Union sporting director Ernst Tanner knows he has attacking holes to fill

CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union made a slew of moves Monday, announcing the core players (and the head coach) that will be returning in 2019 and some of the ones who won’t be on the roster.

But for at least one standout, the future remains iffy as Borek Dockal’s MLS tenure may be over after just one year.

Dockal — a Czech playmaker who won this year’s MLS assist crown with 18 helpers — is out of contract following the expiration of his loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye. And Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said that the fact that Henan Jianye was not relegated, combined with Dockal’s desire to eventually return to Europe, could make keeping him in Philly difficult.

“We don’t have it in our hands,” Tanner said during the club’s end-of-season press conference Monday. “We’re in touch with the agents, and there will be a possibility to bring him back, of course. But once again, it’s not in our hands. Borek told us about his situation and his wish to return to Europe. That’s also something we need to take into account and respect.”

If the Union can’t keep Dockal, they’ll have a big need at the No. 10 position, with Homegrowns Anthony Fontana and Brenden Aaronson likely needing more time to develop.

Is that the spot the Union will throw much of their available resources behind as they did last year when they made Dockal the highest-paid player in club history?

“The No. 10 position is for sure something that we are looking at,” Tanner said, “because we do not know what will happen and we cannot be that blue-eyed that we stand there by the end of January or the beginning of February and we do not have Borek so we need to have replacements.”

Tanner could also potentially see if the Union can acquire a big-money striker, something the team has rarely done in the past. But the sporting director said he liked the goalscoring production of Cory Burke and Fafa Picault, each of whom scored 10 goals last season, adding that he sees Picault “more as a striker than as a winger” and that Picault told them that he “wants to play more inside anyway.”

“But we are looking for … someone a little better in hold-up play in order to be more flexible in our playing,” Tanner said. “But that is not the only position.”

Indeed, Tanner has a lot of scouting plans with trips scheduled to South America, Europe and Africa as he looks to fill out a roster that already includes, among others, veteran midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin, goalkeeper Andre Blake, and a pair of rising center back stars in Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie “that is giving us a lot of hope for the future.”

“We are going to scout now,” Tanner said. “The big season is obviously going to start.

“In a way, it is time to change some things in order to take the next step,” he added of finding players to fit a new style. “That has also something to do with more tactical flexibility. I want to see a little more dynamics in our game, playing a little bit more aggressive and with more compactness and make use out of transitions and vertical play. … We need to make it a little bit more inconvenient to play us.”


Stay connected: Sign up for The Daily Kickoff, your daily dose of North American soccer news, analysis, and commentary direct to your inbox.