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February 14, 2017

Union notes: Chester ink, Gold Cup conflicts and escalating interest

No romance for the Philadelphia Union, who spent Valentine's Day on a plane to Florida.

The club returned to Clearwater for phase three of the preseason, which involves participation in the Suncoast Invitational tournament. The Union will face NASL hosts Tampa Bay on Saturday, then MLS rivals D.C. United and Montreal Impact next week.

Joining the Union in Florida is Haris Medunjanin, the Bosnian midfielder who was officially signed on January 31st.

Medunjanin arrived in Philadelphia on Monday but did not train at Penn Park, instead touring Chester facilities and receiving a physical.

"We thought with the travel that it wasn't the smartest thing to throw him out here on the turf," Union head coach Jim Curtin said. "This was his first time seeing the building, so the initial reaction is that he's excited and he wants to fit in well with the group, which we know he will. But his first impressions of seeing the building and the facilities – it's funny, because more and more you hear this from a lot of the European guys – that there's nothing like this in (Europe). Spain, for example, he said far and away that this is better facility-wise than what they had there, and in Israel as well. So it's good to hear, but at the same time now we're excited to get him with the group and start to get to work."

It was Earnie Stewart's Dutch connection that lured Medunjanin to Philadelphia.

The midfielder played at AZ Alkmaar from 2004 to 2008, the club where Stewart served as technical director from 2010 to 2015. Stewart was actually working for NAC Breda when Medunjanin played for Alkmaar, so while they didn't cross paths at AZ, Stewart was familiar with Medunjanin as a rising Eredivisie player and former Dutch youth international.

"Earnie obviously had known Haris from AZ Alkmaar. They had contact there," Curtin said. "They had a good discussion, in terms of communicating what we think of him as far as where he fits in positionally. I think it was important that there is that initial connection that he has, that relationship. We saw him play live a couple of times. We went over and saw him play in the Europa League. Chris Albright went over and saw him. Again, he's a guy that fits the way we want to have possession of the ball and dictate the tempo of things. He's a great passer. You've seen his qualities and what he brings. Excited to have him on board now. It's a quick turnaround, you have a couple of weeks now to get him acclimated and bring him up to speed with the group, but we're really happy to have him on board."

Medunjanin did not come to Philadelphia before signing with the Union. The correspondence he had with Albright, Stewart, Curtin, and the rest of the staff was enough to convince him to move to Major League Soccer without a preliminary visit.

"So much of it is online now," Curtin explained. "You can see the (facility) tours and the different things that people have done media-wise. He had a good feeling about the club. Things escalated pretty quickly once there was an interest. But the old relationship that Earnie had, and knowing him and being able to pick up the phone and having his number was a big selling point for sure. He's looking for a new challenge in his career and this was one that fit. We're thrilled to have such a talented guy and anxious to get him out on the field training."

Gold Cup redux

The Gold Cup returns to Philadelphia this year with a quarterfinal doubleheader on July 19th at Lincoln Financial Field.

That's the same day as a Union road game in Montreal, so the club could be going up against the United States national team in the same time slot, minus Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake, assuming both players are still involved in the tournament.

This marks the third year in a row that the Linc will host a meaningful summer soccer tournament. The 2015 Gold Cup final was played in the Eagles' stadium. Last year, three matches of the Copa America Centenario also took place at the Linc.

Personally, I think it's great to see meaningful international soccer at Lincoln Financial Field, in lieu of cash-grab exhibition games.

Philly Ink

The Union put up a job posting this week for a "Chief Tattoo Officer."

That's correct.

They are looking for a "Chief Tattoo Officer."

Here's how the team describes the position:

"This is a one-of-a-kind, revolutionary position for an artist or shop to become the go-to place for the Union. Players, coaches, front office staff and even fans will come to you for their tattoos, Union related or not. Tattoos are for life, just like supporting a club, and we want you doing the work."

No sports team has ever added a position like this before, but I'd also hesitate to call it a "position," since it seems like this is more of a marketing agreement with a local shop. This isn't the same as adding a salaried front office position.

That would eliminate the idea that, "well, the Union can spend money on a tattoo artist but not a decent striker!"

Some people might see this as a goofy PR stunt, but so what? You've got national and international outlets writing about the "Chief Tattoo Officer" and giving exposure to the Union brand. All publicity is good publicity, especially for a club that doesn't get much media coverage in its own market.

I don't know how many people will be lining up for tattoos, but a younger-trending soccer crowd does create a niche market for ink. I could see Sons of Ben members getting on board with this initiative.

For a team that has been mostly boring and conservative since 2010, this is something new and unique. At least give them credit for exploring new avenues and trying something different.