So here we are! On the precipice of another MLS Soccer season. Coming off last season, which started with the bar set reasonably low, ended with a very exciting defeat of the New York Red Bulls in overtime. Our guys overcame a two-goal deficit twice and won their first playoff game. That, in turn, earned us more respect.
No longer can I say we are the MLS team that people say, “Isn’t that cute, they are trying so hard to win…” or hear Martin Tyler tell us on FIFA 19 that the Philadelphia (space) Union, a new franchise…
After the season ended, I went into a Wawa with my blue Jersey and the girl behind the counter knew that Bimbo was a baking company! Imagine my surprise when my first play of FIFA 20 revealed that all commentators had learned the names of our players, even Kacper! Well, this is Philly, no more reminiscing. It’s time to take a look at what we are doing this year to be better.
For the first time in my 10 years rooting for this club, the offseason makes sense. Everything, from players that were not renewed to the new signings and the academy kids (sounds like an alternative band name). It was obvious to anyone who was willing to pay attention that our goals against average was killing us. Defense seemed to be a top priority. But, you say, we have Mark McKenzie and Jack Elliott at the center of our defense and then we have Kai Wagner and Ray Gaddis (shoot Ray!) on the flanks, how could we have problems on defense.
Well, as I have learned over my years of being a fat old guy watching soccer on my couch, its not just about the four defenders, it’s about everyone. Our defensive midfield got caught in transition too many times or gave up the ball in the defensive half. This leads to transition goals against us. What did Ernst do you ask? He went out and signed three players all fast, all great in transition as the scouting reports bare out, and defensive minded players. El Brujo and Matej Oravec, teaming with Ale Bedoya and Glesnes and Collin rounding out a pretty good center back group and hoping that Andre Blake returns to the form we all know he can, I say defense, job done.
I do have concerns about our depth on the attacking side. My view is this; we have our goal scoring machine, Kacper Przybylko. We also have Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten, both with a year of MLS and MLS style traveling under their belts. Then we have Brenden Aaronson with a year of experience and now rostered on the USMNT with McKenzie. These guys are picking up experience quickly AND they have the tactical skills to complement their styles.
The roster also has Anthony Fontana, Matt Real, Michee Ngalina and Olivier Mbaizo returning and homegrown signings Jack de Vries and Cole Turner joining the fray, which has created what I believe is the fastest Union team yet. We all know that speed kills, right?
If we take into account the new signings and graduated academy players and the Union doing business to extend both Elliott (last season) and McKenzie (this season) the team is doing the business that we were hoping they’d do. Okay, I know what you all are going to say, hey old man you forgot something. No, I did not. I saved it for last.
Amidst all the winter activity but certainly not hidden in that that activity we the re-signing of Jamiro Monteiro! Talk about miracles, I did not expect to see him back and frankly, that made me sad. But Ernst, my friend, my hero, my all seeing, all knowing soccer guru made it happen somehow. It probably didn’t elude any of your attention that he is also wearing the No. 10 jersey.
With the firepower brought in that will pair with “El Capitan,” the Union now has the flexibility to play Jamiro centrally and Aaronson on the wing with Santos or Fontana or Michee. Looking at what I see, the Philadelphia Union has gotten better. They’ve, hopefully, shored up weaknesses, gotten faster and added important depth on defense. Depth is important especially with Aaronson and McKenzie hopefully being the new faces of the USMNT. We are looking so much better in February 2020 than in any other year.
Sure, the Atlanta Uniteds and LAFCs weren’t sitting on their hands while we did our business. Still, in my humble opinion, they could add depth on the attack and maybe a right wing back, but looking at where we are now I, for one, am truly, honestly, absolutely fired up for this season, more so than ever before. I hope you all are with me! Let all of us fans and supporters do our jobs as Philly fans and blow the roof off Subaru Park in Chester, PA and feed this team energy EVERY game all season long. May the force be with us!!!