While the Union continued negotiations to sign Mexican star Marco Fabián, another deal got over the finish line.
Kai Wagner, a 21-year-old German left back, is the team’s newest signing. He comes from German third-division team Würzburger Kickers, and the Union paid a transfer fee to acquire him, though both clubs agreed to not say how big it was.
“Kai is a very physical player, very aggressive, can really cover a lot of ground, and is quite speedy,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said. “In addition, he is technically very well with his left foot, and also is good in set pieces. ... He can cross the ball out of a speedy run, and he has improved really well in defending one-on-one.”
Wagner’s resume isn’t much. He played for Schalke 04′s reserve team in the 2016-17 season, and has been at Würzburg since then. Fans might raise some eyebrows at the lack of pedigree. But Wagner had suitors at higher levels, Tanner said, including Germany’s second division. There was also another MLS team interested, though he didn’t say which.
“Kai is one of the targets we really were going for," Tanner said. “The third league in Germany is a professional league, and don’t underestimate the level there. In terms of physicality, it is comparable to what we see in MLS. It is for sure a higher level than the USL. If a young player is outstanding there, he can compete on a higher level for sure.”
Before you line up your hot takes, note that Tanner said physicality, not talent. The more interesting part is the USL comparison. More people might agree with that.
Tanner said Wagner is “for sure a prospect,” which means he won’t block the progress of Matt Real. The Drexel Hill-born academy product remains at the top of the depth chart — or at least, the ranking of whom the Union would like to earn the starting job.
So a signing from a league that’s better than the USL is coming to MLS to be a bench player. That makes sense.
And Wagner should get his share of playing time, because Real is expected to go to the Under-20 World Cup with the United States in May and June. Tanner has said since December that he wanted to sign someone to fill in, and he reiterated the need Wednesday.
“We have that problem," Tanner said. “It’s an agreeable problem."
When Wagner got wind of the Union’s interest, he didn’t need much convincing to try an adventure in America.
“I was really happy to hear that the Philadelphia Union want to have me," he said. "It’s a new project for me, a new big step to play in MLS. ... I didn’t have to think so long about it. When my agent told me that they wanted me, I said to him I will go.”
As for the Fabián talks, Tanner could have dodged the subject if he wanted. But he addressed the matter before anyone needed to ask, and said all he needed to say.
“It’s true, the rumors about Marco Fabian, that we are in touch with him and in negotiations, but we cannot say more at the moment," he said. “It is not finished. We will come out when we have more news with that.”