By Brian Maurer
Derrick Jones (20) taking on Dániel Gazdag
What We Have Seen So Far
Philadelphia Union was off to a slow start in MLS to begin 2023 as they were also trying to balance a CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) run. After getting knocked out in the CCL semifinals versus LAFC they are completely focused on MLS and their league form has significantly improved.
The Union is undefeated in seven straight matches (5-2-0) with a +9 goal differential during that time. This recent form has improved their place in the Eastern Conference standings to 4th.
They also have a new homegrown playmaker earning his way to regular playing time. Young academy product, Jack McGlynn, has earned a starting spot in Philadelphia Union’s midfield this season. Before being called into action at the U-20 World Cup the American had earned several starts in MLS and CCL matches for the Union. McGlynn looks likely to be the next big academy product following the transfers of the Aaronson brothers.
Out: Alejandro Bedoya
*This is based on the availability report prior to the Union’s match on 5/27/23. He was left completely off of the 18 in their last match. An update will likely confirm Bedoya’s availability in the next day or so.
Player’s to Watch
Julián Carranza - The more obvious attacking option to pick as a key player is Dániel Gazdag but he has only one goal and two assists from open play in his past seven MLS games. Most of his goals have come from PKs that he did not win. On the other hand, Carranza has seven goal contributions (5g/2a) in his past seven MLS games. He has also won two of the Union’s PKs. Carranza has become one of Philadelphia’s strongest attacking threats and will need to be monitored closely by Charlotte FC’s backline on Wednesday.
Kai Wagner - Wagner is one of the most dangerous crossers of the ball in all of MLS from the left-hand side. He is currently putting in an average of 9.3 crosses per game and is accurate 28% of the time. Charlotte FC has had a tendency to allow too much space to crossers and allow their markers to run free. Charlotte FC will have to close down against the threat that Wagner presents from wide as he could punish them if allowed time and space.
Jack Elliott - The Union’s stalwart defense looked susceptible early on this season. However, things have started to right themselves in Philadelphia. In their last five MLS matches the Union has secured three clean sheets and have only allowed two goals against in that time. Elliott continues to be a key part of their defensive prowess. Elliott is also a capable passer out of the back, as he hit Carranza with a long ball for an assist against NYCFC this past weekend. Charlotte FC will need to be sharp on both sides of the ball to limit Elliott’s impact.
Philadelphia Union’s Starting XI
The Philadelphia Union has changed its lineup from its more typical 4-4-2 diamond to a 3-5-2 (see lineup below). This change has allowed the fullbacks to push a bit higher up the field.
Philadelphia Union's lineup versus NYCFC last week (Graphic found on MLSsoccer.com)
Against NYCFC Jakob Glesnes pushed up higher along the right-hand side allowing Mbaizo to take up a more advanced position at times. Wagner was also more advanced up along the left. The Union has continued to utilize two strikers up top with Gazdag tucked in behind them as seen in the passing network graphic below.
Philadelphia Union's passing network versus NYCFC last week (Graphic found on MLSsoccer.com)
Philadelphia tends to cede the majority of possession to opponents preferring to attack directly and quickly off of countering opportunities as seen in the zones of control* graphic below.
Philadelphia Union's zones of control* this season (Graphic found on theanalyst.com)
Outlook for 2023
The Philadelphia Union looks to be one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference again this season. Their dip in MLS form, due to their focus on CCL, seems to have ended as they appear to have regained their defensive fortitude and ability to put up numbers of goals from their primary attacking options (Carranza, Gazdag, and Mikael Uhre). They look poised to earn a top spot in the East and to make a deep run in the postseason.
*For the zones of control, blue symbolizes areas on the field where the Philadelphia Union has had at least 55% of total touches. Red represents areas where their opponents have had at least 55% of total touches.