Fans' View

Fan’s view: Reflecting on the Union’s best start ever

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

After a remarkable first five games of the season, the Philadelphia Union are looking like a Supporters’ Shield contender. Alongside Chicago Fire and LAFC, The Union are one of the only three teams in MLS left undefeated. The Philadelphia Union have been flying high. I am going to recap the good and the bad of the season thus far.

The Good

The Defense: As simple as it sounds, the Philadelphia Union’s defense has been rock solid so far this season. Out of the first five games this season, the Union’s defense has allowed only two goals, one to Minnesota United, a goal where the Union switched off, and an unlucky deflection goal to CF Montreal. But after that happened, the Union has responded with three clean sheets in a row. While most of the praise will go to fullback Kai Wagner or in-form, homegrown Nathan Harriel, I think that Elliot and Glesnes have been superb. The center-back pairing has really locked off the opposing teams’ number nines, limiting them to minimal chances (for example, Valentin “Taty” Castellanos and Karol Świderski were shut down). This quality defense makes Andre Blake’s job much easier at the back.

Team Pressing: A hallmark of Jim Curtin’s Union in recent years has been high pressing system. In previous years, the likes of Brenden Aaronson and Jamiro Monteiro have made this system work. With their departures one might think the team would have taken a dip. But this year, it is even better. The sole reason for that is the work rate of Julián Carranza up top. This high press from one of the forwards has not been seen for a long time. The high pressing system has always worked in MLS for Jim Curtin, and I bet he will be pleased after it paid off and the Union capitalized on a Charlotte blunder in last weekend’s match.

A Healthy Full-Strength Union: This is very rare to see, but a luxury when present. A fully healthy Union team gives Jim Curtin options for every position on the bench. Additionally, as seen this past weekend versus Charlotte FC, the Union had four healthy strikers! Yes, FOUR! This gives Jim Curtin the option to play two strikers for 60 minutes and then replace them with two other strikers for the next 30 minutes. However, good things often do not last. Sergio Santos’ tendency for injuries always lurks in the future.

The Bad

Finishing: This has always been a problem for the Union, but Union fans are starting to see this happen a little more this season. It’s great to see the Union gaining confidence on the offensive side, but it’s frustrating when the ball doesn’t hit the back of the net. Union midfielder Daniel Gázdag and striker Sergio Santos rank among the top of MLS for most big chances missed. Additionally, striker Mikael Uhre failed to capitalize on two chances at the end of the game versus Montreal and one versus Charlotte. For many fans, as long as the Union score and win it’s acceptable, but as a longtime fan this makes me nervous. The Union has a history of dropping games against easier opponents because they waste chances (for example, Inter Miami home game last year). These lost points can come back to haunt the team in the future.

Substitutions: Jim Curtin is a great coach who has delivered year after year. However, his approach to substitutions can be a concern. It seems as if he has already picked out the subs and the times of the substitutions before the game begins and is reluctant to alter this preordained plan. Sometimes it seems as if players should be substituted earlier than they are. A good example was in the last game in which Sergio Santos appeared to be injured and was allowed to play on. Flexibility in the timing of substitutions is essential.

This season has only been five games but I’m loving every minute of it so far—the good and the bad.


  1. Jeremy Lane says:

    Thanks, Ben! Totally agree with everything.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    While the Union haven’t scored as much as we’d like, they’ve also only been shutout 4 times since the start of 2021, a 0-0 draw in Columbus 4 days after a Champions League game, a 0-2 loss to NYCFC 4 days after a Champions League game playing most of the game with 10 men, a 1-0 loss in Nashville and a 0-1 loss to New England with 8 players out due to international duty and suspension. So I don’t think finishing is as big a problem as many think.

    • I think what we’re seeing is that the team is creating more opportunities than ever before, and in doing so, it shines a light on when those opportunities aren’t converted.

      When you lose 1-0 or 2-0 and never really have a legitimate scoring chance, there aren’t any unconverted opportunities to talk about, so when you have a game where you’re xG is something like 2.5-3+, it becomes very evident when many of those chances aren’t converted.

      I, too, would like to see more of those go in, but I feel like there’s always going to be misses when you’re creating a number of chances. At the end of the day, only the scoreline matters.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        Well put.

      • You hit the nail on the head.
        Yes we’re noticing the misses more because the U are creating more chances, but the fact that they’re creating so many more chances (5th in the league in xG!) is cause for celebration.
        xG generally evens out in the long run, so if they keep up this level of chance creation they’re going to end up scoring plenty of goals this season.

  3. Deez Nuggs says:

    Excellent article, Ben! I find I am in total agreement.

  4. Stellar contribution. Thanks! I recall that for a few months in 2011, we had a player who knew how to score. Carlos Humberto Ruiz Gutiérrez could be a polarizing figure, but that Fish could finish his chances, for club and for country. He is literally the only player from that era whom I sometimes miss.

  5. T.Coolguy says:

    I’m not sure I agree with you on your point about Uhre, yet. Even the best strikers miss some shots they should make because scoring goals at an elite level is difficult. Uhre has a proven track record of scoring goals, and he’s settling in to a new league and a new country and is also just recovering back into fitness. I think all of that earns him the benefit of doubt for a bit. I also like that he has done a good job of getting himself in position to score. The number of chances he’s gotten for himself with his movement is really good, considering the limited amount of minutes he’s played.

    If a month from now, we’re still talking about Uhre getting into positions and not scoring goals, I’m going to agree with you. But for now, I’m looking at the finishing and seeing a team that’s winning even when our strikers are finding themselves. And I see that more as a positive than a negative.

  6. Matthew Covey says:

    Mbaizi in the first game scared me that the whole season was going to like that but the union adjusted.

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