I’ve been a Union fan since the day they first existed, and what a sorry existence it has been. The Union are the proud winners of rare relevancy, first round playoff exits, and painful losses in a tournament most teams don’t care about. That is to say they’ve done nothing and won nothing, not even the respect of their own fans. “Same old Union.” “That’s so Union.” These are the battlecries of the Union’s weary fans.
Enter Sergio Santos.
Quite frankly, the least interesting part about the Union signing Sergio Santos is the player himself. He’s a 24 year old Brazilian striker who has a good combination of power and speed and took a big step forward in the Chilean First Division this season. As is often the case with signings like these, what people know about him is limited to YouTube highlights, Wikipedia, and other easily Google-able sources. If you want to get the basics on who he is, the Union’s website has put together a few articles and videos.
What makes his signing so interesting is how not “same old union” it is. Every year, Union fans wait for news of signings, often waiting until after training camp starts in February before finding out that the Union were bringing in one or two unwanted players on a free transfer or free loan. More often than not, the player proved why they were unwanted by their previous club and the Union limped along to mediocre results until they could restart the cycle the following year.
None of this applies to Santos. I cannot remember the last time the Union made a notable signing in December. For once, Union fans do not need to wonder if the team would play better early in the season if they just had a full preseason together. Credible reports indicate that a Mexican First Division team was hot for Santos and made a similar or better bid than the Union, only to see the Union convince Santos to choose them. The Union paid an actual substantial transfer fee in the range of $500,000 (American) to secure him.
Another interesting note is that the Union last brought in a player from Latin American in January 2016. This is one of the primary differences the Union have seen between general managers. Earnie Stewart’s connections were all in Europe, and so the players he signed were typically Europeans or playing in Europe. While Ernst Tanner was also based in Europe, his job was typically to scout the entire globe for young up-and-coming talent, which means his connections are much broader. The list of players he found includes many talents from South America and Africa in addition to those he found in his own backyard.
All this is to say…this doesn’t happen to, for, or with the Union. The Union do not spend money in December to bring in up and coming players that other teams want. It just…doesn’t happen. It has never happened. It is the first sign in the franchise’s history that they are actually serious about competing rather than just trying to make it look like they’re serious. This isn’t a big name player brought in to generate hype. This isn’t an expensive player just for the sake of bringing in an expensive player.
This is the type of signing Union fans have been craving for close to a decade: a young goalscorer heading into his prime who can actually elevate the team to the next level if he can make the adjustment to the MLS.
And the craziest thing is that the Union are pretty adamant that it’s not even the last signing they’ll announce in 2018. The last time the Union signed more than one player in November/December was November/December of 2011, a full seven years ago (bonus points to anybody who can name any of the three players the Union brought in – they combined for a total of 47 league appearances and none of them were on the team for more than one season). It is really hard to overstate how out of character it is for the Union to do this.
If you’re not a Union fan, well, they’ve done nothing to make you be a fan, so I don’t blame you. But maybe just keep them in the corner of your eye going forward. We may be seeing a new era of Union, one that lets us say “Brand New Union” instead of “Same Old Union”. One that may be worth watching and following.
Or they’ll screw this up. That’d be so Union.