An in-depth look at the Philadelphia Union’s 2019 MLS opponents, Part 1

March is right around the corner, you know what that means? It means it’s time for an in-depth look at the Philadelphia Union’s 2019 MLS schedule opponents. Here’s part one of Philly Sports Network seven part series!

March 2019:

In part one of our in-depth look at the Union’s 2019 MLS campaign we take a look at the first month of the season. The Union play five matches in March. These five matches are ones that could set the foundation of the season. Four eastern conference opponents and a top team from the west sit in Philadelphia’s way in the first month of play.

Matchday 1:

vs Toronto FC.
Satur
day, March 2nd. 1:00 pm.
2018 record: 10 wins 18 losses 6 ties.
2018 Eastern Conference Standing: 9th.

The Union open the season at home against Toronto FC. The match will be the kickoff game for MLS’ 2019 season. Toronto struggled in 2018 finishing three spots behind Philadelphia. The 2018 season went off the rails early for Toronto, prompting major changes ahead of 2019.

Off-season moves:

PLAYERS IN: PLAYERS OUT:
D/M – Nick DeLeon (12/14/18 – Re-Entry Draft)

D – Laurent Ciman (12/27/18 – Allocation)

M – Griffin Dorsey (1/11/19 – SuperDraft)

M – Tsubasa Endoh (1/16/19 – free)

M – Noble Okello (1/22/19 – Homegrown)

F – Terrence Boyd (2/5/19 – free)

F – Tosaint Ricketts (11/27/18 – option declined)

D – Jason Hernandez (11/27/18 – out of contract)

F – Lucas Janson (11/27/18 – loan expired)

GK – Clint Irwin (12/14/18 – traded to Colorado)

M – Victor Vazquez (1/22/19 – transferred to Al-Arabi SC)

D – Nick Hagglund (1/23/19 – traded to Cincinnati)

F – Sebastian Giovinco (1/30/19 – transferred to Al-Hilal FC)

This off-season TFC said goodbye to the mastermind GM Tim Bezbatchenko. Bezbatchenko brought together Sebastian Giovinco, Mchael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, but now moves to be the GM of Columbus Crew SC. The replacement for Tim is ex-Red Bulls GM Ali Curtis. Curtis’ entrance created some rumors about exits. Amid rumors that Michael Bradley and/or Jozy Altidore might leave TFC, it was a different star who actually departed. Giovinco departs the club breaking Toronto’s big three that saw the team rise from worst to first in very little time.

Giovinco is not the only impact player to leave TFC. Midfield play-maker Victor Vazquez and defender Nick Hagglund also left the club. Toronto brought in defender Laurent Ciman to replace Hagglund, and settled for forward Terrence Boyd to replace Giovinco. No doubt this Toronto team will look different from past teams; will the Union be able to take advantage of the newly formed TFC? We’ll have to wait and see.

The season kick off vs Toronto FC is only 12 days away!

Matchday 2:

@ Sporting Kansas City.
Sunday
, March 10th. 3:00 pm.
2018 record: 18 wins 8 losses 8 ties.
2018 Western Conference Standing: 1st.

In the second week of the season, the Union head west to play Sporting Kansas City. SKC finished 1st in the west and were one game away from making it to MLS Cup 2018. Even though Kansas City had great success last year, they have not backed it up much this off-season.

Off-season moves:

PLAYERS IN: PLAYERS OUT:
F – Tyler Freeman (10/2/18 – Homegrown)

D – Rodney Wallace (12/14/18 – free agent)

F – Erik Hurtado (12/14/18 – trade from Vancouver)

M – Kelyn Rowe (12/18/18 – trade from Colorado)

D – Botond Barath (12/18/18 – free)

D – Abdul Rwatubyaye (2/5/19 – free)

F – Kharlton Belmar (11/30/18 – option declined)

M – Cristian Lobato (11/30/18 – option declined)

D – Amer Didic (11/30/18 – option declined)

D/M – Brad Evans (11/30/18 – retired)

D – Colton Storm (11/30/18 – option declined)

F – Khiry Shelton (11/30/18 – out of contract)

F – Diego Rubio (12/18/18 – traded to Colorado)

D – Ike Opara (1/28/19 – traded to Minnesota)

Sporting Kansas City are led by manager and technical director Peter Vermes. He is like an evil genius pulling the right strings to make SKC one of the best teams in MLS without having superstars, or stikers. Sporting KC tired to make Khiry Shelton and Diego Rubio a starting caliber number nine, and while they did their part to produce in 2018, both are not on the roster in 2019. Instead SKC are looking to new signings Erik Hurtado and Kelyn Rowe to create the offense.

While club legends Matt Besler and Graham Zuzi are still along Kansas City’s back line, they are going to be without Ike Opara. Opara wanted a trade and is now in Minnesota. While it will be like the same old story for SKC, their lack of star players will likely not deter Sporting in 2019.

Peter Vermes is still in charge, therefore, this team will be a handful even in the second week of the season.

Matchday 3:

@ Atlanta United FC.
Sunday
, March 17th. 7:00 pm.
2018 record: 21 wins 7 losses 6 ties.
2018 Eastern Conference Standing: 2nd.

Philadelphia continue their tough start to the 2019 season in week three, as they travel to Atlanta. Atlanta are playing in MLS 4.0, while others are behind. The reigning MLS Cup champions were the best team in 2018, have transferred out their best player, and managed to replace him with an even higher caliber of player.

Off-season moves:

PLAYERS IN: PLAYERS OUT:
D/M – Brek Shea (12/30/18 – free agent)

GK – Brendan Moore (1/9/19 – free)

M – Dion Pereira (1/15/19 – free)

M – Pity Martinez (1/24/19 – transfer from River Plate)

D – Florentin Pogba (2/5/19 – free)

GK – Mitch Hildebrandt (12/9/18 – option declined)

D – Sal Zizzo (12/9/18 – option declined)

M – Oliver Shannon (12/9/18 – option declined)

M – Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu (12/9/18 – option declined)

D – Greg Garza (12/11/18 – traded to Cincinnati)

M – Miguel Almiron (1/31/19 – transferred to Newcastle United)

M – Chris McCann (2/9/19 – waived)

Atlanta may have lost head coach Tata Martino and sold Miguel Almiron to Premier League side Newcastle United, but for the champions, the rich just get richer. Atlanta replaced their first ever coach with former FC Barcelona and Ajax coach Frank De Boer, and replaced instrumental midfielder Miguel Almiron with the reigning Argentinian player of the year Pity Martinez. For all the changes this club went under in the off-season, they looked poised to repeat in 2019.

Atlanta also traded left back Greg Garza to Cincinnati, and allowed veteran midfielder Chris McCann to walk, but they have players lineup in each of those spots as well. Not to mention MLS goal-scoring machine Josef Martinez signed a contract extension to stay with Atlanta long-term. It’s hard to find bad things to say about Atlanta United. From their home atmosphere, to their ownership. This is a dynasty in the making.

The Union will have their hands full with Atlanta in the third match of the season on the road, but at least they get to have that match out-of-the-way early in 2019.

Matchday 4:

vs Columbus Crew SC.
Saturday
, March 23rd. 7:00 pm.
2018 record: 14 wins 11 losses 9 ties.
2018 Eastern Conference Standing: 5th.

After two hard weeks playing top teams on the road, the Union play their second home match of 2019 against the new look Columbus Crew SC. Columbus have been successful over the past few season under Gregg Berhalter. Will they be able to have the same success under Caleb Porter?

Off-season moves:

PLAYERS IN: PLAYERS OUT:
GK – Joe Bendik (12/27/18 – trade from Orlando)

F – JJ Williams (1/11/19 – SuperDraft)

M – Robinho Barbosa (1/18/19 – transfer from Ceara)

D – Aboubacar Keita (1/22/19 – Homegrown)

D – Waylon Francis (2/5/19 – trade from Seattle)

GK – Logan Ketterer (11/26/18 – option declined)

M – Mike Grella (11/26/18 – option declined)

M – Cristian Martinez (11/26/18 – option declined)

F – Adam Jahn (11/26/18 – option declined)

Crew SC were saved in 2018. Jimmy Haslam, owner of NFL franchise Cleveland Browns, headed up an ownership group to run Columbus and take it away from Anthony Precourt. The club then brought in GM Tim Bezbatchenko, and head coach Caleb Porter to run the club. This looks to have revitalized Columbus Crew, who are set to build a new stadium in downtown Columbus by 2021. With all of this business dominating the off-season, their player movement has taken a back seat.

Columbus seem pretty set with their roster from last season. They lost some role players by declining their options, but have added replacements for them. Their big transfer news came in the form of the team selling Downingtown native goalkeeper Zach Steffen to Premier League side Manchester City. This move will not be made until the summer however, so Columbus will have the star keeper for half a year in 2019.

Columbus will play the Union hard as they always do, this early season test will show what the Union are made of.

Matchday 5:

@ FC Cincinnati.
Saturday
, March 30th. 7:00 pm.
2018 record: N.A.
2018 Eastern Conference Standing: N.A.

Philadelphia end the first month of their season taking on expansion side FC Cincinnati. The Union make their only trip to the new MLS side early in the year. Will Cincy be able to have things put together by the fifth week of their inaugural MLS season?

Off-season moves:

PLAYERS IN: PLAYERS OUT:
F – Fanendo Adi (7/30/18 – trade from Portland)

M – Fatai Alashe (7/30/18 – trade from San Jose)

M – Corben Bone (11/19/18 – USL)

M – Emmanuel Ledesma (11/26/18 – USL)

D – Forrest Lasso (12/2/18 – USL)

GK – Spencer Richey (12/9/18 – trade from Vancouver)

D – Blake Smith (12/10/18 – USL)

M – Nazmi Albadawi (12/10/18 – USL)

F – Emery Welshman (12/10/18 – USL)

D – Justin Hoyte (12/10/18 – USL)

M – Jimmy McLaughlin (12/10/18 – USL)

F – Darren Mattocks (12/11/18 – Expansion Draft)

F – Kei Kamara (12/11/18 – Expansion Draft)

M – Eric Alexander (12/11/18 – Expansion Draft)

D – Hassan Ndam (12/11/18 – Expansion Draft)

D – Greg Garza (12/11/18 – trade from Atlanta)

D – Kendall Waston (12/11/18 – trade from Vancouver)

M – Victor Ulloa (12/12/18 – trade from Dallas)

GK – Przemyslaw Tyton (12/13/18 – free)

M – Leonardo Bertone (12/18/18 – transfer from Young Boys)

D – Mathieu Deplagne (12/19/18 – transfer from ESTAC Troyes)

D – Alvas Powell (12/27/18 – trade from Portland)

M – Frankie Amaya (1/11/19 – SuperDraft)

M – Allan Cruz (1/18/19 – transfer from Herediano)

M – Roland Lamah (1/22/19 – Expansion Draft)

M – Caleb Stanko (1/23/19 – transfer from Freiburg)

D – Nick Hagglund (1/23/19 – trade from Toronto)

D – Logan Gdula (2/6/19 – SuperDraft)

M – Tommy McCabe (2/6/19 – SuperDraft)

GK – Ben Lundt (2/6/19 – SuperDraft)

GK – Jimmy Hague (2/6/19 – SuperDraft)

M – Rashawn Dally (2/6/19 – SuperDraft)

F – Kekuta Manneh (2/13/19 – free)

F – Kei Kamara (12/11/18 – trade to Colorado)

GK – Ben Lundt (2/7/18 – loaned to Louisville City)

As is the case for every new MLS team, FC Cincinnati have way more players coming in than they do going out. The only player of note going out from the club was forward Kei Kamara. He was taken by Cincy in the expansion draft from Vancouver Whitecaps and shipped to Colorado Rapids. Cincy brought in players from their USL days, through the expansion draft, through the SuperDraft, through transfers, and through trades. When looking at the roster things can seem pretty puzzling.

The expansions side has a plethora of defensive midfielders and strikers, but there can only be so many of those players on the field at the same time. It’s up to coach Alan Koch to figure out how to get the right starting 11 together. Many have this expansion side staying at the bottom of the eastern conference this season, but only time will tell.

The Union end their first month of play out in Cincinnati for the first time, possibly with a huge opportunity to take home points.

Part Two coming later; Predictions next week:

Part two of An in-depth look at the Philadelphia Union’s 2019 MLS opponents will be released later today. We will also have predictions on how the Union will do in their MLS campaign coming next week leading up to the start of the 2019 MLS season! Stay tuned!

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Peace out Union fans!

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