Improvement year-over-year is rarely as linear as the Philadelphia Union's over the last handful of years. Now they're focused on maintaining their 2020 status of elite clubs in MLS.
Despite losing Best XI midfielder Brenden Aaronson to RB Salzburg this winter, and plenty of noise surrounding the future of Mark McKenzie and Kai Wagner, the Union feel they're better placed than ever before to stay near the top.
“Ernst Tanner and Chris Albright, the best in MLS at building a roster and setting us up for the offseason," Jim Curtin told media on a virtual press conference Wednesday. "The work never stops with them. They’ve set us up to be the most stable and strongest in terms of roster and allocation than we’ve ever been.”
Tanner was reluctant to reveal too many details of the club's offseason goals, but with Aaronson outgoing plus the club's roster decisions announced Wednesday, some deductive reasoning revealed a few obvious answers.
Aaronson started every single game the Union played in 2020, leaving plenty of minutes to be replaced. While Anthony Fontana is expected to play a bigger role in 2021, and perhaps Aaronson's 17-year-old brother Paxten who plays the same position, but expect an external acquisition.
“We need to have an addition on the roster on that position," Tanner said. "When you talk about Paxten, you need to remember he’s even one year younger than Brenden when he (signed). We’ll probably bring in a No. 10, but at the same time, Anthony can do various jobs. We used him as an No. 8, No. 10 and he can play second striker. He really stepped up and he’ll get his chance.”
Another likely place for additions is at center forward.
The Union signed Cory Burke to a contract extension but declined the contract option on Andrew Wooten. Burke, Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos are now the club's three senior forwards under contract. For a team that plays primarily in a 4-4-2 tight diamond, three forwards won't be enough for a busy season.
“For sure, we were not sleeping in the last few months," Tanner said. "We have a few candidates, we have priorities. With transfers, it’s not that easy. You have three parties you need to agree, but we will do something. You can be sure. We’ll do something in almost every part of the roster. There’s more to come.”
There'll be plenty more to come if McKenzie and Wagner leave as has been reported.
McKenzie has been linked with Celtic and has plenty of interest, while Wagner has been linked with a move to the Premier League or Bundesliga. No move is imminent for either player, but like with all positions on the roster, the Union are being proactive so they'll be ready to replace each key player should a transfer materialize.
“Look, at this moment there is nothing on the table," Tanner said. "But we are not blind, we can’t wait until something comes, we’ll do our homework and always look for replacements.”