The 2019 Philadelphia Union are unlike any other team in franchise history.
That is a statement we have said before, and it bears repeating after Thursday’s signing of forward Andrew Wooten.
The first-place Union aren’t content with just leading the Eastern Conference in June. They want to be on top after their regular-season finale against New York City FC on October 6.
Sporting director Ernst Tanner has improved every facet of the roster in less than a year, and the massive difference between Tanner and his predecessor, Earnie Stewart, is that most of his signings have been successes.
“We are delighted to complete this signing, and we’d like to officially welcome Andrew to the Union,” Tanner said in a club statement. “He is a strong forward who had interest from many teams around the world, so to have him choose Philadelphia as the next stop in his career is a tremendous compliment. We are all looking forward to integrating Andrew as quickly as possible and having him ready to play as soon as he is eligible following the opening of the transfer window.”
That’s why the Wooten signing is so important to the Union: It upgrades the one spot on the field where the team needs help.
— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) June 21, 2019
The forward depth chart has experienced as many roller coasters in six months as the Union have in their 10 years a franchise.
In preseason, the Union had too much depth and C.J. Sapong was viewed as surplus, so Philadelphia dealt Sapong to the Chicago Fire.
Once it was confirmed David Accam was not going to be a great fit in the 4-4-2 diamond system, the Union packaged him in a deal to Columbus.
But then the unfortunate situation involving Cory Burke, who is stuck in Jamaica while trying to re-obtain his P1 visa, forced the Union to find a quick fix by promoting Michee Ngalina from USL Championship affiliate Bethlehem Steel.
In the past few weeks, production from the forward position has dried up with too much reliance on Kacper Przybyłko and Sergio Santos.
The Union have been able to get the best out of super-sub Ilsinho to power to some emotional wins, but the attacking woes were evident in the U.S. Open Cup fourth-round loss to D.C. United, when the Union placed six of their 24 shots on target.
With plenty of challengers behind them in the standings waiting to claim first place, the Union had to make a move, and they had to find a fit within their current roster constraints.
Wooten checked all the boxes of being a domestic player, a forward and, most importantly, in form.
“I think it’s a great time to be a soccer player here in the U.S.,” Wooten said during his unveiling at a Men In Blazers live taping on Thursday. “I would love to play again for the U.S. national team, but my main focus here is with the Philadelphia Union.”
By adding Wooten, the Union now have four first-team forwards with experience, plus Ngalina to call on as a reserve option if need be. This will help Philadelphia in its push for the first home playoff game in club history since 2011.
🎶🎶 Woot, there it is! – @SonsofBen
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) June 21, 2019
Head coach Jim Curtin will be able to keep his first-team forwards fresh, and he will have options off the bench if things don’t go right in a certain game. The Union don’t have to worry about the fatigue of Wooten, who won’t be available for selection until the secondary transfer window opens July 9.
If everything goes to plan, Wooten’s first game would be on July 13 at Real Salt Lake, and his first home game would be on July 20 against Sapong and the Fire.
By the time he makes his Union debut, Wooten will have close to two months off since his last game in the 2.Bundesliga with Sandhausen, and he’ll be adjusted to the Union’s style of play from a week or two of training. Basically, Wooten is going through a typical offseason of rest as if he were still in Europe.
With a fresh goal scorer coming off a career year, Philadelphia has a chance to remain on top in the East. By signing Wooten, the Union have made it clear that they are no longer content with being a mediocre team in Major League Soccer.
“I want to score as many goals as I can,” Wooten said. “I hope we can get a lot of wins, and why not win the cup?”
The Union want to be known as contenders, and so far in 2019, they are.