On pace to eclipse last year's club-record point total, the good times are rolling in Philadelphia. But, as is the case in this game, good feelings can be fleeting and runs of form a fragile bubble.
It's a vital summer for the Eastern Conference-leading Union.
The squad has proved its worth, despite Cory Burke's absence and Marco Fabian's bout with injuries. It's still a roster on the thinner side, though, and it's not much of a reach to say the team will need Fabian at his very best down the stretch and in the playoffs to stay ahead of charging foes like Atlanta United, NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls. Head coach Jim Curtin is also operating on the final year of a contract, for the second consecutive season.
“Jim is a fantastic coach, we are already talking to him [about a new contract,]" sporting director Ernst Tanner told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "If there is something new, we’ll tell. For sure, he’s our priority.”
Curtin isn't the only priority. Tanner, who is headed on a trip to Europe at the moment, added that the Union will 'very probably' make an addition or two to the squad this summer.
“We have something promising going on, to be honest, but it’s still not finalized," Tanner said. "We will say more once it’s done. It’s not that surprising that we need to have a few more players, we have a really small roster this season. The summer window is always a tight window, the budgets are limited. You cannot really do a lot.”
Tanner has very quickly gotten up to speed with the league. He has ingratiated himself well with the unique — and ever-evolving — set of rules and standards, despite spending his entire career around Germany and Austria. Approaching his one-year anniversary with Philly, having been appointed last August, the German is ecstatic with his new job.
“I was looking for an experience, and I must say I’ve really enjoyed it," Tanner said. "It’s something totally different regarding the rules and the environment, the different difficulties. It was a challenge I wanted to have, but, frankly, the football is the same. You face different challenges and that’s exactly what is the fun part of the game here. It’s different to what I knew before.”
With Philadelphia, he wants to build something special.
“The fun part is the sporting director role is a really powerful position, you can create a lot," Tanner said. "That’s what I wanted to have.”
For someone with such a strong track record in developing youth, Tanner wants the route from the academy to first team, via USL side Bethlehem Steel, to become more saturated with footsteps than before.
The Union are already one of the top clubs in MLS at promoting from within, with Auston Trusty and Brenden Aaronson earning key roles in the first team while Mark McKenzie is very much an important member of the squad.
“Developing players, transitioning from youth to the second team to the first team, has to improve," Tanner said. "That’s what we did very well at Salzburg, I would like to have that in a similar way as soon as possible here.”
That trio of youngsters are intriguing prospects in the league and Tanner added that "I know that clubs are watching them for sure, but there are no offers on the table."
Another change he wanted to implement is well underway.
The Union, after relying on intricate possession and patient build-up in 2018 en route to a club record point total, have switched to a high tempo, high pressing system. Make no mistake, they can still pass the ball with the best in the league, but the impetus is on winning the ball higher up the field.
“I must say that I’m absolutely happy with what the coaches have done so far," Tanner said. "Our spectatorship is happy about the football we play so far. The atmosphere in stadium, we have sold out stadiums with a brilliant and enthusiastic crowd because the product on the field is really interesting and attractive. People are approaching me for what the team is playing now and the coaches set in place everything I was expecting from them.”