Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner is touted as one of the best in MLS. However, after another disappointing end to a season, faith in the fanbase is starting to waiver. Should Tanner be on the hot seat or is his job safe for the foreseeable future?
Ernst Tanner took over as the Union’s sporting director in October 2018. Since then, the Union has been in the “golden era” of its 15-year history. Unfortunately, the club has just one supporters shield and one MLS Cup appearance to show for it.
While the club would not be where it is today without Tanner, his shortcomings have the club in a bind going into the 2024 season. Let’s look at how he has the club amid an uncertain period and if his leash is short.
Tanner’s Diamonds in the Rough
First, Tanner’s first winter in charge was a busy one. Most importantly, it showed his true scouting ability. First, the first move was moving Brenden Aaronson from the academy to the first team. This move was an obvious one, however, Tanner still gets praise for it.
Now, the moves where Tanner flexed his skill were the signings of Kai Wagner, Jamiro Monteiro, and Sergio Santos. Santos and Miro provided very quality minutes for the team as the club rose to a powerhouse. All 3 proved to be quality pieces of the Supporters Shield-winning club in 2020.
Since then, Tanner has brought in the likes of Jose Martinez, Jacob Glesnes, Daniel Gazdag, and Julian Carranza. All of them low low-money signings and the true studs of his philosophy. These players have doubled their worth in their time with the Union.
Depth Used to Be a Strong Suit
Ernst Tanner’s philosophy of scooping up young cheap players works well for filling the depth on the roster. Some of Tanner’s key additions to the bench included Cory Burke, Leon Flach, Stuart Findlay, Damion Lowe, and Jesus Bueno to name a few.
Unfortunately, Tanner has been missing more often than not in recent years, and it is hurting the team’s depth. The Union played 51 games across all competitions in 2023. The club clinched a return in all those competitions so that number will likely not change much. However, there seem to be more players leaving than coming in.
More times than not, the signings Tanner has made for depth in recent windows have not panned out. This tendency started when the fanbase was very hype for Matej Oravec. Lo and behold, Matej Oravec never featured for the first team. Other players who followed Oravec’s path include Andrew Wooten, Matheus Davo, and Richard Odada.
While these weren’t signing meant to alter the trajectory of the club, the players not even cracking the first-team bench has hurt the Union’s depth. In 2023, Tanner’s misses on players were glaring. His signings of Andres Perea and Joaquin Torres were complete misses. This left the club without the midfield depth it needed all season.
Tanner’s diamonds in the rough build quite a resume for him. Unfortunately, his misses are starting to show the club has a glaring weakness.
Is Tanner’s Budget to Blame?
Now, one of the Union’s core philosophies is they can be at the bottom of the league in spending and still compete at the top. This has been true in years past. Unfortunately, times are changing.
The first change is felt overall throughout the league. That is bigger stars are coming over. Lionel Messi’s arrival changed the landscape of MLS. For the entire league, it was a good thing. Unfortunately for the Union, if they stay stuck in their ways it will be bad.
Another way times have changed is the Academy is not pumping out Aaronson’s or McGlynn’s year after year. If the Academy isn’t pumping out top-level talent, Tanner has not shown the ability to fill the holes left by it in recent years.
How Many Union 2 Signings Before Fans Lose Patience?
Most of Tanner’s signings in the last 2 years haven’t made it past Union 2. Olwethu Makhanya, Gino Portella, and Anton Sorensen to name a few. This offseason, Tanner has made more similar signings such as Sanders Ngabo, Isiah LeFlore, and Nick Pariano.
How many times are the Union going to sign players who can’t crack it past MLS Pro Next until some questions about Tanner arise? Now, perhaps Tanner is not solely to blame. If the coaching staff isn’t able to build these players past U2 then that is an equal issue.
Simultaneously, these gripes about Tanner do need to be taken with a grain of salt. This is because it wouldn’t be a shocker if he wishes he had more money to work with. Not every player plucked from nowhere will turn out to be a Kai Wagner or Jacob Glesnes. However, with the budget Tanner is given, it is probably his only option.
A Quiet Offseason Is Not Helping
Unfortunately for Ernst Tanner, a quiet offseason is not helping this chatter. Especially as the fans are seeing other clubs make big signings. To name one Colorado just signed Zach Steffen from Manchester City and Inter Miami signed Luis Suarez.
Another issue with the quiet is the drama that ended with the Union season. Ale Bedoya was shorted by the club when they told him his time with the club was over. Also, Kai Wagner’s uncertain status amid his suspension in the playoffs. Both of these players are out of contract with no update on talks or confirmed departure.
The Union also stands to possibly lose the likes of Julian Carranza. This could make for 3 high-minute players out this window. On a team that is already thin, Tanner does not have any replacements lined up right now.
Is Tanner’s Job Safe?
Given the way the upper management of the club operates, it is likely safe to say Tanner’s job is safe. Tanner has won a Director of the Year award, a Supporters Shield, and appeared in an MLS Cup. For a club that shies away from drastic change, if Tanner leaves it is likely on his own accord.
A huge issue as the club departed its golden era, is Major League Soccer is changing. The signings are getting bigger and bigger. While the roster rules aren’t changing drastically, other clubs are still making it work.
Should the Union refuse to change with the times, they will likely get left in the dust. After a disappointing 2023 season, the jury is still out on the 2024 season.
Ernst Tanner is the reason the club had a golden era in the first place. However, he will need to really dig deep and find some studs if the Union wants to keep up with everyone else.