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Midfield questions remain after Martinez signing

Is Monteiro coming back? Will Jose Andres Martinez play the No. 6 or No. 8? There’s still plenty of questions left to be answered about the Union’s midfield heading into the new year.

Zulia FC

News of the Philadelphia Union’s first off-season signing came somewhat unexpectedly on Monday with local sports fans still processing an Eagles win over the Cowboys and local schools already out for the holiday break.

The signing — 25-year-old José “el Brujo” Andrés Martínez — involved one of the few transfer rumors that have surfaced in the off-season so it didn’t come out of nowhere but as the news started to circulate it started to raise as many questions as it answered.

Is he a Haris Medunjanin or Jamiro Monteiro replacement? Or perhaps neither?

Since Sporting Director Ernst Tanner had talked about a player under the age of 28 as filling the very big shoes Medunjanin is leaving behind with his departure to FC Cincinnati, Martínez would seem to be the new No. 6. He’s listed as a defensive midfielder but his highlight video shows his ability to get forward in the attack and his Transfermarkt profile also lists him as a right back.

The Union reportedly paid a $325,000 transfer fee to acquire the Venezuelan international from Zulia FC on a two-year deal with an option for a third year. He’ll occupy an international roster spot so the expectation would seemingly be that he’ll be groomed to be a starter. An article posted on the Philadelphia Union website on Monday seems to be tempering those expectations a bit though.

“Importantly, the Union are not counting on Martinez to walk into the starting lineup on day one,” the article reads. “Although, like Sergio Santos, the potential is there for The Wizard to become a locked in starter, Philly will continue to build the midfield over the next two months so Martinez has time to find his feet in a league that puts new players through a grind of a seven month season.”

The Union’s midfield for 2020 includes captain Alejandro Bedoya, homegrown attacking midfielders Brenden Aaronson and Anthony Fontana, holding midfielders Warren Creavalle and Cole Turner and wingers/forwards Jack de Vries and Michee Ngalina.

Ilsinho, who was used mostly off the bench as a winger in a 4-2-3-1 last season, has been offered a contract but his status hasn’t been announced for 2020. Ditto for Monteiro, who is the biggest unknown of all right now for 2020.

Not knowing if Monteiro is coming back or not still makes predicting the state of the Union midfield for next season a difficult exercise. He and Aaronson were used both in the No. 10 and No. 8 spots last season in the preferred 4-4-2 diamond, but Monteiro also has some of the qualities of a defensive midfielder with his tackling ability and passing range.

One of the only other rumors so far this off-season for the Union have centered around 22-year-old Czech Republic attacking midfielder Jan Vodhanel. If he is incoming, it’s not clear if he’d be a replacement for or an addition to Monteiro.

The success Monteiro had on loan last season from FC Metz along with the big impact of lesser known players Tanner has signed in Kacper Przybylko and Kai Wagner, there’s plenty of belief amidst the questions in year two of Tanner’s plan to retool and reshape the Union roster. Look for more news to that end to come to this space in the coming weeks.