MLS Cup favorites? Philadelphia Union make statement to "doubter" 


The Philadelphia Union made a massive opening statement to begin their 2023 MLS season, coming from behind at home to lay a 4-1 smackdown on the Columbus Crew.

But that was nothing compared to the verbal smackdown head coach Jim Curtin had in store during Saturday night's post-match press conference at Subaru Park.

"Anonymous quotes are for cowards," Curtin said when asked about an unnamed league executive who attacked the Union this week in an article for the _The Athletic_.

"People are very brave when they make anonymous quotes."

As hard as it may seem, not everyone is on the Philadelphia hype train. Last season's MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield runners-up, the Union rolled their way to the Eastern Conference crown and were seconds away from winning it all before a miracle Gareth Bale header in the last gasps of stoppage time forced the 2022 final into a dramatic penalty shootout that eventually went to LAFC.

With the core of last year's squad intact (including every starter returning) and key offseason arrivals making them arguably stronger, the Union were near-unanimous picks to make another serious run in 2023. Based on their Matchday 1 performance, these predictions were well-founded.

Braces from 2022 MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire midfielder Daniel Gazdag (45+3', 72' – both from the penalty spot) and striker Julián Carranza (52', 80') paved the way for Saturday's lopsided result, which was capped off by a highlight-reel assist from new acquisition Joaquín Torres.

For Curtin, this was the perfect way to start off a season ripe with high expectations – and to send a message to any haters.

"I reminded the guys: yes everybody’s in love with us right now, picking us to win the Eastern Conference. But championships aren’t won on paper. Paper means nothing," he insisted.

"We still have a doubter out there, whoever made that quote."

As convincing as the final scoreline was, Curtin admitted the Crew – playing their first game under 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year finalist Wilfried Nancy after he left CF Montréal in December – made life difficult for the Union in the opening minutes. In fact, Jakob Glesnes' own goal in the 28th minute gave the visitors a surprise lead.

"If you look at the first 15 minutes of the game tonight, we didn't touch the soccer ball," Curtin said. "... That's going to be a very good team."

According to Curtin, his players' ability to turn the game into a blowout with little to no tactical instructions was hardly a fluke.

"I've said it a few times: the continuity of this group, of them staying healthy and playing all these minutes together, they all know each other's strengths, which is really, really important," Curtin said.

"... That comes with playing 90 minutes together over and over and over. And for the most part, [knock on wood] staying healthy together. That's a real weapon that we have."

And there are also new weapons like Torres, who made the most of his second-half appearance with a brilliant piece of skill.

"Joaquín maximized his minutes," Curtin stated of the Argentine attacker, who joined in a trade from Montréal. "Within 20 seconds he makes a game-changing play. The pass he makes there [for Carranza in the 80th minute], that's a next-level pass."

As much as Curtin wants his players to stay grounded, Philadelphia will look to stay rolling in next Saturday's trip to Inter Miami CF (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

"Four goals at home, three points. We’ll take it," Curtin said.