How Kacper Przybylko emerged to lead the Philadelphia Union's front line

Kacper Przybylko - celebrating - Philadelphia Union

CHESTER, Pa. — After spending his first six months with the Philadelphia Union in relative obscurity, German-born Polish striker Kacper Przybylko has broken out in a big way.

Originally signed back in mid-September, Pryzbylko was coming off a foot injury that had kept him out of action for nearly two full seasons. While he trained with the Union after his signing, he was still working back to fitness and the Union already had a good thing going heading into the playoffs. 

Aside from some promotional appearances, Union fans wouldn't get their first view of the 6-foot-4 striker with an infectious smile until he came on late in a 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact in April.

A week later, his 66th-minute goal salvaged a point in Vancouver. His reputation has been growing ever since with, goals against FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution and a beauty of an assist to set up Jamiro Monteiro’s game-winner in Toronto last weekend. 

“For a guy who has been out for the better part of 18 months to two years, for him to get in this run of form I think first of all starts with fitness and health. He has that for the first time in a while,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “His engine and ability to run defensively and cover ground and then also come to life on the counter attack like the second goal in Toronto is something he’s worked hard to get to.”

GOAL: Jamiro Monteiro finishes off a nice give and go

His rise has come in part out of necessity. 

Jamaican international Cory Burke has been out the past four games and is expected to miss at least three months because of visa issues, and offseason acquisition Sergio Santos has struggled with injuries and been limited to four substitute appearances. The Union dealt CJ Sapong to the Chicago Fire just before the start of the season, and traded David Accam last week to Columbus Crew SC.

That’s left Przybylko and Fafa Picault to lead the front line in the Union’s 4-4-2. 

“He’s a big guy with good feet, he likes to hold the ball up but can also play forward,” Picault said of his striking partner. “He has a few components to his game, and it allows me to move a bit freely and move off of him. And he’s also a target guy to look for in the box.”

Przybylko's innate attacking ability begun to show through with rehab starts with Bethlehem Steel FC last year, where he scored three goals in two games and displayed an intrinsic aggressiveness. In four starts for the first team, he’s fired off 16 shots.

“He only needs a half step to get a shot off," Curtin said. "He’s deceptive for a big guy in tight spaces, really good feet, holds up the ball up well and even defensively on corner kicks he’s been a big part of our defense.” 

The 26-year-old former Polish youth international seems to be enjoying the spotlight after seeing so much time rehabbing from injury with 1. FC Kaiserslautern, his last club in Germany, and a brief stint on the sidelines this season with a broken pinky toe.

“I am just happy to get the chance to play and I hope it can continue like this,” he said. “It’s important for the whole team that you have a lot of players in the same position. You need to have other players to push you and know you have to fight for your place.”

That said, with only four strikers currently available for selection, Przybylko is eager to show his coaching staff that they needn't be too concerned over their depth at the position approaching the MLS Secondary Transfer Window.

“For me it’s important to just continue like the last weeks just to show (the technical staff) that I want to be the first striker to help the team and give them the answer that they don’t need another one that I’m here and that they can count on me,” Przybylko said.