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Union signed striker Chris Donovan – The Philly Soccer Page

Photo: Ben Ross

Late Friday night, the Philadelphia Union announced the signing of Philadelphia Union II forward Chris Donovan of MLS NEXT Pro.

Since Donovan was drafted during the preseason and then pulled out of the Columbus Crew, the Union had to take the top spot in the Chicago Fire’s MLS withdrawal sequence in order to sign Donovan. Union sent $50,000 to the 2022 GAM in Fire for the right to sign Donovan.

MLS NEXT Pros sign contracts with their individual clubs, not the entire organization. It remains unclear if the first team had any priority to sign him over other MLS teams.

The signing of Donovan is the first opportunity for Union fans to understand the details of how the new relationship between the first and second teams will work in practice. The system is not the same as in Major League Baseball, where the parent club chooses the contract of a player in their farm system who is not on the roster of 40 without any obvious need to deal with some other major league club.

Tuesday, June 14, was the first day that a waiver could be filed. The union apparently completed the deal in three days, a sign of thoroughness, efficiency and advance planning.

Comments by sporting director Ernst Tanner support the idea that the signing could have been planned for some time. “Chris really took the opportunity at this club and has made incredible strides since arriving in Philadelphia. His mentality and dedication to his development is a perfect example of what can be achieved in our system and what the Union of Philadelphia stands for. We have brought in a solid MLS NEXT Pro player and we now believe that Chris will immediately be able to contribute to our first team. We look forward to seeing what he does with this opportunity.”

Donovan, 21, graduated from Conestoga HS, a local school in Trediffrin, Chester. He then played for Drexel for four years, earning several local and regional awards. This season he appeared in all eleven matches played by Union II. Ten were in MLS NEXT Pro, where he started seven times and came off the bench three times. Eleventh was a friendly fundraising match played against the Ukrainian nationals of North Wales, Pennsylvania where he came off the bench in a match that was used to get Union II reserves needed game minutes.

In MLS NEXT Pro, he leads Union II with three goals and 30 shots of which 12 were on target and he has an assist. He also leads the team in total minutes played, with 736 out of 11 games between the regular season and a friendly.

He met the old standard of former Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke of 700 to 900 minutes for a fair estimate, and now Tanner has taken the plunge.

Donovan trained with the first team when everyone was together during preseason in Florida and did so again during the international break. He now joins fellow players Cole Turner, Anton Sorenson and Brendan Craig in training daily with the first team. Like them, he is likely to get most (if not all) of his playing minutes for Union II, especially since one of their other three forwards is currently unavailable due to injury.

But now the Union is at the top: Sergio Santos temporarily did not receive his green card, and Paxten Aaronsohn and Quinn Sullivan left for the national team. Donovan may have the opportunity to get into the game day squad.

Donovan is listed in the additional list in slots 25-28. He is the sixth Union player listed for those four slots. A partial review of other first-team lineups reveals that Union is by no means the only MLS team currently placing five or six players in four slots.

Implied

The most obvious implication of this is that teenagers Jose Riasco and Nelson Pierre will now be the main strikers in Union II training, especially while Stefan Stojanovic recovers from injury. Each teenager will drastically increase the number of repetitions, since Donovan will not do them anymore. The learning curve for both young people should accelerate.

This change also means that Riasco is better able to absorb instructions than he was when he arrived, and that the coaching staff are better able to provide them than they were at the time. PSP is assured that both teachers and students are working hard to improve their respective second languages.

Another takeaway is that once the U17s finish their postseason and get a few well-deserved days off, they will likely have at least one forward ready to move to Union II, and possibly more.

If Union fans see Chris Donovan on the field against the first team, they should first look for a dirty defensive player whose physical and mental changes happen almost instantly. On offense, they will see a player who will have to adjust to the speed and strength of the MLS, but who during pre-season assumed he could handle them, at least at their February level. He knows how to create opportunities. Now he needs to learn how to finish them more reliably.

It is discussed in more detail in Part 3 of the PSP Mid-Season Union II Roster Review. He is the first player to be discussed in the “Four Strikers” section.

He will wear the number 25 last worn by Ilsinho.

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