Kerith Gabriel: A new era of Raúl chants in Philadelphia?

Posted: May 09, 2012

Might Union fans on Wednesday night be introduced to what would certainly be the cure to the club’s scoring woes?

Legendary Spanish striker Raúl González Blanco — known to soccer fans worldwide simply as Raúl — will play his final game for his current club, Schalke 04, when the German Bundesliga giants visit the Union at PPL Park (7:30 p.m.).

Since he announced last month that he would be leaving Schalke, there has been quite a bit of discussion over where the former Real Madrid and Spain great is headed next.

Among the potential destinations is Major League Soccer. MLS commissioner Don Garber told a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors last month that the league “was interested” in bringing Raúl to the United States.

A source with knowledge of Raúl’s situation told the Daily News that a discussion with an MLS club “has taken place” and that his decision of where to play next “will not be long” in coming after Wednesday’s match.

The timing of Raúl’s farewell, and the fact that he’ll be a free agent after the match, means the Union could snatch him up. Team officials declined to comment.

The biggest issue would be whether the club can work on reducing Raúl’s hefty price tag. While at Schalke, his salary was $4 million a year.

By contrast, the Union’s entire payroll was just more than $2.6 million last season, and is currently estimated at $4.5 million.

Does the game against the Union give the team the first crack at enticing Raúl not just to MLS, but to Philadelphia? Without question.

There seem to be some parallels between Raúl’s situation and the manner in which the Union acquired Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón in early 2011. Mondragón played against the United States national team at PPL Park in October 2010, and a few months later, he was back in Philadelphia as a member of the Union.

Without question, Raúl would fit in with the Union and help its anemic offense. The club has only five goals in eight matches, and has shown no signs of improving its scoring.

In his time with Schalke, the 34-year-old Spaniard scored 28 goals in 66 matches. He won the German Cup and the German SuperCup in 2011, and led his team to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League in 2010.

Of course, Raúl is most known for his glittering 16 years of playing for Spanish superpower Real Madrid.

He scored 228 goals in 550 La Liga games and his 323 goals across all competitions still stands as the club’s best ever tally. He also holds the all-time Champions League record for goals scored with 71, and the all-time Champions League appearances record with 144.

All of this translated into six La Liga titles and three Champions League crowns. Raúl also scored 44 goals in 102 appearances for Spain’s national team from 1996 to 2006.

Although Raúl’s next destination isn’t yet known, this much is certain: He’s leaving Europe.

“My playing future is not in Europe,” he said last month. “They were wonderful years that I will always bear in my heart. I was able to do what I like doing the best: playing, playing, playing.”

If Union ownership decides to spend the money, then the first step would be to file a designated player claim with the league before another MLS club does. This would provide the Union with first dibs on Raúl’s rights. An MLS club can make a designated player claim before reaching an oral agreement on a player.

Should the Union be able to entice Raúl to Philly, the next step would be obtaining his international transfer certificate and a work visa.

Union manager Peter Nowak has said many times that he doesn’t believe in the designated player ideology, unless the player absolutely fits in. Freddy Adu, by salary default last season ($594,884) became the club’s first DP.

But Adu isn’t a striker, and that’s a position where the Union need serious help right now.

Raúl is a caliber of player who would immediately raise the level of every player on the roster. In a Union locker room filled with young and developing talent, Raúl would serve as the ultimate role model — especially for the team’s group of Central and South American players. He speaks their language and can relate to their cultures.

Much as Mondragón did — and Carlos Ruiz, for all his faults — Raúl can raise the Union’s level of play, and return the club to contender status in MLS.

Nowak has told the Daily News on several occasions that if he were to ever consider giving designated player money (in the millions) to anyone, it would have to be a game-changer, someone who leads by example, both on the field and off.

Well, Raúl is closing in on 500 career goals, has never received a red card, and though he may have slowed a bit with age, is still regarded as one of the best forwards in the world.

Seems to fit Nowak’s criteria perfectly, wouldn’t you say?

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.

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