Yes, you have read correctly yours truly has returned from a bit of a writing hiatus. The past month has been extremely busy with me working, finishing up my last semester at college, and ultimately graduating. However, none of those things matter right now because it is time to talk some Union soccer! Here are five takeaways on the Union as we enter the Nations League break!
5 Union Takeaways Entering the Nations League Break
We are currently Seven games into the MLS season with a match against Portland on the weekend and the Union sits 3rd in the eastern conference. There is a slight asterisk with the standings as a couple of teams below the Union have a game in hand and could leapfrog them in the table. Regardless of where Philly finishes entering the break, they have certainly ended this first part of the season better than they started it. This leads us into my five takeaways in no particular order after the first seven games
Gazdag will be vital, but we’ll have to wait
I know we’ve only seen a small sighting of the Union’s second most expensive signing but the buzz and hype around this man are to the moon already. This takeaway kind of leads into the number one takeaway I have because of one very important aspect of the game. That is, by all reasonable assumptions, Gazdag will bring goals and minutes with him from his season in Hungary. The man played every game shifting between the #10 and the #9 tallying 18 goals and eight assists in just 35 games for Budapest Hondev FC.
These numbers are outstanding especially for someone who is not an out-and-out striker. Unfortunately, he arrived just before the international break where he will join Hungary at the Euros (appears he has already departed and will not be available on the weekend vs Portland). While this is disappointing, we as Union fans will hopefully get teased with some good ball from Gazdag on the international stage that he will be able to carry over to MLS once the league starts up again.
Flach has been fantastic; Martinez doesn’t need to play as often
If you don’t know already, I am not the biggest Jose Martinez fan in the world. In fact, I think despite all the good he does, he hurts the team more than he helps them. This leads to the signing of Leon Flach who in my estimate could be the signing of the season for the MLS if Jim Curtin uses him in the way, I think he should. Earlier in the season, we saw Flach line up at the left-sided center mid spot which was nice because this gave us two left-footed players on the left side.
That was until Martinez decided to punch Castellanos in the face when Philly faced NYCFC. He received a 3-match ban and in those three games, Flach filled in at the #6 and was extremely good there. It also moved Monteiro back to the left-center mid spot which changed the dynamic of the team and I think in the future, with our new #10, this dynamic could be a fruitful one.
Flach brings a lot of what Martinez does without the baggage or antics that may follow. As said before the dynamic with Monteiro at the #8 is just overall better for the team because he can create from deeper on the pitch and use his legs to get back defensively. This also gives us a midfield four of Flach, Ale, Monteiro, and Gazdag which on paper seems creative, hardworking, and defensive-minded all at the same time. I would like to see this more following the break and I think that this midfield would greatly improve on the early results the Union had this season.
Service from both wing backs has been a revelation
Despite the lack of goals the service from the wide areas has been infinitely better than last year. As much as Ray Gaddis did for the team in his tenure, his departure is what made that possible. Mbaizo has changed what the Union is able to do because while he and Gaddis are similar on the defensive end, Olivier outshines him greatly in the final third.
This now gives the Union to confidently overlap, underlap, and straight-up attack from both wings where last year they depended heavily on Kai down the left to supply most of the service. The multifaceted attack gives opposing teams more to think about allowing the Union to vary their game plan and become even more unpredictable as the season progresses.
The defense has been immaculate even without McKenzie
One of the major points of concern coming into the 2021 season was how the backline would hold up without standout homegrown center-back Mark Mckenzie. Mckenzie was sold to Belgian side Genk following the Union’s Supporter’s Shield winning season. This sale left some question marks as to how Jack Elliot and Jackob Glesnes would do as a pair at the heart of the defense.
Despite some shakiness in the first couple of games, there really is no question marks anymore. In the Union’s last four league matches they have conceded just one goal which should go without saying, is fantastic. Hopefully, the partnership at the back continues to thrive and they stay injury-free along with the rest of the squad. However, if one does go down I am confident in Stuart Findlay and not miss a beat.
There still need to be more goals scored
Despite all the good that has been seen throughout this first part of the season there is still one glaring issue that a certain someone mentioned earlier can hopefully remedy. That is the lack of goals being scored game in and game out. They have only scored 6 goals in their first 7 games which is way too low for a team trying to win trophies. I am optimistic that Daniel Gazdag can be the cure of the Union’s scoring woes. I don’t think he can do it alone though, which means that someone else on the front line needs to step up, or Ernst needs to bring in reinforcements in the summer window.
There are a plethora of available forwards and one I have been harping on for some time was the Dutch league-leading scorer Georgios Giakoumakis. He had 26 goals and 1 assist in 30 games which is exactly what the Union needs. He was valued at $880,000 when I first came across his name 5 months ago, but now he is up at $2.75 million per Tranfermarkt. This would be another big-money signing for the Union but one that doesn’t break the bank and would greatly boost their chances at the title.
These are obviously subjective takeaways so if you would like to discuss your takeaways or tell me why mine are wrong feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter @ZLOBO98. If you want more Union and or general soccer content you can find my new podcast everywhere you listen to podcasts and on Youtube at the “Around the World Soccer” channel. There is also this great little podcast called “Doop by the River” which is streamed live every Tuesday on El Parcero Philly Youtube channel and twitter. There you can find some great guys giving great content and loving the Union with their listeners!
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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH