As the full-time whistle blows for soccer in the year 2022 and we enter the blank footballing canvas that is 2023, it’s time to reflect.
We witnessed a historic and emotion-filled 2022 season from the Philadelphia Union, filled with game-breaking skills, goalscoring outbursts, defensive masterclasses, goalkeeping heroics, and – yes – even heartbreak. However, one key element that may get lost when people cling to the memories and the all-around success of the 2022 Philadelphia Union campaign will be their success on set pieces. That is success in converting offensive set pieces and defending the opposing team’s set pieces.
For starters, the Union ranked fifth in MLS with 21 goals from penalty kicks, corner kicks, and free kicks combined. Breaking that number down, they were tied for sixth in MLS with 12 goals from non-penalty set pieces (corners and free kicks) and tied for second in MLS with nine goals from penalties.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the pitch, the Union ranked first in MLS with seven goals conceded from penalties, corners, and free kicks combined. They also ranked first in MLS with just three goals conceded from non-penalty set pieces, while they were tied for third in league with four penalty goals conceded. In other words, the Union were elite on set pieces, whether defending them or taking them, and it served them quite well in their deep run in MLS Playoffs.
Four of the Union’s seven goals were from set pieces throughout their three postseason matches. In the Eastern Conference Final against NYCFC, the equalizing goal from Julian Carranza came from a quick free kick taken by Jakob Glesnes. Similarly, in the MLS Cup Final against LAFC, all three of the Union’s goals came from set pieces. The first came from a recycled corner kick scored by Gazdag, the second goal came from a Kai Wagner free kick nodded in by Jack Elliott, and the third was another recycled corner eventually converted by Elliott.
Of course, their set-piece defending in the MLS Cup Final left a bit to be desired. Two of LAFC’s three goals came from set pieces, with a Kellyn Acosta deflected free kick opening the scoring and a Jesús Murrillo goal from a corner, making it 2-1. Not to mention, the match ended – well – you know how it ended in penalties.
With all that being said, the Union were brilliant on set pieces in 2022, and they were a persistent source of both goals on the offensive end and immense fortitude on the defensive end throughout the season. Any manager's dream is to not only convert your set pieces but also refuse to concede set pieces to your opponent.
So when Jim Curtin reflects on the Union’s set piece execution in 2022, he will surely be very proud of his men.