Philadelphia Union see key roles for Medunjanin, Onyewu both on, off field

Haris Medunjanin - Bosnia and Herzegovina - celebrates

Haris Medunjanin has yet to arrive at preseason camp after signing with the Philadelphia Union earlier this week. But as soon as he does, head coach Jim Curtin fully expects the Bosnian midfielder to immediately fill an important role as a leader on the club and a string-pulling playmaker.

“Haris is a guy who can get on the ball with pressure, with a guy on his back,” Curtin said during a conference call with reporters on Friday. “He can kind of slow the game down. He has really good feet, but also his ability to connect your back four to attackers is incredible. The 40-yard balls on the ground he plays in between the lines are important and something we think we need. We want to be a team that has the ball and tries to dictate possession.”

The Union were missing a box-to-box possession player in the central midfield for much of the 2016 campaign after Vincent Nogueira’s sudden midseason departure due to personal health reasons. Curtin said that Medunjanin can fill the No. 8 role that Nogueira mostly occupied in the coach’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Or whenever captain Maurice Edu returns from injury — Curtin says it’s up in the air if he’ll be back in time for the start of the regular season — Medunjanin can also play as a No. 6 with Edu and Alejandro Bedoya possibly in front of him.

“He’s comfortable doing both; we’ve had talks with him about that,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who can see a path, has experience and can read the game. And he’s a sneaky 6-foot-2 — a bigger body and presence in there.”

On top of his size and vision, Medunjanin’s pedigree was also a big reason why Union sporting director Earnie Stewart pulled the trigger on the move. Both Medunjanin and Oguchi Onyewuwho was signed by the Union a day before Medunjanin, are over 30 with experience in the World Cup and top European leagues.

Onyewu — who’s been playing at a level “above and beyond” what Curtin expected so far in camp — has been trying to pass on those experiences to the team’s younger players. That may include Fafa Picault, a speedy left winger who signed with Philadelphia Thursday and arrived at camp in Florida a day later.

“He puts his arm around the academy kids; every meal we have as a team he sits with a different group,” Curtin said of Onyewu, who will be competing for a starting center back job with youngsters like Joshua Yaro. “I think he speaks every language there is. He fits in with everybody.”

Curtin expects to see the same from Medunjanin, who made two appearances for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 2014 World Cup, once the player's visa has been finalized and he joins his new teammates in Florida.

“Playing at the level he has with big clubs all over the world, he’s another guy who gives our guys a story to tell, who can put his arm around guys and show them the ropes,” the Union coach said. “We do still have a young core of guys. I think we need the mix of veteran leadership and young eagerness and fearlessness that we have.”