With 2023 MLS season paused due to the Leagues Cup, it seemed the perfect time to look back at the Philadelphia Union's season so far. The guys from the Across the Pitch podcast give their thought on the Union's campaign as the team gears up for Thursday's Round of 32 tie against DC United.
Goal of the season:
Mike- Jose Martinez obviously had the most drama but how about the 2 bangers from Kai against Minnesota. Despite the loss, Wagner rose to the occasion and delivered us a game to remember.
Dave- Jose Martinez's first MLS goal is the obvious answer for this award. The technique of the strike with it bouncing towards him, the power he got on the shot and the way it flew into the back of the net was all sensational. Kai Wagner's goal in Colorado deserves a special shout out for how important it was in the context of the season.
Jose- It is very hard to argue against the amazing volley that Jose Martinez scored. Heck, when comparing it to Rafanello’s wondergoal for the Union II, Jim Curtin was quick to select it.
Moment of the season:
Mike- Curtin and Tanner’s extension. The future of this club is secured for a bit longer. Considering the uncertainty we had entering the season, this is massive for the club.
Dave- The 2-1 victory in Colorado. The Union played their 3-4-1-2 formation for the first time with success. It highlighted that not only was there a plan B, but Jim Curtin was willing to change the system and the tactical approach to get results. It has helped get the best out of players like Jesus Bueno, Damion Lowe, Kai Wagner, Leon Flach and Daniel Gazdag.
Jose- The 2-2 win for the Union over Atlas was extremely impressive. Not only was it necessary to move on to the next round, but it was in Mexico, a very hostile environment.
Mike- Martinez. He has played well and is now producing on the offensive end more. He’s also made players like Flach better when they were paired together in front of the back 3. I assume he’s also had a positive influence on players like Bueno in training.
Dave- Andre Blake continues to be the most important player for the Union. His absence from the team has been more than noticeable this season. Joe Bendik has started in four of the Union's seven defeats in MLS play this season, conceding 13 goals in eight appearances. After missing more games than usual, Blake's match-winning and points-saving goalkeeping has been much more appreciated this year. His incredible performance against Tijuana further highlights his greatness.
Jose- After many records being set by players and the squad as a whole, not many thought that things could remain. Fortunately for us, Daniel Gazdag has taken on the challenge and continued his form from last season. He is not only assisting but also proving himself as a sniper from the penalty spot.
Mike- Mcglynn. Beginning to see why he should start every match and he’s maturing into such a strong distributor each time he plays. He also had a great USYNT run.
Dave- Jack McGlynn continues to impress after having a true breakout season last year. His range of passing has further developed, and his maturity as a player has grown throughout the season. The 20-year-old will hopefully be on the teamsheet for years to come.
Jose- With this being the Philadelphia Union, answering this question is incredibly difficult. McGlynn and Harriel have continued to evolve, but the “award” has to be given to Sullivan. He is a player that has been incredibly patient, and now we are reaping the benefits of his movement and speed.
Mike- Not even close for me. Bueno went from non existent to a staple of the rotation in just a matter of months. He is beginning to be the heir apparent to Bedoya on the right side of the diamond.
Dave- There was clearly a player there when the Union bought Jesus Bueno from Deportivo Lara. It may have taken them longer than anticipated, but Jim Curtin and Bueno's patience is being rewarded. It was clear that they had faith in his development. The Union have been quick to realise when a signing will not work out (Davo, Matej Oravec and Andres Perea all leaving without getting a sniff at the first team), but their development plan for Bueno has paid off.
He has made a serious case to be a consistent starter heading into the second half of the season. His versatility to play in the six or the right side of the midfield will help his case. He is a fearless player that offers plenty in attack, and his movement off the ball has impressed. He could be the difference for the Union, not only in the Leagues Cup but the MLS Playoffs.
Jose- The limelight often goes to players like Glesnes, Martinez, and Gazdag. However, some recognition has to be given to Carranza. His growth has certainly been noticed, as we often hear from Jim about the inevitable departure. His improved pressure off the ball and finishing will earn the Union a hefty transfer fee.
Mike- Leon Flach. He has at times played out of position but offensively he just hasn’t grown enough for me to put him over Jack or Bueno right now in the midfield. Defensively he is still strong, but his offensive woes are still visibly present.
Dave- The impact that Damion Lowe has had on the team when playing in the three at the back has been vital. When he signed from Inter Miami, the thought was that he would be the third choice centre back and fill in when needed. However, not only has he been a vital cog in the three at the back, which has rejuvenated the team, but he has become a huge fan favourite. The team is better with Lowe in it.
Jose- Damion Lowe. Another gem acquired by the Union from the mess that was Inter Miami before the Messi era. Who would have thought that an Elliott, Glesnes, and Wagner defense could get better?
Mike- Perea. Simply because he’s not seeing any time at all. You can even throw in Torres. Two players with MLS experience and neither are being impactful or even seeing minutes. Might be able to say this is disappointing too, but I’m just surprised how poorly they’ve adjusted to the Union.
Dave- Two names instantly spring to mind. Joaquin Torres and Andres Perea. When they signed earlier this year, the excitement was that the Union had signed two MLS-experienced depth pieces who would have a big impact with the CCL campaign. However, Perea has now been shipped off to NYCFC on loan, and Torres is making late cameos off the bench. Thank goodness for Damion Lowe.
Jose- Joaquin Torres. A player I was very high on going into the season. Unfortunately, he has had very little to show in terms of production. Hopefully, in the second half of the year, he can find his way.
Assessing the first half of the season out of ten:
Mike- 7 out of 10. We sit 3rd in the east, have grown and developed as a team, made the CCL semis, and should make a push for Leagues Cup. Think injuries and international duty handcuffed us at times, but so far I’m pleased with where we are.
Dave- 6.5 out of ten. That nine-game unbeaten run during April and May has put the team in a strong position to get at least one home playoff game. However, seven defeats is not good enough. It was disappointing to be eliminated early in the Open Cup once again, plus the inconsistent form since the start of June has seen a failure to close the gap on FC Cincinnati, who have struggled for consistency as of late. Third place in the East is strong, but being 11 points off the top when there have been opportunities to be much closer is frustrating.
Jose- So far, it has to be a seven. The team has played many more games when comparing to the rest of the league. As fans, we have experienced the highest of the highs but also the lowest of the lows, all in only one half of the season.
Expectations for the second half:
Mike- Second half I expect this team, with now a third striker, to finish 2nd in the East. We make an MLS Cup Final and even a Leagues Cup final.
Dave- To try and close the gap to Cincinnati and accomplish a top-two finish in the East. We saw how crucial home advantage in the playoffs was last season. For the playoffs, I feel that the team will at least reach the Eastern Conference, where they will likely travel to Cincy.
I believe that the Union will also go deep into the Leagues Cup, with home advantage until at least the semi-finals; there is no excuse not to. However, considering how close this team has come as of late, you feel that they need to win a trophy sooner rather than later, especially with the landscape of the MLS changing.
Jose- I believe that the Union will make a great run to the final of the Leagues Cup. The tournament can run through Chester, the fortress that they have built. Five games, that is all it takes.
MLS playoffs-wise, I think that this is where it will be incredibly difficult. Even more so if they do not hold matches at home.
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