Ernst Tanner discusses Philadelphia Union's offseason plans

Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner spoke with Fox Sports The Gambler on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a handful of topics as the team enters its offseason period.

Tanner discussed the success from the 2020 Major League Soccer season, the sale of Brenden Aaronson, Cory Burke's contract and much more.

Below are his answers to the questions we posed over a 30-minute phone conversation.

The Gambler: Now that you have had time to take in what occurred this season, how happy are you with the results and winning the club’s first trophy? 

Ernst Tanner: “Nobody expected Philadelphia to win a title before I was coming here. I think over the last three years, and I count the 2019 season as well because success is not just coming out of nothing. You are building something and that’s what we did in 2019. With some more changes and a little bit more time, we could achieve silverware and it’s something we wouldn’t have dreamed of. It shows how big the 2020 season was for us. After the bubble, we played almost a perfect season with over two points per game."

What will the Concacaf Champions League do for the Philadelphia Union’s brand on a continental stage? 

“We are totally honored to be part of that small and elite circuit of clubs who are all participating. It will be a fantastic and absolutely new experience for our boys, as well as for the staff and myself. We know that it can be a little tricky when you play all these Central American or Mexican teams, but that’s exactly the challenge we are looking for. It’s just a fantastic finish to take part in that competition."

What have you heard about the uniqueness of the Concacaf Champions League? 

“You hear a lot of stories. Even they come to your hotel and try to disturb you the night before. I’m more worried with what is happening on the pitch. We also know that not every stadium is in perfect condition so it can be really rough. But at the same time, this is something you have to get through. You don’t get anything donated in soccer and you always need to fight hard for it. The conditions are always the same for both teams who are fighting for a victory. We need to get through it."

What do you expect from Brenden Aaronson’s development at RB Salzburg? What have your conversations been like after the season? 

“First of all, hopefully he has a good game with the national team (on Wednesday night). He certainly needs to take a break. I recommended he take a break. They start early with their preseason as the season in Europe is pretty condensed due to COVID break last year. Salzburg hopefully is still in the Champions League if they win tomorrow, or at least playing Europa League then. That will be something absolutely new for Brenden. 

“He will get into a very good environment. He knows out of his talks with the club how much the club will take care of him and thinking about it. Jesse (Marsch) knows him as a player and will do his best to integrate him. It all helps for our publicity as we developed him and we sold him and made it possible for him to make the next step. Above all else, he’s ready for that."  

How does the Aaronson sale affect the Union in the transfer market? 

“In a way, it sets up a precedent and a benchmark. It’s good to see we are capable of doing that at all. I strongly assume that there will be followers and the league gets more and more appreciation and attention anyway by different clubs over in Europe. 

“I’ve been on a forum today and spoke to quite some clubs over there and if you see how they talk now about MLS and you compare to what we thought about MLS, let’s say five years ago, there is a totally different view. There is, by far, much more respect. We get a lot of praise for what we are doing, in particular, in Philadelphia. I get a lot of demands for players in our league, in particular, the young ones, from clubs all over Europe. That shows how interested they are. I think there is really something like a boost going on for MLS. Once COVID is finished, you will see it and realize it."

How does COVID affect the Union’s incoming transfer business? 

“It doesn’t help you. You have to see players. It’s difficult, as you know, there’s a certain kind of risk. All the international flights I have been on are almost empty. You are very comfortable in economy class. You could cover three seats and lay down. It was really comfortable travelling, but at the same time, you face restrictions. You need to do testing all the time. You need to show your tests. You need to be on the essential list to get back to the US. It’s not a problem at all. But there are not too many clubs where you can watch games now. This is something that is troubling us. 

“We do our job via data and we use scouting analysis. That’s what we can do. Before you sign somebody, you need to get there and have the personal impression. That’s what we need to do. It’s not going to be that easy at this moment."

Does it help that you do not have an extensive shopping list and most of the squad in place? 

“It always helps that you have a team in place already. At the same time, we have some key positions we need to replace. We also need to prevent ourselves if something happens in terms of interest from another club. We have our goals. We are following a couple of players and are in touch with clubs. Basically, it’s about the negotiations which are happening right now and we have to finish somehow."

What did see you in Anthony Fontana’s development? 

“Anthony was taking a fantastic step in his development. He’s very versatile and he has one ability, which is crucial and where you can rely on, and that is his ability to score goals. He is a fantastic finisher. He has good dribbling. He needs to improve his tackling behavior, but that’s what we are talking about and working on. 

“At this moment, he is our only 10. Of course we have Paxten (Aaronson), but he is really young. We need to have at least one additional player that can fill in. You never know what is going to happen over the course of next season. We do not know exactly what is going on with the Olympic team. We don’t exactly know what is going on with national teams and the Concacaf Champions League, which will also start at some point in time. It might happen that players are away for quite some time and that’s what we also need to take into consideration with our plans."

What did you see in Matej Oravec’s development this year? Can you provide an update on his status? 

“He is doing okay in training. If you don’t play too much, try to integrate yourself and then go into a COVID break and then you’re up and start again, it does not necessarily help his self-confidence. 

“Matej himself is someone who is very ambitious, but is introverted. He had such a big competition with Jose for that spot and other players who filled in when Jose was abroad. 

“This is normal that somebody at his age could struggle a bit. That happened. We tried to loan him out in autumn to get him more games, but you know how it is with that. That’s maybe something we need to take into consideration in the winter period."

Is it more difficult to evaluate the development of players because of the pandemic and the lack of first-team training time for younger players? 

“That’s what we’ve discussed, in particular, with the young boys on the roster. (Matt) Freese was lucky to get at least one game in MLS and then we could loan him down for a couple games, which helped him dramatically. You could see him as an example and it’s even more difficult for a goalkeeper to develop and get games. He benefited from the games he had. 

“For Cole (Turner) and Jack De Vries, I offered them immediately out of the bubble to get loaned down, but they wanted to train with the first team and didn’t want to give it up. I understand that, but at the same time, it probably would have been better if they had gone down and they played with the second team. 

“This was the only possibility, but the rules in USL are not made for an MLS club to further the development of these boys. Once we loan somebody down, it has to be until the end of the season. This year we had to keep two different protocols in terms of testing. When we did the signings of these young boys, it was always a pre-condition that they train with the first team and they go down to the second team for the last training unit or maybe two last training units before a game in order to get integrated into the squad and get a feel for their teammates. That’s what we couldn’t do. It’s also one of the reasons it's impossible for us to stay in USL to do that kind of development."

How important was it for the team to secure Cory Burke to a long-term contract? 

“After all this boy was going through, I think it was in our responsibility to lock him down and keep him with us. We all know what we have in him. He’s a good striker and he is fit and his training age is not matching with his calendar age. 

“He’s still not that experienced. He is turning 29 by the end of the month. He is more like a 26, 27-year-old player from a training age, maybe even younger.

“During that period where he couldn’t come back, we tried to assist him as best as possible. In the first window, it was almost impossible to loan him out. In the second window, I couldn’t loan him out. I was really shopping him around over in Europe and only a friend of mine at St. Polten was assisting us because nobody else wanted to go for the player. Suddenly, they realized he is a pretty good player. That’s how it turns out sometimes. He had some problems at the beginning and also an injury in preseason, actually the lockdown helped him to recover. Once he was back on the field, he was a major part that the team was not relegated. 

“The plan was to bring him back immediately. We even had a plan in place that we’d bring him back in May when the season would have gone normally. But things went different as we know. We tried to bring him back after the period of the bubble. In this moment and before the election, it was just so hard to appeal with authorities. We pressured our lawyer. Our lawyer passed the pressure further on to the embassy in Kingston. It was almost like a miracle when we got it approved. 

“It didn’t take him long to contribute. I’m so happy for him. After the Supporters’ Shield win, we hugged each other and we were so thankful that everything we planned was working out. It was taking a lot more time than we assumed than when I met with him in Austria in June."

Do you feel comfortable with Cory Burke, Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko at forward? Are you going to dip into the market at forward this offseason? 

“We need to assume that Cory is away with the national team. He might even be playing the Gold Cup. 

“We all know about the injury history of Sergio. Even if it was by far better this season. He had a really good training condition this season. 

“What would be good for us is a more versatile striker who has speed but can also act as a second striker and go around. We have a good mixture and we have some really physical speedy guys in Cory and Santos. 

“A striker who is more on the dribbler side and a little bit more versatile. That could be something we probably need. In addition, we have Jack De Vries that can fill in at a position like that. 

“We are for sure sorting out the market.” 

Are there any updates on Mark McKenzie and Kai Wagner? 

“It’s calm right now. I know through all of my connections that there are multiple clubs watching them. The transfer market, in this moment, is very calm, and in particular over in Europe. The uncertainty due to COVID and nobody knowing how much, or even when, they can fill their stadiums with spectatorship. They all calculate on worst-case scenarios. Meaning no fans until the end of the season. That really hurts them.

“We need to take it as it comes. If something happens, we have to be prepared. If nothing happens, we are totally happy keeping them with us because they are real assets for us. The defensive stability we had over the course of the season, they had a major share in it. Why should we be desperate to do something with them?

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content