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Realistic expectations for the 2024 Philadelphia Union



Photo by Carl Gulbish

Jim Curtin and the Philadelphia Union began a grueling 10-month campaign on Tuesday in San José, Costa Rica and kick off their MLS campaign tonight at Subaru Park. In honor of the first piece I wrote for this site, here is my second annual practical preview for the upcoming year of the Union, sorted by competition, as always:

MLS Regular Season + Playoffs
Entering 2024, Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference is as stacked as any division in the league’s history. You could truly make a case for every single team to make or even host a playoff series, well, every team except Toronto. As I write this, my prediction for the standings is still sitting incomplete, and I am dreading having to complete that by Wednesday night.

Columbus, Cincinnati, and Orlando are all just as good as last year, with teams like Atlanta, Red Bull, NYCFC, and Chicago getting noticeably better. That’s a playoff field alone, without even mentioning the likes of New England and Nashville, who still have the star power to steal points any week. All of this, and not even one mention of an Inter Miami team that could take on its own few pages, at least. My point is simply that this conference is absolutely loaded from top to bottom, and every single point is going to matter come decision day.

So, where do the Boys in Blue fall in this absurdly stacked conference? Well, you could make a case for anything from the top spot to a wildcard spot if things go south. This Union team has one of the highest floors in the East, with my worst-case scenario being a seventh or eighth-placed finish if injuries really pile up. MLS is a league where continuity and comfort have proven to be advantages throughout a grueling season. With more teams than ever before participating in continental competitions, I think the Union’s experience will guide them back to a top-four finish.

Six of the seven highest finishers in the conference last season will participate in Concacaf Champions Cup, which massively helps the Union. The dropped points that piled up in the opening months came back to haunt them, and with that playing field even in 2024, I think it plays into the Union’s favor. Also, taking into account a rather generous intra-conference schedule, with most games against West opponents in the early months, I see no reason why the Union could not sneak into a really good spot. My final verdict sees the Union finish the regular season somewhere between third and fifth in the conference.

Come playoff time, your guess is about as good as mine. The new format in 2023 proved to have its perks and flaws, and Columbus proved that a solid core and star attackers can guide a middle seed to the title. Playoff success for the Union will entirely depend on the bracket, health, and luck, but I am in a good mood, so let’s assume everyone stays healthy and they do finish in a hosting spot. If that is the case, I simply can not bet against the Union at home in knockout games, so I feel good predicting them back into a Conference Semifinal, or maybe even a third Eastern Conference final in four years. With the stacked East in 2024, I will leave it at a return to the second round.

Concacaf Champions Cup
Two trips to the continent’s biggest competition have resulted in two semifinal appearances, and the path to going three for three began Tuesday. A tough trip to San José for the second time in four years was a tough start, but the path is quite fortunate for the Union after that. A Pachuca side that looks like a shell of their former sleeves awaits in the Round of 16, with Toluca already sent
home by a simply average Herediano.

A quarterfinal matchup with Costa Rican Herediano or Suriname’s Robinhood is beyond a fortunate draw, should Curtin’s side advance that far.

As repetitive as it may seem, I am sticking with my predictions from over a month ago, and picking the Union to lose in the semifinal once more, to Club América or Chivas, most likely.

U.S. Open Cup
This one is short and sweet. I simply do not expect the Union to participate in the Open Cup this season, for one reason or another. Some of the leaked proposals include no MLS involvement, or at a minimum, no involvement for Champions Cup teams.

Even if the Union do participate, they have shown that the Cup is just not a priority, and if their horrendous scheduling luck continues, I fail to see them taking the competition very seriously. The optimistic option here is a third-consecutive Round of 32 exit, disappointingly enough.

Leagues Cup
I wrote before last season that I could absolutely see Leagues Cup suiting the Union’s strengths. The regular season success and fortunate draw meant six consecutive home matches in the summer of 2023, and I see no reason why they will not have a similar set up this year. Home matches against Charlotte and Cruz Azul this summer will set the Union up for another fortunate draw, and I am comfortable predicting a similar run.

With a fairly easy group and the fortune of a regionalized bracket, the Union can avoid traveling much this summer, and I can easily see them reaching the last eight again. There are more scenarios this year that could see them leave Subaru Park, however, so I am picking a more conservative quarterfinal finish.

There are far less expectations for an equally strong Union team this year, and my optimistic approach is not blindly constructed. I truly see paths to deep runs in multiple competitions this year, however, I do see the Boys in Blue falling short of silverware, once more. Regardless, they are extremely capable of proving me wrong, in both directions. Here is how I think they do finish, although I am sure my choices will change:

MLS Regular Season: 3rd in East, 4th-6th Overall
MLS Cup Playoffs: Quarterfinal Exit
Concacaf Champions League: Semifinal Exit
U.S. Open Cup: Round of 32 Exit, if Participating
Leagues Cup: Quarterfinal Exit

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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