Philadelphia Union building toward 2023 with summer additions

CHESTER -- Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner is using the summer transfer window to prepare the club's depth for the future.

The Union signed Kenyan midfielder Richard Odada earlier this week and Tanner said the club has something else in the works before the MLS summer transfer window closes.

Tanner pointed out the difficulties that players for not just the Union, but those who sign with other Major League Soccer clubs, face when they join MLS halfway through the season.

"All of our talks are toward that direction," Tanner said on Thursday. "We do not want to pressurize anybody in any way in bringing him into a situation where he can't even succeed at this moment. We need to be patient with our boys and you see all the summer additions we had took their time, even Daniel. He was not bad last year, but he was a little bit overtrained probably during the tight COVID schedule they had and the amount of games he was playing. We need to give them time to adapt and we play a little bit of a different system than even most of the clubs over in Europe. That takes some time.”

Daniel Gazdag signed with the Union last May, but he did not find form in the final third until October, when he scored a brace against Minnesota United. That is the latest internal example of how hard it can be to adjust to MLS.

Odada's positional versatility was highlighted by Tanner when the signing was made official earlier in the week. The new midfielder projects as someone that can play a few different spots in the midfield diamond formation.

"First and foremost, (Odada) has decent speed and a really great physicality. He basically played on the right side of a diamond, but then he was put back in a holding mid position and can also play as a holding midfielder when you play with two holding midfielders," Tanner said. "He has played some center back and we need some cover for that as well, but that kind of versatility plus the physicality he is bringing along with that is something we don't really have in our squad."

"(Odada)'s a defensive midfielder first and foremost," Union head coach Jim Curtin said on Thursday. "He can play on the side of the diamond too in a pinch. He's more of a No. 6. That would be his favored spot. Maybe he could play center back, but that's not something he's really done in the past. He's been brought in to give us some depth at that position. He has a really good engine and can win balls and he has a really good range of passing to hit the diagonal to start our attack."

Odada could play some minutes toward the end of the MLS regular season, but the main goal for the Union is to get him ready for the 2023 campaign.

"He needs to first and foremost integrate himself into the squad and that will be happening for the rest of the season and then we will have a preseason and then we find out what he can do,” Tanner said. “It is very important to note all of the transfers we are doing right now are more heading toward the next season instead of helping us right now because you know how difficult it is, particular in summer, to come here and adapt.” 

"There is very seldom a case where he immediately helps. We already have the very difficult choice for Saturday on who we should start because all of the guys are doing so well. It's a good decision the coach has to make, but it's a difficult one at the same time,

"What we're trying to build out is more depth right now. We are going to need it next season."

The next goal for Tanner is to add a fourth center back to the depth chart. Stuart Findlay moved to Oxford United earlier in the summer in search of more playing time. That moved Brandan Craig up to the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

"We need to and we are going to announce something soon," Tanner said.

While that move is finalized, the Union have an emergency plan at center back just in case the worst-case scenario comes into play.

"Even Matt Real played as a reserve center back in our last Union II game," Curtin said. We're taking a look at different things. It becomes what the game needs and what we value and when there is an injury. As of now, Brandan Craig obviously could step in. That's the natural one. You could move Kai Wagner into the left and put Matt on the left back spot. You could switch that. Even Nathan Harriel is probably capable. He has a lot of the skill set of a center back. It's a problem we don't want to have come up, but at the same time, I think there may be someone else coming in to help at the position."

No other outgoing transfers are expected this summer. Tanner said no official bids have come in for Kai Wagner or Jose Martinez and the goal is to keep the team together at least until the end of the season. 

"I'm almost sick of answering this question. There is always a little bit of rumor of movement, but again, there is nothing on the table,” Tanner said.

"To be honest, our first goal is to keep the team together until the end of the season because we have a good team,” Tanner said. “Maybe we can win something and we want to be competitive. Keep your players if possible. I mean, there are always situations where you can't do it, but at least we try.”

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