NOTE: This post has been updated to add comments from Union manager John Hackworth’s news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Philadelphia Union have acquired 39-year old-former Bundesliga goalkeeper Oka Nikolov, according to a news release from the club.
Nikolov becomes the third goalkeeper on the Union roster, joining starter Zac MacMath and backup Chris Konopka. He will become eligible to play for the Union when the summer transfer window opens for MLS on July 9.
“We’re excited to have a player with Nikolov’s experience and leadership join our team,” Union manager John Hackworth said in a news release. “We think he will provide excellent depth and mentorship to our young goalkeepers.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Hackworth characterized Nikolov someone who would not join the team as an immediate starter but rather have a role to play as a backup and mentor. That said, Nikolov would compete for playing time, just like any other Union player, Hackworth said. Nikolov’s willingness to accept that role, character, experience, and on-field performance convinced the Union to sign him as a free agent, Hackworth said.
The Union knew as far back as February that they planned to sign Nikolov and kept only two goalkeepers on the roster as a result, Hackworth said.
The Union will be only Nikolov’s second team in a career that began in 1994, most of which was spent in Germany’s top flight. After coming through the Eintracht Frankfurt youth system, Nikolov remained a faithful servant to the club, remaining with them for the next 20 years until today’s transfer to the Union. He played 414 matches for Frankfurt, including 229 in the Bundesliga, and also earned five caps for the Macedonian national team.
In recent years, he has played mostly as a backup, but he stepped in for injured starter Kevin Trapp to start eight games and help lead his club to the Euro League this year. He saved 23 of the 32 shots he faced this past season.
The decision to leave Frankfurt appears to have been Nikolov’s. Frankfurt released him Tuesday from a one-year contract so that he could end his career in the United States. He appears to have been the longest tenured player with any Bundesliga club.
“Eintracht are my one and only,” Nikolov said in a news release from the Bundesliga. “I had an absolutely incredible time with this fantastic team and I would like to thank both the club and the fans. However, throughout my career an opportunity to move to America and expand my horizons was always a dream of mine and one which I hope to fulfill now.”