Experts Agree: Don't Underestimate Haris Medunjanin
One of my favorite things about following a soccer team are the instant experts that pop up about a player you know not very many people were paying attention to. This is particularly bad when a player is coming from something like a mid-table Costa Rican team or from somewhere in Eastern Europe. But it can happen with MLS players as well.
Haris Medunjanin is a fantastic MLS player by all accounts, and last year was one of the best midfielders in the league on a team that finished third in the Eastern Conference. He's a little older in the world of professional soccer, at 34, but played every single minute of every game for Philly last year. By all accounts he's going to be a huge upgrade in the FC Cincinnati midfield. That is, assuming the eventual manager can find the right balance of players in the midfield.
The thing is though, I haven't watched a lot of Philadelphia Union. At least not since Freddy Adu and Jimmy McLaughlin were teammates. So I'm not going to pretend to know much about Medunjanin's game. Had FCC made the preseason accessible to fans, I would have loved to have written about what I saw from him so far. But that didn't happen. So I went with the next best thing: asking Philadelphia Union experts what to expect from Haris Medunjanin this season.
Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Matt Ralph of Brotherly Game were kind enough to talk to me about Haris Medunjanin. Here's what they had to say.
What to expect from Haris Medunjanin:
MR (Matt Ralph): Haris has incredible passing range, a rocket for a left foot and was arguably one of the Union's most consistent performer last season while playing every minute of the season at age 34. He also played a very important role as a mentor to the younger players on the team, in particular Rookie of the Year finalist Brenden Aaronson, and wore the captain's arm band when Alejandro Bedoya picked up a late season injury. He also has a sense of humor, no tolerance for poor officiating even when it's the other team getting unfairly red carded and a harrowing back story.
JT (Jonathan Tannenwald): A great person with real leadership skills on and off the field. He's a terrific passer, but he's not very fast. So he's much more suited to a possession-style game than a high-tempo style game, which is why he the Union didn't want him anymore.
What did Medunjanin excel at when they played with Philadelphia?
JT: As I said above, he's a terrific passer. He can hit pinpoint long balls from a deep central midfield spot to just about anywhere, and he's quite good at free kicks and other set pieces too.
MR: Haris was really good at being a deep-lying playmaker who consistently split lines and sprung attacks spraying balls out to the attackers. He led the team in assists last season despite spending a lot of time playing as a 6 in a diamond midfield. He's also really good at taking care of himself and very disciplined on the field. Save for a major freakout moment where he went off on a referee in Atlanta in 2018, the guy has a squeaky clean disciplinary record.
What is something Medunjanin does that will have fans whining about online?
MR: Fans whined quite a bit about Haris at the start of last season because of some defensive lapses -- missing a mark on a set piece, getting beat pretty easily by a run into the box -- but as he settled in and grew more comfortable with the team's new look 4-4-2, the whines died down. Then interestingly enough they picked back up after he ended up going to Cincinnati. That's the natural cycle though right? Complain about a player when he has a bad game or two, celebrate him when he's playing well and the team is winning and then bring out the knives again when he ends up on another team in the offseason? Depending on how he is used in Cincinnati and once fans see how deadly his left foot is they could be whining that he doesn't shoot enough too.
JT: Press him hard and he'll turn the ball over - especially when there aren't ball-winning teammates around hm.
What famous player would you say has a similar play style?
JT: Late-era Andrea Pirlo, but not quite that immobile. You won't catch him standing on a goal post on a corner kick - in fact, you're more likely to see him yelling at teammates while the play goes by him. But put the right guys around him and he can be really effective.
MR: Sergio Busquets
A huge thanks to both Matt Ralph and Jonathan Tannenwald for taking time away from their busy schedules to help FC Cincinnati fans set their expectations. It is clear Medunjanin will require a defensive partner in the midfield, and might need a second one as well. Alan Cruz and Caleb Stanko jump off the roster sheet as the two players that make the most sense to partner with Medunjanin. And depending on both Medunjanin's health and de Jong's health, the two of them could very well be trading playing time and being the creative force in the midfield. Either way, whoever comes in to manage this team will have a subtly powerful offensive weapon in Medunjanin at their disposal.