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Union preview: Change doesn’t equal success

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 1

If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, then the Union certainly are the opposite of insane.

They do different things every year and keep coming up with the same result.

As the Union enter their 10th season, which kicks off Saturday (1 p.m.) against visiting Toronto FC, they are still searching for their first playoff win. They have changed things up this season. Ernst Tanner became the team’s sporting director in October. He has added a new striker (Sergio Santos), a new midfielder (Marco Fabian) and a new defender (Kai Wagner), just as the Union seem to do every season.

Fabian is considered a player who can change a game. But do you remember midfielders Tranquillo Barnetta, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu, just to name a few of the players who were supposed to be the answer at midfield?

Wasn’t Jay Simpson supposed to be the answer at striker when he came to the Union from England? The Union declined Simpson’s contract option during the offseason. Let’s hope that Santos fares better than Simpson and practically every Union striker that preceded him.

Defenders have also come and gone with regularity.  Remember Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okago, Ethan White and high draft picks Josh Yaro (2nd overall in 2016) and Keegan Rosenberry (3rd overall in 2016)? They’re all gone, with the Union declining to pick up Yaro’s contract this offseason and Rosenberry being shipped off to Colorado.

The Union have doubled down on change this season by shifting from a 4-3-3 alignment to a 4-4-2. But will more change once again lead to a similar result?

Let’s take a look at the 2019 Union.


This isn’t a position of change. Andre Blake returns as one of the top goalie in Major League Soccer.


Center back Aaron Trusty was a revelation during his rookie season, playing every minute of every game. But Rosenberry did the same thing as a rookie in 20016, so let’s not anoint Trusty as the anchor for the Union’s defense for the next decade. Rosenberry’s right back spot will likely be manned by Olivier Mbaizo. At left back, the Union could start Matt Real or Wagner. The talented Mark McKenzie could line up at the other center back.

One issue on the back line is youth and inexperience. Wagner is 22, Mbaizo is 21, Trusty and McKenzie are 20, and Real is 19. Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-6 center back from London, would be the “old man” of the group at 23. Ray Gaddis, 29, is still around, but he’s better-suited as a backup at this stage of his career. The same is true of Fabinho, 33.


In contrast to the defenders, the midfield seems downright ancient. Fabian, a 29-year-old from Mexico, joins 31-year-old captain Alejandro Bedoya and 33-year-old Haris Medunjanin in the midfield. The youngster of the starting group is 21-year-old Derrick Jones, a talented player who is still searching for consistency as he continues to develop. Brenden Aaronson, Ilsinho, Warren Creavalle and Anthony Fontana provide depth and ability in a deep and talented midfield.

The Union’s midfield looks solid, but it’s not as if Fabian can be looked upon as an addition to what was here before. The addition of Fabian offsets the loss of Borek Dockal, who led MLS in assists (18) and added five goals in his only season with the Union. If Fabian can match Dockal’s production, the Union should be pleased.


Cory Burke and Faca Picault tied for the Union lead in goals last season with 10, but it’s certainly possible that one of them, probably Ficault, will be replaced in the starting lineup by Santos. David Accam will receive another chance to get significant playing time.


Tanner gave Jim Curtin a contract extension – for one year. If the Union don’t make the playoffs, it’s unlikely that Curtin will be back for another season. In fact, they may need to pick up the franchise’s first postseason victory to save his job.


The midfield looks like the Union’s strength, although the loss of Dockal should not be underestimated. The Union are counting on Fabian to be a star. They had better be right.

The defense is young and inexperienced. Blake may have to bail them out with some big saves. If the midfield and the forwards can keep the ball in the offensive zone, it will take some pressure off of the young defense. Even better, if the strikers can become a serious threat to score, it will take the pressure off the defense.

Unfortunately, I’m not buying the Union as a transformed team. We’ve been down this road too many times with the Union. Until they win a playoff game, I’m not going to predict they will win one. My guess is that the Union make the playoffs, only to lose to a higher seed in the first round.

Curtin will become the fall guy for the franchise’s lack of success, an occupation he’s already assumed in the eyes of some fans.

Tanner will then bring in a new manager to run the team – and will expect different results with a new face in 2020. Some things never change.


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