The Philadelphia Union are coming off their best season in club history and after several additions in the offseason, Jim Curtin’s bunch will look to take that next step this season.
Philadelphia has plenty of talent returning in 2019 but the major talking point was the acquisition of Mexican National Team midfielder Marco Fabian. Fabian joined from Eintracht Frankfurt and will take over the No. 10 position left by Borek Dockal. He scored his first Union goal in a preseason win over D.C. United and is aiming for even more in the regular season.
“I was so happy to score my first goal, I know it’s only a friendly game but still it’s an important one,” Fabian said. “I want to score every game, I want to win every game and for the team today was a great performance against tough competition.”
2019 will be Fabian’s first taste of MLS, but he has several attacking talents next to him looking to replicate strong seasons. Cory Burke will be the No. 1 striker heading into the season after a 11-goal haul in 2018, and C.J. Sapong’s departure to Chicago. Burke is a speedier presence in the Union’s attacking front, but will be paired with Fafa Picault and David Accam on each flank.
Picault and Accam may be two of the faster wingers in MLS and should give many backlines problems. Picault, 27, is coming off his best statistical season after netting 10 goals and earning a USMNT call-up last October. Accam did not live up to expectations after his move from Chicago, but should be rearing to go in his second season with the club.
Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin will anchor the midfielder with Fabian, giving some cover ahead of the Union’s backline. Both are experienced players and vocal leaders to the rest of the team.
The biggest surprise in 2018 was the Union’s young, but talented backline that featured American defenders Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie. Both former U.S. youth players, the pair stole the headlines with their consistent performances and immediate growth with the first team.
Keegan Rosenberry’s move to Colorado will see the ever-dependable Ray Gaddis move to right back while it is too early to say whether Matt Real will get the starting nod at left back. Brazilian veteran Fabinho is also an option at left back should Curtin want to get with the experience rather than the youth.
Andre Blake is one of the top MLS goalkeepers in MLS and will continue to play a major role for the club. Since making his debut in 2014, Blake hit the century mark in appearances for the club last season and helped the Union to several important points. Expect Blake to carry that trend over into 2019.
“This was our best performance of the preseason and it was against a good team in D.C.,” Curtin said following a friendly win over D.C. United. “We may not have scored as many goals like matches against Orlando or New York but overall I think we were good with the ball and we gave them problems. Ultimately it does positives for players confidence but the guys are deep down looking at March 2nd against Toronto at Talen Energy.”
Here’s a closer look at the Philadelphia Union heading into 2019:
PHILADELPHIA UNION SEASON PREVIEW
2018 FINISH: 6th place in East (15-14-5, 50 points)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Marco Fabian, Kai Wagner, Aurelien Collin, Carlos Miguel Coronel, Matt Freese, Sergio Santos.
KEY LOSSES: C.J. Sapong, Keegan Rosenberry, John McCarthy.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Marco Fabian
Fabian’s arrival has Union fans excited for the upcoming season and has also helped fill the void left by Borek Dockal. The Mexican National Team midfielder brings valuable experience to the Union who are ready to take that next step come postseason time. He will take the No. 10 position left by Dockal and should give the Union plenty of energy in the middle of the park.
PRESSURE IS ON: David Accam
The Philadelphia Union made a huge splash at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, trading for Accam who was coming off a sensational season with Chicago. 2019 did not see Accam replicate those numbers, as he only scored one goal in 23 league appearances. With Ilsinho, Fafa Picault, and Sergio Santos all fighting for playing time, Accam could see his time drop if he doesn’t product when called upon early.
The Union added depth at several positions and should be able to contend for a 3-4 place in the Eastern Conference.
With several talented starters back in 2019, Curtin knows what he has in front of him and what the potential can be for this group. The team stole victories against several of MLS eventual playoff teams, edging Sporting KC, Seattle, D.C. United, Real Salt Lake, and NYCFC.
Fabian’s arrival should help the Union create goals while the midfielder’s versatility should pay off big for the team’s style of play. He is not Dockal and may not replicate the Czech’s production, but his technical ability gives Philadelphia a leader at the No. 10 position.
Cory Burke may not possess the physical ability that veteran C.J. Sapong did but his pace and willingness to run the channels gives the Union a better option at striker. It’s possible we could even see Santos play on the wing to give the team a different look offensively.
Picault and Accam are fast wingers who both will need to be clinical in front of goal. Both can excel in 1-on-1 battles, but will need to produce if they want to remain on the pitch consistently.
Bedoya and Medunjanin’s roles will be critical for the Union as they add a shield in front of the young centerback pairing. Both could press up the field if need be but should be the first names on Curtin’s team sheet each week.
McKenzie and Trusty will be watched closely to see if they can replicate their 2018 campaigns. Both are physical with opposing strikers and learned plenty from going up against the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, David Villa, and Josef Martinez a year ago.
With their depth, the Union should be set when U.S. Open Cup matches come into play. The goal will be to be dominant at Talen Energy Stadium and continue to grab points on the road. After finishing in the top three for road points earned in the Eastern Conference, the Union can set their goals higher in 2019.