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Looking back at the first half of the Philadelphia Union season



Photo by Carl Gulbish

With the calendar flipped to July and the secondary transfer window open, we have reached the unofficial midway point of the MLS season.

To avoid over-reactions, this is the first time each season I allow myself to assess the Union’s season as a whole. I turned to the famously positive and excited Union Twitter community to gauge how the average Union fan feels. Much to my expectation, about 90 percent of the over 300 responses agreed that the season had either met or slightly fallen short of their expectations. Looking back on the Union’s staggering 27 matches so far in 2023, I agree with this majority. What follows is my best attempt at summarizing my thoughts, expectations, and opinions, sorted by competition.

MLS Regular Season

Jim Curtin’s side reached the 20-match mark of the regular season this past Sunday with a loss at Atlanta. The overall optics of the campaign are slightly disappointing, with the Boys in Blue already surpassing their 2022 losses total in just half as many games. Almost as frustrating is the fact that after a 34-match campaign with just 26 goals allowed, the Union has already allowed 22 in this set of 20 games. However, upon further dissection, the MLS campaign has been a tale of two seasons.

While competing in Concacaf Champions League and setting club records for travel and matches, the Union racked up four losses in just six games, not to mention missing Andre Blake in many of those fixtures. In the 12 games from April 15 to the end of June, the Union racked up eight wins, three draws, and just one loss, good for 2.25 points per game. In that stretch, the Union scored a brilliant 26 goals and allowed only 11, showing signs of their 2022 defensive form.

The only thing currently standing in the Union’s way is a tough Eastern conference, in which the Union sits fifth. A win in their game-in-hand and the Boys in Blue would be just one point out of second place, proving that the table is rather useless to conclude from. If the Union stays healthy and wins big games against sides like Cincinnati, Nashville, New England, and Columbus, a top-three spot in the Conference will come easy. Overall, the league campaign certainly has not been a glaring success, but the upward trend has me barely satisfied but hopeful.

Concacaf Champions League

The Union’s Champions League run went exactly as I expected and in a good way. As anticipated, the Union decimated Alianza in the opening round, setting up a second-ever competitive matchup with Liga MX in the Quarterfinal against Atlas. The Union made history in a chaotic yet brilliantly managed second leg, defeating a first-ever Liga MX opponent. That feat alone made the tournament a success, at a minimum, to me. As predicted before the season, a semifinal exit to LAFC became a reality, which stung for apparent reasons.

How the Union fell was a consistent theme between disappointed fans’ recaps of the season. While I agree that being completely out-played in the second leg hurt, the scoreline did not do the Union justice. A Champions League semifinal for the second time in three seasons is the sign of a club at the top of the region and paired with the win over Atlas, CCL was a success as far as I am concerned.

U.S. Open Cup

There is little to comment on in terms of the cup. The Union bounced out in their first game for the second consecutive season. May’s heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in a shootout was frustrating, but this club has clarified that the cup is not a priority, and my expectations, or lack thereof, were bang on.

Moving Forward

With CCL and USOC out of the picture for the back half of the season, the plan is moving forward. Curtin’s team needs to get results in the brutal games against the other elite East clubs and set themselves up for the easiest playoff route possible. This team has the quality and experience needed to win the cup and just needs to achieve the playoff seed that allows them to
return to the final. A significant playoff run and maybe even a good Leagues Cup effort will solidify this season as another quality, but specific judgments must wait for the fall.

Evan Cohen is a Philadelphia native currently studying at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Philadelphia Union supporter since the club's start in 2010, Evan began contributing to Philadelphia Soccer Now in 2023.

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