CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union forward Andrew Wooten is already impressing during his first week of training.
Wooten’s finishing ability has impressed Union coach Jim Curtin, who applauded the ability of the 29-year-old German-American Tuesday.
“Finishing. (Wooten) scores goals,” Curtin said. “Whether it’s small-sided, or in bigger spaces, he finds ways to get into the tough spots. He runs in the hard spots, where sometimes people don’t want to go into. He’s brave in front of goal. I’m really happy with him.”
“There’s a little bit of an adjustment to the 95 degrees and humid and what that feels like compared to Germany,” Curtin said. “(Wooten)’s getting acclimated form the fitness side and getting to know his teammates better and starting to implement some of the ways we want to play.”
Wooten, who is on a year-and-a-half deal with a team option for 2021 that could be triggered by performance bonuses, is treating the next few weeks like he would a typical European preseason.
Since he can’t play until after July 9, Wooten is getting back into his playing form after taking some time off at the end of the European season, where he spent his time with Sandhausen in the 2.Bundesliga.
“It’s the same,” Wooten said. “I didn’t do anything the last four weeks. Now I have to catch up. I will get there and be ready to go.”
During his first official media availability since signing Thursday, Wooten confirmed he had interest from other Major League Soccer clubs, but was persuaded to join the Union upon his meeting with the club.
🎶🎶 Woot, there it is! – @SonsofBen
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) June 21, 2019
“There were other MLS offers, but I spoke with Philadelphia first and then it was no need to talk to someone else because I really had a good feeling and the talks were very good,” Wooten said. “That’s why I came here.”
Union sporting director Ernst Tanner has been familiar with Wooten for quite some time and he made contact with the forward’s agent as early as last fall, when he first took over in Philadelphia.
“I had a conversation with (Wooten’s) agent because his contract was expiring, about his future plans already in autumn,” Tanner said. “It took us quite a while until we could take the opportunity, as Sandhausen was fighting relegation. There was no possibility to do a deal in winter time. Now, as the contract is expired, it was good to get him.”
Since Wooten is not eligible to play until the secondary transfer window opens on July 9, the Union will rely on Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos and Fafa Picault to carry the load up top over a four-game stretch in two weeks, which begins on Wednesday on the road against New England.
“It’s a busy stretch of games for us, which is a good thing,” Curtin said. “We’ve always done well in these Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-type setups. Right off the bat, we have three tough road games. We have to find a way to get points in the first three road games, which is difficult, but at the same time, it’s possible. We want to try and create as much separation as possible at the top. We’ll certainly have to use our full squad.”
The Union have six forwards on their roster, but only five eligible for the second half of the season with Cory Burke still figuring out issues involving his P1 visa, which he lost back in May.
Tanner confirmed the club is exploring loan possibilities for Burke, who can still play in Europe while he is working on obtaining eligibility once again in the United States.
“The most probable situation is we are going to loan him out,” Tanner said. “The transfer window is going to open July 1 over in Europe and there are some possibilities and we are working on it.”
As for the players currently available for selection, midfielder Marco Fabian has shown signs of progress dealing with the ankle injury that has hampered him for most of the season.
“(Fabian) had a good couple weeks,” Curtin said. “There’s a plan in place and a timeline that’s in place that he’s hit all those benchmarks. Put in a good week of training, looked sharp in the game situations that we had with him on the field. Now it’s just a matter of is it New England, is it New York City, you’ll see soon enough where he’s at in terms of that.”
Ideally, the Union would not use Fabian on the turf at Gillette Stadium, and instead save him for the short field at Yankee Stadium, where his technical ability will be crucial in the tight dimensions, but there is still a chance he plays on Wednesday.
The Union will be without backup right back Olivier Mbaizo for the foreseeable future after he underwent surgery on his meniscus Tuesday.
“(Mbaizo) had a 10 ‘clock surgery on his knee to repair a meniscus,” Curtin said. “Hopefully when they get in there, it’s nothing too major. The timeline with these is anywhere from four weeks, best case, to eight weeks, worst case. Unlucky for the kid, who every time we seem to get him going seems to have a setback with an injury. Difficult to lose him because we was starting to make some strides forward.”
The Union don’t have a direct replacement for starting right back Ray Gaddis at the moment, but they could call on Fabinho or Matt Real to play on the right in a time of hardship.
— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) June 25, 2019
“In particular, not,” Tanner said of more signings. “We have some injury issues at the moment. We might do something out of that. At the same time, the system is not allowing much anymore. With Wooten, we’ve added another important and interesting piece to the roster. But the summer window in general is very tight and it’s not easy to do something.”
Curtin and Tanner also expressed their displeasure with the MLS All-Star Game selections. Goalkeeper Andre Blake was the only player from the first-place squad selected for the July 31 matchup with Atletico Madrid at Exploria Stadium.
Roster: █████ 100%
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 24, 2019
“I didn’t do the selections, but it would have been different if I were allowed to do it,” Tanner said. “We are happy with Andre, but I think there are more guys in our team who would have deserved it.”
“First of all, (Orlando City manager) James O’Connor has a hard job because there’s so many good players to pick from in our league,” Curtin said. “The fan voting, I mean that’s an interesting one for me across all sports. I don’t want to say it’s a problem, but it’s a unique way to decide things. I think often times you get the most popular guys and sometimes not the guys who are having the best seasons, which is what it should be about.”
“It’s a year where you could say LAFC’s starting XI could be the All-Star team, in all honestly because they’ve put the work out on the field,” Curtin said.
“There’s always going to be discussions,” Curtin said. “Somebody is always going to get snubbed. There’s always going to be difficult decisions that are made. I do think that our guys deserved a little more credit for what they’ve done.”
“I think you can talk about, I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I think you can talk about Kai Wagner should be in the discussion to be the left back,” Curtin said. “I think Jack Elliott, the season he is having, is an All-Star caliber season. Haris (Medunjanin) and (Alejandro) Bedoya what they’ve done. (Jamiro) Monteiro and Kacper (Przybylko) are new and I get that it should be based on guys that are playing the most games. Ilsinho, the things he’s done, he’s the definition of what you want to see in an All-Star Game.”
“It can go a lot of different ways,” Curtin said. “It’s great that Andre (Blake) got selected, but certainly I do feel like we had more guys that were worthy. This is not just new in our sport. There’s guys that are going to get snubbed and have decisions go against them.”
“I continue to stress to our players, the more success the team has, by the end of the year, which is the most important time, you’ll have our guys in the discussion for best XI, those kind of accolades,” Curtin said. “Individual recognition comes when the team has a lot of success. Sometimes there’s a little lag to that and this is probably an example where there’s a bit of a lag to the work that some of our players are doing. Certainly, they are deserving of more recognition than they got.”