Kacper Pryzbylko stood in front of a wall of reporters after a 3-1 win over Atlanta United on August 31. If you had predicted the star of the show in a huge win over an Eastern Conference would’ve been the forward from Bielefeld in Germany at the beginning of the season, no one would’ve backed you there. Even just prior to that point of the season, having registered 13 goals and 4 assists in 21 appearances for the Union, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a Union fan who believed he was the answer for the Union at forward.
But here he was. Time and time again proving he belonged. After struggling to find a club late in 2018, the Union picked him up. Nothing was thought of it. Nothing was expected from it. Maybe he could’ve been a player for the Steel. Depth at best, nothing more. In a league where forwards like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Carlos Vela, and Josef Martinez are transcendentally great, could Kacper Pryzbylko have even been thought to be in that conversation? It’s hard to argue he is in that echelon, it is rarified air, but there is no argument that Kacper Pryzbylko emerged as a game changer for this team.
As he was asked questions after the huge win that catapulted the Union unquestionably into the Eastern conference contenders, he cemented himself in Philadelphia Union lore with a quote that resonates oh so well in this town. Referring to the team’s next fixture against MLS behemoths Los Angeles FC, who would become the best regular season MLS team in history in 2019, Pryzbylko commented genuinely and without a hint of jest:
“LAFC, I wish you a lot of luck…This is our house. This is our stadium. We have great supporters. And we’re waiting for you guys.”
He had become a hero to the Union that no one expected and would fall in a way that only a hero could.
In the two seasons prior to joining Philadelphia, Kacper Pryzbylko found himself struggling in 2. Bundesliga unable to get on the field consistently, or at all, dealing with foot injuries. In the summer of 2018, he found himself without a club. After a brief trial with Sunderland in England, he was brought in, seemingly out of nowhere, by newly appointed Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. There wasn’t much fanfare regarding Pryzbylko. He was hardly thought of given he was brought in at a crucial moment in the 2018 season as they geared up for the playoffs.
He stayed on with the team heading into the 2019 season, but with club cornerstones Cory Burke and Fafa Picault still leading the way along with new signee Sergio Santos, it was still a matter of not expecting much. After starting the season with USL Championship side Bethlehem Steel, Kacper netted 3 goals in 2 appearances that sandwiched another foot injury. A little fortune always benefits those figures in age old stories despite their abilities.
Things are no different for Pryzbylko.
After making his debut against Montreal on April 20, Pryzbylko was thrust into the starting lineup after Cory Burke had visa issues that would ultimately cost him the season. Pryzbylko stepped up in a big way. In his 9 appearances between April 27 and June 9 (before the international break), Kacper racked up a solid 4 goals and 1 assist that saw the Union pick up 18 points and lose just once. Despite all this, what was the talk of the town during the international break? The Union’s new forward signing Andrew Wooten. Wooten was coming off the best of his career with 17 goals in 31 2. Bundesliga appearances.
All the work to get back to playing soccer for Pryzbylko was forgotten. He was once again an afterthought. For Union fans, Wooten was the much-needed sure thing at forward. The guy who could get you a goal whenever it was needed. The only problem was that Wooten wasn’t going to be available for a couple of weeks. Frankly, that was all Kacper Pryzbylko needed to remind everyone who had been leading the front lines for 2 months.
By the time Andrew Wooten was ready to play for the Union, Pryzbylko had made himself a must-start at forward. His production in the next 16 games is as eye-opening as any striker in the league. He led the Union with 11 goals and 3 assists in those games and kept the Union at the top of the Eastern Conference as the playoffs approached. His performances against the likes of DC United, Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC were crucial picking up 3 goals and 3 assists in those games. He finally proved that he belonged. He was finally the hero leading a team. The Union finished the 2019 season with their best record in franchise history.
As all heroics end in tragedy, unfortunately the story of Pryzbylko’s 2019 ends in tragedy as well. In the week before the last game of the regular season, Pryzbylko had an all too familiar injury to his foot. He would not play against NYCFC in the last game of the season. He would not be able to play in the Union’s first ever playoff win. He would not be able to save the Union from being eliminated from the playoffs against Atlanta.
The heroic tragedy of Pryzbylko in 2019 will be fondly remembered in Union fans’ hearts. But unlike the tragic heroes of old, Kacper has a shot to return and continue writing his story. Should he return to the field at Talen Energy Stadium he will be welcomed as a hero. We can all agree just to leave the tragic part out next season.