With the summer transfer window now open, the Union are shopping for help.
“We have some flexibility to do something,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We have a lot of guys that we’ve been looking at and the right thing that comes up, we’re always looking to strengthen our roster, offensively or defensively, there isn’t one position we’re targeting. We’ve been actively looking but nothing to report.”
Though Curtin wouldn’t tip his hand to what the Union’s strategy may be when it comes to adding talent, the club will likely look at attracting offense. The eighth-place Union are currently 13th in MLS in goals per game and believe a touch of potency on the offensive side could ignite their run at a playoff position.
“We’ve probably come up a little short in terms of the quantity of chances and shots that we’ve created,” said Curtin, who believes his club’s eighth-ranked plus-four goal differential is a sign it could take the next step in the Eastern Conference. “But the quality of those shots, we come out tops in the league in terms of where we’re getting our shots from, so that part is good. We need to really improve the overall volume and quantity of those shots.”
But achieving that likely means adding a playmaking No. 10. The would-be quarterback of the Union’s offense, which is currently held by converted right-winger Ilsinho, and is the weak point of the club’s current attack, could make a significant difference.
The club believes that current attacking pieces like Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius are enough to be successful, the group simply needs a spark and some service.
“I like the group, I like all the players,” said Curtin, who hasn’t been able to fulfill the playmaking vacancy left by Tranquillo Barnetta last season. “I think it’s a strong group and if we’re able to add something, it’s a bonus.”
Curtin noted that making an addition at the 10 spot isn't easy because the Union aren’t the only team looking for that type of primary facilitator. The club recently hosted Costa Rican midfielder Elias Aguilar as a trialist but later stated it wasn’t the right fit.
“It’s a position everyone in the world is looking for,” said Curtin, who along with sporting director Earnie Stewart demand all attacking players buy into the club’s defense-first mentality. “It’s a hard one to find the perfect player; the combination of attack, playing the final ball and doing the defensive work, cutting passing lanes off and doing all of those things.”
If the Union do bring someone in, there’s evidence it won’t be a band-aid for 2017 but part of a longer-term strategy. Ilsinho has been unproductive this season, scoring just two goals and no assists in 13 starts, while Roland Alberg, who has four goals and no assists, has been productive but doesn’t hold favor with the coaching staff, earning just four starts.
Curtin suggested that the two players, who combine for $912,583 in guaranteed salary, may not be in the Union’s plans for next season. That would make any significant mid-season addition at attacking midfield one that could alter the club’s future.
“Roland is in really good form right now, he’s been doing well and we’re having discussions about doing what’s best for him and the club moving forward,” Curtin said. “But that will be more towards the end of the year. Ilsinho will be the same thing. There are decisions to be made at the end of the year, they won’t be made right now.”