The Philadelphia Union continued to add to their depth Wednesday, officially announcing the signing of left back Kai Wagner.
Wagner is a 21-year-old defender who comes from the German third division side Würzburger Kickers, and he’s expected to be a depth option, especially when Matt Real goes off to the U-20 World Cup in May and June.
“I know the German market very well,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner told reporters on Wednesday. “Kai was the one who was showing up over a certain period of time. There was a lot of interest from the second division, and more or less, he’s on his way to the first league anyway. You won’t stop him.”
Wagner has spent the majority of his career in the youth ranks and lower divisions of German soccer, and he spent time with Schalke’s reserve team before heading to Würzburger Kickers.
While some may criticize the Union for adding a player from the third tier of German soccer, Tanner delivered high praise for the quality in the league Wagner is coming from.
“The third league in Germany is a professional league,” Tanner said. “Don’t underestimate the level there. It is very physical. I would say in terms of physicality it is comparable to MLS. But it is for sure a higher level than USL. If a young player is outstanding there, he can compete on a higher level.”
Tanner mentioned there was interest in Wagner from clubs in the German second division, as well as another MLS club.
“There was another club in MLS going for him,” Tanner said. “He’s very open minded and he’s not that sort of player who is just watching the big leagues in Europe. There’s also lots of games on TV now and they see that the level is okay and they see it is a good chance for them to develop.”
When his agent approached him about the move, Wagner was open to moving to MLS, and after doing some research on the club, he was excited about the next step in his career.
“I was very happy to hear the Philadelphia Union were after me,” Wagner told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s a new project for me and a new big step to play in MLS and for the first team of the Union. I don’t have to think so long about it. When my agent told me that they wanted me, I said to him I will go to the US and go to Philadelphia and now I’m here.”
Wednesday’s signing adds to the club’s left back depth. The Union front office made it clear the club wanted a third left back in camp to learn the new system, that way he can be ready for when Real departs for the U-20 World Cup.
Real is projected to be the starting left back in his second professional season, while Wagner appears to have a shot at becoming Real’s backup, with veteran defender Fabinho transitioning into a role off the field.
“There are a couple of players missing for quite a long time and we are playing 5-6 games then,” Tanner said. “This is one of the reasons we needed to do this. In addition, Fabinho plays a role, but he is in transition to a role in our academy. He still belongs to the roster as a senior player and as a mentor to our younger players. I think it was absolutely necessary that we do this. In addition, if you see the future of Kai, it is the best choice we could get.”