The carnival of European soccer’s winter transfer deadline day came and went Thursday without the Union making any news. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t significantly affected.
Two of the biggest stars in MLS were sold abroad in the hours before the deadline. Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco went to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal for a reported transfer fee of $2 million to $3 million, and Atlanta United’s Miguel Almirón went to England’s Newcastle United for a league record $27.5 million.
Add those moves to other big deals in recent months — David Villa left New York City FC, Tyler Adams was sold by the New York Red Bulls, and Zack Steffen will leave the Columbus Crew in July — and there’s a notable impact. Not only is the league losing big names, but the Union’s rivals are losing serious firepower.
That gives the Union an opening to make a move up the standings as Ernst Tanner builds the roster in his first offseason as sporting director. The Union host Toronto on opening day and visit Atlanta in Week 3. Atlanta is also adjusting to a new manager in Frank de Boer, and a new star in $14 million playmaker Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez.
Union manager Jim Curtin was as captivated as everyone else around MLS by the frenzy of news and rumors. But while it’s no secret that the Union are shopping for a left back and a central midfielder, Curtin didn’t have much fodder for the rumor mill.
“You guys have heard us talk about some targets and needs that we have,” he said. “That’s something we’re working towards. … There’s definitely progress. I would say we’d call it forward momentum, for sure, on a couple of things. … Hopefully, we can add a piece or two here down the stretch."
It’s important to note that MLS has a different transfer window from European leagues, because it plays through the summer. MLS' window opens on Feb. 13. Teams can negotiate deals before then, but players can’t officially sign until that date.
As for the Union’s current players, they beat the New York Red Bulls, 3-2, on Wednesday in a scrimmage in Clearwater, Fla., with liberal substitutions. Cory Burke, Fafa Picault, and Anthony Fontana scored.
More important, the team set up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation after years of adherence to a 4-3-3. That was a significant change, and there may be more tactical changes coming.
“We’re going to try a lot of things in this preseason. We will vary our formation. … We’ve tried different pairings in training and we’ll continue to do that,” Curtin said. “I gave you a lot of information and no leads on who’s winning, because it’s only a week-and-a-half into preseason.”
The Union announced their TV schedule for the 2019 season.
For the second straight year, most games — 28 of 34 regular-season contests — will air on PHL17. Three games, including the season opener and regular-season finale, will air on 6ABC. Two will air on Live Well Network, a backup channel owned by 6ABC that is available over the air and on local cable systems. (Both of those games are late-night kickoffs out west.)
Just one game is set for national TV: Aug. 4 at D.C. United on Fox Sports 1. That was announced a few weeks ago. That could change, though, as the last three weeks of the season are subject to flex scheduling for Fox and ESPN.