A sneak peek at the U’s 2024 schedule and challenges

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

“Hey Alexa, play ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’”.

Well, maybe not just yet. On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Union announced their 2024 regular season schedule, which kicks off with a home opener against Chicago Fire FC on February 24—the U’s earliest start in MLS history.

The opening weeks of the 2024 season sees the Boys in Blue playing five of their first six regular season games against Western Conference teams, with inter-conference play wrapping up for the Union by the end of April. Among those games is the only afternoon game the Union play at home this season, against Minnesota United FC (March 30 @ 2:00 PM EST).

Much like last year, the other afternoon game will be a visit to Atlanta United FC (April 14). The matchup, which will be seen on FOX, will be broadcast nationally, along with two additional matches on FS1 (June 19 @ FC Cincinnati and September 22 vs. D.C. United).

MLS and Beyond
In addition to the regular season fixture, the Union will once again be in multiple tournaments throughout the season. Tournament play begins on February 20 as the Union face Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica for Round One of the Concacaf Champions Cup (CCC), followed by the second leg at Subaru Park on February 27. Depending on the U’s performance, they could be participating in CCC as late into the year as June. This scenario would leave roughly two months before MLS play pauses from July 26 to August 25 for the Leagues Cup.

The 2024 MLS regular season winds down in October with the Union playing three tough games against some of last year’s top Eastern Conference teams. Two of those matches will be played away from Subaru Park— Orlando City SC (October 2) and reigning MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew (October 5) before the season wraps up with a Decision Day rematch of the Eastern Conference semifinal against FC Cincinnati on October 19.

What to watch for this season
While there are still some looming roster questions that need answering before any season predictions can be made, the Union’s schedule does hint at some things to watch out for.

Fixture Congestion
Last season was a glaring example of how schedule congestion can throw a team’s rhythm into havoc, leaving players overworked and prone to the simplest mistakes. While there’s reasonable temptation to try and succeed on all fronts—MLS league play, the Concacaf Champions Cup, the Leagues Cup, and the U.S. Open Cup—the reality is the Union don’t yet have the depth to do so. If anything, by attempting to be a serious contender across all tournaments, they risk being a contender in none.

Despite complaints from fans and players alike, Philadelphia’s congested schedule isn’t going away in 2024. While the beginning of the season sees the Union playing one game roughly every week, the summer months welcome multi-match weeks, with most games having only two to three full days of rest between them. If and when the Union advance in external tournaments, even the precious early season single-game weeks threaten to be lost.

Roster Depth
If fixture congestion hadn’t already highlighted the U’s struggle with depth, international competitions surely would. This upcoming year features four major international competitions: the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), UEFA Euro, Copa America, and the Summer Olympics.

Except for the Summer Olympics, which overlaps almost perfectly with the long break for Leagues Cup, international duty could see the Union playing up to nine games without some of their starters. Eight players—Andre Blake, Tai Baribo, Jesús Bueno, Dániel Gazdag, Nathan Harriel, Damion Lowe, José Martínez, and Jack McGlynn have been called up for international duty.

Strength of Schedule
While spring and early summer seem like a great stretch to pick up points and start an early run, the Nashville match (July 20) signals the beginning of a tough finish. The U’s longest streak of away games (a visit to Messi-land sandwiched between two trips up I-95) is the precursor to an October packed with playing last year’s top teams in the East.

A few easy wins are spread throughout, but the Union can’t risk being in anything other than immaculate form or they could go from a playoff team to one on the bubble. Given the new “norm” of multi-game weeks, their ability to finish strong will come down to the roster depth that Tanner delivers.

The next step is reinvention
It’s no secret that for the first time in nearly a decade, there’s a lingering sense of concern among the fanbase, especially after a handful of Ernst Tanner signings last offseason that didn’t pan out. While the Union aren’t in jeopardy of falling from grace just yet, change is a must for this Union team. Despite whatever happens with Wagner, Bedoya, Carranza, and Mbaizo, Tanner’s priority must be to reinvigorate the roster to keep the club competitive and regain trust among the fans.


  1. Good analysis. If the Union survive the first round of CCC, that will mean they start 8 games in the first 25 days of the season followed by a cross country trip during the March international break where several of their top players will be unavailable and travelling even more.
    While April only has 3 games scheduled, it could end up as many as 7 with CCC.
    And then the schedule congestion really kicks in…

    • Thanks, Andy!

      Totally agree with your thoughts. Obviously a deep run into any of the tournaments would be great, but given that spring and early summer is where the Union will probably get most of their points, I’m wary of overpacking the schedule. Might be a good time to let the younger fellas get some minutes during tournament play and rest our starters for league play!

  2. I think the best way to get some rest would be to play heavily rotated teams on us open cup and leagues cup, especially leagues cup since if we go out early then they will get a nice long break for summer.

    • Chris Gibbons says:


      What’s the important trophy? The answer can’t be, “all of them,” because then the result will certainly be, “none of them.”

      Ask LAFC.

    • Good idea in theory, but it has some practical issues.
      The Open Cup may not exist for the Union this year (although I agree, if they do play in it, playing kids makes sense unless/until they make a deep run…and they haven’t played more than one Open Cup game since 2018).
      And Leagues Cup does not overlap with other competitions and if you go out early, you potentially have a 3+ week hole in the middle of the schedule for the players to get rusty and lose cohesion as a team. Which to me is a major issue with having the Leagues Cup as a break in the middle of the season. There should be something so that teams that get eliminated early can play some of their games then and avoid some of the congestion later on.

  3. Is this you first article here- do not recall seeing your byline before.
    Welcome aboard if so.
    Roster congestion. Herky Jerky stop start stop start again. International breaks….I’m still fatigued by last season…

  4. I don’t see the Union reinventing anything but depending on their coaching skills to make what they have better. If that is the new philosophy, which it sounded like by the tone of the end of year presser, it’s gonna be another long season. Hope they keep Wagner anyway and maybe Uhre will come to play next year.

    • Would love to see Uhre back on form. Out of form he managed 9. In form… well, his pace season 1 with the U was golden boot winning. (Had he played the whole season.)

    • Maybe not a total reinvention—but some new tricks up their sleeves at least Last year felt like opponents knew how to prepare for the playing style a bit too well. Consistency is great but predictability can be a downfall, I guess?

  5. Excellent article, Anna!

  6. Great article, Anna! Thanks for the effort and the useful insight.

    If (still just “if”) Wagner, Bedoya, Carranza, and Mbazio leave, I still trust a Tanner to replace them with able players. He won’t get them all correct, but I like his hit rate so far in his tenure. The optimist in me says Uhre has a bounce back year, Harrier becomes a reliable starter, and Curtin gets Donovan and McGlynn the minutes they have earned. I still take Blake for granted, and he is the one indispensable player. I think Bueno will also step up to a bigger role this year. But no predictions are worth making yet until we see who Tanner recruits to the squad.

  7. Inching closer to preseason. Biggest question marks are the resigning of Wagner or a credible replacement.

  8. Kind of off topic, Union season Player Ratings
    Andre Blake 7.5 Not his best season but not his worst, performed brilliantly in the New York City fc game and was good for (most) of leagues cup. His only bad game for me was probably vs inter Miami in the leagues cup. What a time to have your worst performance of the season
    Joe Bendik 4.5
    Was not a good second choice keeper. Out of all of his games this season he had one cleansheat, in a game where Elliott, Glesnes, and the posts all made more saves than him.
    Holden Trent 4
    Didn’t make a first team appearance but did make the bench a few times, struggled with some injury’s and couldn’t quite cement himself as the starting Union 2 keeper
    Nathan Harriel 6.5
    Arguably his breakout season, he is definitely the type of player who doesn’t quite have the potential for Europe, but does have the potential to be a really solid MLS player.
    Olivier Mbaizo 5.5
    An odd season for him… he was the main starting right back but started to lose the position to harriel near the end of the season, He definitely offers more on attack then harriel but I was personally unimpressed with a lot of his defending
    Jakob Glesnes 7.5
    Had a mostly great season with a bad performance every now and then. Made the MLS all stars and would’ve been a better score if not for a late season dip in form and then injury.
    Jack Elliott 7
    He is starting to become one of the most reliable players on the team. Not quite as eye catchingly great as Glesnes, but arguably more consistent.
    Damion Lowe 7
    Somehow the best of all the summer transfers, Lowe absolute shattered my expectations, In my opinion, was on a similar level to both Glesnes and Elliott all season, and was one of the main reasons for a mid-season switch to the 3-5-2
    Kai Wagner 8
    Took a half point off for the stupidity that got him banned for 3 games and effectively ended our season, other than that Wagner was brilliant. Despite not having quite the same attacking output as last season, I would say that he was on a similar, or even better level then last season. Too bad he’s gonna be leaving.
    Matt Real 4.5
    I want more from Matt real, he is probably one of the most forgettable players on the team. Got an assist on one of his few starts but being behind Wagner on the pecking order is tough. Hoping he can have a good season next year with Wagner leaving.
    Anton Sorensen 3
    Barely know anything about the guy, never played for the first team, wasn’t very important for Union 2 and I’m pretty sure was released at the end of the season. That’s too bad.
    Jose Martinez 7.5
    He scored a goal! Then he scored another! And then another! For a moment there he was scoring more consistently than Mikael uhre. All jokes aside though, He seemed to have figured out how to control his temper, And was less risky in the back then usual. Also made the all-star team.
    Leon Flach 6
    It’s a shame he got injured but before that he was pretty average, started the season off pretty bad, couldn’t do a single thing in attack and was only average on defense, Right before his injury started to performer better on attack, getting a goal against Miami and also an assist not too long earlier. Hope he can do well next year.
    Jesus Beuno 7
    Another player with a real breakout year, was brilliant in leagues cup and a great second choice cdm for whennmartinez eventually got another yellow card suspension. I can see him becoming a good starter in the future
    Andres Perea 5
    Out of all the summer signings I was most excited for Perea, He was good when he played, getting 3 goals but for some reason he barely played and got loaned out to New York where he played really well and becoming one of the best on their struggling team. I really hope perea comes back next season, I believe he can become a difference maker.
    Jack Mcglynn 8
    This kid is special, he can’t be staying with the union for much longer, at only 20(!!!) he has already become on of the best passers of the ball in union history. Brilliant player.
    Alejandro Bedoya 5.5
    Not a good season for Bedoya. Is it a good season for a 36 year old? Sure, but 4 assists and some goals in leagues cup doesn’t overshadow the injury and fitness problems, it’s disappointing to admit, but for his own safety he should not be playing 90 minutes every week. Hope he can prove me wrong if he still plays next year.
    Joaquin Torres 5
    Another disappointing summer signing, I don’t think he was quite as bad as most people said, had a brilliant assist in the first game of the season, a last minute winner against Chicago, and a great pass to set up the winning goal against querataro. I think it was probably worth it to play him a little more than Curtin actually did?
    Daniel Gazdag 7
    Being both the goals and assist leader for the team? Sounds like a brilliant season! The problem is that most of his goals were penalty’s, (does deserve credit for not missing a single one though) and he seemed to struggle for ideas throughout the whole season.
    Tai Baribo 5
    Came in the middle of a season after just finishing his own full season. Hit the post once and did nothing else. Hope he can succeed next year, he definitely played well in Austria.
    Jeremy Rafanello 4.5
    Made his first team debut, scored a free kick and Wrexham, I didn’t follow him in union 2 a ton so I don’t really know much about how he performed there. Something that I am worrying about though, he’s already 23, which is a lot older than Most of the other union 2 players.
    Chris Donovan 6.5
    Breakout year for donovan. Definitely a big game player, scoring a last minute goal against queratearo and scoring the only goal in a playoff game against New England. I feel that he will be able to improve even more next season.
    Quinn Sullivan 6
    Sullivan is brilliant on the ball, fast, and agile. All things that I like for a Union striker. Got 2 goals after a disappointing last season where he didn’t score. I believe if we give him enough time Sullivan could become a truly special player.
    Mikael Uhre 6
    Poor guy, had a very disappointing second season. 9 goals is not good for the Unions most expensive player ever. He just seemed slow, tired, and bad on the ball. Also scored 6 of his 9 goals against Canadian teams for some reason??? Hope he does better next year…
    Julian Carranza 8
    The unions most consistent goalscorer. Got about a goal every 2 games in MLS. However, he is attracting attention from Europe and is probably one of the few players that the Union CANNOT afford to lose.

    In conclusion, despite a disappointing season overall players like Carranza, Wagner and McGlynn had great season and are attracting interest from Europe, while young players like Sullivan, Donovan, and Harriel having true breakout seasons.

    Sorry if I missed anyone, if so feel free to tell me

  9. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Welcome aboard Anna.
    Although MLS Cup is the Holy grail, Leagues Cup & CONCACAF Champions Cup pays better and if they can win CCC this year, that’s a 50 million dollar pay day for the last qualifying spot in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup. If there was ever a year to go all in on CCC, this is it. Besides the winner also gets 5 million in prize money for winning the revamped CCC now.
    Might be time for fans of MLS to change their thought process as this isn’t your daddy’s MLS anymore. With preseason just a few weeks away I like to see Tanner sign/sell players in the next two weeks because I believe the Union vs. Saprissa will be one of the better first round matches as we also have a little history with them from the last time these two teams matched up. Saprissa has a crazy schedule to start the new year Clausura schedule with six games in eighteen days, beginning January 14th, then a ten day break until February 11th. After that they face the same schedule as the Union but with a little less rest as both their League games are just two days prior.
    If ever there was a good time to have the roster ready for the first day of reporting, this is the year.

  10. A little late to the show here…holidays and lots of family gathering. So catching up with it now. Welcome Anna! Great read! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Definitely a lot of moving parts with the season schedule! Just hoping for a good start. The slow start has been tough to overcome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *