The Philadelphia Union: Season Review and What’s Next



This past weekend, the Philadelphia Union saw their season come to a dramatic end in the MLS Cup Final against LAFC, losing on penalties to the top team in the west. The game was touted as the best ever in MLS history, and it was a fitting culmination of a wildly successful season.


Going into the 2022 season, many were touting the Union to be a strong contender for the title. The team was coming off a strong 2021 playoff run, which ended at the conference Finals against NYCFC. While there were some notable departures, with the likes of Jamiro and Przybylko leaving for other MLS teams, the Union had equally significant acquisitions, with forwards Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza. Of the two, Uhre came was the more anticipated, given his outstanding goal scoring record in the Danish league for Brøndby IF. Carranza was a fledgling Argentinian talent, but his failure to reach expectations at Inter Miami made his arrival much less discussed. It seemed the Union had finally secured a strong attack to go with their already commanding defense, and fans prepared themselves for an exciting season.


The fans certainly got what they expected and more, as the Union steamrolled their way into first place in the Eastern conference, challenging for the league title. The season was initially an underwhelming one, as the Union frequently drew opponents, on occasion winning by 1 or 2 goals. However, their 7-0 win over D.C United on July 8 seemed to turn the tide, and the Union only lost 3 times since then, winning a number of games by 6 goals. At times, their attack seemed completely unstoppable, with three musketeers Gazdag, Carranza, and Uhre wreaking havoc on defenses. Gazdag in particular had a tremendous season, scoring an astounding 24 goals in total — 22 of which came during the regular season — and assisting a further 10. The Hungarian maestro arrived in Philadelphia from his native country in the middle of the 2020/21 season, managing a tame 5 goals and 3 assists. His drastic improvement, along with the arrivals of Uhre and Carranza, transformed the Union, which has always been known for their stubborn defense, into an offensive firepower.


This sudden spike in goalscoring did not detract from the Union’s defensive abilities, as the team broke the record for the fewest goals conceded in a regular 34 game season, with 26. That the Union are now the league’s strongest ever defense is no surprise, especially considering the abilities of Jamaica international Andre Blake, the team’s goalkeeper. Blake has been at the top of his game for some time now, consistently ranking among the best goalkeepers in the MLS since 2016. Over that time, he has become a fan favorite, frequently keeping the Union in games with his knack for spectacular, sometimes unfathomable, saves. This season Blake was arguably at his best, finishing third in the Landon Donovan MLS MVP voting and winning his third Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award by a comfortable margin. Anyone who has been to the Union games as of late has certainly heard the chants of “MVP” whenever the 31-year-old touches the ball.

Blake’s hugely impressive 15 clean sheets would not have been possible without his impenetrable back four, though. Center backs Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliot had tremendous seasons, with Glesnes winning MLS defender of the year. Most fans know Glesnes for his outrageous long shots, which he has a habit of producing in the clutch, but this year it was his defensive abilities that caught the eye. Full backs Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo completed the defense, with both posing as a threat on either end of the pitch. Wagner was ever solid in his defensive duties at left back, but his playmaking was particularly dangerous, with 8 of his 9 assists in total this season coming from set pieces and crosses. At right back, Olivier Mbaizo won many a cheer for his marauding runs down the flank, which often began promising passages of play for the Union. 


Narrowly losing out on the Supporter’s Shield to LAFC by 2 wins, the Union headed into the MLS Cup Playoffs as the Eastern Conference favorites. After a bye week, they faced FC Cincinnati, with German midfielder Leon Flach scoring to bring the team to their second straight eastern conference final. Again, they faced off against rivals NYCFC, this time emerging victorious in a 3-1 comeback victory. This brought them to their first ever MLS Cup Final against their Western rivals LAFC.


Because LAFC were the higher ranked of the two teams, the final was played in the Banc of California Stadium, leaving the Union without the lively support of their home crowd. Nevertheless, the Union came up with a spirited performance, coming back two times in the first 90 minutes and going on to score what seemed to be the winner four minutes into stoppage time in the second half of extra time. The fantasy of an MLS trophy that many fans and players alike held edged closer and closer to a

reality, only to be abruptly put on hold by LAFC forward Gareth Bale, who scored the equalizing goal 4 minutes after the Union had seemingly closed out the game. The game went to a penalty shootout, and the Union were their own worst enemies, failing to convert a single spot-kick against their former keeper John McCarthy. Regardless, they were immortalized in what many touted as the greatest MLS Cup Final ever.


This year’s team seemed to be the Union at the peak of their powers, and given the current state of the MLS, it would seem unlikely to stay tha

t way. Oftentimes, the best players on the best teams in the MLS are poached by European clubs. However, the Union have managed to hold off any suitors for their starters, even extending Kai Wagner’s contract another year, despite rumors that English club Leeds United were interested in the star left back. With academy star Paxten Aaronson departing to Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany for a fee in the range of $4.15 million, the Union have the funds to acquire another star player, further improving their shot at an MLS title next season.