Week 3 Preview: Union vs. San Jose Earthquakes

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union return home to Subaru Park to take on the San Jose Earthquakes, enjoying their second-best start in club history after collecting four points from their first two games of the 2022 season. The Quakes haven’t enjoyed as successful of a start, still seeking their first win of the season, but a dramatic comeback draw last week proves that they’re more than willing to put up a good fight.

“It’s a unique opponent and one we don’t get the opportunity of playing too often,” Jim Curtin said of the upcoming opposition in a press conference. “They always create a lot of chances, sometimes they take a lot of risk, sometimes they leave themselves exposed in the back and they play man for man.”

It’s a promising statistic that, so far this season, the Earthquakes lead the league in goals allowed. However, Curtin did emphasize that it will be essential for the Union to be more organized defensively and smoother in transition.

The need for a more organized defense follows Curtin’s surprising decision to bench his preferred right back Olivier Mbaizo in favor of Homegrown Nathan Harriel. Curtin defended the decision by saying that while Harriel played the position well, there was another meaning behind the decision.

“It sends a message to the group,” Curtin explained. “Everybody has to recognize you have to do your job each and every week. We have real capable guys that are pushing for minutes.”

Both teams will also be without some key offensive players due to red cards in their previous games—the Union without Julien Carranza and the Quakes without former Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Nathan Harriel, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre, Sergio Santos

  • After an outstanding performance at right back, in which he lead the team in interceptions and aerial duels, it’s likely that Curtin will use Harriel again at right back. It’s promising to see one of the Homegrowns, especially one who didn’t feature heavily last season, making a statement so early in the season.

Score Prediction: The Quakes are a gritty side, and while slightly weakened offensively, they’ll pose quite the threat to the Union’s still disorganized back line. Thankfully, the offense has proven stronger than the defense, which will prove to come in clutch for a 3-1 win.

Week 2 Preview: Union vs. CF Montreal

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union hit the road for the first time in the 2022 season, traveling north to take on CF Montreal. After collecting a point in their season opener against Minnesota United in a rather disappointing draw, the Union will be looking for their first win against the Canadian side.

Montreal have not won against the Union in their last six meetings, with their last victory coming all the way back in 2019. They also suffered a loss in their first game of the season, falling to Orlando City last Sunday. An uneventful first half led into a pair goals from Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel, coming in quick succession to hold Montreal to a 2-0 loss.

The Union had a slightly better weekend, overcoming an initial deficit in a cagey match to ensure they did not go into this match with a losing record. Minnesota’s Robin Lod put his team ahead in the 23rd minute, but the Union’s Cory Burke answered back with a goal of his own 12 minutes later.

Union head coach Jim Curtin also announced that new signing Mikael Uhre would be playing a role in Saturday’s game.

“He’ll be ready, no question about it,” Curtin stated in a press conference. “He’s had a good week of training with the group and he is still getting used to his teammates, but he’s shown really well in training. He has some speed to stretch the defense and he’s shown some really good movement in the box and scored a lot of goals this week. He has minimal training sessions with the group, but his body has responded well so I think it’s safe to say he’ll play a role this weekend’s match one way or the other, that’s for sure.”

Predicted Starting XI: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Leon Flach, Jose Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya, Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, Cory Burke

Score Prediction: Neither the Union or Montreal have been at the top of their games, but the Union have been shown to have an advantage in terms of resilience, creativity, and strategization. They have an extensive amount of attacking options Curtin has at his disposal makes it so he can try out a number of different combinations up front, putting the Union in a good position to take a 2-1 win.

Jamiro Monteiro Joins San Jose Earthquakes on Permanent Deal

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union announced on Monday that the club acquired $250,000 in General Allocation Money, a 2022 international spot, and “a conditional $200,000 in 2023 GAM if certain performance metrics are met” in exchange for midfielder Jamiro Monteiro.

Monteiro first signed for the Union on loan in 2019, then went on to complete a permanent transfer in Jan. 2020. He made 70 starts in 75 games, contributing nine goals and 21 assists.

“We want to thank Jamiro for his time spent with the Philadelphia Union,” said Union sporting director Ernst Tanner. “He has helped reach many club milestones over the last three seasons, and we wish him all the best in this next phase of his career. Depth in midfield is an area of strength for us, and this move not only opens more opportunities for our young, developing players, but created two open international slots we can use to continue building our roster.”

Union Sign Danish Superstar Mikael Uhre

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union announced on Jan. 27 that they have signed Danish forward Mikael Uhre to a three-year Designated Player contract, with an option for a fourth year, in exchange for unknown transfer fee.

Uhre, who transferred to Philadelphia from Brøndby IF, was the Golden Boot winner in the Danish Superliga, and will be added to the Union’s active roster following the acquisition of his International Transfer Certificate and P1 Visa. Last season, he scored 21 goals and six assists in 34 appearances, all of which were starts. In addition to his Golden Boot, Uhre was named Danish Superliga Player of the Season. So far this season, he as 14 goals in 26 appearances (24 starts). His 11 goals in 16 league games currently lead the entire league.

The 27-year-old is also capped for the Danish national team, having received his first senior-call up in November of last year. He made his full debut in a 2-0 loss against Scotland.

Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said of Uhre’s transfer, “We have been following Mikael for some time as he has developed and risen through the Danish Superliga, and we are excited to complete this deal to bring him to the Union. We are always looking for ways to improve the quality of our roster and we believe Mikael, having become a top player in Denmark, is a good fit for our system and will be an integral piece in our continued growth as a club. We are looking forward to welcoming him as we build on the success of last year and turn our attention to the 2022 season.”

Kacper Przybylko Leaves Union for Chicago Fire

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Philadelphia Union announced on Jan. 22 that prolific striker Kacper Przybyłko would be leaving the Union to join the Chicago Fire on a permanent transfer. In exchange for the player, the Union will receive $1.15 million in General Allocation Money—$575,000 in 2022 and $575,000 in 2023.

Przybylko joined the Union in 2018, as one of sporting director Ernst Tanner’s famous under-the-radar signings that turned out to be extremely talented. He made his debut for the Boys In Blue in 2019 as a substitute against the Montreal Impact, scoring his first goal a week later against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Przybylko has played 83 games (starting 77 of them), scored 35 goals, and made 14 assists in his time with Philadelphia.

“We want to thank Kacper for his efforts on and off the field with the Philadelphia Union,” Tanner stated. “He has played a major role with some of the Union’s most memorable moments over the last few years and we wish him all the best as we continue to look to strengthen and add depth to our roster in the coming weeks.”

Union Acquire Julian Carranza on Loan From Inter Miami

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union announced on Dec. 23 that the club has signed 21-year-old forward Julian Carranza from Inter Miami CF on loan. Carranza has been added to the active duty roster, currently occupying a Young Designated Player spot. He will stay with the Union throughout the 2022 MLS season, while the club has an option to buy at the end of the season.

“We’re excited to welcome Julian to the Philadelphia Union and add a promising young attacker with a lot of potential to our roster,” said Union sporting director Ernst Tanner. “He is aggressive in the box and brings the versatility of a natural center forward who fits the profile of a striker we were looking for, as well as our style of play. We look forward to welcoming him to the team and watching him develop in our system.”

Kai Wagner Wants a Move to Europe in January

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Union All-Star left back Kai Wagner has requested a move to Europe during this upcoming January transfer window.

Wagner was quoted as saying to Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt, “I want to make the step to Europe in January. I want to prove to myself that I can play [in] Europe; I am honest enough to say that I want to do it now. I also want to be closer to the family.”

The German left-back signed a contract with the Union that would keep him in Philadelphia through the 2022 season, with a club option in 2023. However, Wagner has recognized how much his worth has skyrocketed since first signing with the Union, and wants a position in European soccer to reflect that increased price tag.

Wagner was one of the numerous players that Union sporting director Ernst Tanner signed under the radar that ended up being explosive, playing a significant role in the Union’s squad. He was first acquired from the Wurzburger Kickers in February 2019 for a measly $303,000, but it’s being reported that Wagner is now valued somewhere close to $3.3 million.

“Today, everybody would laugh about the small fee that Tanner paid to sign me,” Wagner said. “At the time, though, it was a difficult step. And I had to jump over my own shadow. But the talks with Ernst Tanner and Jim Curtin helped me make my decision, and once I knew that my family was on board, the decision [to come to the Union] was made very quickly.”

While nothing is concrete yet, it looks as though the Union might be in the market for another left-back soon.

Eastern Conference Final Recap: That's A Wrap

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s not the ending any Union supporter wanted for the 2021 season, but a lineup absent of a majority of the team’s regular starters left the Union had a significant disadvantage before the game even started. Philadelphia played a much more aggressive style in order to make up for the lack of experience in the lineup, but it wasn’t enough to send them through to the MLS Cup Final.

It didn’t take long for Jose Martinez to get himself involved in an altercation, taking issue with NYCFC’s Santiago Rodriguez, causing both teams to get in on the arguing.

The first scoring opportunity of the game would come from Jack McGlynn, whose free kick nearly made it into the right corner of the net, but Sean Johnson was able to make the save.

Despite some strong clearances from the Union, who were missing three regular starters and goalkeeper Andre Blake, NYCFC held the majority of possession. Even though they controlled most of the first half of the game, New York resorted to more physical tactics to try and keep the Union from getting ahead. Both McGlynn and Jamiro Monteiro were targeted whenever they had the ball, but it didn’t keep the home team down.

In the 38th minute, Kacper Przybylko found a scoring opportunity, stretching his leg all the way to knock the ball directly into Johnson’s body.

Leon Flach had a golden chance in the 43rd minute, when a slide tackle on the defender sent the ball flying towards the net. Johnson was able to backtrack to keep both teams scoreless going into halftime.

The Union continued their attacking runs on NYCFC, with Daniel Gazdag maneuvering his way through bodies in the opposition’s box to connect with Flach, who made a brilliant run at the goal. Johnson was forced into another save, but the intensity of the Union’s offense was immediately obvious.

The opening minutes of the second half were dominated by both McGlynn and Flach, with the young midfielders taking full advantage of turnovers, and applying tons of pressure while connecting with Gazdag and Monteiro.

It was in the 63rd minute that the pressure paid off for the Union. Gazdag and Monteiro had some back-and-forth up the left side to send the ball into the six-yard box. Przybylko was the nearest Union player to the net, but the ball deflected off of NYCFC’s Alexander Callens for an own goal to put the Union up 1-0.

However, just under two minutes later, Maxi Moralez found an equalizer for the away team.

Undeterred by the equalizing goal, Philadelphia continued their relentless pressing, but didn’t have any goals to show off. On the other side of things, New York got into the Union’s box to test Matt Freese, who was able to push the ball out of danger.

As the second half ticked on, it was looking like yet another playoff game would head into overtime, but Martinez intercepted a clearance and passed it off to Nathan Harriel, whose header just went over the crossbar, denying him a potential game-winning goal.

It would be the visitors that would find the back of the net a second time, with Gudmundur Thorarinsson found Talles Magno for a tap-in goal that would prove to be the game-winner.

The Main Takeaway: Although it was a thoroughly disheartening way to end the season, it was the furthest the Union have ever gotten in the playoffs, and proved why the Union are becoming powerhouses in MLS. They put on incredibly resilient performances, and proved just how good their regular Starting XI is. It’s been a historical season for the Boys In Blue, and while they didn’t make it all the way this season, they’ve built a sturdy foundation for an even better 2022 season.

Eastern Conference Final Preview: Union vs. NYCFC

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The playoffs have been nothing short of chaotic and dramatic for the Union, but things have taken a turn for the worse in the leadup to the Eastern Conference Final at Subaru Park.

It was announced on Dec. 4 that 11 Union players had been placed into Health and Safety protocols, rendering them unavailable for selection against NYCFC. It’s a crushing blow, as a majority of the players on the list have been crucial to Philadelphia’s success in these playoffs. Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, Joe Bendik, Cory Burke, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Ilsinho, Alvas Powell, Sergio Santos, Quinn Sullivan, and Kai Wagner will have to quarantine pending COVID-19 test results.

To fill out the roster, Jim Curtin has added Homegrowns Brendan Craig and Anton Sorenson, along with MLS pool goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.

The loss of such essential players has sent the Union faithful into panic mode, but Curtin assured the masses in his press conference that the remaining players are up to the challenge of earning a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

There’s been a lot of emotion, a uniqueness in the week,” Curtin said. “The group was unable to train [on Thursday] due to players going in health and safety protocols of MLS. We were able to return to practice today on the field. We will follow the league protocols with hope of having as many players available for our game against New York City FC. I cannot speak on the health of certain individual players, but our players have worked tirelessly to get to this point and I know that they will be brave even in the adversity that we are facing right now.”

NYCFC will be formidable opponents, after their penalty shootout against the New England Revolution caused a major upset to bring them into the Eastern Conference Finals. Although they will also be without some key players, including MLS MVP finalist Taty Castellanos, they’ll still have a significant advantage over the Union in terms of roster experience, strength, and preparation for a game of this magnitude.

Curtin is still confident that the Union will come out victorious, stating, “We’ve stepped up in big moments all year long. International absences, challenges of Concacaf, players losing loved ones, adversity on and off the field, this group always finds a way to step up. I expect this weekend to be more of the same. We’ve had a next man up mentality all season long and we will continue to do that. We will make our fans proud. If history has shown us anything, it’s that a group of men, or a group of women, with absolutely nothing to lose can oftentimes be the most dangerous.”

The head coach also added, “I said it to the group, this is why you get paid money to play a sport. This is what the literal definition of what it means to be a professional—always being ready.”

Predicted Lineup: Matt Freese, Stuart Findlay, Brendan Craig, Anton Sorenson, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Jack McGlynn, Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybyłko, Daniel Gazdag

  • The defense will be the biggest concern for this lineup, seeing as everyone in the back line but Mbaizo has gotten very limited playing time this season, and the defense has been one of the main things keeping the Union in the playoffs. The midfield and strikers are relatively intact, but will be missing Bedoya’s crucial leadership skills, along with not having the option of an incredibly dynamic Sergio Santos.

Score Prediction: It’s entirely possible that this lineup will get the job done and keep NYCFC in check. New York is without their most dangerous offensive pieces, which will be a huge relief. It’s likely that the pattern of ending regulation play in a tie and finding a winner in stoppage time or penalties will continue, and the Union will find themselves with that winning goal. The universe has been on their side so far, and they need all the positivity they can get going into this game.

Eastern Conference Semifinal Recap: It Was the Night Things Changed

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

On a chilly November night in Chester, two teams faced off in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The energy in Subaru Park was unlike anything seen before at the stadium—the Sons of Ben marched proudly into the stadium while waving flags and beating drums; there was no shortage of pyrotechnics as the teams made their way onto the field; every touch of the ball warranted a roaring reaction from the packed stadium. This game had everything—golden scoring opportunities that strikers missed, overtime that couldn’t be ended with a Jakob Glesnes rocket, and a penalty shootout that ended in one team making club history.

Jamiro Monteiro returned to the starting lineup for this game, and immediately showed why he’s the primary playmaker. The Union were able to skip through Nashville SC’s defense on multiple occasions early in the game, largely controlling possession and scoring chances. Alvas Powell tried his luck with a long-range shot, while Kacper Przybyłko’s effort missed the net trying to find a clear path in a sea of bodies.

Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar made sure to give the Union’s defense some trouble, racing down the right flank and trying to maneuver around Glesnes, but the defender was able to stretch his leg out and deflect Mukhtar’s shot.

The possession and attacks on both sides evened out, as both sides looked to break through the other’s steadfast defense. The Union did their best to utilize the skill of Monteiro and Daniel Gazdag, bringing balls up the sides of the field and crossing into the box, but it wasn’t in the Union’s destiny to strike first.

Mukhtar would break the scoreless deadlock, catching a pass from Eric Miller, and catching the Union’s back four and Andre Blake in an uncharacteristic moment of inattentiveness. Subaru Park fell almost completely silent as the Nashville players celebrated, and suddenly, the game was really on.

The Boys In Blue didn’t look fazed by falling behind, continually persisting for a goal like they had been doing for the entirety of the first half. A corner kick from Monteiro found the feet of Gazdag, whose first effort was blocked by Nashville goalie Joe Willis. Gazdag stayed on the ball, picking it up when it rolled loose and knocked it past Willis to draw the Union level in first half stoppage time.

Early in the second half, a scuffle in the Union’s box saw Leon Flach go down with an apparent knee injury. Jim Curtin was forced to sub on Sergio Santos to fortify his offense, which paid off, as Santos instantly started pressuring Nashville’s defense.

In the 62nd minute, Santos’ first real look on goal came off of a spectacular Gazdag cross. However, the Brazilian striker found himself caught in traffic and looped a shot just wide of the net.

The chances kept coming for the Union, as Alejandro Bedoya found himself getting involved. Bedoya lifted a ball to a lone Monteiro at the far post, but Nashville intercepted the cross before it could reach him.

As the clock ticked down, counterattacks on both sides grew more and more chaotic and aggressive. Philadelphia bombarded Nashville’s defense with an intricate web of passes and shots and rebounds from all sides, while Mukhtar’s speed forced the home team to sprint to track back in order to prevent Nashville from getting into a dangerous area.

Gazdag seemed to be the heroic goalscorer once again, netting his second goal of the game, which looked to be the crucial game winner, but referee Allan Chapman disallowed the goal after pronouncing that there had been a foul on the goalkeeper.

The regulatory 90 minutes were up, and the Union found themselves in overtime for the second consecutive playoff game.

The Union stayed aggressive in their pressing on Nashville’s defense, but the visitors held strong and kept the Union goalless. Monteiro and Santos were the main players in the Union’s counterattacks, but their efforts were fruitless. Curtin then made an ambitious double substitution, swapping Monteiro and Przybylko for Cory Burke and Jack McGlynn. Although the fans told every player to shoot when they got anywhere near the box (hey, it worked last time!), no dramatic rocket of a goal could save the Union this time around. This semifinal was going to penalties.

All eyes were on Blake as Nashville stepped up to take the first penalty. Mukhtar, naturally, was the choice to start off, but he was brilliantly denied by the Jamaican keeper.

Center back Jack Elliott was first for the Union, and he calmly sent his shot past Willis to give the Union the advantage.

Anibal Godoy was the second penalty taker for Nashville, and the second one to be denied by Blake’s excellent directional awareness and agile reflexes.

It was then Santos’ turn, but his PK was saved by Willis.

Alex Muyl gave Blake a break by kicking a ball more worthy of a field goal than a soccer goal, putting the Union even closer to victory.

McGlynn stepped up in the third slot, and the 18-year-old perfectly executed a stutter-step penalty kick that most professionals nearly twice his age can’t pull off.

Walker Zimmerman had the world on his shoulders as he stepped up for Nashville, but couldn’t convert.

Every fan in the stadium was on their feet. The Union players stopped for a second, almost not believing what they had just witnessed. It was only when Blake began sprinting towards his teammates that the realization finally hit—the Union were advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in club history.

Man of the Match: ANDRE. JASON. BLAKE. He didn’t need to do anything more this season to prove that he is the best goalie in MLS, but it will be a cold day in hell before he gives anything less than 110% for his team.

The Main Takeaway: Once again, the Union fall victim to failing to capitalize on relatively easy chances, and have to find their wins in overtime. They’ll be taking on the winners of the NYCFC vs. New England Revolution, and one could bet their life savings that neither of those teams will allow the finals to go past regulation time. The Union performed better than they did against the New York Red Bulls, and remained consistently undeterred by a tough Nashville side, but the real test of their abilities will fall in these finals. Either team they’ll face will be hard (but not impossible!) to beat, and they might not have the home field advantage that they’ve enjoyed so far this postseason. The Union need to step into their power, and show just how sure of themselves they’ve become. They are capable of beating any team they face. They need to start playing like it.