An instant-classic MLS Cup 2022 has just passed. While it won’t soon fade from memory, that means all 29 teams now are fully in offseason mode, with St. Louis CITY SC joining the league. What will the offseason have in store for LAFC and Philly?
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Philadelphia Union version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
The Philadelphia Union had an incredible season, booking their first-ever MLS Cup appearance.
That game came with a roller coaster of emotion, including a late equalizer in regular time, then what they thought was a late game-winner in extra time – both via Jack Elliott.
Unfortunately, it ended with an LAFC trophy celebration at Banc of California Stadium after a penalty-kick shootout (3-0 after a 3-3 draw).
Paxten Aaronson is on his way to Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, as I first reported on Friday. Sources overwhelmingly expect Kai Wagner to depart as well. Maybe Olivier Mbaizo, too. Probably not Jack McGlynn… but there is a ton of interest in McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan, two more homegrowns and US youth internationals.
Wagner is the most difficult to replace from that group. He’s been the best left back in the league (and essentially one of the best three LBs in the league since he got here four seasons ago), almost leading the league in assists (15) from defense. The way he gets forward is a huge part of the Union’s tactics (providing width at fullback in a 4-4-2 tight diamond is a huge task) and his set-piece delivery is elite. That will be difficult to replace.
Jim Curtin has spoken about backup left back Matt Real for years. Anton Sorenson also signed a homegrown deal this year and is highly rated. Will that be enough or will they go out for another, more senior left back option as well?
Aaronson would have had a bigger role… but Best XI midfielder Dániel Gazdag was in front of him. They still got a really great deal for the rising US youth international (sources say $4 million upfront, add-ons, plus a big sell-on percentage). In Nathan Harriel, they also have a ready-made replacement for Mbaizo if he departs after likely playing with Cameroon at the World Cup (Harriel was starting earlier in the year but Mbazio got the job back).
Curtin has also talked about his own ambitions in the game, though he wants to win MLS Cup with Philly. Maybe there’s an opening at the US men’s national team in a month after Qatar. Maybe there’s a great opportunity in Europe that comes knocking. Sporting director Ernst Tanner said he’ll have to go back to Europe at some point, too.
Though I just went through a couple of key players probably leaving, Philly are in as great a position as any club to reload and run it back.
Star attackers Gazdag, Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza are all under contract moving forward. Captain Alejandro Bedoya signed a new deal for next year this fall; Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes, center-back partner Elliott and defensive midfielder Jose Martinez signed contract extensions last winter; and Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake signed one last summer.
Even (likely) without Wagner, the Union still have elite talents at, like, seven positions plus a two-time Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year in Curtin. McGlynn is a huge budding talent. So is Sullivan. The Union made two summer signings (Richard Odada and Abasa Aremeyaw) who didn’t contribute at all. No team goes 100% on signings, but Philly’s track record is incredibly strong.
This is me theorizing rather than providing inside knowledge, but the Union should have a ton of allocation money at their disposal. Maybe they’ll be active on the trade market for a big swing.
Who knows. Philadelphia have mostly found value outside of the league (Martinez, Glesnes, Wagner, Gazdag from this current group), but they haven’t totally ignored the intra-league market (Carranza from Inter Miami being the most obvious example, though they were very active in trade talks for now-New York Red Bulls midfielder Frankie Amaya and others over the years).
The Union will get a bunch of allocation money from the (Paxten) Aaronson transfer and should have plenty leftover from the (Brenden) Aaronson and Mark McKenzie deals from the winter of 2021.
A few more thoughts:
- As said above, the Aaronson deal is all but done and the expectation is Wagner is gone. So, mentally cross them out.
- Bedoya enters his age-36 season. He’s been incredibly durable during the regular season and was awesome again this year, but will he play fewer minutes next year?
- Who will be next in the club’s pipeline from the academy to the first team?