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Monteiro’s departure is a significant loss but does bring opportunity for young midfielders

Leon Flach and Jack McGlynn will have more opportunities to start than they would’ve otherwise with Monteiro off to San Jose

Carl Gulbish

Based on the praise head coach Jim Curtin has not been shy about regarding his now former star midfielder Jamiro Monteiro it’s not surprising that he opened his press conference on Wednesday with more to say on the recently departed designated player.

“First and foremost I want to thank him for the years that he gave the Philadelphia Union,” Curtin said. “Three of the best years certainly in our club’s history, a player that you guys have heard me speak about and gush about in every press conference, just how talented and special he is, among the top players I’ve ever worked with in my short coaching career.”

Since the news broke over the weekend of the move of Monteiro to the San Jose Earthquakes — for up to $450,000 in general allocation money and an international spot — a narrative has taken hold suggesting he was moved specifically to make room for younger players.

And while that version of the story probably gets eyeballs, the reality of the situation was that Monteiro has been on his way out since last season when he very publicly left the club. A transfer never materialized and he returned to the team to help lead them to the Eastern Conference final but the assumption all along has been that Miro would not be back for 2022.

With the European transfer market closing while he was still away with Cape Verde at the Africa Cup of Nations, it started to look like maybe he would be back, after all. But even when talk of the Union having three designated players for the first time when Mikael Uhre was signed it still felt in real time like a “for now” situation.

Monteiro was going into the last year of his contract (with a club option for 2023) and was unhappy enough to want a transfer last season so keeping him would mean reducing the possible return on a transfer/trade and the most expensive player acquisition pre-Uhre walking for even less return. Yes, there were issues with him being able to see his family because of Covid travel restricts that no doubt contributed to his unhappiness in Philadelphia but there are also reports of a locker room blowout that led to his initial temporary departure. The team and player were able to smooth things over but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the loss to NYCFC was his final appearance for the club.

“There’s a wide variety of factors, variables on the field, family, you know whatever it might be, there’s a million different things that go on,” Curtin said. “And certainly the players that you have in your roster can dictate things as well.”

Going into the offseason it was clear the Union needed to rethink the striker position and they did that with a big investment in acquiring Uhre and what is looking to be a savvy move to get Julian Carranza on a season-long loan. This shifting of funds toward the forwards is clearly a sign of their confidence in the depth they already have in midfield but to say that Monteiro was sold at a bargain rate because of Leon Flach or Jack McGlynn or even Paxten Aaronson doesn’t completely add up.

“You don’t just need four good midfielders,” Curtin said. “You need I would say six to seven at least. So we have decent depth but certainly when you lose a player of Jamiro’s quality we’re not better... that doesn’t make us better.”

The biggest immediate opportunity for Miro’s minutes is probably for a player like Flach to build on an incredible first season in MLS by locking down the left side of the diamond. The soon-to-be 21-year-old started 31 of 34 games last season and appeared to be the odd man out in a midfield with Monteiro still on the squad.

McGlynn moving from third on the depth chart to second is also a real positive. As he showed late last season, he needs to be on the field more but he also doesn’t turn 19 until July so there’s plenty of time for him to grow without putting pressure on him to become the type of two-way midfielder the Union’s system demands right away. His opportunities will certainly come when Flach deputizes Martinez and he’s also shown an offensive side of his game/ability on set pieces that might necessitate him at times starting over the more defensively-wired Flach.

Jesus Bueno is also an intriguing, right-footed player who could factor in as a backup to Martinez and provide additional depth as an 8. Though more of a right-sided player, Quinn Sullivan has shown a keen ability to play in multiple spots and Paxten Aaronson appears to have the understudy to Daniel Gazdag role at the No. 10 position wrapped up. Cole Turner is entering the last year of his contract and it doesn’t look like minutes will be any easier for him in the midfield or as the backup center back he’s played in preseason.

Curtin showed last season a willingness to change formations and adjust tactics to specific opponents — sometimes with no choice due to injury — so his stable of young midfield prospects gives him the ability to keep opponents guessing with different looks. He can also ride the ups and downs of young player development with multiple options to get the right combination in the midfield. He’s shown reticent to play too many young players at a time because the law of averages isn’t good for teams that don’t find the right blend of veteran experience with youthful inexperience.

There’s also always the possibility of adding a piece or two either now or in the summer with open roster spots and assets available. Cory Burke is away from the team hopefully to finalize a green card and if that finally goes through they’ll have three open international spots after gaining two in the Monteiro deal.

It’s not ideal to lose a talent like Monteiro, but it’s also not the type of loss that could sink the club as it did in the past when Vincent Nogueira returned home to France mid-season. There may be some hiccups along the way but with one of the league’s best center back pairings (and a solid third on the bench) in front of Andre Blake, there’s room for this team to gel into one that can do what teams have done the last 3-4 seasons, advance the club forward, inching closer to the summit of winning that elusive first MLS Cup.