Union sporting director Ernst Tanner and manager Jim Curtin held their end-of-season news conference on Thursday. Here’s a look at the key talking points.
The star midfielder wanted to leave this summer because his wife and children could not return to the United States from their home in the Netherlands while the border was closed because of the pandemic. The Union were able to secure them temporary visas when the border reopened in November, but a longer-term solution is desired.
Tanner: “It’s not that easy, as everybody knows. We brought her over on an ESTA [short term visa] for the last couple of months and that was a good situation, but we need to get her a long-term visa. Which is pretty demanding, as the embassies still are not really open and [are] doing only emergencies.”
The cornerstone left back had offers from European teams last winter, including the English Premier League’s West Ham United, and told Germany’s Kicker magazine that he wanted to return to Europe. Earlier this month, Wagner told Transfermarkt that he’d again like to move abroad, potentially to his native Germany.
Tanner: “I’m in touch with Kai in person, and with Jamiro as well, and foremost his agent. There is basically two clear situations: They are, first, contracted with us, and they are expected to come back — the one for the season start and the other one after the African Cup [of Nations, which runs Jan. 9-Feb. 6]. ...”
“The market over in Europe is, in this moment, like, bad — there is not much movement. I’m pretty relaxed as of now, but at the same time alerted and prepared if somebody is going. And we will definitely replace him.”
Anthony Fontana and Matt Real
The two academy products’ contracts are up. The Union have made them both offers of new deals, but the details aren’t known. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that both players’ futures lie elsewhere — especially Real if Wagner stays. Academy product Anton Sorenson is likely to give further competition at left back next year, and the Union don’t need three players at the position.
Curtin: “The door is still not closed on those two players. They’re very talented players that have had a taste of being an MLS starter, and have done well with it. The question in every development is, now how do they come back next year? ...
“Whether it’s with us whether it’s with another club, those are still guys that are part of the Union family, and they’ve had incredible careers and development here. And you forget how young they still are. It’s just the beginning of their careers, really. I know it feels like they’ve been here for five, 10 years, and they have been here a while. But still, they’re just getting started in their careers. And we will help navigate, talk with them, as they either stick around here or move on to another club.”
Since we’re on this subject, let’s stay on it. The Union were reportedly on the verge of signing the 18-year-old to an MLS contract in August, but it was never formalized. Sorenson’s first taste of first-team life came in the Eastern Conference final, when he was a hardship call-up and was on the bench — and Real wasn’t.
Tanner: “Sorenson is in the squad next year on a first-team contract.”
Curtin: “He plays a position in left back that is, Ernst will tell you, one of the hardest to find in the world. It’s a tough skill set, it’s a unique skill set that he has. When you talk about talent and engine to get up and down, he certainly has that. What we’ll work with, with Anton, is is doing it every day — what does it really mean to be a professional. Because once you get to this level, your talent only gets you so far. And he has talent, no question. If you made a checklist of qualities of a left back, they’re all there.”
The Union picked up his contract option for 2022, but that will be his only option season. After giving Jakob Glesnes, Andre Blake, and Wagner new contracts earlier this year, Elliott is deservedly next in line.
Tanner: “You have at least the right smell, and it’s clear that we are dealing with that. But let’s see what we can do, and what we announce soon.”
A new striker
It was obvious at the end of the season that the Union need to bolster their striker corps, both for top-end quality and overall depth. Tanner told The Inquirer earlier this month that he is working on just that.
Tanner: “As we are standing with three strikers now, we might for sure get one — or, better even, two, in order to enhance our competitiveness and get better. ... Maybe we even can announce something soon.”
A new assistant coach
In addition to shopping for players, the Union are shopping for a replacement for Pat Noonan, who left to become FC Cincinnati’s new manager.
Curtin: “Ernst’s phone has been ringing off the hook, my phone has been ringing off the hook. There’s tons of interest. A lot of coaches now want to be part of our environment. They want to learn our principles, our style, they want to be in our culture — which is a good thing. ...
We will certainly look internally. There’s obviously candidates internationally. There’s candidates in the league with league experience. There’s players and coaches I’ve worked with in the past. We’ll sit down, we’ll make a good decision. It’s not one you want to rush into, either, because we do have a little bit of time and we want to make the right decision, a smart decision.”
The youth academy
Which prospects are next to arrive is always a fun offseason topic. The question has a unique context this winter because the Union’s reserve team withdrew from the second-tier USL Championship while waiting for MLS to launch its new reserve league. The initial plan was for the league to launch this year, but the pandemic delayed the launch until next year.
Tanner: “I think that we had a good season with our second team having enough competitive games. We played a lot of USL teams, we played a lot of [MLS clubs’] second teams, and we did extraordinarily good. I think we only lost a couple of games. Next season will definitely be more competitive. And we will probably even need to sign a couple of players from external [places], as the competition is only allowing us to use five academy players on the same time on the field, which is a little bit of problem in my eyes.
But we will get that done, like always as well. ... There are a couple of guys [up] to sign probably soon. Maybe first of all for a second team contract, and then for the first team.”
A league source confirmed that Tanner’s reference to “academy players” is about players in the youth academy who haven’t signed pro contracts yet, whether at the reserve team or MLS level.