While much has been made of Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner’s disdain for the MLS SuperDraft, it’s not the only mechanism Tanner has ignored in the roster building process since taking over at the end of the 2018 season.
Just three players with MLS experience have been signed to the club: Joe Bendik, Aurelien Collin and R.J. Allen. They’ve logged a total of just 621 minutes for the Union (Allen didn’t feature in his four months with the club).
That’s 3 out of 24 new players who have been signed to the first team since late 2018. Another 10 players have signed new or extended contracts, none with any MLS experience outside of Philadelphia.
The team hasn’t announced whether new deals have been reached with Bendik and Collin, who are both out of contract. That leaves 24 players on the roster for 2021 who have collectively never played for another MLS team.
While Tanner hasn’t acquired players through the league’s draft, waiver and free agent processes, he’s done a fair amount of business with the league, trading draft picks, homegrown rights and players away for allocation money. In an odd case, he traded a draft pick to acquire rights to homegrown Nathan Harriel despite him never having played in Orlando City’s academy system. Earlier this year he traded the homegrown rights for Kalil ElMedkhar to FC Dallas and to LAFC for Tomas Romero for allocation money ($50,000 in each case).
Tanner has also dealt for international roster spots, something he may need to do for Stuart Findlay, the Scottish center back who is reportedly set to become the team’s first offseason signing. All eight of the Union’s international spots are currently occupied.
Last season, the Union had three players on their roster with previous MLS experience on other teams: Collin, Bendik and Warren Creavalle. Only FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes with two players each had less. Minnesota United and Nashville SC led the league in that stat with 16 players each.
Even though the Union has become one of the least likely to import talent from within the league under Tanner, they have become a major exporter.
Nine players that were on the roster when Tanner took over are still playing in MLS for other teams. Those players include C.J. Sapong and David Accam (Nashville SC), Fafa Picault and Derrick Jones (Houston Dynamo), Keegan Rosenberry and Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids), Fabian Herbers (Chicago Fire), Haris Medunjanin (FC Cincinnati) and John McCarthy (Inter Miami). The Union received assets for seven of the nine players who have landed on other MLS teams since the end of 2018. Medunjanin and McCarthy left after their contracts expired.
Former Union players Brad Knighton (New England Revolution), Chris Seitz (DC United), Zac MacMath (Real Salt Lake) Jordan Harvey (LAFC) and Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes) are all under contract with MLS teams for 2021. That means there will be at least 14 former Union players suiting up for MLS teams in 2021.
With roster spots left to fill and a congested schedule ahead with the season starting late and the Union in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time, the addition of an MLS veteran might still be in the cards for this season. If it happens though, it will be a rare exception.