The face of the #PlayYourKids movement in 2020, the Union showed if those kids are good enough, they’re old enough and ready to win trophies in MLS. They held up the Supporters’ Shield on Decision Day, the club’s first-ever trophy, then transferred Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie to Europe in two of the league’s most lucrative deals.
Now, they have to prove it wasn’t a fluke and the pipeline has churned out the next wave of homegrown stars. It won’t be easy, particularly given they’re not splashing record-breaking incoming transfer fees anytime soon, but that’s the Union way.
- MLS Reg. Season: 1st in Eatern Conference (44 pts - 2.04 PPG - 14-4-5, +24 GD)
- Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: Eliminated in Round One by New England Revolution, 2-0
A perfect fit in the club’s high-energy system, Monteiro has thrived in Philly since his move to the club in 2019. He’s typically played as one of the two shuttlers in the 4-4-2 diamond but is adept as a No. 10 as well.
The 2020 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year was as big a reason as any for the Union lifting the Shield at season’s end. He is still at the top of his game, though he’ll likely miss some MLS games when away with the Jamaican national team this summer.
Przybylko’s goal scoring record dipped a bit in 2020 from his breakout 2019, but the big striker is still the club’s talisman. An unselfish center forward, he typifies the club’s team-first ethos.
Young Player to Watch
Philly’s definition of “young” is vastly different than many others. Anthony Fontana is probably the actual answer here, but the 21-year-old is a veteran by the Union’s standard. So let’s go with de Vries. The 18-year-old made his debut in 2020 and Jim Curtin is content to enter the season with him as the fourth forward. He’ll get plenty of chances and could be in for a breakout.
- Stuart Findlay: Finlay was acquired from Scottish club Kilmarnock FC and is a Scottish international center back. He fits in nicely with the club’s high-pressing ethos, meaning the center backs have to have a decent turn of pace and the ability to defend in space.
- Leon Flach: The second of two senior additions prior to the season’s start, the Union signed Flach from FC St. Pauli in Germany. The 20-year-old US youth international is seen by the club as a central midfielder, but he can also play both fullback spots, making him a valuable squad player for Curtin.
- Brenden Aaronson: The first of two outgoing 2020 MLS Best XI members the club need to replace, Aaronson joined RB Salzburg this winter from the Union. He hit the ground running in Austria, walking straight into the starting XI. Anthony Fontana is expected to replace Aaronson in the Union’s first choice lineup.
- Mark McKenzie: McKenzie soon followed Aaronson from Philly to Europe, signing with KRC Genk. The Union were already deep in central defense, signing Jakob Glesnes last season to go with incumbent Jack Elliott, then added Finlay this winter.
- Ray Gaddis: Simply put, there is only one Ray Gaddis for the Philadelphia Union. Gaddis surprised many by announcing his retirement this winter. He was slated to be the starting right back again, but the club legend’s influence may be greater missed in the locker room.
Projected Starting XI
- Goalkeepers (4): Joe Bendik, Andre Blake, Matt Freese, Greg Ranjitsingh
- Defenders (8): Aurelien Collin, Jack Elliott, Stuart Findlay, Jakob Glesnes, Nathan Harriel, Olivier Mbazio, Matt Real, Kai Wagner
- Midfielders (13): Paxten Aaronson, Alejandro Bedoya, Brandan Craig, Jack de Vries, Leon Flach, Anthony Fontana, Ilsinho, Jose Martinez, Jack McGlynn, Jamiro Monteiro, Matej Oravec, Quinn Sullivan, Cole Turner
- Forwards (3): Cory Burke, Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos
Armchair Analyst's Breakdown
- Strength: They brought back the core of the group that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2020, which is a pretty nice start. And the vast majority of those guys are smack in the primes of their careers, which is not something most teams can say.
- Weakness: They lost three starters, two of whom were Best XI guys. As of now it looks like the replacements for all three will come from within. The Union are better equipped to handle this than any other team in the league, but I’d expect this team to scuffle along for a bit at the start of the season as they figure out exactly how to replace Aaronson, McKenzie and Gaddis.
- Charles Boehm: 3rd in East
- Tom Bogert: 5th in East
- Susannah Collins: 6th in East
- Charlie Davies: 5th in East
- Matthew Doyle: 6th in East
- Sam Jones: 5th in East
- Michael Lahoud: 9th in East
- Joe Lowery: 4th in East
- Jillian Sakovits: 5th in East
- Greg Seltzer: 7th in East
- Steve Zakuani: 5th in East