Roundtable / Union

Preseason roundtable: PSP writers’ expectations for the 2023 Union

Photo: Stephen Speer

Even by Philadelphia Union standards, it’s been a quiet offseason. Some of that is no doubt due to the gut punch that ended the team’s 2022, when a roster-rules-bending Welshman put down his five iron long enough to focus on soccer and send the Union home from the MLS Cup Final empty handed. The departures of Cory Burke, Paxten Aaronson, and Matt Freese, along with the arrival of a few new faces, means it wasn’t completely silent, but there were no blockbuster signings that one can point to as preparations for the year to come.

And what a year to come. The Union are once again expected to be powerhouses in MLS. But they’ll also be competing in additional competitions in the Concacaf Champions League (starting in March), U.S. Open Cup (May), and Leagues Cup (July). It will be the most competetive matches the team has ever played in a year by a long shot, presenting unprecedented challenge for the team.

In that context we the writers and editors of Philly Soccer Page have gathered for one of our favorite semi-annual traditions, a roundtable, to discuss the year that is to come.

Do you think there’s any substance to the rumors that Jim Curtin is being considered for a job with the US Men’s National Team? 

Tim Jones: Whatever U. S. Soccer may do, I doubt Jim Curtin would consider accepting such an appointment this season. He strikes me as a person who finishes his projects. The window for this version of the Union to try for MLS Cup is open this season. But the starters are at their peaks or quite close to them. He stays with his group.

Chris Gibbons: I’m with Tim. He wouldn’t pass this up, but also wouldn’t want to be known as the guy who left the best Union team of all time.

Jeremy Lane: Curtin has already said he would leave the Union if called upon by the USMNT, even as just an assistant, so it’s definitely possible. That said, if he’s an assistant, might there be room for him to remain with the Union, as well, through 2023? I’m just hoping it’s not something he has to think about before the offseason.

Blake Zuschnitt: With the USSF headquartered in Chicago, and Jim’s familiarity and noted fondness of Chicago from his playing time there, I think the USMNT job is something he has thought (maybe even dreamt) about for a long time. Jim’s coaching style and his defensive-minded and counter-attacking tactics would benefit the current player pool’s strengths. I am with Jeremy here in that he could be gone before the end of the season, but am hoping the USMNT look at Jesse Marsch instead since it seems he is currently out of the running for the Southampton job.
Peter Andrews: Jesse Marsch? No thanks. He’s looked overmatched in his last two managerial stops, and his preferred tactics seem a poor fit for the constant roster flux of international play. If Curtin goes — and U.S. Soccer absolutely should be considering him — it would be fascinating to see which direction the Union look to replace their longtime manager.
Jim O’Leary: I think it’s kind of a no-brainer for both Curtin and US Soccer. Even if they were to announce him tomorrow I expect he wouldn’t officially start until MLS play finishes. We’ve got three years until the next World Cup and despite the full schedule in 2023 every tournament is about getting a young team training and gelling rather than true results. Anthony Hudson can handle that fine.
Mike Servedio: Sure, Jim needs to be considered. One of, if not the best coaches in MLS over the last few seasons. I think he has the tactical nuance to coach at the national team level at this point too. Agreed with all that say he wouldn’t consider it right now at the start of the MLS season.
Between MLS play, CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup, and Leagues Cup the Union will have more competitive matches in 2023 than ever before. Which competition do you think will be most important for the Union this season? 

Tim: They will never say publicly that they are not taking every competition seriously So we must look for a barometer in their behaviorsI suspect that when you se Bedoya on the pitch you can safely assume they are “all-in.”

Chris: it’s MLS Cup and it’s not even close. Everything else is a rounding error on the season.
Jeremy: I’m with Chris. It’s the league. They will fight hard for everything, but it’s the league all the way.
Blake: I am also with Chris and Jeremy here. MLS Cup/Supporters Shield is the most realistic number one focus, especially after how last year ended. That added depth should make it so that winning any one or multiple of these trophies is possible and expected. But at the end of the day, MLS Cup, and Supporter’s Shield are top of mind.
Peter: MLS Cup is top, sure, but the rhythm of the season might see the Union focus their fire on the Concacaf Champions League in the early months, with the theory that there will be plenty of time to make up ground down the stretch and get humming for the playoffs. (Of course, that didn’t work for Seattle last year…)
Jim: It’s all about the Cup. Supporters Shield and a deep playoff run would be nothing to scoff at, but the Cup is the only thing that matters. In fact I hope they de-prioritize competitions like the Leagues Cup and I hate to say it US Open Cup to focus on what really matters.
Mike: I think going into the season, the order that the Union care about the competitions is MLS Cup, Champions League, Open Cup, Leagues Cup. I’d say MLS Cup is more important than Supporters Shield.
All those games are going to provide more chances for “depth” players to showcase their abilities. What players do you expect to shine with this opportunity? 

Tim: Matt Real, Nathan Harriel, Brandan Craig, Damion Lowe, Jesus Bueno, Andres Perea, Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan and Joaquin Torres have all been treated as trustworthy substitutes throughout preseason. More I cannot say since I have seen nothing for myself.

Chris: Is there a true second team here? Could we see them in a real match at some point? Am I leaning on hypotheticals because, as Tim said, we have no idea?

Jeremy: I’ll believe it when I see it. These players are all higher quality than the Union have had in the past, but only a few have been trusted by the coaching staff to log heavy minutes in the past. People like Bueno have barely played for the first team. And yet, preseason indicators do show there may be something there, with Bueno and others.
Blake:  As Chris and Jeremy state, I am leaning on a lot of unknowns here. But Bueno, Perea, Sullivan, McGlynn, Torres are my picks to be most likely to shine. Each of these players should see minutes in big competitions this year. And therefore, odds are they have the most likelihood of leaving an impression.
Peter:  I’m fascinated to see whether Quinn Sullivan can stake out a role in this year’s team.  He has all the tools, but is there a role in the Union’s preferred tactical setup that fits him?  Along the same lines, if Torres can give the Union a new look at the end of matches, he could play a major role in taking the squad to the next level.
Jim: Maybe it’s Union privilege but I’m confident in Philadelphia’s ability to find another above-average keeper to back up Blake, they’ve done it so many times before. We all know what Joe Bendik is capable of, and I’m totally prepared for Holden Trent to blow our minds in an early round tournament game this season.
Are there positions where you think the Union don’t have sufficient depth to get through the year?

Tim: Yes. While I absolutely agree with the decision that for the long-term health of the club and the player it was time for Matt Freese to try for a starting job elsewhere, I think goalkeeper is now a bit thin. And Andre Blake will probably be away with Jamaica for Nations League in late March and for the Gold Cup this summer.

Chris: Keeper for sure, and striker if someone goes down. The Union were spoiled with good health in 2022 and that usually regresses to the mean over time.

Jeremy: If we have a lot of Joe Bendik, that would be concerning. And of course we didn’t replace Burke like-for-like, which is an issue. However, I’m less concerned about striker due to the increasing formational flexibility the coaches are experimenting with. And someone needs to prove they can do Bedoya’s job, regardless of their individual quality.
Blake: Agreed with all of the above about goalkeeper. Bendik has a decent amount of experience, but he hasn’t played much recently so he may not be reliable as a second option. Also agree with Jeremy about the lack of striker depth with Burke leaving. Formational flexibility should help a little bit, but if we play with a single striker, I worry that we don’t have sufficient options at winger/outside midfielder outside of Torres which could limit us. Sullivan I suppose could play out left, but beyond that, we are pretty thin.
Peter:  The left-field one to watch is left back.  If Kai Wagner leaves in the summer (which has seemed inevitable for how many transfer windows now?), Matt Real would presumably fill the void.  But Wagner is the best left back in the league and integral to everything the Union do; I’m not confident that Real could keep the machine humming in his absence.
Jim: I’ve been worrying about Alejandro Bedoya for years at this point. But with a full schedule there’s no WAY he can be as available as he has been in the past so someone is going to need to fill that role.
Mike: Think I feel better about the goalkeeper situation with the Union adding Holden Trent as Bendik is a big step down from Blake. I think this easily the deepest Union team ever though.
Bold prediction time- where do you see the Union finishing in MLS, CCL, USOC, and Leagues Cup?

Tim: MLS playoffs – finalist. Supporters’ Shield – top two. CCL – semifinalist. USOC – semifinalist. Leagues Cup –semifinalist. I like their depth. I wish Bedoya was four years younger. The elite Mexican teams are still quicker on the ball with closer technical control.

Chris: All dittos across the board. The sky is the limit though – they have the guys to win everything if the ball bounces right, and the chip on their shoulder to get stuck in when it doesn’t.
Jeremy: I like Tim’s predictions, but I won’t be surprised to see an early exit from one of the cups.
Blake: MLS Cup – 1st, Supporters Shield – 1st, CCL – lose in final, Leagues Cup – Round of 16 knockout, USOC – lose in final (again). But agree with Chris in that the sky is the limit.
Peter:  Cups are random, but I think the Union are the best team on paper in MLS.  So they’ll win MLS Cup after finishing in the top four in the Supporters Shield race, but crash out in the CCL and USOC quarterfinals.  As for the Leagues Cup… honestly, does anyone care?
Jim: It’d be hard to be competitive in the Supporters Shield if they’re taking CCL seriously, especially if they stay in Leagues or US Open Cups for a while. But MLS Cup is absolutely on the table, and that’s the only goal worth striving for honestly.
Mike: MLS Cup Finalist again, CCL semi final, early exit for the Open Cup. Agreed with Peter, who cares about Leagues Cup?


  1. I am actually excited to see the League’s Cup. I am curious how MLS stacks up with Liga MX and this is going to be rather telling. I think World Cup style tournaments also work well for the Union. It could be good experience for some of our u20 boys. Plenty of games this year for everyone to grow. I think if we can manage Bedoya’s minutes and have him healthy for the playoffs then our annual linear growth will continue. DOOP!

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    Love the predictions. Pretty much agree with everything. This has to be the year for MLS Cup. They have advanced slightly every year, the past 4 years or so. The logical conclusion is to win MLS Cup. Not to mention they are loaded yet again and ready to go. In addition to that, I feel like the Union are tidal wave that has been cresting and is now ready to break. Once it breaks, hopefully with that Cup (or multiple) win – we will get some departures and maybe some years of mediocrity. This group deserves to win. This is the year.

  3. On top of all these tournaments, there will be 3+ guys in the USA U20s again for the national team, right?
    That will probably add additional roster stress.

    • Oh, good point.
      With this schedule intensity, increased risk of injury goes up simply based on more matches, not to mention increased travel time, less recovery time…
      Injuries in a year like this would place even more pressure on the roster.
      This will be such an interesting journey to track. The coaching and training staff have their work cut out for them.

  4. My guess is that this is Jim’s last season here. He’ll be with USMNT in one form or another by 2024, but they will let him finish out this season. Hopefully, it’s not a distraction, but he has earned it and it would be fascinating to see the RBNY/Union tactics with the current USMNT players. And, of course, to see him reunited with the Aaronsons.

    • Tend to agree… but with the departure of Stewart, the whole organization in a state of being “Reyna’d” makes it all a little messy… and very political.

      WIN A COUPLE MLS Cups in Chester and see what happens when upper management of USMNT is settled. Earnie was in his heritage career job… and he just quit.

      Think about that.

      I’m sure Jim is too.

      US Soccer is a mess, with the clock ticking to 2026 every day.

  5. The single most exciting soccer phenomenon I have ever attended in person at the stadium in Chester was the CCL semifinal leg against Club America.
    It was a Club America home game however many thousands of miles it was north of Estadio Azteca.
    Who do you think will buy tickets for the Leagues Cup? For what members of the American social fabric will it be the chance of a lifetime to see their favorite team?
    Back in the day, how many of us jumped at the chance to see Barcelona play Manchester United live at the Linc in a preseason friendly. Young Diego Forlan was trying to mark Ronaldinho!
    I am one of the writers. I am old, white, suburban, with a highly privileged education. I wish our round table and particularly our discussion of the Leagues Cup had had a local Hispanic voice in it.
    Liga MX ownership has made a huge commitment to the idea that there will be a lot of interest in them up here.
    I make no disparagement of the best supporters atmosphere in Major League Soccer bar none, Fortress Subaru, when I say that I look forward to experiencing that Club America phenomenon again.

    • I was also at that game and the energy was electric! You are right too, it was essentially a home game for them with upwards of 65-70% of the fans in yellow.
      While I loved that it was a sell out and the energy, I was a little disappointed for our guys that there was so much more yellow than blue.
      Was it too late at night for most STH?
      Or were STH not interested in a LigaMX game
      Or were we too much the underdogs for people to spend their hard earned money?
      I know last year is done, but it might be good to find a way to learn from it so that we can make CCL games “home” games for our guys in 2023.
      They deserve it!

      • I think part of the issue 2 years ago was that the prior 2 rounds of CCL were back when the stadium was still limited to 15% capacity so it was the first opportunity for many STH to go to a CCL game and they didn’t realize how important it was for them to show up. Fortunately, this year at least the first round is included in the season package so hopefully more people will go and find out what it’s all about.

      • I went to all of the home CCL games and boy did I wish the CA game was Covid limited! Absolutely a home game for CA and I think your figures are being generous to the Union support there! It was one of the most stressful matches I have ever attended starting with the traffic mess getting there. I would think twice about going again. I chatted with several Hispanic NYFC fans sitting behind us, who drove down to see the game and that says a lot. They were very friendly though.

    • This is a very good point, Tim, and if there are any Mexican or Mexican-American readers out there that would like to contribute, we’d love to have your perspective represented on the site.

      I’m also intrigued by Leagues Cup, because it’s new and different, and will certainly give an interesting contrast between the two big North American leagues.

    • I’m not going to a Leagues Cup game unless the tickets are $10 and the parking is free. I’ll watch them on Apple TV. Now, Champions League? That I might go to.

  6. IMO Supporters Shield is the number one priority right now because it will put them in the best position to win MLS Cup. There is really only so much they can do towards winning MLS Cup at this point given that even if they go 34-0-0 during the regular season there is still the chance that 8 starters come down with the flu for a playoff game and all of a sudden the team finds itself out of the playoffs.
    Regarding the other three tournaments, my thought is that the early rounds should be a chance for squad rotation and if they make it through the first few rounds then put the full starting lineup out there.
    One big difference with CCL between now and two years ago is that last time the first round of CCL were also the first two games the team played so there was no reason for squad rotation for those games whereas this time they are the Tuesday games in a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday run.

  7. I think the USOC will not be prioritized, because USSF will have some schedule/hosting shenanigans like last year. Orlando hosted EVERY round, and got to play the Union & Red Bulls both on short rest coming from the west coast. Now if the kids and subs manage to get them to the quarters/semis…Jim and Co will certainly go for it.
    Leagues Cup. MLS is taking off an entire month for this tournament. There will be no MLS League Games during that tournament’s play. The Union will be hosting every game they play in the Group Stage, and likely the first knockout round game. They’re going to go for it.
    The Players are already talking about going for the shield so that they can play the final at home. So they are 100% all in on the Shield/MLS Cup double.
    CCL, they’ll go for it. They did in 2021 and still finished second in the East. That team wasn’t nearly as deep as this years team is.
    Oh…for those who have a sub to The Athletic….they have their now annual survey of NLS TD/SF/Soccer Officers…. The Union and their players have all the bulletin board material they need as someone surveyed said about the Union “The Thing is….they aren’t even that F’N good….”
    So I say Phuck It! Win Everything! There’s your Tifo.

  8. John P. O'Donnell says:

    It’s a gauntlet to win everything if they
    get to the Leagues Cup final on August 19th the Union play FC Dallas the next day at home on the 20th. The semifinal of US Open Cup would be the 23rd and then they would head to DC United on the 26th. Quite the scheduling nightmare and if they push games back, well that’ll impact the stretch run. When do the kids leave for the World Cup and can we use U2 players in some of these other competitions?

  9. MLS Cup – 1st
    SS – 1st: playing at home is a huge advantage to bring home the cup, so they will prioritize the MLS regular season as well. I feel like there will only be a few games where we will truly be short-handed. Our depth is good enough to miss one or two starters and still keep the foot on the gas. Don’t forget, all of the international absences will hit other teams too. We’ll be fine without the U-20 group.
    CCL – Finals appearance: Rationale here is that it’s a) early in the year, b) Jim has a chip on his shoulder for this competition wanting to show the western hemisphere that his squad is elite and should be referenced alongside the big clubs in MX + Sea/LA. The path is likely: Allianza -> Atlas -> LAFC -> really good MX team. Recall in 2021 we threw young guys in the fire vs Saprissa. We can probably do that in the first 2 rounds. For LAFC – see point B!
    Leagues Cup – Rd 16: Punt for the first few rounds and hope for the best – rest XI for the final leg of the season. If they face a Tigres/CA/Monterrey, they’ll probably play XI at least in the 2nd half…but in all likelihood we’ll face MLS teams in the knockouts (punt).
    USOC – Rd 16: good opportunity to see what player XYZ can do with extended mins which will probably be B/C teamers. Sorenson, Pierre, Odada, Trent, Raffa, Bueno come to mind.
    USSF – I see Jim as an assistant here. If anything, I think he’d leave for Europe unless Sugarman throws a ton of money at him to stay. An assistant in 2025-26 seems like the most likely outcome as a nod to his resume. Cherundelo, Schmeltzer, a few others might want the job more than JC.

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