Change and Ambition: Takeaways from Ernst Tanner's end of season press conference

In a press conference Monday, Ernst Tanner detailed his tactical plans for 2019 and how he will define success during his tenure as Sporting Director. He also announced which players from Philadelphia Union’s 2018 roster are out of contract, which players had their options picked up and declined, and whether players were eligible for the waiver draft or the re-entry draft.

Additionally, Tanner announced that Jim Curtin will return as head coach of the Union in 2019 and Curtin himself spoke to the assembled media.

Roster news

The following players’ contracts are guaranteed for 2019

Andre Blake, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real, Auston Trusty, Brenden Aaronson, David Accam, Alejandro Bedoya, Anthony Fontana, Haris Medunjanin, and CJ Sapong

The following players’ options were picked up for 2019

Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Keegan Rosenberry, Ilsinho, Derrick Jones, Fafa Picault, and Cory Burke

This leaves the Union with 17 total players currently signed to the 2019 roster:

Goalkeepers: Andre Blake

Fullbacks: Matt Real, Olivier Mbaizo, Keegan Rosenberry

Centerbacks: Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya, Anthony Fontana, Haris Medunjanin, Derrick Jones

Attackers: Brenden Aaronson, CJ Sapong, David Accam, Ilsinho, Fafa Picault, Cory Burke

The following players’ options were not picked up for 2019

Jack McGuire, Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro, Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers, Adam Najem, Jay Simpson, Fabinho.

The Union also announced they are currently in negotiations on a new contract with Fabinho.

The following players are out of contract

John McCarthy, Warren Creavalle, Ray Gaddis, and Borek Dockal

For Dockal, this simply means his loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye has expired.

Finally, the Union retain an option on Kacper Przybylko that they may exercise in the future.

Further down the road

The Union can still negotiate and re-sign out-of-contract players, so today’s announcement doesn’t mean stalwart vets McCarthy, Creavalle, and Gaddis are gone.

Furthermore, Philly could still lose a player in the upcoming FC Cincinnati expansion draft. The five clubs that lost players to LAFC last year are exempt, and the Union can protect up to 11 players; they will submit that list to MLS just before draft time.

Discussing how he will build the roster out in the coming months, Tanner mentioned that the Union will scout players all over the world. “I’ll be going to Europe, Africa, South America, Latin America, and maybe somewhere else,” he teased.

Flexibility in focus

A common theme that both Tanner and Curtin returned to was building on the club’s possession game to create a Plan B and a Plan C for times when stubborn opponents prove difficult to break down. “We have been doing very well in our possession game and that's something we will focus on,” Tanner said. “It is time to change some other things in order to make the next step.”

“We need to make it a little more inconvenient to play us,” he added, “And in addition I find that we are a little too easy to reckon. They know how we play and they know how to defend against us… One of the top items I have in mind for the future is… to provide a Plan B and Plan C if Plan A in terms of our possession game is not working out.”

Keeping Curtin

“Jim is sitting next to me,” Tanner began, “And that is for a reason.” Curtin will return for the club for a fifth season in charge, and the coach made clear that he understands five years is a long stay for a pro coach.

“Jim led us to the playoffs for the second time in a three year period,” the Sporting Director continued. “His relation to the players is very, very good, and he’s an expert in developing young players, which will be a clear focus in the future.”

For his part, the Union head coach thinks the club will have big ambitions going forward. “We’ll strive for the playoffs and beyond,” Curtin assured the assembled media. “Implementing this new style, I think fans will like it. An aggressiveness, two forwards, more flexibility.”

Winning and success

When asked about what success looks like to him, Tanner was clear: “In professional football the only thing that counts is winning,” he said. “Our measure is not developing players, it’s achieving a ranking in the table, winning titles, doing the best we can.”

The Sporting Director both preached patience as Curtin implements the club’s updated playing style and insisted that he was not asking that patience to be endless. “I don’t mean patience in terms of waiting for all our academy players to develop,” he explained. “I’m talking about patience in terms of what we want to implement in terms of playing style.

“Particularly without the ball, it will be something completely different from what we’ve seen before.”


To find out what else Tanner has planned for the Union going forward, check out clips from an exclusive new interview with the Union Sporting Director.

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