5 reasons why this Union team is one of the best in MLS history

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The Philadelphia Union is on yet another impressive win streak. This one is a five-game streak where Philly has scored 23 goals and allowed just two! This amazing run of form continues an overarching fantastic run from the start of July, where Philly amassed 11 wins, one draw, and two losses. Philly’s astounding late-season form, coupled with other teams dipping see them alone atop MLS after week 30 of 34!

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 20: Philadelphia Union forward Mikael Uhre (7) and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (11) celebrate after Uhre’s first half goal during the Philadelphia Union versus D.C. United Major League Soccer (MLS) game on August 20, 2022 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

5 reasons why this Union team stacks up with the greats

The Union took it to Orlando City this past weekend, scoring five goals on a team that won the US Open Cup last Wednesday! Now they are three points clear in the Shield race, and 10 points clear of second place in the east. This team is setting records every week with the number of goals they’re scoring, and limiting the number of goals scored against them.

Now, Philly is showing they’re the best team in the league in 2022. However, can they be called one of the best in MLS History, or will they have to win some silverware before being brought up with other record-setting teams? For me, there are five reasons why this Union team is one of the best of all time!

1. Record-setting defense sets the standard

The 2022 Philadelphia Union has allowed only 22 goals from 30 matches. This is on pace for the second-best goals allowed record in MLS history, as the 2010 Real Salt Lake allowed only 20 goals in a 30-game season. As we know, the 2022 season is a 34-game season, and the record for goals allowed through 34 games might just be broken this season. Philly can allow four goals in their last three matches and still concede the fewest goals in a 34-game MLS season (2012 Sporting Kansas City holds the record with 27 goals allowed). It is unlikely that Philly give up that much thanks to their stout defenders, and the best goalkeeper in MLS.

Andre Blake has been the best goalkeeper in MLS for a number of years now. He is so consistent that many MLS pundits overlook him for newer goalkeepers in the league when talking about “the best”. Blake’s ability to make amazing saves can bail out his team, as Union fans will remember from years past. In 2022 his form should be seen as an amazing accomplishment. He tops the clean sheets standings with 13 (tied with Sean Johnson, but fewer goals allowed), setting a Union record in the process.

Can ‘Dre and this Union defense keep the sheets clean while their attack keeps putting up football scores ahead of them? I am leaning towards saying test to this question!

2. Goals, Goals, Goals

The Union’s attack has been on a tear since the beginning of July. They have scored 46 goals in that time period; a feat that only 10 MLS teams have done in their full 2022 season! Philly has tripled their goal differential, which sits at +46; it’s the latest point to the season that a team has as high a goal differential. This team is getting the most from their attackers, and it shows on the stat sheet.

Philly has three double-digit scorers. Daniel Gazdag has 19, Julian Carranza has 14, and Mikael Uhre has 12. This Union front three has been the reason why the team has been so successful. All three are crafty on the ball and relentless off of it. They’re hungry to prove that they are better than the big names on other teams in this league. Add to this front three Cory Burke who has seven goals, Ale Bedoya who has six, Jack Elliot who has two, and five homegrowns each scoring one, and you see an attack that will hurt you in many ways.

This team’s ability to score multiple goals while also playing amazing defense should put them up there with the greatest teams of all time, they may not have a huge star player, but this Union team does have players who rise up and take the attention they deserve!

3. Three of the top five MVP candidates; Goalkeeper of the year, and Defenders of the year

Daniel Gazdag, Andre Blake, and even Jose “El Brujo” Martinez have been touted as MVP candidates by MLS pundits. Andre Blake is a shoo-in to win goalkeeper of the year. Jack Elliot, Jakob Glesnes, and even Kai Wagner are in discussion to win defender of the year. Daniel Gazdag is also only three goals off the lead for the golden boot! Could we see some Union players winning some big single-season accolades en route to potentially hoisting a trophy or two? We’ll see in the coming weeks, but what many overlooks is how the whole roster plays a part in the team’s success.

Head coach Jim Curtin mentioned keeping guys outside of starting spots up for it is important. Players 12-30 on the roster push the starting XI each week to play their best. It helps when the club’s grounding is that no one is bigger than the team. Each of the 30 players on this roster has a role to play whether it be starting and scoring boatloads of goals, taking a bench role and making a difference late in games, or putting their heart into training to get others to be at their best.

This Union team is one cohesive unit that is the culmination of the club’s long-term vision!

4. A Moneyball system that is bringing huge returns

The Union’s ethos has been to buy low on players, invest in the academy, sell homegrowns for straight profit, and find diamonds in the rough players to bring Philly to ball out. This has been a process that has amassed most of Philly’s 13 seasons in MLS, but now we’re seeing the fruits of it. The team struggled for its first 10 seasons, but after that, all of the pieces were in place to become very successful.

Jim Curtin is in his ninth season as head coach. Ernst Tanner has been the sporting director for the past five years. The academy-to-first-team progression has been fruitful for the past four years. This has been a long game for Philly, but it’s one that has created a powerhouse team that plays Moneyball; the club culture is one that has carried them to this place of power.

Now the team is on the verge of doing something special. They could win their second Supporters’ Shield in three years, and seems poised to make a run for MLS Cup. Should they win one or both of these trophies, they’ll be considered one of the best teams ever; falling short of that would hurt their chances significantly.

5. The potential for a double

LAFC lost to FC Dallas this past weekend, allowing Philly to overtake them in the race for the 2022 Supporters’ Shield. Philly has a three-point lead but is not yet the favorite to win the Shield. However, the title of favorite could come as soon as late Tuesday night. LAFC’s game in hand is played that night, on the road at Minnesota United. Should LAFC take anything less than three points from that match, Philly will ascend to the Shield-favorite spot!

Should Philly be four-to-six points clear after this weekend, then they will absolutely be the favorites to win the Supporters Shield with two weeks to go. The question will be can Philly win the rest of their matches? Playing low places eastern conference sides will help their cause: 10th place Atlanta, 11th place Charlotte, and 13th place Toronto; LAFC has to play some strong teams in the west: 6th place Minnesota, 13th place Houston, 5th place Portland, and 4th place Nashville. The race for the Shield is on, but great teams in MLS are often measured by winning MLS Cup.

Could this year be the Union’s year to win MLS Cup, the prize fought for over a grueling 9 month season, and a playoff tournament? Philly was already a favorite this season, after falling just short of the Final in last year’s playoffs. Now, they are looking like a team of destiny. An MLS Cup win would cement this team as one of the best to ever do it in MLS. Let’s see how the end of this record-setting 2022 season plays out!

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Mandatory Credit: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire