For Pete's Sake / Union

Can Jack McGlynn make the leap?

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

As you may have heard, Philadelphia Union are running it back.

They’ve shuffled out a few minor pieces (Joaquin Torres, Andres Perea, Joe Bendik) and added a grab bag of lottery tickets and backups (Sanders Ngabo, Markus Anderson, Jamir Berdecio, and Oliver Semmle). None of the newbies are expecting to play much; after all, Matt Doyle of points out that the Union are returning nearly 98% of last year’s minutes.

Last year’s team was good — maybe even very good — but not great, coming up short in three competitions.

So, if the Union are to improve on last year and win a major tournament, they’ll need growth from somewhere.

With most of the roster filled with players in, near the end of, or past their primes, the most obvious candidate for a breakout year is Homegrown midfielder Jack McGlynn.

McGlynn, who turns 21 in July, enters his fourth MLS season with big expectations. He put up career highs in starts (15), games (27), and minutes (1615) in his last MLS campaign, growing into a regular role as one side of the midfield diamond. He earned his first call-up to the senior U.S. men’s national team in January and is expected to play a big role with the Olympic team in Paris this summer.

But, for all the hype, it’s fair to say that while McGlynn has shown flashes of brilliant talent, he wasn’t much more than an average MLS starter in 2023.

McGlynn is an offensive-minded midfielder who contributed just two goals and two assists last year. He has five goals and eight assists in all competitions in his Union career (about 5,000 minutes). And he remains a defensive liability in a squad that’s built to win games 1-0, not 4-3.

The Union need more from him this year.

Controlling the means of production

Let’s start with the simplest piece of the puzzle: goals and assists.

McGlynn’s assist numbers in his career are fairly low for someone with his kind of skill set. Not to be reductive, but the point of having a cultured left foot is that you should be able to put balls into places that help your team score goals.

Some, like the Inquirer‘s Jonathan Tannenwald, have made the point that “McGlynn’s work often comes with the pass before the assist, or even the secondary assist.” While it’s certainly true that a great pass to set up a goal doesn’t always show up in the box score, the value of a player like McGlynn should also show up in the hard assist numbers, especially in a league that counts secondary assists.

Look no further than the man McGlynn is essentially replacing in midfield, Alejandro Bedoya. Over the last five years, Bedoya has averaged about eight goal contributions a year. He had seven assists in 2023 and six in 2022.

McGlynn has the gifts to match those numbers this season. He can hit a rocket from the edge of the box. He can play Julian Carranza or Mikael Uhre over the top or find their heads with a cross.

If he’s not making goals happen, it’s fair to wonder whether the Union will slide down the scoring charts in 2024.

Getting back on defense

My favorite player in world football right now is Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard.

Silky, brainy attacking midfielders have always been my type, and Odegaard is one of the best in the world. But what’s really set him apart in his time at Arsenal is the way he contributes to team defense.

Odegaard isn’t a physical specimen; he’s not much of a tackler. Instead, Odegaard uses his other traits — his soccer IQ and his relentless motor — to lead Arsenal’s press, to harass opponents, to never let them get comfortable with the ball. Whether that leads to a turnover and a counterattack or just makes it challenging on the opponent to get settled, it’s a massive help to a defense that’s been one of the best in the Premier League this season.

McGlynn isn’t in Odegaard’s universe as a player, of course. But he has a similar problem: a lack of physicality that could make him a defensive liability. Last season, opposing teams figured out this weakness and went after him again and again in attack. McGlynn improved as the year went on, but he still stuck out like a sore thumb in what is otherwise a high energy, physical, defensive-minded Union XI.

I’d like to see McGlynn take a lesson from Odegaard this year and add more defensive acumen to his game. He reads the game at a high level; even if his body can’t win tackles against grown men in MLS, he can be in the right place at the right time to slow them down.

Few midfielders in the modern game have the luxury of being a one-way player. McGlynn needs to grow this side of his game if he’s to hit another level in 2024.

Room to grow – and plenty of potential

The online U.S. soccer community is addicted to prospects.

We crave the next young player coming through the ranks, the next star to emerge from MLS, the next prize to be sent off to Europe, the future savior of the national team.

Sometimes, that prospect addiction makes it difficult for us to actually evaluate a player for what they are, rather than what we want them to be.

(I would argue that Brenden Aaronson is a good example of this — a solid player who was simply not ready for life in the Premier League or the Bundesliga. That might be another column, though.)

So I want to be very clear about what I’m saying about Jack McGlynn.

McGlynn has a tremendous amount of potential, and he has shown flashes of one elite skill.

At this point, that potential is still far from the finished product, and McGlynn’s actual performances in Major League Soccer don’t convince me that he’s ready to be a star for the Union or to head off to Europe.

But McGlynn is still just 20 years old, seemingly has the right intangibles, and has lots of time to grow. This season is a perfect opportunity to McGlynn to make the leap forward that we’re all hoping he’ll take.

Whether he makes that leap or not will be one of the stories of this Union season.


  1. As an Arsenal fan I approve of this article. 🙂

    Hoping for big things from McGlynn this year.

  2. As much as I appreciate his talents, the fundamental problem with McGlynn is no foot speed. Which unfortunately can’t be taught.

  3. Pepito, The Biggest Cat in the Whole World says:

    His athleticism is obviously a huge issue he’ll never overcome. He’s up for defending but he just doesn’t have the quickness to stay in front of people a lot of the time.

    It was interesting against Saprissa that he was very physical shouldering people on 50:50 balls. Don’t recall him doing that much last season. Maybe they’ve gone with the theory that he might never be quick but he’s still a decently sized guy who can learn to throw his weight around.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I also noticed this during the Saprissa game. I thought McGlynn was noticeable on defense and not in a bad way. One game so far yeah, but it seemed like an improvement.

    • Medunjanin certainly wasn’t the fastest either, but for what that type of player does, neither Harris nor Jack really need to be super speedy

      • +1

      • Pepito, The Biggest Cat in the Whole World says:

        I don’t agree. McGlynn isn’t playing the same position as Medunjanin. He’s playing left mid in front of a left back that the Union love to push up field. Flach offers little going forward but has the ability to cover for Wagner when the overlap happens. McGlynn can’t because of his lack of speed and lateral quickness.

  4. Aaronson was solid with RB Salzburg. A regular creator and 2 goals in the UEFA Champions League. Leeds was a bad move, and Union Berlin was a gamble. He is starting to look a little more like himself there. As someone who found myself with a string of really bad jobs and bad bosses, I can tell you sometimes it is more the environment you find yourself in. He could probably look back and see that Leeds was always going to be in a relegation fight, that Jesse Marsch might not be there for the long haul, and that it was a going to be a boiling pot of tension. Not a great environment to thrive.

  5. Thanks, Pete, for the great insight. Looking forward how things will pan out for him this season. Hoping for lots of goals. He has a great shot that he should use more.

  6. Of course he will ! says:

    It’s is……ahem…… a Leap year after all…….

  7. Off topic, it’s great to see you still contributing your insights, Peter. I hope you find the time to continue to do so. All of the site’s readers are better off for it.

  8. Mcglynn doesn’t get many assists but often seems to be the guy who make the perfect pass before THE pass that creates a goal scoring chance.

  9. Andrew Marvell says:

    Great article. Thanks!

    McGlynn’s passing game is ace, but he is not really well suited for playing out wide. As long as Gazdag is in town, I would prefer seeing him transfer to the Netherlands or the Championship, where McGlynn could play in the center of the pitch and hone his game. One day he should be a stalwart with the USMNT. Any chance he lands a spot on the 2026 WC roster. I tend to doubt it, but would love for that to happen.

    Not to make an exaggerated comparison, but I seem to recall that Pirlo wasn’t fast or physical and could barely tackle, but, man, what a legendary player. Maybe Jack should grow his hair longer?


  10. As has been said many times on this site, thanks Pete for the insight and time. Also thanks to the new folks for stepping up to keep our favorite page alive!

    I have been on the McGlynn bandwagon since his first start! Really hoping he has a great season! Always worried about the lack of speed but as he matures I feel like he will use good positioning to compensate and won’t be exposed as much. Just a thought/ theory. Both he and Sullivan look beefier this season, so in my mind they are working on areas that need improvement.

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