Union fans were treated to the club’s best season in their history in the 2020 season. After a quiet offseason and losing a couple of important players, Can the Union do it again?

At long last, the Philadelphia Union put a trophy (the Supporters Shield) in their long empty trophy case. 2021 brings in new challenges for the club to overcome. Two big challenges stem from the losses of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. Both sold to Europe in the offseason. Mark McKenzie was vital to the team’s success last year, anchoring the backline and finding himself in the conversation of MLS MVP and defensive player of the year. Brenden Aaronson was vital to the team’s midfield and attacking capabilities, as well as bringing energy to the field. It is two big losses and the Union will have to make up for it. Not only did the Union lose their young stars, but they also lost an older leader, with the retirement of Ray Gaddis.

The losses of the two young star players hurt, but defenders Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes are ready to fill the backline and hold down the Union defense (It helps to have MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake back there too.) With filling Brenden Aaronson’s roll, Anthony Fontana had an excellent 2020 off the bench and proved he can fill the big gap losing Brenden leaves.

Now while the Union have capable players ready to step up, the issue arises of the bench getting thinner. The Union were quiet in the offseason, signing Scottish CB Stuart Findlay as the only transfer into the team. Many fans seem disappointed about that fact, considering the large sum of money the Aaronson and McKenzie transfers brought in. However, the Union were not alone in having a quiet offseason in MLS. Only 3 DPs (Designated Players) were signed in 2021 by MLS teams. Down from 22 in 2020. Blame it on the pandemic or the CBA situation, the fact is most of MLS was quiet during the offseason, so do not let the fact the Union were quiet scare you.

Luckily, the Union have a backup plan not many have in MLS, or at least not as good as the Union’s. and that is the development academy. While the Union didn’t sign many transfers, you will see plenty of new faces, as well as a familiar name. Young guys like Jack De Vries and Cole Turner will see a lot more time in the 18 than they did last year, and younger players such as Paxten Aaronson (Brenden’s brother), Jack McGlynn, and Nathan Harriel will possibly see themselves in roles similar to De Vries and Turner last season, seeing some time at the end of games and training with the senior team a good amount of the season. The young guys will be integral to the team’s depth as the Union faces a crowded schedule with their CONCACAF Champions League appearance.

What Would Define the Season as Successful?

Many have different standards of what would require of a successful season. Every fan’s dream would be to see the Union win the Supporters Shield again, tear through the playoffs and win the MLS Cup, and top it all off with the CONCACAF Champions League title, but let’s be realistic. No team has won the Supporter’s Shield in back-to-back seasons since the LA Galaxy in 2010-2011. However, the team was not that far off in 2019 before taking it home in 2020, it wouldn’t be insane to think they could repeat. In regards to the Champions League, it is the Club’s first time there, while we all hope for a deep run, a good showing in the Round of 16 and maybe even a trip to the quarterfinals can probably be called a success.

The real success of the season will be told in the MLS Playoffs. The Union cannot have what happened in the 2020 playoffs, happen again. Losing 2-0 at home as the top seed in the East, in their first round of play. A deep MLS playoff run is what the Union will need to call the 2021 season a success. The Union have shown constant growth for many seasons now. They finally got their first playoff win, their first trophy, now they need to compete deep into the postseason. While winning the MLS Cup should be every team and player’s goal and hope, the Union need to, at the very least, win more than one playoff game.

While early in the season may get rocky while the team works to fill the gaps left by offseason departures, the Union have set the standard of what the fans expect of the team, and hopefully, the Union not only repeat the success of last year but build on it and do even better.


Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PhiladelphiaSportsNation

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