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Philadelphia Union 2020 MLS Season Preview

After finally winning a playoff game in 2019, expectations have maybe never been higher heading into the start of the team’s second decade

Costa Rica v United States Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Most points in history. Most wins in history. First playoff win in history. 2019 was a magical season to say the least for the Philadelphia Union, but after the dust of the MLS playoffs had settled, the Union remained without a trophy despite high hopes for the 2020 season. Philadelphia kicks off its season against FC Dallas on February 29, after a questionable offseason with many key departures and arguably not enough arrivals.

How did the Union finish in 2019?

The Union finished the 2019 MLS Season with 55 points, a new high for the franchise and defeated New York Red Bulls in a thrilling opening round playoff match at Talen Energy Stadium (now Subaru Park). They were defeated by Atlanta United in the second round of the MLS Playoffs at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

What’s new in 2020?/Biggest change from last year?

Philadelphia’s commitment to buying and selling players. The Union have a history of acquiring players via free transfer, rarely spending transfer fees, and almost never transferring out players for a sizable fee. However, with Ernst Tanner at the helm, Philadelphia managed to shed high salaries, acquire allocation money and spend on transfer fees for young, high potential players in the 2020 offseason.

Who’s out?

Let’s start with who left before we discussing who is in. Philadelphia traded homegrown centerback Auston Trusty to Colorado Rapids for $300k in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) in 2020, $300k in General Allocation Money (GAM) in 2021, and an additional $150k in GAM in 2021, pending performance thresholds. The Union also traded veteran winger and fan favorite Fafa Picault in exchange for $300k in 2020 GAM, with an additional $75k possible based on performance metrics. Mexican international star Marco Fabian departed the team after his option was declined, while former Bosnia international Haris Medunjanin was drafted by FC Cincinnati in the MLS Waiver Draft.

Who’s in?

The Union made it a priority to replace midfield maestro Haris Medunjanin, first signing defensive midfielder Jose Andres Martinez from Zulia FC. An undisclosed transfer fee was paid, but it was reported by Jonathan Tannenwald of The Inquirer that the team paid $325,000. Jamiro Monteiro, who came to Philadelphia on a short term loan, which was extended for the remainder of the 2019 season, was brought in on a permanent transfer for a record transfer fee (reported to be around $1.7 million) from FC Metz. Matej Oravec was the third transfer for Philadelphia, coming from DAC Dunajska Streda of the Slovak Super League. Oravec is a versatile midfielder who can also play in the defensive back line when needed. Finally, Jakob Glesnes was brought in from Norwegian club Stromgodset to provide more options at center back, with the team again paying an undisclosed transfer fee.

What’s the new jersey?

Philadelphia managed to bring in two jersey changes this season, although one is simply a sponsor change. For the first time in the Union’s history, a sponsor logo will appear on the secondary jerseys for the club. The Union and jersey sponsor, Bimbo Bakeries, came to an agreement to use Artesano, a child company under Bimbo, as the logo which appears on the secondary jerseys.

The Union also received new jerseys as part of MLS’ 25th anniversary lineup, with a bold navy blue base and 3 gold stripes on the right shoulder. The Union’s primary snake logo is included on the front of the jersey, although it is a light accented color and is hard to see.

Philadelphia Union

Who’s the coach?

Jim Curtin returns for the 2020 season, after helping the Union win their first playoff game and break the club record for points in a season.

How does Leagues Cup impact the squad?

Philadelphia missed the chance to compete in the Concacaf Champions League, but still managed to qualify for the Leagues Cup, a competition between MLS and Liga MX clubs. This will be the Union’s first appearance in the tournament, and will be a true test of the team’s depth. Not only are the Union dealing with an MLS schedule and Leagues Cup, but they will be competing in the U.S. Open Cup as well (though fortunately for them not until the fourth round), which sets them up for a busy summer schedule. The team has added plenty of depth pieces to account for these competitions, as well as any international call ups for players like Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie.

Projected Starting XI

The roster seems to be well rounded, with the number 6 position still seemingly open for the taking. Matej Oravec and Jose Martinez have split time at the 6 during the preseason, with both showing flashes of quality while showing room for improvement. For now, Oravec gets the nod over El Brujo. Brenden Aaronson will be in the starting 11, most likely at CAM, but optionally can play RM with Monteiro at the 10.

Expectations for 2020?

A trophy. Philadelphia tends to focus on one route to a trophy, with the exception of 2018, where the team made a run at the U.S. Open Cup and qualified for the MLS Playoffs. With three competitions this year, and a stacked roster in terms of depth, Philadelphia will be better equipped to handle the schedule than other MLS teams.

What did we learn last season about this team?

Philadelphia finally has the never say die attitude that they’ve been promoting for years. If you’re a Union fan, you’ve heard the epic tale. The tale of a Philly team that went down 3-1 in the first half to their archrivals at home, and when all seemed lost, found a way to claw back and win 4-3 after 120 captivating minutes. The Union want more now, and they have shown that they are capable of standing up to the big dogs like Atlanta and LAFC.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

There are a few concerns that need to be highlighted. Who will replace Haris Medunjanin? Will Kacper Przybylko be able to reproduce his breakout season? Will Sergio Santos or Andrew Wooten prove to be a suitable dance partner for Kacper? Is this team deep enough to handle three competitions this season? What happens if Brenden Aaronson regresses; who takes over at the number 10 position?

Who is THE player to watch this season?

Brenden Aaronson. The young U.S. National team player has a lot to prove this season, and is being giving the creative reigns for a team desperate for a bit of creativity. His chemistry with midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro is crucial, as well as his ability to deliver significant passes to the strikers up top. Marco Fabian was slated to be the answer at the number 10 position, but after only one season, it has been handed to Aaronson and Fabian is a thing in the past. It is a lot of pressure for the young player, and it will be a major storyline as to whether he can produce higher stats after having one year under his belt.