Before signing with the Philadelphia Union last July, Tranquillo Barnetta had been to three World Cups, spent a decade in the German Bundesliga and played in a dozen matches in UEFA Champions League.
On the open market, he had been sought out by numerous teams throughout Europe, including those from arguably the top two leagues in the world, both the Bundesliga and England’s Premier League.
He signed with the Union.
“After 11 years in the Bundesliga, I was looking for something new,” Barnetta said. “After the first talks with Jim [Curtin] and Chris [Albright], I was really excited about the whole project here. I also heard about the MLS – it’s growing – and to be a part of it was really a good thing.
“I’m happy I made this choice,” he continued. “It was the most important thing for me, to see something new.”
Utilized as one of the first signings under the league’s new mechanism, targeted allocation money, the 30-year-old with 75 international appearances was hardly looking for a retirement home. But after signing on July 28, Barnetta had little time to really make much of an impact – especially in the middle of what was typically his offseason.
He played in 11 games, made nine starts and scored one goal. He also got a taste of the U.S. Open Cup, starting in both of the Union’s semifinal and final matches against Chicago and Sporting Kansas City, respectively. But his impression was just as important off-the-field as it was on.
Now in 2016, he’s ready for a full season and says the Union are making the necessary steps to get over the proverbial hump.
“Since I signed, with Earnie [Stewart], you can see that he tries to make everything more professional,” Barnetta said. “I’m also very excited about the new practice facility; the building looks great. It’s another step in the right direction for this club.”
On the field last year, Barnetta was second on the team in chances created per game, averaging 1.5. Off the field, he assumed the captain’s arm band with Maurice Edu battling a groin injury and was publicly lauded by Curtin and fellow players for his leadership.
With the club dealing Cristian Maidana in the offseason, there’s a possibility Barnetta could move into the No. 10 role – perhaps a foreshadowing of his jersey change – or continue to play out wide with the addition of Roland Alberg.
But, besides addressing the back four, Stewart has also re-tooled the club’s options on the wing; somewhere Barnetta could find himself along with holdovers Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Ayuk, in addition to newcomers Chris Pontius and Walter Restrepo.
But therein lays one of Barnetta’s key strengths: versatility. Wherever he lines up, you can count on a touch of class and leadership. The latter of which he’ll certainly be counted on heavily for this year considering the amount of new names in the fold.
“It’s great so far, the two weeks we’ve spent together,” Barnetta said. “Everybody puts a lot into practice – it goes to the limit and that’s very important in the beginning of preseason. Of course we know we have to work harder because if you have a lot of new faces around you, it’s takes a little bit of time to know each other and how everyone plays. We have a nice spirit with the team; sometimes it’s a little hard to spend 10-12 days together with a team, but not here. We have fun.”
This is the second installment of the 2016 Philadelphia Union season preview. All month at PhiladelphiaUnion.com, we'll be breaking down what lies ahead with the season less than one month away. This week, we're looking at the Union's midfield with a complete positional breakdown on Friday. What's on your mind for Tranquillo Barnetta’s 2016 season?