Preseason / Roundtable / Union

Preseason roundtable: A new Union season dawns

Photo: Stephen Speer

Whether it is our ever accelerating experience of time, or simply the fact that the Union made a deeper playoff run than ever before, the Philadelphia Union return to MLS action this weekend after what feels like the shortest off season possible. Quite a bit has happened in that short period of time. The Union have traded away Kacper Przybyłko, who was the team’s leading goal scorer for the past three seasons, and Jamiro Monteiro, previous record-holder for the team’s highest incoming transfer fee. On the incoming side of the transfers, Designated Players Mikael Uhre and Julián Carranza bolster the team’s offense with a lot being asked of them and a more than fair chance of delivering.

But beyond those significant changeups, the team remains largely the same one that made it as far as the Conference Finals in 2021. Defense remains a point of confidence, and while Monteiro’s departure creates some questions in the midfield there’s more than a few homegrown players who will be looking to show they are the answer.

So as the Philly Soccer Page writers reconvened for our regular roundtable discussion about expectaions for the season to come, it happens against the backdrop of a team that felt like it had more to give in 2021 and yet seems like it could be even stronger in 2022.

Who starts at forward against Minnesota?

Editor’s note: This roundtable took place before it was known that Cory Burke was back in the country after leaving to get his green card.

Tim Jones: Julián Carranza. Curtin has prepared us that Uhre will not be ready. Burke will have been away getting his green, we all hope successfully. Santos is dealing with yet another injury, so holding him out as a late game substitute makes sense. If others emerge before Friday, Curtin suggested earlier they might begin the season with Union II.

Chris Gibbons: Carranza and Sullivan. Curtin mentioned the homegrown blowing everyone else away on the fitness tests and I suspect he’ll reward him for it.

Jeremy Lane: Carranza for sure, because he’s the only one available. I expect the Christmas Tree, which would give us a Pax10 sighting, but I like Chris’s idea of putting Sullivan up there to retain the diamond midfield.

Thomas Hill: Give Carranza another vote, largely because he’s the only option. It’ll be interesting to see how the homegrowns factor in, but if we see the Christmas tree like Jeremy suggests, I expect Carranza as the metaphorical star.

Peter Andrews: Every indication from preseason has been that Carranza has hit the ground running. Curtin was fairly effusive in his praise last week.  To Chris’s comment, even though I’m a charter member of the Quinn Qrew, I think we’re more likely to see Aaronson as a second 10 in the Christmas tree than Sullivan as a second striker.

Ben O’Brien: Carranza in the 4-3-2-1.

Andrew Speizman:  Without Uhre, the question is really “What formation will the Union play”  We’ll see a  4-3-2-1 with Carranza as the lone striker.

Mike Servedio: All signs point to a Christmas Tree with Carranza. I can’t wait to see Uhre though.

Jim O’LearyBurke isn’t an impossibility. Obviously he missed a chunk of preseason dealing with immigration paperwork, and he isn’t the cool new thing. But he knows the midfield and the midfield knows him, that can get you pretty far especially this early in the season.

What player do you expect to have a breakout year?

Tim: Jack McGlynn, provided “engine-building” continues to progress satisfactorily. By the end of the June international break he and Sullivan will have to be ready to play major rotational roles in the midfield.

Chris: McGlynn is probably the right answer, but between the homegrowns and Dániel Gazdag, any one of them will have to be a difference-maker for the team to fulfill its potential.

Jeremy: I think this always surprises us; it’s inherently difficult to predict. The person I hope to see breakout is Dániel Gazdag. If he levels up, everything falls into place.

Thomas: Would it be unrealistic to say Paxten? It  could just be wishful thinking, but if the homegrown can find playing time in a crowded midfield rotation, I think there’s a chance he can develop quickly in his second year in the league.

Pete: It has to be Mikael Uhre.  He has higher expectations than maybe any offseason signing in Union history, and that’s a heavy burden to put on a striker.  (And it is so unfortunate that he’s missed all of preseason so far.)  But he has the ability to score 15-20 goals in this system.  A prolific season from Uhre would make the Union the class of the East.

Ben: Cosigning what Jeremy said about Gazdag and will add that it often takes a full season for higher profile offensive players coming from abroad to adjust to MLS.  I’m hopeful half a season was enough for him and he’ll hit the ground running in 2022.

Andrew:  I’m on the Gazdag bandwagon.  He showed us a little something towards the end of last year.  With solid strikers he should thrive.

Mike: Paxten Aaronson for me. If he progresses from his first year to his second the same way his brother did, this will be his last season with Philly before going to Europe to join his brother.

Jim: Aaronson is the one to watch for me too. Though maybe my definition of “breakout” is off because I wouldn’t consider Gazdag or Uhre to have the opportunity to breakout because we EXPECT them to be excellent.

Looking at the roster, what position are you most worried about for the coming season?

Tim: The roster is built for the 4-4-2 narrow diamond and is two deep for it. For that shape striker is the least well proven in its depth. Each of the four other shapes Curtin has used has surpluses and deficits. Depth at center back in a 3-4-1-2 really inexperienced.

Chris: Right back. Olivier Mbaizo is as polarizing as Ray Gaddis ever was for Union fans, and since the team’s exit from the MLS Cup Playoffs happened with the ball in front of him twice (coupled with a relative no-show in the Africa Cup of Nations), he’ll be under the microscope.

Jeremy: Tim and Chris make good picks, so I’m going with the right side of the diamond. If Ale Bedoya has enough in the tank, with folks rotating in at times, then it’s fine. But if Bedoya isn’t an every-game starter anymore, there’s a big question mark about who can step up. Sullivan isn’t really an 8, but he’s next in line to make it his.

Thomas:  Jeremy’s point about the 8 is interesting, but I think Bedoya can stave off any real issues for at least another season. I’ll take Chris and Tim’s point, and agree specifically with Chris. Mbaizao has proved a liability in key situations for the U, and there’s not really a firm replacement behind him.

Pete: There is a ton of pressure on the shuttlers in the Union’s system. I worry about whether Leon Flach and Ale Bedoya will be able to maintain their high performance levels without Jamiro Monteiro floating around harassing every opponent in sight.  Say what you will about Monteiro in the locker room, but he was a known quantity and a clear cut above every other CM on the roster.

Ben: Not so much worried as I am just curious, but I’ll say the forwards.  Carranza and Uhre are unproven (in MLS); and with Santos’ injury history, things could get thin very fast.  
Andrew: Mbaizo has moments of brilliance followed by moments of incompetence.  I think we’ll see what Harriel is made of.

Mike: Agree with Pete here, the shuttlers. The loss of Monteiro adds pressure on The Kids as well as Flach and Bedoya to fill those roles in a consistent way. 

Jim: I’ve been worried about what the Union will do when Bedoya suddenly remembers how old he is for some time now. Paired with Mbaizo’s shortcomings I’m  really worried about that side of the field.

Big picture time, what do you see the Union achieving this season?

Tim: Touch wood. Barring injuries, they may contend for the supporter’s shield and make a deep run in the playoffs.

Chris: The Union never got into second gear last year and still should’ve made the MLS Cup Final – was there a match all season where they played a great, complete game? There’s no question they should be in the mix for silverware again in 2022.

Jeremy: I expect them to compete for the top place in the conference and return to the conference finals again. They could absolutely challenge for the Shield or the Cup. Anything less than top three in the East is probably a sign of things having gone very wrong.

Thomas: Agree with everything said here. Union should be a lock for a top three seed in the east, and anything less than another semi-final should be looked at as a failure.

Pete:  They should be contending for MLS Cup. I’m not sure I agree with Chris that the club never got into second gear last year, but they didn’t quite click as an attacking force and didn’t have the right personnel for their preferred system. But when you have a defense as strong as Philly’s, you should be able to pile up points and position yourselves for another deep playoff run.

Ben:  Barring injuries and total misses on Carranza and Uhre, the U should have at least one home playoff game this year.

Andrew:  Their solid defense will keep them in every game (as it did last year).  The addition of some serious goal scorers puts them in the running for all silverware.

Mike: They should be competing for a trophy, whether it is MLS Cup, Supporters Shield or the Open Cup. This is a very good team who knows who they are, they should win a lot of soccer games.

Jim: I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if this team won MLS Cup AND the Supporters Shield. But anything can happen in a single-elimination playoff, so I’ll simply set the bar at a home playoff game.

Who scores the Union’s first goal this season?

Tim: The Norwegian Long Range Cannon, but with his head inside the six from a restart.

Chris: Carranza, though I want to say Mbaizo just to prove me wrong.

Jeremy: Gazdag. Fingers crossed.

Pete:  Jamiro Monteiro — an own goal, when he comes to visit with the Earthquakes in the third match of the season.

Thomas: Give me Bedoya as a dark horse.

Ben: Paxten.

Andrew:  Carranza – in the eighth minute of the first match (7:32 to be exact)

Mike: Paxten Aaronson. I expect that he’ll have plenty of goals this season.

Jim: José Martínez, finally scoring on one of his “why didn’t he pass the ball?” shots.


  1. I love the last comment by Jim that Jose will will score by lowering his head and putting one on target…for once…

    • Maybe he’s trying to throw other teams off lately, but Jim has mentioned a handful of different formations they would be willing to put out there when the occasion rises. The preferred diamond, the now available xmas tree, and he’s brought up 3 in the back a decent amount as well.
      Some of these are going to be based on who’s available/out (which is why we saw the xmas tree in the first place), but it will be interesting to see when he pulls out his bag of tricks this year and against which teams.

  2. Anyone know how to view Curtain pressers? Can never find them…

    • The Union used to regularly stream the press conferences on the website or on Twitter. I believe that stopped once everything moved to Zoom. I certainly hope that media availability will soon return to in-person and that will allow for streaming to return. (The media has already been told that, for now, all post-match availability will remain entirely on Zoom.)

  3. He is finally an MLS Manager, matured greatly on the job.

    That’s why.

    Herr Tanner demanded it to win!

    In the past, everyone knew we played that crazy 4-2-1-2-1 without the proper talent to back it all up, or previously talented players like Marco Fabian who did not performed/cost.

    Herr Tanner changed the dynamics.

    Hosting MLS Cup 2022!

  4. soccerdad720 says:

    For me, this is probably the most anticipated first game since…..the very first game. Reading all the optimism of you ‘experts’ is awesome. Let’s go Union. Feel free to stop by 101 – front row and drop a high 5.

    No one mentioned it…but how about a triple? Quoting the kid from the movie Angels in the Outfield…”It could happen”.

  5. I’m voting this as the least anticipated opener for the Union. I’ll be missing my first home game where fans are allowed since 2018.
    On the other hand, my cruise leaves Baltimore tomorrow afternoon. (Didn’t expect the season to start this early when I rescheduled it from 2020.)
    I did speak with my ticket rep today and he says Uhre’s not expected until at least the second week in March. Assuming he needs a little time to practice with the team, I’m guessing that it won’t be until after the international break that he really gets going.

  6. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Shouldn’t we be in the leagues cup this year too? And a double is very much possible with this roster. Here’s hoping the strikers go nuts, cuz the defense isn’t exactly a concern for us

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