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Leon Flach productive as Union earn rare clean sheets



Photo by Jack Verdeur

The 2024 MLS season hasn’t always been kind to the Philadelphia Union.

Especially on defense, where a team that recorded six clean sheets in league play going into June 2023 has recorded three near the end of May 2024. It didn’t help that midfielder Leon Flach, out for several months due to injury, was missing action on the left side of the Union’s diamond. The 23-year-old who previously had been crucial to keeping balls out of the Union’s defensive third of the field was sitting on a trainer’s table more often than his team would’ve liked.

However, as the Union have begun earning points again – against the New England Revolution and Charlotte FC – Flach has made his presence known. He’s returned to form during May and played a role in getting the Union their second and third clean sheets of the season.

Along the way, he’s earned praise from head coach Jim Curtin.

“It’s three really good games now for Leon. I think he’s kept it really simple. He’ll always give you the work rate. The tackles, the little deflections and things that don’t show up in the stat sheet — the dirty running to make a recovery sprint and win the ball,” Curtin said Tuesday ahead of a home match against Toronto FC. “He’s been great in that. I think he’s just happy also to be back on the field.”

Flach doesn’t have the flashiest stats. He doesn’t log much in expected goals and isn’t known for any part of his attacking game, really. He did, however, lead the Union defensively against Charlotte. He notched four tackles, four blocks, and five interceptions, better numbers than most. In interceptions, he led all players on the field.

That type of play is what Curtin wants from Flach. As the Union try to regain a defense-first identity, Flach has been the gritty first line of defense to keep goalkeeper Oliver Semmle out of trouble.

“Leon has an incredible mentality. He has a willingness to compete, to fight for every ball. He never takes a play off,” Curtin said after the draw against Charlotte. “He does whatever the team needs. So [he’s a] dying breed of a type of player, but he just wants the team to win, and he’s selfless.”

Flach’s successes, while admirable for a struggling Union squad, have come against weaker attacking competition. New England is one of the worst teams in MLS. Charlotte has one of the league’s lowest goal totals. Through Memorial Day, those two sides have combined for 23 goals. The Union have scored 25 on their own.

Still, those clean sheets could be the start of some momentum, Curtin said Saturday. The Union need momentum. Goalkeeper Andre Blake should be out for 4-6 after getting surgery done on his injured knee. Semmle, while performing positively according to the metrics, still has his weak moments. Those weak moments apply to the rest of the defensive unit, much of which is set to be called away on international duties.

As the Union get set to host a 24-goal Toronto side with one of MLS’ better attacking units, momentum could be the difference between finally leaving the hole the Union have dug themselves and just going further into the dirt.

“We always try to motivate players. They’re simple creatures sometimes, and then they’re elevated by success. Getting shutouts is important to our group,” Curtin said. “Now, we have to have it translate to our home field as well where we’ve been pretty open in talking about it, we’ve conceded far too many goals.”

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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