Moves, con­tract ren­der Bar­netta’s sta­tus un­cer­tain

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

Tran­quillo Bar­netta isn’t the first mem­ber of the Philadel­phia Union that man­ager Jim Curtin has vo­cif­er­ously called un­der­rated.

But when the man­ager lodged that ob­jec­tion at a press con­fer­ence two weeks ago, he did so with a lit­tle panache.

“I saw an ar­ti­cle writ­ten about the top No. 10s in the league,” Curtin said then, “and Tran­quillo wasn’t even on the list, which was the fun­ni­est thing I’ve ever seen.”

Bar­netta’s per­for­mance in last Satur­day’s 1-1 draw with Mon­treal, in which he scored a bril­liant goal that re­flects an in­ci­sive edge few play­ers in MLS pos­sess, fur­ther builds Curtin’s case for the Swiss mid­fielder, and adds pres­sure to the de­ci­sions loom­ing for his fu­ture. So might a ros­ter move the Union made Thurs­day, sign­ing Ger­man mid­fielder Kevin Kratz, who roughly plays a sim­i­lar po­si­tion as Bar­netta.

The cen­tral thrust of Curtin’s lofty praise is some­times lost in Bar­netta’s ac­com­plish­ments. Yes, the 31-year-old ar­rived in Philadel­phia last Au­gust as one of the most dec­o­rated and well-known play­ers the club has ever had, a vet­eran of over 300 games in the Ger­man Bun­desliga, 20-some in Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion and three World Cups.

But in 13 months with the Union, he’s been asked to switch po­si­tions from the winger role at which he made his name to the No. 10 cen­tral po­si­tion and has dep­u­tized in a deeper-ly­ing No. 8 mid­field po­si­tion that he’s rarely played as a pro. All that while run­ning the gam­bit of tran­si­tion­ing from Euro­pean presea­son to the heat of the MLS sea­son last sum­mer and adapt­ing to the usual rig­ors of Amer­i­can phys­i­cal­ity, cli­mate, travel, etc.

With that level of up­heaval, the fact that Bar­netta has scored five goals and four as­sists this sea­son while shoul­der­ing the bur­den of the cap­taincy for large stretches in the ab­sence of Mau­rice Edu makes Curtin’s case con­vinc­ing.

Bar­netta cred­its Curtin’s faith in help­ing man­age the changes, last year and this.

“That’s one big thing that when I de­cided to come here that I felt al­ready, this con­fi­dence in the be­gin­ning,” Bar­netta said Wed­nes­day. “Even I knew when I was not on my best in the be­gin­ning, he al­ways backed me up and said I’m sure you will get back to your form when you are phys­i­cally on your level. I’m happy that I can pay back that con­fi­dence.”

Bar­netta’s de­pend­abil­ity is even more re­mark­able given the po­si­tional curve­balls thrown his way. His last sus­tained spell as a No. 10 was in his youth; much of his time in the Bun­desliga and with Switzer­land was spent on the wing, though age and chronic knee is­sues fa­vored the less run­ning-in­ten­sive switch in MLS. Drop­ping back to the No. 8 was an­other di­men­sion al­to­gether, but he took that change in stride.

“When I started to play pro­fes­sion­ally, it was all kinds of po­si­tions,” Bar­netta said. “I think that was one good thing about play­ing in (Bayer) Lev­erkusen on dif­fer­ent spots, it helps you a lot to grow up on the field. It doesn’t mat­ter where you play. You try to un­der­stand your role, and that’s what I did here.”

Bar­netta’s in­dis­pens­abil­ity for the Union con­tra­dicts his con­tract sit­u­a­tion. Bar­netta signed on an 18-month deal that ex­pires at sea­son’s end, a pact which al­lowed both player and club the flex­i­bil­ity it de­sired at the time. With the ac­qui­si­tion of Ale­jan­dro Be­doya this sum­mer, the long-term vi­sion of the Union could po­si­tion Be­doya as a No. 10, while Roland Al­berg, warts and all, scores more pro­lif­i­cally, makes less money and is younger at 26.

Re­ports out of Switzer­land Thurs­day (ob­tained and trans­lated by Philly Soc­cer Page) in­di­cate that Bar­netta is weigh­ing op­tions to re­turn home and fin­ish his ca­reer. He cut his teeth at St. Gallen be­fore mak­ing the jump to Lev­erkusen, and he’s not yet in the twi­light of a ca­reer that started with St. Gallen months after his 17th birth­day.

Here’s where Kratz may come in, ac­quired first as late-sea­son depth. The 29-year-old free agent was signed ahead of MLS’s ros­ter freeze. He last played for SV Sand­hausen in the 2.Bun­desliga and logged 14 Bun­desliga games with Ein­tra­cht Braun­schweig in its only top-flight sea­son of 201314, scor­ing one goal.

Kratz has played over 200 games in Ger­many, 108 in the sec­ond di­vi­sion. The Bayer Lev­erkusen youth prod­uct, who is rep­re­sented by the same man­age­ment com­pany as Al­berg, has pre­vi­ously been on trial with NASL/soon-to-be MLS ex­pan­sion side Min­nesota United. In short, he doesn’t bring the pedi­gree to re­place Bar­netta.

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