2018 preseason - Adam Najem - Philadelphia Union
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While Union search for No. 10, keys could be handed to Adam Najem, Ilsinho

When the Philadelphia Union laid out their offseason priorities at the end of a disappointing 2017 campaign, signing a new No. 10 was at the top of the list.

Sporting director Earnie Stewart confirmed it remained a position of need at last month’s MLS SuperDraft after the Union bolstered their wing corps with a trade for David Accam.

But with less than a month to go before the 2018 MLS regular season kicks off, the Union have yet to acquire someone for that spot, while head coach Jim Curtin has hedged in recent weeks as to if and when the big signing that every Union fan has been waiting for might come.

Instead, he’s focusing on creating a fair and open preseason battle for the starting No. 10 spot with the players who are in camp — mainly the flashy Brazilian Ilsinho and the 23-year-old up-and-comer Adam Najem.

Anthony Fontana, an 18-year-old who was signed to a Homegrown deal last summer, is also in the mix for a spot that Curtin said is “up for grabs.”

“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 Wednesday. “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.

And yet, even if the Union do acquire someone else, it’s very likely at this point that one of those two players will be the starting No. 10 when Philly open the season vs. New England on March 3.

“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.”


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