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Philadelphia Union season approaching historic levels

The Union record book is turning into a 2022 yearbook

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Soon the Philadelphia Union record book will look like this: 2022

And we’re getting close to seeing the MLS record book look like this: Philadelphia Union 2022

The Philadelphia Union are rolling, and after last Saturday night’s 5-1 victory over the U.S. Open Cup champions Orlando City SC, we’ve reached a point where celebrating the berth of home playoff games has lost its glimmer as the Union chase the Supporters’ Shield for a second time in three years. And while everyone in the locker room has the Eastern Conference top seed and MLS Cup as priorities, we can’t overlook the records being broken at a staggering rate. With three games remaining, the Union are chasing history on multiple fronts, adding to what has already been a remarkable season and turning it into an epic one.

The Union have scored 23 goals in the last 5 games, three more than any team in a five-game stretch in the history of the league.

The Union now have a goal differential of +46. LAFC holds the record of +48 set in 2019. LA Galaxy have the second-best goal differential of +41, set in 1998.

In the 76th minute, Andrés Perea beat Andre Blake to close the score to 4-1. The goal may have appeared meaningless in the game, but not to the Union players and caoches. It was only the 22nd goal conceded this season, and goals against has often been referenced by Union coach Jim Curtin as one of the most important statistics of this 2022 team. “It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Curtin said after the game against Orlando. “to not concede goals is obviously the name of the game, and it’s something that makes me proud.”

Real Salt Lake holds the MLS record with 20 goals against in a season, but that was set in 2010 when the league played 30 games. In the 34-game schedule, Sporting Kansas City leads MLS all-time, allowing 27 goals in 2012. The LA Galaxy conceded 28 times in 2011, the first 34-game season, and Kansas City allowed 29 goals in 2017.

“Defense is still our foundation as a group,” Curtin added. “We score a lot of goals, but I still think we score those goals because of the team defending.” The Union currently are on pace to finish second all-time in fewest goals allowed per game in a single season. Real Salt Lake’s .67 in 2010 tops the list, while the Union are currently at .71, better than their own .87 in 2020.

“In the 34-game season,” Curtin said, “which I call the modern league, what they’re doing right now is phenomenal. It’s unprecedented.”

The Union under Curtin have traditionally been a defensively stout team, but what they’re doing on the offensive side has been more than eye-opening. The Union have scored 68 goals this season, which has long surpassed the club-record 58 set in 2019 and is still well below the MLS record of 85 set in 1998 by the LA Galaxy and again by LAFC in 2019. But the team’s 45 goals scored at home is currently tied for 6 th all-time. Columbus holds the record with 49 goals scored at home in 1998 for an average of 3.06 goals scored per game at home. The Union’s 2.64 GPG ranks fifth in MLS history with one game remaining against Toronto FC on October 9.

The goal-scoring contributions from the Union’s front three playmakers have led to the record-setting spike in goals in 2022. “You hear new numbers and new stats about the front three scoring more goals than most teams and it’s mind blowing,” Curtin said. Daniel Gazdag (19), Julian Carranza (14), and Mikael Uhre (12) have combined for 45 goals, tied with two teams (Dallas and Atlanta) and better than 15 teams. Only 10 teams have scored more goals than the Union’s front three.

The Union home stand has been just as impressive. The team is currently unbeaten at home in 21 games, the 7th -longest streak all-time, sporting an 11-0-5 record in 2022, good for an 84.3% winning percentage. This is the second-best mark ever in a 34-game season. The LA Galaxy set the mark after going 12-0-5 at home in 2011, good for 85.3%. The record has been equaled by LAFC in 2019, New York Red Bulls in 2018, and Toronto FC in 2017. The Union could tie the mark if they win their final game.

As exciting as it’s been for the Union to chase multiple team records, we can’t overlook the impressive performances individually, starting with Gazdag, who’s having an MVP-like season and easily the best-ever in a Union uniform. Gazdag scored his 19 th goal of the season, extending his Union single-season record. C.J Sapong had 17 in 2017 (16 league,1 USOC), and Kacper Przybylko had 17 in 2021 (12 league,5 CCL). Gazdag’s current .61 goals per game leads Przybylko’s .58 set in 2019, and Uhre (12/24) and Carranza (14/28) are tied for third, joining Sebastian Le Toux (2010) with .5 GPG.

Curtin made his case known for Gazdag to earn the league’s top honor. “It’s obviously going to come down to him and [Hany] Mukhtar for the MVP of the league.” Mukhtar scored a penalty in Nashville’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy, his 22 nd of the season. He has 22 goals and 11 assists on the season compared to Gazdag’s 19 and 9. But the difference in Curtin’s mind is the contributions in other areas of the field. “What I’d say about Daniel is the work he does defensively, which does not show up usually in MVP voting. I ask everyone who has a vote to watch just how much this guy does off the ball, the ground he covers, the way he takes away the other team’s almost two sixes in games.”

Andre Blake has also been mentioned by many in the Philadelphia area as a candidate for MVP, though it remains to be seen how that will translate at the national level. Tony Meola is the only goalkeeper to win both the GOTY and POTY awards in the same season, doing so in 2000.

Blake currently leads the league in almost every goalkeeping statistic. Some have been listed below compared to his counterparts.

Blake broke his own Union record of 12 clean sheets in a season, which he set last season and shared with Zac McMath (2013). Blake’s .71 goals against average is reaching historic levels within the club and the league. He set the club record with .86 in 2020, and his .92 average in 2021 remains the club’s best in a full season. Blake’s current numbers would give him the second-best GAA in the history of the league among goalkeepers with over 20 games played.

Kevin Hartman’s .62 in 2010 remains the league’s best. Brad Guzan posted a .71 in 2017, playing in 14 games, and Michael Gspurning had .73 in 21 games in 2012. Tied for the best in the league with 13 clean sheets, Blake is three shutouts away from Meola’s 16, set in 2000. Sporting Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielson had 15 in 2012, and Brad Guzan (2019), Bill Hamid (2019), Luis Robles (2018), and Nick Rimando (2017) have recorded 14 clean sheets in a season.

Blake’s current save percentage of 81.2% currently ranks second all-time among goalkeepers with over 20 league games played. Matt Reis saved an average of 81.4% of his shots faced in 2009, playing in 24 games. Matt Pickens holds the mark of 82.5% in 2008, but he only featured in 8 games. Joe Cannon (80.2%, 2004, 30 GP) is currently third.

Hartman leads all goalkeepers with wins in a season, posting 22 in 1998 with the LA Galaxy. Robles (2018) and Mike Ammann (1997) rank second with 21. If the Union win out, Blake would tie for second.

Kai Wagner’s two assists Saturday moved him to 15 on the season, tying Cristian Maidana (2015) in an MLS season. Maidana had two assists in a 3-0 win over DC United in the U.S. Open Cup, giving him 17. Wagner only trails Borek Dočkal, who had 19 assists (18 league, 1 USOC) in his lone season with the Union in 2018. Wagner’s .48 assists per MLS game ranks third behind Dockal (.58) and Maidana (.54) for the season high.

Curtin remains just as impressed with Wagner’s stats. “It’s good to step back sometimes and say, for a left back to be pushing Dockal’s record for assists, is an incredible feat.” For now, as the Union conclude the 2022 season with games on the road against Atlanta and Charlotte before a Decision-Day meeting with Toronto FC at home, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of chasing the Supporters’ Shield. But at times, it’s healthy for all of us to step back and reflect, including the leader of the team chasing history.

“This group is going to keep their head down and continue work, but as a coach and as a staff and as fans, I think we should really recognize how good these guys are and then what they’re doing on the field.”