Union sporting director Ernst Tanner’s end-of-season news conference with manager Jim Curtin on Thursday was defined first by what wasn’t said. Tanner repeatedly declined to give any information about players out of contract or whose futures haven’t been decided yet.

So there was nothing official to say about Jamiro Monteiro, Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault, or Marco Fabián. And all four players weren’t made available by the team to speak for themselves. We’ll have to wait until later this month to find out what happens.

There were, however, a few hints as to the direction the team is going, and what the priorities are this offseason.

The biggest hint came when Tanner spoke about the next steps he wants to take toward making his preferred narrow diamond 4-4-2 formation the Union’s base setup. It doesn’t use wide attackers, which means it doesn’t suit Picault and one-on-one wizard Ilsinho. The latter’s future is unclear; Picault’s odds of returning are slim.

“We did very good signings last season to add really important pieces, and the signings were more made exactly to [that] style, and we will continue on that, definitely,” he said. “Which means not that we switch or that we only are playing a 4-4-2 — it might happen that there is a situation arising where we need to be more flexible."

There are also concerns about the defense. While the Union set records for wins and points, they had just six shutouts all year, and gave up 55 goals.

“That’s simply too much,” Tanner said. “For sure, that is something where we can be better, and that is also to do some with some signings maybe, and more quality in that part.”

At the same time, the counter-pressing system Tanner favors isn’t designed to win games 1-0. Look at teams around the world that use it, such as England’s Liverpool and Germany’s RB Leipzig. They play entertaining soccer but often give up plenty of goals.

Union midfielders Jamiro Monteiro (35) and Haris Medunjanin (6) face uncertain futures.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Union midfielders Jamiro Monteiro (35) and Haris Medunjanin (6) face uncertain futures.

“It has to do with more risks you take, and it has to do with more attractiveness as you play,” Tanner said. “And it sometimes opens up a bit more space than you would like to give to your opponents. But that’s exactly the art: to cover that and be successful despite that.”

There might be a particular spotlight on the defensive midfield position. Medunjanin is out of contract, and while he had an outstanding season, he isn’t the kind of ball hawk the Union need — and he’ll be 35 in March.

“He has his qualities with the ball, that’s what we know; he has some flaws without the ball, that’s what we know as well,” Tanner said. “A holding midfielder needs to have the quality to protect the back four, and needs to have the quality to distribute and win balls. And that’s a profile, but it is, at the same time, not that easy to find that profile.”

Certainly not on a MLS team’s budget.

Looming over everything is the expiration of MLS’s collective bargaining agreement with the league’s players union. The labor side would like to eliminate Targeted Allocation Money, and generally simplify the league’s complex salary structure. But there’s a long way to go at the negotiating table. It won’t surprise anyone if talks go right up to the start of next season, and there may well be a strike.

Whatever changes do come, Tanner is confident he’ll be able to adapt to them.

“That’s not rocket mathematical science," he said.

Union players’ contract statuses

Out of contract: D Aurelien Collin; M’s Ilsinho, Haris Medunjanin, Jamiro Monteiro; F Fafa Picault

Guaranteed for 2020: GK’s Andre Blake, Matt Freese; D’s Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis, Kai Wagner; M’s Brenden Aaronson, Alejandro Bedoya, Cole Turner; F’s Jack de Vries, Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos, Andrew Wooten

Club holds options: GK Joe Bendik; D’s R.J. Allen, Fabinho, Olivier Mbaizo, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real, Auston Trusty; M’s Warren Creavalle, Marco Fabian, Anthony Fontana; F’s Cory Burke, Michee Ngalina