The Philadelphia Union have signed Slovakian U-21 midfielder Matej Oravec to be one of the players to help replace Haris Medunjanin’s impact in the middle of the park.
The club announced Monday that Oravec was inked to a three-year deal with an option for a fourth, and he was present for the first day of preseason training in Wilmington, Delaware.
“What Haris did for this club is irreplaceable,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s not one person’s job to come in here and be Haris because he was special. It’s unfair to put that weight on one young kid.”
Oravec and fellow offseason signing Jose Martinez, who is working on obtaining his P1 visa before joining the club, will battle for the starting No. 6 spot in the club’s base 4-4-2 formation.
“They will share it. We have a couple kids that are going to compete for spots and the minutes. In terms of a straight up replacement, it’s not fair to put that on them,” Curtin said.
In the previous stops of his career, Oravec played center back in addition to central midfield, but the Union view him as a No. 6.
“We need to replace Haris in a way. That’s difficult enough in the game with the ball, but we were looking for a more defensive-oriented player in holding mid as we try to reduce our goals against,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said.
“If you want to play transitions, then you need to win the ball some way,” Tanner said. “Matej for sure has that ability, but he can also distribute it. He’s very versatile in terms of the position. He could also play as a center back, but I don’t like that. I see him purely as a holding midfielder.”
Oravec comes to Major League Soccer from DAC Dunajska Streda in the Slovak Super League. Tanner visited the Slovakian club last year before Oravec moved there from Zeleziarne Podbrezova.
“You might not know it. I went Dunajska last year when I was over there and watched everything. I was quite impressed with what they are establishing there,” Tanner said.
“We are watching the European market very close. We have established the scouting over there and we have a real focus on the market,” Tanner said.
A report from Sport.SK claimed Dunajska Strada would receive around 1 million euros and other bonuses for Oravec, but Tanner shot down those claims. The Union sporting director declined to comment on any potential sell-on fees or salary numbers, which is the typical operating method the club uses.
“I don’t comment normally, but the million is a little bit high,” Tanner said.
Oravec came over to Philadelphia in December to get a feel for the city and what the club offers. The visit included a tour of the facilities in Chester, Pennsylvania, meetings with the technical staff and attending a Philadelphia Eagles NFL home game.
“Philly invited me here for four or five days. They showed me the city, the stadium and everything that is here. It was great for me and I was really happy,” Oravec said.
“I’ve never seen something like (the Eagles game) with the fans and the atmosphere was really good,” Oravec said.
The 21-year-old admitted he played in a similar tactical style in Slovakia, so he believes the adjustment process will be smooth.
“The first day I was here they showed me the style of how they want to play and I think it’s similar style to what I played at my last team. I hope it won’t be hard for me to adapt in this style,” Oravec said.
“It turned out to be a good fit for us,” Curtin said. “He’s a player that is a ball-winner in midfield, can start your transitions quickly, good passer, young and up-and-coming player that we’re fortunate to have secured here and I thought he had a good first day.”
The Union’s top offseason goal is now completed with the additions of Oravec and Martinez to compete for the No. 6 and the permanent signing of Jamiro Monteiro as a designated player.
Tanner admitted Monday that more reinforcements are on the way, with a backup center back still one of the club’s goals.
“With 50-plus goals against (in 2019), you won’t really win anything,” Tanner said. “That’s the main focus in this moment and I think we have added quite a few pieces now to our roster which makes us more stable, but certainly there is more to come.”