It has been a trying time for sports fans of Philadelphia. The Eagles fell short in the Super Bowl. The Phillies lost the world series. Of course, the Union lost the MLS Cup in the final minutes. MLS is back this weekend. Can this updated Union roster bring the hardware fans have been longing for?
We will break down the Philadelphia Union’s roster in its entirety, including the challenges ahead in a hectic 2023 schedule with 4 different competitions.
Before a position-by-position breakdown, let’s go over the biggest detail.
12 for 12?
The Union has a luxury that not many successful teams have. The team is returning the 12 main starters from their record-shattering 2022 campaign. Players 11 and 12 are Alejandro Bedoya and Jack McGlynn. McGlynn filled in for the captain as he dealt with injuries down the stretch.
When teams have success and make it to championships, other teams want a piece of it. This is especially the case in soccer. The Union didn’t just have the other MLS teams eyeing up their talent. Teams across the world had their eye on what the Union was doing in Chester.
The Union has this luxury now. However, this luxury may not last for too much longer. When summer comes so will another transfer window. A more active window as European teams are in their offseason.
Let’s take a deep look into the Union’s roster by all positions.
Starting: Mikael Uhre | Julian Carranza
Reserve: Joaquin Torres* | Chris Donovan | Nelson Pierre
Years of the Union having problems scoring goals are long gone. With Uhre and Carranza exploding in their first season with the Union. With both players coming into their second seasons, the expectations couldn’t be higher. Some shouts of a possible Golden Boot are being heard.
The question lies in the depth. Cory Burke was by far the Union’s biggest offseason loss. There are a few names to look for to replace him. First, Chris Donovan was with the team last season and even saw time in MLS Cup. Look for Donovan to possibly be the guy at first. This brings us to possibly the Union’s biggest offseason acquisition.
The Union acquired Joaquin Torres from CF Montreal this winter. While Torres is listed as a midfielder, he is flexible. Torres is a natural number 10. With that spot locked up by MVP candidate Daniel Gazdag, his talents may be useful elsewhere.
In the preseason, Torres has spent much time up top as a forward. He had already put a few goals in the back of the net. Gazdag can be a 90-minute player. While Torres will be there to start for Gazdag in a reserve role, his biggest impact may come as a forward sub.
Nelson Pierre was just signed to the senior Union roster this week. Nelson has been in the Union academy line for a few years now. He is a young talent but at just 17 years old, he is likely just looking for a reserve role in midweek competitions.
Starting: Daniel Gazdag | Leon Flach | Ale Bedoya | Jose Martinez
Reserve: Jack McGlynn | Andres Perea | Jesus Bueno | Quinn Sullivan | Richard Odada
The midfield’s biggest departure was Paxten Aaronson. Aaronson struggled to find a role with Daniel Gazdag exploding into his position. To replace him is another winter acquisition. Andres Perea from Orlando. Perea can play anywhere in the midfield. This is integral as Jim Curtin will look to get creative with formations.
Jack McGlynn will have a lot of eyes on him. His role is fairly uncertain. Spending most of his time as Ale Bedoya’s backup last season, McGlynn struggled at times. His stronger spot is where Leon Flach plays. I don’t see Flach moving to the bench. However, we may see more rotation this year. Flach and McGlynn could get close to equal playing time there.
Another important note, Alejandro Bedoya cannot be a 90-minute player anymore. The captain is integral to this team. Not having him on the field in a championship playoff game two years in a row now is killer. Ernst Tanner has brought in talent that is more than capable of filling in for the captain at the 60th-minute mark. The Union needs Bedoya on the field come playoff time.
The biggest question mark is Quinn Sullivan and Jesus Bueno. Sullivan faces the same issue as Paxten Aaronson. His position is too deep. Sullivan and Torres are in the same boat of being able to swap from midfield to forward. Sullivan has shined in the few moments he has been given. I am not sure where Sullivan gets constant minutes in MLS play.
Bueno is in a similar situation. However, Curtin has always been high on Bueno. The club had Bueno spend most of 2022 with Union 2. Bueno has really impressed in the preseason. He could force Curtin’s hand to get some minutes.
Starters: Kai Wagner | Jack Elliott | Jacob Glesnes | Olivier Mbaizo
Reserve: Brandan Craig | Damion Lowe | Nathan Harriel | Matt Real | Anton Sorenson
Shockingly, the Union’s record-setting defense remained untouched. Of course, Kai Wagner should have been in Europe 2 years ago. Nonthematter, he is still here. Until that moment comes, the Union still has the best defense in the league.
Tanner added some nice depth. Bringing in Damion Lowe from Miami. Lowe was a starter for Miami in 2022. Having a starting quality CB as a depth option is very helpful. Brandon Craig should join him as backing up the CBs.
The biggest talking point is who will replace Kai Wagner when he inevitably departs. The biggest suitor right now is likely Matt Real or Nathan Harriel. Harriel beat out Mbaizo for the RB spot for a large portion of the 2022 season. He will have to learn to play on the other side if he is to replace Kai. Matt Real on the other hand has been Kai Wagner’s “sort of” backup for a bit now. Wagner is a machine and is always on the field so it is hard to tell he has a backup. Real has been with the Union for a long time now. His offense production is good but is the defense falloff too much?
Starter: Andre Blake
Reserve: Joe Bendik | Holden Trent
Welcome to the shortest portion! Three-time goalkeeper of the year Andre Blake is back once again. He has to leave his prime eventually right? Let’s hope that is not at age 32. Joe Bendik will be the main backup. New arrival Holden Trent will learn under two MLS greats. Trent was a very rare MLS SuperDraft pick from the Union.
Can the Union Replicate 2022?
After knowing where the roster stands, it is easier to piece together a prediction. The Union had a top roster in 2022. After adding more than they lost, it is fair to say they have a slightly better team this season.
However, it would be fair to expect a slight decline in results. The Union went all in on MLS. Exiting the US Open Cup in just 1 game ensured that. This year, the club has to juggle CCL, US Open Cup, and Leagues Cup on top of the MLS Season.
Don’t expect a domestic sweep of trophies or another record-shattering season. However, the talent is certainly there to win any of the competitions the Union finds themselves in this year. Only time will tell if they sacrifice some points in MLS to push for other trophies.
With the talent assembled, coming home with 0 new trophies in 2023 would be a major disappointment.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation