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New Philadelphia striker ‘maybe’ coming before Christmas

Ernst Tanner’s previous December signings — Sergio Santos and Jose Martinez — have worked out pretty well

Matt Ralph

December international signings haven’t typically been a feature of offseason roster building for the Philadelphia Union, but Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has done well with the two moves he has finalized in the last month of the year.

Forward Sergio Santos was signed December 14, 2018 and despite the frustration with injuries that seem to come up at the worst of times for the Brazilian he’s scored 18 goals and dished 4 assists in league play while stretching defenses with his pace.

Midfielder Jose Andres Martinez was signed on Christmas Eve Eve December 23, 2019 and despite being tagged as a “project” from Tanner has worked out so well there’s reason to be concerned that he might not be back in 2022. He’s been a regular in the Venezuela lineup this season and played one of his best games in a Union uniform in the Eastern Conference final against New York City FC.

After not signing a player from the international market in December 2020, Tanner dropped a big hint on Thursday in a Zoom call with media members of a possible signing before the end of 2021.

“First and foremost time never stands still and we are always on the search for the best possible player we can get,” Tanner said. “And formerly I mentioned that we are going to sign a striker. Maybe we even can announce something soon. So we are we are not under pressure anyway as we are having a good team, like I said before, and we have all the time but at the same time it’s always good if you start the preseason with the players available and you can work with them.”

It feels like it wouldn’t be a Union offseason if the transfer talk wasn’t centered around a No. 9, a No. 10 or both but the fact that the current striking core still has combined for just one playoff goal (Cory Burke against the Red Bull in 2018) after the team made it to within one win of playing for an MLS Cup this season has understandably added to the striker chatter.

Kacper Przybylko has only Sebastian Le Toux now to beat to become the team’s all-time leading scorer but injuries to Santos and Burke left the veteran on an island too often in the stretch run and the depth the Union had at the position was tested throughout the season with injuries to Santos and international duty and injuries woes for Burke. Matheus Davo was brought in on loan to see if he could provide some cover there but ended up only seeing the field once. He recently to the surprise of no one had his purchase option declined and appears to be going out on another loan adventure.

“First and foremost we have an entire roster and a competitive one if we don’t lose somebody,” Tanner said. “But at the same time as Jimmy (Curtin) just said, we are always looking out to improve and, as we are standing with three strikers now, we might for sure get one or even two in order to enhance our competitiveness and get better.”

The Union roster for 2022 currently has 25 players, which includes Jack de Vries and Matej Oravec, who are both out on loan through summer 2022.