Jan. 9—The Union kicked off their first day of preseason practice on Monday, and two players were on the field who weren't expected to be when last season ended.
There remains overseas interest in left back Kai Wagner and right back Olivier Mbaizo. It won't be surprising if either player is sold before the Union kick off their 2023 campaign at Subaru Park on Feb. 25.
But for now, they are here.
Wagner has had the most suitors. There was serious interest for months from the English Premier League's Leeds United, the home of U.S. men's national team stars Tyler Adams and Union alum Brenden Aaronson, with fellow American Jesse Marsch — a close friend of Jim Curtin's — as manager.
Late in the game, though, Leeds decided to go in a higher-profile direction, spending $12 million on Red Bull Salzburg's Max Wöber. He spent the last 3 1/2 years with the Austrian club, playing for Marsch and with Aaronson when they were there.
Wöber moved to England last week and debuted for Leeds on Sunday. Once that deal was done, the English media assumed Wagner wasn't coming. It was never quite clear, though, that the deals were mutually exclusive.
As of this week, it's clearer. Multiple sources have told The Inquirer that Leeds looks off the table as a destination.
Where else could Wagner go? There are rumors of interest in France and Italy, and one more in England that could prove fruitful: Newcastle United. The club's CEO, Darren Eales, used to be Atlanta United's president. He knows how to scout MLS.
In late December, TribalFootball.com floated Newcastle as a potential destination for Wagner. When this was put to the same sources, they didn't deny it as a possibility.
To be sure, the nets on the Subaru Park practice fields are made of sterner stuff than some of the threads that get spun into transfer rumors in England. But the expectation should remain that Wagner moves somewhere before Europe's winter transfer window closes on Jan. 31.
The Union know the Germany native has wanted to return to Europe for a few years now. His contract is up at the end of this season, so there's an incentive to do a deal instead of losing him for nothing.
Then again, with the Union likely to play more than 50 games this year, it might not hurt if Wagner ends up willing to stay until the summer, when European teams are traditionally more willing to spend.
As for Mbaizo, the theory was that his going to the World Cup with Cameroon — where he was the first active Union player ever to make a World Cup roster — would grow interest in him overseas. But he never took the field in Qatar, so there wasn't much growth.
There is interest, though. A source with knowledge of the matter confirmed that much, albeit without saying where it's from
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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