On Tuesday night, Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner and President Tim McDermott spoke with fans in a virtual Town Hall, addressing concerns about the team and speaking about how they and the rest of the Union are looking ahead to the 2021 season and beyond.
Tanner and McDermott were able to cover topics ranging from player signings, stadium news, Covid-19 restrictions, and future sponsorships as Union fans looked to the next leg of Concacaf competition and the MLS regular season. Tanner described the efforts the Union is making to obtain new signings, especially the team’s struggles with green cards.
“The roster composition this year is really difficult. And that is mainly out of the fact that we have not seen one single green card,” he said. “Since more than a year, and there are at least three players out just waiting for an appointment and could pick it up, and two others are in the next phase which is very likely that they get it too. So, that overshadows in a way our roster composition.”
However, despite the Union’s green card troubles, Tanner believes that he has a strong roster.
“I would say we have a competitive roster. We have every position covered, but we are still looking for offensive forces, So, we might need to add another striker, we might need to add another midfielder, and then we are good, even in the depth,” he said.
Later in the call, Tanner added that he expects a new signing to come to Philadelphia in the near future.
“We covered at least two players at every spot. We have a little bit of that problem in some spots but we talked about this before, and we will fix it. We are going to get a player, very soon,” he said.
Tanner also addressed concerns about what the Union would do with the money obtained over the summer from the Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie transfers, which he noted would largely flow back into the Academy.
“I see that money coming in as a refund for the long term investment and you need to do it when you want to develop young players,” Tanner said. “I think, thanks to the club, and in particular the Graham family, we have a really good program with a huge reputation there.”
While Tanner is open to putting some of the new transfer money into signing players from outside the club, he doesn’t want the Union to divert from the process that developed players like Aaronson and McKenzie.
“We will use some of the money of course for player acquisitions, requisitions, but we should stay with our philosophy, and keep our concept and our key pillars in place, and we basically are based on team play and we want to have team players,” he continued.
According to McDermott, the Union has been pushing the next stages of their long term plan to build up the campus surrounding the Subaru Park, and in the City of Chester.
“Over the last two years we’ve been acquiring land around our campus and at the same time, we went through a master planning process with an architectural firm,” McDermott said. “That plan has been published, it’s been communicated. It’s a vision, it’s a 30-year vision. But in the meantime what we’re trying to do now is the next steps. We’ve engaged a consulting firm to evaluate a sports Plex, an indoor/outdoor concept that could be on our facility. And so we have to determine, you know, what that looks like, how many fields would that look like. Obviously lighting and parking and a whole bunch of things but the bottom line to it is to really start to transform the campus into something that is truly special.”
As that happens outside the stadium at 1 Stadium Drive, McDermott is also concerned with what happens inside Subaru Park for the 2021 season, as the team looks to fill up seats while also meeting guidelines.
“The state guidance changed a few weeks ago, that we could have in an outdoor environment 50% capacity,” he said. “However, it also needed to be at six feet distancing. I’ll admit it’s been a little frustrating because quite frankly you cannot put 50% people into a stadium and keep six feet of distance. It’s physically impossible.”
However, McDermott also acknowledged that the team has been working closely with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to see what the Union can do to get fans in the stadium.
“I think we’re getting to a point where we’re openly asking the state, how do we open up more, how do we get going, how can we have three feet of distancing in schools now, but we can’t in an outdoor stadium?” he said.
McDermott also hinted at a nearing connection between the Union and sponsor Subaru, which he says will be the first of its type in Major League Soccer.
“Subaru has a series of love promises and as we get to know them and they know us, we felt that there was a really good kind of marriage between our companies and some of the things that they stand for and we stand for. And one of those is loving the earth. And so you will see, like I said about two days from now, some announcements that are first of kind announcements, first in the MLS announcements of what we’re going to be doing with Subaru,” he said.
While McDermott didn’t disclose the full details of the partnership, he did mention that a large part would be based around waste at Subaru Park.
“I will tell you that a big significant part of what they announced we’re going to be doing together will be around our recycling, and how we are handling waste in our stadium.”
As the team prepared for its second bout against Saprissa Deportivo in the Champions League Wednesday night, McDermott showed optimism, asking the fans present to give the Union a true home field advantage.
“For the 5,000 people that are going to be there, it’ll be loud. Make it sound like it’s 50,000,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that being a little loud and trying to create the best of the home field advantage is a good thing for tomorrow.”
The Union will be making a recording of the event available soon on PhiladelphiaUnion.com.