NO.10 STARTING SPOT UP FOR GRABS IN PHILADELPHIA
When the 2017 season ended, Philadelphia Union had a set of priorities to address and top of that list was signing a new Number 10. Last month at the MLS Superdraft director Earnie Stewart confirmed it remained a position of need, despite bolstering their wingers with a trade for David Accam.
With less than a month to go before the curtain rises on the 2018 MLS season, Union have yet to acquire someone for that spot. Head coach Jim Curtin has played down the signing of a big name and began focusing on creating an intra-squad battle for the Number 10 spot. Flashy Brazilian Ilsinho, 23-year-old Adam Najem and 18-year-old Homegrown talent Anthony Fontana are in the mix.
“They’re all at different points in their careers, different points in their growth as players,” the Union coach said in a conference call with reporters. “You talk about Ilsinho, who’s been a wide player his whole life and maybe was unfairly forced in there last year but who rose to the occasion and produced some really good moments. And Adam Najem has done excellent this preseason. He’s gotten the bulk of the reps and has impressed.”
A former New York Red Bulls academy player and University of Akron star, Najem is a promising young playmaker. But having only played 153 minutes last season, he’s still unproven.
And while Ilsinho did have some flashes of brilliance after moving over from the wing last season, he also had games in which he mostly disappeared. At the end of the season, the 32-year-old Brazilian had his option declined, before being offered a new contract.
“There’s a fitness element with anyone who might come in, getting used to the demands of the league, the travel, all those different things,” Curtin said. “Obviously the guys here are putting in a ton of work and will naturally be ahead of anyone coming in from the outside. … I would say the later it gets, the more likely it is that we’re gonna go with the guys who are here and performing on the field. We still have to choose which one that is. The games coming up will tell us a lot.”
Curtin said last week that it “remains to be seen” whether a new No. 10 might arrive this preseason or perhaps in the summer transfer window. But either way, the club is being especially careful with who they might sign.
“Obviously it’s difficult throughout the world to sign players,” the Union coach said. “A lot has to go right for it to shake out and be a fit for the club. A wide variety of variables go into it. It has to make sense – the timing, the money, the player, their skillset. All those things weigh in. And again, we’re happy with the guys we have at camp right now.”
Sadly for Union fans, Rundown can envisage Curtin sticking with what he has for the start of the campaign.
CHICAGO WON’T SAY NO TO ONE EITHER
Chicago Fire president and GM Nelson Rodriguez have been speaking to MLSsoccer.com, revealing that the club, who acquired Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Katai on loan from Spanish club Alaves on Tuesday, are still looking for a No. 10 to help fill out an attack left somewhat thin by the draft day trade of winger David Accam to Philadelphia and the torn ACL that Michael de Leeuw suffered last fall.
“We would still like to find a more classic 10, a more classic attacking midfielder who can find pockets in between the lines, who can play and break lines with good final balls and who can also help dictate rhythm,” Rodriguez said over the phone. “[We’d like someone who] knows when to slow the game down and when it’s available to accelerate it, accelerate it. That is still a skill set that we seek.”
The Fire were reportedly after just that type of player earlier this offseason, with numerous reports linking the club to Colombian international Juan Quintero. The president of Independiente Medellin, where Quintero played on loan last year, even went as far to say that the 25-year-old was preparing to move to the US. An MLS move fell through, however, with Argentina’s River Plate swooping in to acquire Quintero on loan in late January.
“We don’t discuss players who are under contract to another team,” Rodriguez said when asked about Quintero, who Chicago were linked to as far back as last summer. “We have made pursuit of a few different players this offseason, made offers for a few different players this offseason. In the end, what I feel good about is the process by which we have evaluated players and I feel good that we’ve remained disciplined in our approach and have not reacted to anything other than what our valuations are.”
That process led them to Katai. The 26-year-old, who a club spokesperson said is on loan until July 31st (at which point Chicago will have an option to buy), primarily lines up as a right winger, but can play on the left and in the middle, as well. Rodriguez said he’ll add some diversity to how the Fire can attack in 2018, something both he and head coach Veljko Paunovic cited at the draft as part of their motivation for trading Accam.
“We think he is different than the attacking players we have currently,” Rodriguez said. “He has a little bit of a different skill-set, he has an ability to beat defenders off the dribble, he has a very good shot from distance, he serves a good ball right footed or left footed, he’s a good set piece taker and we also think he has some versatility in that we think he could play three of our front four spots. I wouldn’t say he’s a classic No. 10, but I would say he could playmake a bit. And so we like his technical ability, we like his mentality, his desire to get at goal and we look forward to trying to integrate him with our other pieces.”
The Fire do have some money to play with after shedding Accam’s substantial salary and landing a total of $1.2 million in Targeted and General Allocation Money from the Union for the Ghanaian. Rodriguez said they’ll look to use that on another goalkeeper, another centre back and another central midfielder in addition to a potential new No. 10.
He also mentioned that it’s possible Juninho could return to Toyota Park in 2018. The former LA Galaxy midfielder was acquired on a season-long loan from Tijuana last winter, but fell behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty on the depth chart and only started 17 regular season matches. Fire didn’t exercise their option to buy him from Xolos after the season, but Rodriguez said he’s remained in touch with his representatives throughout the offseason.
It remains to be seen just who they’ll target, but Rundown is a lot more confident Katai won’t be the last addition Chicago will try to make this winter than in the Union’s quest.
“At the draft, I had mentioned that we were still looking to add two or three parts – [Katai] is one,” Rodriguez said. “There’s still at least two other pieces that we’re trying to secure and acquire and then the budget will determine how much more beyond that we’ll be able to add.”
WILLIS IS BACK IN HOUSTON
Houston Dynamo have re-signed goalkeeper Joe Willis, adding a second goalkeeper to their 2018 squad following the signing of free agent Chris Seitz earlier this winter.
Willis, 29, started eight regular-season games for Houston in 2017, recording clean sheets in two of them. He also started the final three games of La Naranja’s unexpected run in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, stepping in for Tyler Deric after the Dynamo Homegrown was suspended by MLS following his arrest on Oct. 31 for a misdemeanour assault charge in connection with an alleged domestic incident.
“We are pleased that Joe Willis will be returning to the Dynamo for the 2018 season. He brings a reliable and steady presence to our group on the field and in the locker room,” said Dynamo VP and general manager Matt Jordan in a club statement. “With this signing we are confident that we’ve strengthened our team in the goalkeeping position to create a highly competitive environment.”
A cult hero in some quarters thanks to a social-media meme earlier in his career, Willis has made 37 regular-season appearances since joining the Dynamo from D.C. United in December 2014. The St. Louis native was named the Dynamo Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, posting a career high of 89 saves that season. Willis also recorded his first career assist that year, becoming the second goalkeeper in Dynamo history to do so. With this re-signing, Houston now have 24 players under contract for the 2018 season.
JAMAICAN INTERNATIONAL ARRIVES IN D.C.
D.C. United have acquired Jamaican international defender Oniel Fisher from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for $50,000 in General Allocation Money, the clubs have announced.
Fisher has made 32 regular-season and playoff appearances across three MLS seasons since the Sounders selected him with the 40th overall pick of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. He featured in four of six matches last summer for the Jamaican national team during their run to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, and holds 14 international caps to date.
He joins Reggae Boyz teammate Darren Mattocks in D.C., like Mattocks, Fisher has a US Green Card and thus won’t count toward an allotted international roster slot.
“Oniel is a versatile defender who has proven that he can compete to be a starter in this league,” said United general manager Dave Kasper in a club statement. “His speed and ability to get forward in the attack, along with his sound defensive ability, provides us with a solid option at either outside back positions. We look forward to integrating Oniel into the team immediately.”
Fisher’s signing addresses United’s need for depth at the fullback slots. Of the players in the Black-and-Red’s current squad, only Nick DeLeon and Taylor Kemp are regulars in those spots. Paul Arriola and Chris Durkin could also figure into wide defensive roles, as could Chris Odoi-Atsem, who is on trial after not having his contract renewed following the 2017 season.
REAL SALE LAKE ENGINE ROOM ENHANCED
Real Salt Lake added a potentially key piece to their engine room this week, announcing the signing of Croatian central midfielder Damir Kreilach via the use of Targeted Allocation Money.
Kreilach, 28, joins RSL from Union Berlin of Germany’s 2. Bundesliga, where he scored 33 goals in 147 matches over the past five seasons and became a fan favourite.
“We’re really excited about bringing Damir in. He’s got a ton of experience and challenges our depth immediately,” said RSL general manager Craig Waibel in a club statement. “He brings talent. He brings leadership – he was the co-captain at Union Berlin. He’s a good person. He’s going to be a good fit in our locker room.”
According to Union’s website, the German club released Kreilach from his contract, which ran until summer 2019, at his request as he pursued a “dream” move to MLS. He made his final match appearance for Union on Monday night, playing 71 minutes in a 1-1 draw against Arminia Bielefeld.
“I’ve played for two clubs in my 10 professional years so far, [Croatian side HNK] Rijeka and Union. Now I have the chance to make a dream come true and to go to America with my family,” said Kreilach, a former Croatian youth international. “That is why I am very grateful to Union for allowing me to take advantage of this opportunity. I know that’s not a matter of course.”
He will occupy an international slot on Salt Lake’s roster and will join the club in preseason, pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and visa.
Any Other Business…
Both New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City have released new 2018 away kits. New York City’s new away kit is a predominantly grey design inspired by the “grit and attitude” of the concrete jungle that the club calls home and uses the tagline ‘Everywhere We Go’ while Kansas offer an evolution to the designs of previous years with a black shirt featuring metallic silver lettering… the MLS transfer window is now officially open with it remaining as such until 11:59 pm ET on May 1st.