MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Philadelphia Union mine MLS trade market for big 2023 plans


The Philadelphia Union have big plans for 2023. To fulfill their grand vision, the technical staff decided that assembling a bigger squad was essential.

Philadelphia qualified for the Concacaf Champions League in 2023, always a complication for MLS clubs at the beginning of the year, particularly those with limited first-team players to realistically select on matchdays. The expanded Leagues Cup starts in July. Philly have taken the US Open Cup seriously and intend to do so again this year. Then, of course, the ultimate goals of the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup float above all else.

Add all of that up? The Union could play somewhere around 55 games. Check that: They expect to play nearly 55 games this calendar year, progressing deep in multiple competitions.

We start there because it provides the correct lens to properly analyze Philadelphia’s offseason as a whole. The Union went into the winter wanting to address and build quality depth; that was their prescription. They are closer to completion after a few signings this week, adding attacker Joaquin Torres (from CF Montréal) and center back Damion Lowe (from Inter Miami CF) in trades.

Torres and Lowe are key additions that don’t quite fit into the starting XI, but are likely to play regular roles anyway. Head coach Jim Curtin will have options to rotate, and they were light at those positions beforehand.

After homegrown midfielder Paxten Aaronson was transferred to German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, the Union wanted to add another attacking piece. Ideally, it’d be one that could be a reliable backup for Daniel Gazdag at the No. 10 spot (and Julian Carranza at second striker), but also one that offers a different profile.

Torres’ dribbling ability and technical quality present another option for when the Union need to tweak things tactically, plus he’s a starting-level player when the club rotates the first-choice XI. He completed 2.68 dribbles per 90 minutes last season (89th percentile among attacking midfielders/wingers in MLS), a total significantly more than any Union attacker in 2022. The closest still on the team was right back Olivier Mbaizo at 1.31 dribbles per 90.

Torres, who soon turns 26, had seven goals and 12 assists in 55 appearances (3,201 minutes) with Montréal. He was expected to grow into the role vacated by Djordje Mihailovic’s transfer from Montréal to AZ Alkmaar, but he instead heads to another Eastern Conference contender.

Lowe arrives to supplement perhaps the best center back pairing in the league. The club targeted a senior-level center back signing for the 2023 campaign and came back with the 29-year-old Jamaican international.

Jakob Glesnes was ever-present last season – he played in every available MLS minute – while Jack Elliott started 32 of 34 games. That’s incredible consistency, but more players were needed with more matches coming down the road (plus insurance in case of an injury or other absence).

The Union also have highly-rated US youth international center back Brandan Craig, who should be ready for some minutes. The Union signed Ghanaian center back Abasa Aremeyaw last summer, but he’s still a teenager as well. Relying on two youngsters to round out the group… things could get dicey rather quickly with one long-term injury.

Philly also think any center back can improve in their system and with their overall talent. Lowe was fine for Miami last year, starting most of their games. But playing next to one of Elliott or Glesnes, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year? And behind a midfield that includes Jose Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach? And with the backstop of Andre Blake, the league’s only three-time Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year? That should help any defender.

In early December, the Union also added one-time US international Andres Perea in a trade with Orlando City SC to bolster an already-strong midfield group.

Perea can play in the No. 6 spot or one of the box-to-box roles in Philly’s 4-4-2 diamond formation. Richard Odada arrived at the end of last year but didn’t make his MLS debut; he’ll be in the group as well.

Philly: Look near, look far

The hallmark of the Union’s ascent over the last half-decade stems from their front office finding value everywhere and the coaching staff developing those players. Often, they’re hailed for how well academy talents have done in coming through the first team, like Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Paxten Aaronson and more.

They also find value in all corners of the world – from their own academy/second team to Venezuela to the German third division and everywhere in between – and now have targeted the MLS trade market.

Last year, the Union added DP striker Julian Carranza from Miami for $500,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) and he blossomed into a star. They have now added Torres (up to $800k GAM), Lowe (for $225k GAM + other assets) and Perea (for up to $850k GAM) this winter. The club searches for wherever they can find perceived value, and over the last year or so, intra-MLS moves are a clear part of the roster-building strategy.

Philly’s eclectic roster helped them establish new heights in 2022, just missing out on the Supporters’ Shield on a tiebreaker and MLS Cup after penalties – ending second fiddle to LAFC in both instances.

They go again in 2023. Here’s where the depth chart stands.

Philadelphia Union depth chart Jan. 26