’s starter, and academy product Paxten Aaronson, Brenden’s younger brother, would be a backup.
Fontana is still likely to play plenty, but Tanner noted that his ability to play multiple positions means the team needs a traditional playmaker. And while Paxten has loads of promise, he’ll be just 17½ when he moves up to MLS next year. Brenden was 18 when he made his MLS debut.
“You can assume that we were not sleeping in the last couple of months since we knew that Brenden was going,” Tanner said. “We have a few candidates. We have priorities. … We will do something in almost every part of the roster. So there is more to come.”