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Strength in numbers: A first glance at the 2023 Philadelphia Union



Groundskeepers cut the final overgrown blade of grass. Ticket salesmen are on the horn around the clock filling the last few empty seats. Supporters dust off and lay out their old and new gear in anticipation. Players and coaching staff do their final tactical preparations. Each one of them sleeps a bit less each night, with just one beautifully agonizing thing on their mind: MLS is back this weekend.

And as the season opener against Columbus Crew draws near, it’s time we start thinking about the 2023 edition of the Philadelphia Union. 

Following a historic MLS Cup finalist campaign, in which goals seemed to fly into away teams’ nets more often than Jim Curtin changes his Jordans, and opponents couldn’t seem to distinguish Andre Blake’s goal from the Delaware River, the pressure is on Curtin and his men to get over the hump and raise the MLS Cup trophy for the first time in the history of the club.

In the club’s short history, the Union have already etched their names in MLS history. They’ve shattered both goal-scoring and defensive records. They’ve won the Supporters Shield. They’ve won the Eastern Conference. They’ve changed the way clubs value their academies and their payroll. The last thing on the checklist: is to immortalize themselves and take their place among the greatest squads in league history with an MLS Cup. 

And despite the seemingly gargantuan task of outperforming the magical 2022 campaign, the 2023 Union may have the squad depth to field the best team of the Jim Curtin era. That has to be a nightmarish line to read as a supporter of any other MLS club, and it’s a very real possibility. 

For starters, the team retained almost the entirety of their starting-caliber players from a season ago. Goalkeeper of the year award winner Andre Blake will be between the sticks, defenders Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner, Nathan Harriel, and Olivier Mbaizo will be back to snuff out danger, midfielders José Martínez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Dániel Gazdag and Jack McGlynn will continue to control the middle of the park and forwards Mikael Uhre and Julián Carranza will once again be hungry to smash in an unprecedented number of goals. Key squad players Matthew Real and Quinn Sullivan are also back. 

The glaring departures were young starlet midfielder Paxten Aaronson, who took his talents across the pond to Eintracht Frankfurt, and Jamaican super-sub forward Cory Burke, who will be with New York Red Bulls in the new season. Homegrown goalkeeper also went to NYCFC in search of more playing time. 

Even if squad retention were the only thing they accomplished in the offseason, the Union would be among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and compete for the MLS Cup yet again. But there’s more.

Not only did the Union keep their best players, they also added depth to their squad. Former CF Montreal attacking midfielder Joaquín Torres provides an attacking-minded piece for Curtin, while former Orlando City midfielder Andrés Perea will add versatility. In addition, the backline gained a bit of experience with the addition of former Inter Miami defender Damion Lowe. He also represents Jamaica at the international level and will already have chemistry with Andre Blake when the two share the pitch together. 

In essence, Union technical director Ernst Tanner opted out of rebuilding the squad and instead shifted his attention to retooling and running it back. Now, all attention will be on Saturday, when the Union will kick off their 2023 campaign at Subaru Park with an Eastern conference matchup against Columbus. Let the curtains come up, dim the lights. It’s time for another MLS season to begin, and it just might be the best yet for the Philadelphia Union.

Hunter is a writer/contributor for Philadelphia Soccer Now/Brotherly Game covering Union post-game analysis, MLS league-wide news and other stories from the world of footy. He has been covering the Union since 2021.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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