Philadelphia Union have Julian Carranza for good, hold him to Taty Castellanos’ standard

Up until the day before Wednesday’s eventual 2-1 win at Inter Miami CF, the Philadelphia Union carried on like striker Julian Carranza, coming off an MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire nod, couldn’t play.

The reason? The 22-year-old Argentine’s wintertime loan agreement from Miami to Philly, an intra-league move, wouldn’t allow it.

But a breakthrough was announced roughly five hours before kickoff: The Union had exercised their purchase option on the Young Designated Player midseason, and he was cleared to play at DRV PNK Stadium. Carranza eventually subbed on for club-record signing Mikael Uhre in the 61st minute, helping Philly move atop the Eastern Conference standings ahead of the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.

“Obviously he's a starter for us, but we prepared all week with Cory [Burke] in the lineup and I thought it would be unfair [to change],” head coach Jim Curtin said postgame. “We learned officially that it was okay for Julian to play as he walked off the training field Tuesday, yesterday. So it was really late in the game. I just didn't think it was right to change there. Also knowing we have a two-day turnaround, it's not the worst to keep guys' legs fresh going into Saturday.”

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Julian Carranza shield the ball from Gregore in Wednesday's game at DRV PNK Stadium. (Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

The upcoming Saturday match features the league’s last two Supporters’ Shield winners, Philly in 2020 and the New England Revolution in 2021, coming together at Subaru Park (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). It’ll be an opportunity for Carranza to keep building on his combined 11 goals and assists (7g/4a) thus far, and return to the home field where he scored a hat trick in a historic 7-0 win over D.C. United last weekend.

Carranza’s deal goes permanent for only $500,000 in General Allocation Money split evenly across the next two seasons, and follows a second-round pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft being sent Miami’s way for the initial move. Curtin also revealed there was a trigger clause in the contract that Carranza was approaching, which kicked in at 15 combined goals and assists.

Semantics aside, Curtin affirmed that it’s given Philly a high-potential striker who he again likened to NYCFC’s Taty Castellanos. Just one year older than Carranza, Castellanos won the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi in 2021 and carries a stated $15-million price tag on the transfer market.

“We want him here, we want him scoring goals and we'll hold him to the standard of being the next Taty Castellanos,” Curtin said of Carranza. “I'm going to keep saying that name and it's going to probably drive him nuts. I hope it aggravates him, but I'm going to keep saying it until he becomes that because he has the talent to do it.”

Though he didn’t score against Miami, the half-hour runout was nonetheless an emotion-filled experience for Carranza. He had originally joined the Herons in July 2019 for a reported $6 million from Banfield in his home country, one of their first signings before a 2020 expansion campaign.

But Carranza never really hit a groove or was preferred under two different managers in now-Uruguay boss Diego Alonso and current leader Phil Neville. He scored three goals across 42 appearances (11 starts), often stuck behind DP center forward Gonzalo Higuain on IMCF's depth chart.

Then in MLS Week 20, returning to Florida, Carranza donned the Union’s navy-blue kit instead of Miami’s pink ones.

“It feels weird, I'm not going to lie,” Carranza said. “But at the same time this feels good to be able to play again against this team. As I told you, it feels weird being here in another [jersey] but at the same time I'm happy to commit, I'm happy to play and that's the best thing.”

As for what the future holds, Carranza is just focused on producing for the Union. He’s under contract through 2023 with an option for 2024, and early returns at the Pennsylvania-based club are promising.

“I'm focused on what is now my present with this team,” Carranza said. “We're fighting to be the first team in the East, so I'm just focused on that and where it comes in the future is further now. We will wait for then. I'm just focused on where's my present now.”

WATCH: Philadelphia Union beat Inter Miami, take East's top spot