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2024 season resolutions for every Philadelphia Union player



Photo by Carl Gulbish

With another season of likely 50 matches on the horizon, each player on the Philadelphia Union roster will have a role to play. Top-level talent is always imperative to success across competitions, but adequate depth and output from rotational players can be just as important.

Here is what each first-team player on Jim Curtin’s roster needs to do to ensure the club has a successful season:


Andre Blake
The three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year is arguably the best between the sticks in the league’s history. Entering his 11th season with the Union, it is no secret what a key factor Blake is. Simply, when Andre plays well, the Union gets results, and as we saw last season, when others fill in, the dropped points add up quickly. As the most consistent player in club history, he just needs to continue to do his thing.

Oliver Semmle
Brought in from Louisville City FC, the German is the clear favorite for the backup spot, in my opinion. As promising as Holden Trent has looked, this move showed about as much ambition as you will see for a backup goalkeeper. If he manages to get the available minutes when Andre Blake goes to Copa America, Semmle must prove his value and be an adequate understudy.

Holden Trent
Trent’s job is the same as Semmle, should he claim the second spot on the depth chart. In training, MLS Next Pro, and any other available minutes, Trent will need to excel to earn a chance at his first-team debut. With Andre Blake guaranteed to miss time, the Goalkeeper Union must be at their best.

Left Backs

Kai Wagner
After a beyond-confusing and dramatic saga, Wagner is somehow back on a long-term deal. Wagner is one of the best in MLS at his role, and similarly to Andre Blake, there is a direct correlation between his individual success and team results. Kai has long been an attacking threat down the left flank, with a league record for assists by a defender in 2022. However, I thought that the German’s defensive presence was immensely better last year. If he can maintain this high of a level on both sides of the ball, the Union will be just fine.

Matt Real
Are you shocked to see Matt Real’s name on the roster for yet another campaign? You are most definitely not alone. Real has been with the first team for five years and the club as a whole for over seven now. Despite numerous long stretches without appearances, Real is presumably the second option on the left side for this season, and with Kai Wagner suspended for the regular season opener, he could see some action sooner rather than later. Nathan Harriel’s immense performances on the left in the playoffs proved that the club has little to no confidence in Real, and honestly, I would more so expect to see his limited 2024 minutes come in midfield. Real’s job: take the limited minutes and be as solid and mistake-free as possible.

Isaiah LeFlore
LeFlore suffered a torn ACL early in preseason. He will almost certainly miss the entire season as he works to recover and rehabilitate for next year. I was excited to see what the Houston Dynamo 2 standout could bring, but his health is the exclusive priority for the next 12 months.

Center Backs

Jakob Glesnes
The Norwegian was one of the best players for the club last year, and his two-way presence as a central defender is second to none in this league. Jakob’s consistency and health were just as important, as he played all 90 minutes in 31 of the Union’s 34 MLS fixtures. His absence in the playoff loss to Cincinnati was easily the night’s biggest hurdle, and it has become no secret that Jakob is critical to the side’s defensive stability. What does he need to do in 2024? Simply stay healthy and maintain his elite level.

Jack Elliott
After a career year in 2022, capped off by a brace in MLS Cup, Jack Elliott struggled to maintain his elite level in 2023. Elliot eventually found more consistent form in the summer, but in the opening months of the season, he was a massive liability. His inconsistency and numerous errors in the last campaign have little explanation, but the fact that he leveled off into solid form was comforting. With Damion Lowe more than capable of starting in this league, there is more pressure than ever before on Elliot. If the Union defense has any aspirations of looking like their record-breaking selves of 2022, Jack must return to his elite form quickly.

Damion Lowe
The Jamaican international was brought in from Inter Miami a year ago and has seamlessly transitioned into the club. Lowe was labeled as a depth piece by many but very quickly became a regular starter due to injuries, rotation, and more. The emergence of formations with three center backs in 2023 allowed Lowe to get pretty significant minutes, although that tactical revolution died out as quickly as it began. Much like his counterpart, Jack Ellioyt, Lowe suffered from a lot of avoidable errors which overshadowed many solid performances. However, Damion provided numerous exceptional outings and gained more consistency as the year went on. 2024 is also reasonably simple for Lowe: The minutes will be there, avoid big mistakes at all costs, and perform at a more consistent level.

Olwethu Makhanya
The South African teenager has yet to make a first-team appearance after his summer arrival and is essentially a new addition as far as I am concerned. Like most teams with elite options at center back, rotation is rare, and any sort of developmental minutes are nonexistent. Makhanya is likely to be a fixture for Union II, where he was less than sensational in his limited fall showings. Makhanya will need to find a consistent and impressive level of play in MLS Next Pro to prove his capability of filling in as the first bench option if Damion Lowe heads to Copa America in June.

Right Backs

Nathan Harriel
I am not sure we have seen a player improve at such a consistent rate as Nate in the last two seasons. Harriel quite frankly earned a chance at minutes due to poor form from Olivier Mbaizo, and after lots of back and forth between the two, I expect that Nate’s exceptional end to 2023 has earned him the job for now. With Kai Wagner suspended for the home opener, I do expect Harriel on the left side for the one fixture. Nate is an exceptional one-on-one defender, and his aerial ability is superb, as proven by his numerous goals in the final months of 2023. The 22-year-old does have room to grow his game in transition and in terms of providing service anywhere near the quality of Mbaizo’s. If Harriel can continue to add to his game and develop those skills, he could have a special season.

Olivier Mbaizo
The Cameroonian’s summer transfer request all but ensured his departure; however, he is with the team for preseason, and all is quiet on the rumor front. Despite all signs pointing to Mbaizo staying, Nathan Harriel’s immense 2023 likely stole the starting spot back. Mbaizo will get his fair share of minutes with the congested schedule and Harriel’s ability to play on the left in a pinch. Olivier is simply too good to sit on the bench, and one would have to assume his next step is either to earn back the starting spot or to draw enough interest for a move, both of which involve playing at an elite level in whatever minutes are available.

Jose Berdecio
Berdecio is the only player on the roster who is on loan to the Union, and beyond that, we do not know much about the 21-year-old. I highly doubt that we will see the Bolivian on the right, as both Harriel and Mbaizo are excellent players. However, Berdecio is said to be just as capable in defensive midfield and could make the bench as an emergency midfield option. Nevertheless, it looks like Berdecio is set to get significant minutes with Union II, and it is his job to earn anything further with his play in Next Pro.

Defensive Midfielders

José Martínez
El Brujo is quite simply elite. José completes the spine of the team, along with the center backs and Andre Blake. As I mentioned when talking about those other central players, the results come when they play at their best. For Martínez, the job is simple: stay healthy, continue to play at an elite level, and, as always, do not get suspended.

Central Midfielders

Jack McGlynn
In what could very well be his final season stateside, Jack McGlynn has more weight on his shoulders than ever before. The left spot in the midfield diamond is the 20-year-old’s to lose with Leon Flach out injured for the season’s opening months. McGlynn has displayed his special skill on the ball and has blossomed into a dangerous attacking option from the middle. Despite his constant growth, improved physicality, and quicker decision-making are imperative for Jack to earn a move abroad. If the homegrown player can continue to add to his skillset gradually, not only will he be a permanent fixture in midfield this year, but one would suspect he will earn an impressive transfer sooner rather than later.

Leon Flach
A torn pectoral muscle has already sidelined Leon Flach for the opening months of the season, as the 22-year-old simply can not catch a break. Leon’s biggest goal for the foreseeable future is simply to recover, gain fitness, and stay as healthy as possible. Jack McGlynn has more or less taken over on the left side of the diamond, but Flach’s immense versatility is unique. With the possibility that José Martínez and Jesús Bueno could both depart for Copa América, Flach will likely be the temporary option in defensive midfield, making his health even more crucial.

Jesús Bueno
The Venezuelan was far and away the Union’s most improved player a year ago, and Alejandro Bedoya’s reduced role has all but given him the keys to the right side of the diamond. While it was Bueno’s defensive comfort and coverage that impressed initially, the attacking leap he took last season was far more impressive. Bueno’s exceptional form in Leagues Cup highlighted a remarkable attacking shift, as he racked up two goals and three assists in just 529 minutes. The key to Jesús having success in 2024 is simple: we have seen the defensive and attacking skills he possesses, and now he needs to show both consistently in order to keep the starting job.

Alejandro Bedoya
After a rather ridiculous saga, the long-time captain is back for one more season. Despite a reduced on-field role and some front-office responsibilities, Bedoya’s job as a leader is imperative. On the field, Bedoya must simply continue to keep up on both ends and avoid looking lost. He can contribute at both the beginning of an attack and in all defensive duties; however, transitional play may serve to be simply too quick. If Bedoya can stay healthy and fit, he should be a seamless replacement option on the right side of the diamond, although I think his days of being the primary option are behind us. With 50+ matches this year, the diamond is
likely to see some variation.

Sanders Ngabo
The 19-year-old newcomer from Denmark has finally joined the club after agreeing to a move late in the fall. From what we have seen in preseason, Ngabo is a quick, skillful midfielder who should provide a good change of pace in attacking scenarios. Ngabo has lots of work to do in order to earn minutes in a busy midfield diamond. Still, at such a young age, his priority for the season is simply to gain experience and improve his skill however possible.

Nick Pariano
Similar to Ngabo, it is unlikely that we will see the former Duke midfielder play any real first-team minutes. In a stacked midfield diamond, Pariano is at the bottom of the pecking order. We have already seen the 20-year-old starting for Union II in their preseason, and I expect he’ll spend a good portion of the season there. His goal for 2024 is also relatively straightforward: improve
and gain experience.

Attacking Midfielders

Dániel Gazdag
After a 2022 season that rivaled any individual campaign by a Union player ever, the Hungarian international had a rather polarizing 2023 season. Despite somewhat poor underlying numbers on the chance-creation front, the Union struggled to create without him, cementing a somewhat awkward situation atop the diamond. Gazdag’s 22 goals in all competitions rivaled his 24 from
the year prior, although just four of those came from open play. A perfect record on 18 penalties was impressive in its way, but the four open-play goals after 17 the year before were rather disappointing. I have argued for the importance of Gazdag’s penalty-taking and penalty-earning extensively and will avoid going down that rabbit hole, but quite simply, the drop in open-play
goal-scoring was unacceptable. What I did appreciate about Gazdag’s 2023 was his ability to find the final ball, with his 11 league assists leading the team. If Dániel truly wants to be an elite playmaker in this league, he has to combine all this in 2024. His ability to create and finish chances is no secret, but his inconsistency simply will not suffice in this stacked conference. Imagine if he can combine the penalty stats with even half of his open play tally from 2022; that’s a Golden Boot number.

Jeremey Rafanello
The Delran, New Jersey native is a perfect embodiment of the struggles of being an attacking midfielder. At the “10,” there is one spot, and one spot only. As I mentioned, the Union looked lost without Gazdag on the field, and that more or less eliminates the idea of Rafanello seeing the field as a direct replacement for the Hungarian. Jeremy was able to get solid minutes with Union II, but he simply is above that level, and he proved it with 14 G/A in just 1400 minutes. Rafanello was stuck in some sort of purgatory until yesterday’s news broke of Joaquin Torres’ loan to Universidad Católica. I do expect Rafanello to see a few MLS minutes this season, certainly more than his 12 total from 2023. However, there simply is no reason to take a healthy and fit Gadzag off the field, so Jeremy’s minutes will be scarce once again.


Mikael Uhre
Entering his third season in blue and gold, the Danish striker has perhaps the most straightforward responsibility on the team. Despite dealing with injuries and more in 2022, Uhre found the net a respectable 13 times. Many, including myself, expected that number to increase in 2023 with a full preseason, however, Mikael’s 11 goals across 49 appearances were simply not enough. I will continue to defend Uhre’s immense ability to get in behind and cause problems for the opposition in a variety of ways, but he simply needs to convert more of these moments into goals. The club-record transfer has to score more goals this season, plain and simple.

Julián Carranza
At just 23, the Argentine has built a global profile unrivaled by any Union player since maybe Brenden Aaronson. Carranza personally rejected moves to Werder Bremen, Mainz, and Ipswich Town, after the club rejected a $7,500,000 offer from Olympiacos in August. The ongoing transfer saga has proven one thing, both player and front office have extremely high expectations for a bid. The Union clearly want close to or above $10 Million for the player, and Carranza refuses to test the waters of the Bundesliga’s bottom half, meaning few clubs in the global market fit the profile of a perfect destination. Julián wants to go to an elite club for an elite price, and in order to earn that move, he will have to play at his absolute best between now and July. Carrnza’s 18 goals in 2023 made for a career-best, but he will need to keep that pace if he wants to attract a suitable buyer.

Tai Baribo
Baribo’s 150 minutes in 2023 barely even gave us a glimpse into what he looks like as a Union player. With a chance to get settled in the United States and a full preseason to train with the team, his impact with the club really begins here. With the surprise of Carranza staying through the winter, Tai Baribo has become the most expensive backup player in club history. Baribo has 37 goals across his last two full seasons in Europe, and recently broke into a very talented Israeli National Team. I was absolutely in love with the signing on paper, and liked the very little bit we saw from Baribo in the fall. Barring injuries, Tai will have the first half of the season, at least, to adjust to the team and league at his own speed off the bench, and will likely earn some rotational starts. It is no secret that he can score goals, he just needs to find a way to implement it here.

Chris Donovan
Donovan grew immensely throughout the 2023 season, highlighted by his first four first-team goals. Chris has quickly blossomed into a genuine option off the bench, with an impressive work ethic and ever-growing finishing ability that has turned into some massive late goals. Donovan is likely to see a slight decrease in minutes with Tai Baribo and Markus Anderson in town, but nevertheless, he has cemented himself as a hard working option in late game scenarios. It went fairly under-the-radar, but I also noticed that Donovan’s skill in closing out a game from the front line was exceptional in 2023, and his ability to protect the ball increased by the week. For Chris, continuing to improve at this rate would make for a great season.

Markus Anderson
We do not know much about the 20-year-old brought in from Rayo Majadahonda, other than that he has impressed in the second part of preseason. I expect Anderson to be a fixture with Union II, especially with Nelson Pierre’s loan. A successful season for the newcomer would likely be achieved by some consistent scoring in MLS Next Pro, and possibly a decent showing or two if he ever sees the field with the first team.

Quinn Sullivan
Quinn is far from a striker, and can really play anywhere in the attack, but I have him grouped in with the forwards as he played the majority of his minutes up top in 2023. Quinn could very likely see minutes in the midfield, up top, or really anywhere that a spot opens up. Sullivan is a player with incredible skill and a work rate unmatched by others, and he found a way to turn that into some production last fall. If Quinn can continue to play at that level, and Jim Curtin finds a way to get him on the field consistently, I see no reason why he would not be able to play his way onto the shortlist of some European clubs. Quinn has played on the right side of the midfield diamond for most of preseason, so I will not both throwing out goal targets of any kind.

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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