In the third edition of The State of the Union, I checked in on the midfielders, and gave my predictions for what is most certainly the most important positional group of all. At last, the MLS Regular Season is upon us and it is time for the final edition of my State of the Philadelphia Union series, this edition looking at the forwards.
Last season was a rocky one for Kacper Przybylko who, despite coming off a 2019 season in which he scored 15 goals, never fully looked as if he was in full fitness. It is fully reasonable to think that, just like many players who struggled post-COVID, he struggled to regain fitness after contracting COVID-19.
However, despite his struggles in front of goal per fbref.com, Przybylko was in the 97 th percentile amongst MLS Forwards for his expected assists per 90, and the 90 th percentile for expected goal contributions (xG + xA) per 90. He was absolutely essential to the way the Union played in possession. On the other hand, Sergio Santos took a step forward in 2020 and finished with an impressive 8 goals despite only playing 1,200 MLS minutes. Per fbref.com, Sergio Santos averaged an impressive 0.75 expected goal contributions (Goals plus Assists) per 90 minutes last season, which puts him in the 91 st percentile amongst MLS forwards.
Offseason Roster Moves
2021 Projected Depth Chart
2021 Season will be a success if…
Kacper Przybylko regains his 2019 form and his above-average finishing ability. While Przybylko proved he has exceptional passing and build up play last year, the Union cannot be so reliant on Sergio Santos and the rest of the midfield corps to provide goals. They need one of their two center forwards to score- and score 10+ goals.
2021 Season will be a failure if…
Kacper not only does not score goals, but also dips in his passing and build up. Yes, I just mentioned that the season will be a success only if Przybylko scores goals- the Union won the Shield last year despite his dip in form so there is a clear formula for winning. That formula, however, was reliant on his excellent ability to create (see the 2020 recap for his impressive stats). If he dips in this aspect of this game, it will be difficult to see how the Union can succeed.
2021 Season Expectations & Predictions
Last season was a breakout for Sergio Santos, and I have no reason to expect him to stop there. Despite starting the season injured, I think he finds his form quickly and asserts himself as the more potent pure goal scorer of the two center forwards for the Union. Santos is great at finding the space to score, especially on the counterattack, but has often lacked the final ball to finish off the chance. I expect him to improve dramatically here, which is why I predict him to outscore Kacper.
Despite my previous prediction, I think Kacper bounces back and has an exceptional season. If we see him combine his 2019 finishing form, with his 2020 chance creation then he can be one of the most potent center forwards in the league. I would not be shocked to see him surpass to 20 G/A this season, especially if my prediction for Santos holds true.
For the rest of the center forwards, it is hard to expect much from them other than Anthony Fontana (which I covered in the previous edition). I don’t expect to see much this season from Jack DeVries, other than a couple spot starts and substitute appearances, so a couple of goals from him would be excellent production.