The Union formally cut ties with midfielders Marco Fabián and Haris Medunjanin on Wednesday, as well as defenders Fabinho and RJ Allen.
None of the moves are surprising, though the departures of Fabián and Medunjanin are still significant. The Union declined Fabián’s 2020 contract option, while Medunjanin was out of contract.
Fabián’s exit has been telegraphed since before the season ended, by his limited playing time and imperfect tactical fit. But his imprint here will not be soon forgotten. The Mexican playmaker was a genuine star, the kind the Union have rarely ever had.
While Fabián didn’t fulfill all of his potential here, he led the team in shots and ranked second in chances created per 90 minutes and total goals. The last of his scores was the biggest goal in Union history, delivering the team’s first ever playoff win.
The Union also didn’t capitalize on Fabián’s popularity as a Mexican national team regular. There was very little marketing to the region’s growing Mexican immigrant population, and those fans did not show up on their own. At most games, the only Mexican flag in the stands was the one that flew over the River End, in a collection of flags of Union players’ home nations.
Medunjanin, meanwhile, will turn 35 in March. While he has been a terrific passer and conductor at the base of the Union’s midfield, his lack of defensive bite was a significant issue. It was overcome for a while with help from other players, but that couldn’t last forever.
Nor could the player or the team expect him to repeat his iron man performance of this year, in which he played every minute of every game of the season.
Union sporting director Ernst Tanner did not shy away from any of that in a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening.
“There is a defensive part that a holding midfielder has to fulfill and if you look [at] our goals against, you will for sure see that we need to do something,” he said. The Union gave up 50 goals in the regular season and a further five in the playoffs.
“We want to change things here, and if we don’t do it now, we lose one year," Tanner said. Better, he added, to be “the one who is rather taking the decision earlier than later, and try to move in a new direction.”
He added that he is already shopping, and has a few potential signings lined up. All are much younger than Medunjanin, for good reason.
“For sure we will not sign a 32-year-old player, that’s definite,” Tanner said. “The market is very competitive in particular in this sector. We have a first option we are going for, we have a couple of other options we are going [for], but no option is older than 28.”
Medunjanin took a deep interest in teaching and mentoring the Union’s young players, including in the academy. His extraordinary life story — from being a child refugee in the Bosnian war to playing at the 2014 World Cup — is a lesson in and of itself. Medunjanin would make a great academy coach here, and there seemed to be mutual interest when the Union picked up his contract extension for 2019.
Tanner said Medunjanin still wants to play some more, and isn’t ready to go into coaching yet.
“He told us that he wants to play and he feels good,” Tanner said. “He’s looking at other clubs in MLS maybe, or going over to Europe.”
The Union picked up 2020 contract options on eight players: goalkeeper Joe Bendik; defenders Olivier Mbaizo, Mark McKenzie and Matt Real; midfielders Warren Creavalle and Anthony Fontana; and forwards Cory Burke (who is expected back next year) and Michee Ngalina.
Four players’ futures are still to be determined: defender Aurélien Collin, midfielders Ilsinho and Jamiro Monteiro, and forward Fafa Picault. Offers have been extended to all of them, allowing the Union to retain rights to sign them should they go abroad and return to MLS some day. Tanner declined to comment on their situations.