0707 PHI Carranza

Editor’s note: As part of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, MLSsoccer.com is bringing back "best of" features on Latin American stars in MLS this season. This story originally ran on July 7, 2022.

Teams in MLS are just now crossing the midpoint of the 2022 season and among the teams staking their claim as a title-winning candidate is the Philadelphia Union.

Currently second in the Eastern Conference standings with 30 points from 18 games and just two points behind leaders New York Red Bulls, the Union appear to be poised for a shot at another deep postseason run and maybe a first-ever MLS Cup.

A big reason for that is Julian Carranza, who arrived on loan from Inter Miami CF just weeks before the Union traded away talismanic forward Kacper Przybylko to Chicago Fire FC.

The 22-year-old Argentine forward has four goals and four assists heading into this Friday’s Heineken Rivalry Week clash with D.C. United (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes). Those numbers already dwarf what the Young Designated Player did the previous two seasons in South Florida, where he only scored three goals in 41 games.

The Philadelphia Story

When talking to Carranza, there is a palpable relief, a kind of exhale that emits when discussing his arrival to Philadelphia. Immediately one gets the sense that 2020 and 2021 in Miami are days he’d rather not dwell on for too long.

“In Miami I had Gonzalo Higuain in front of me, so it was very difficult to be able to play, entering as a sub for only 10 or 15 minutes in some games, so it was very difficult to do something in such little time,” said Carranza in a phone interview with MLSsoccer.com.

“Here in Philadelphia, starting every game, I get so many more opportunities to show what type of player that I can become. I think that I still haven’t played my best game with Philadelphia. I have played some good games, but still not my best and I think I can do it in what is left of the season,” added Carranza.

Even from his early days under head coach Jim Curtin during preseason this past winter, Carranza could detect that the Union’s continuity was going to make a difference for him.

“This is a team in which the players know each other more, they have spent more time playing together, they know how each one is going to act. In Miami it wasn’t the same because all of the players were new to the team and trying to get to know each other on the field and the team didn’t operate well. Here, the players know each other better, they have made the playoffs and finals together,” said Carranza.

Curtin also knew he was getting a player that had the instinct to play the Philly way: Work hard defensively, disrupt the opponent and kick-start a lightning-quick counterattack.

“I think when Julian came in in preseason, he came in from a difficult situation in Miami where he wasn’t getting the playing time that he wanted. He came in from minute one in preseason and worked hard right from the start and ingratiated himself with his teammates. They love his work rate,” said Curtin in a press conference last week.

“He is as good as there is in the league in terms of working hard defensively, maybe poking a ball that leads to a counterattack, but he fights for everything and you have seen him do that in games now,” said Curtin.

Muddled in Miami

The stats mentioned above about Carranza in Miami are pretty jarring. He was brought in by Inter Miami from boyhood Argentine club Banfield as one of the first two signings in the history of the franchise, along with Matias Pellegrini, who himself is currently playing on loan away from Miami at Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata.

Reflecting the struggles of Inter Miami in their league infancy, Carranza had just 11 starts in 41 games in his first two seasons. In 2021, his 25 appearances amounted to a paltry total of 726 minutes. At one point last summer, he says there was strong consideration of going back to Argentine football; there was also a possibility of playing in Chile and even some talk of Europe.

Faced with a potential crisis of confidence and unable to carve his way into head coach Phil Neville’s starting XI ahead of Higuain, Carranza doubled down on what he could only control.

“Miami was tough because I worked really hard to be able to play in what was a difficult situation, in that I had such a big star ahead of me, a decisive player that had to play,” Carranza said. “I was in a situation that whatever I did, it was going to be tough to get more minutes.

“I had a bad time. It was a very bad year in which I didn’t play much. I suffered a lot, but the good thing about it is that I always trained hard. I was strong mentally, so that what happened didn’t affect me. The only thing I did was train hard every day so that when I did get a chance like this one, I could take advantage of it and show that I can be a decisive player and a 90-minute player.”

It may be that Carranza’s future will still be in Miami. The end of the 2022 season will set up a scenario in which a decision by the parties involved will have to be made to see what the next step in Carranza’s career will be. One party, at least, has already laid their cards on the table.

“He’s contributed in a big way for us,” Curtin said. “He’s obviously a guy I want to keep around here in Philadelphia for good, but he still has work to do and we have games to win. If he is being critical of himself, I bet he would say that he could have three or four more goals already this year where he just maybe doesn’t pull the trigger quick enough or maybe mis-hits a ball. But he’s getting in really good spots. He can be a double-digit goalscorer in this league and he can also set up goals, which is really valuable.

“I think as he continues to play this way and maybe even gets a little sharper as the year goes on, those good things will take care of themselves, but I really couldn’t say enough about how good Julian has come into the team. He’s given us a lot of energy.”

Carranza is still coy about which jersey he wants to wear in 2023. After feeling like he was stuck in neutral for so long in Miami, it is hard to blame Carranza for being a bit wary and avoiding any speculating about where his future will lie. He is experiencing success for the first time since his teenage days at Banfield when he was banging in big goals from 2017-19.

“I’m having a good moment here. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have. I have a good relationship with the coach, but when I finish this season, wherever I go, we will have to decide with Philadelphia, with Inter Miami, with my agent, and see what is the best for us and what is the best for them,” said Carranza.

The missing piece?

More than once Curtin has likened his winter attacking arrival to a player from right up the road, Taty Castellanos of New York City FC. “They are both a pain in the butt to play against,” quipped the Philly boss.

While the rest of the league has borne the brunt of the best of Castellanos for several seasons now, Carranza is just now becoming that kind of player. It is a comparison from which Carranza doesn’t shrink; in fact, he welcomes it, knowing that the reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner's goal-scoring ability up top proved to be one of the decisive factors in NYCFC lifting their first MLS Cup last December.

Carranza’s coming-of-age season in 2022 could have a similar effect in Philadelphia and be the tipping point that gets the Union to a first-ever MLS Cup trophy.

“I’d say that we are like, with similar characteristics that we share," Carranza said. "Taty is doing quite well right now, he did so last year. I think I am going to have my best moment, I am going to have my opportunities to show that I can be a great player in this league, so yes, we have many similar characteristics, which is why I’m compared with him.

“I work for the team to score goals, to give assists and I hope to convert more goals in this second half of the season and more than what I have done already. I need to score at least another four more, which is how many I have now. And if there are more, well, that’d be even better."

It’s been several years in the making, but Carranza’s moment in MLS has finally arrived thanks to a change in latitude, and it has provided Philadelphia the hope that they have the right man to secure a league crown.