Union Season Preview: The 2023 MLS Campaign

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It’s officially the first game week of 2023 for the Philadelphia Union! As they are preparing to take on Columbus this weekend, we at Philly Sports Network will keep the previews rolling. This time we’ll take an in-depth look at the Union’s MLS campaign.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

MLS Schedule

Every year is a bit different, but the one thing that has remained similar is the MLS regular season schedule. Philly will play 34 matches in the MLS regular season; they’ll take on every team from the eastern conference twice (both home and away) and play against five western conference opponents. The MLS season can be broken down into four different mini-seasons, every one is just as important as the others, but each presents a different challenge.

Let’s take a look at Philly’s season and break it down into these mini-seasons to see and predict how this team could fare in 2023.

Early season symmetry

Philly’s first 10 matches of the season feature five home games and five away games. Nine of those games are against conference opponents with one of the matches being against western conference opponent Sporting Kansas City.

The start of the season will be congested with Concacaf Champions League (CCL) also being played in the first few months of the season. Nevertheless, these early season matches have the potential to set the tone for either a successful or a let-down of a season.

Of these first 10 matches, five are against teams that made the playoffs in 2022 ( Miami, Montreal, Orlando, Cincinnati, New York) the other five aren’t (Columbus, Chicago twice, Kansas City, Toronto). While this is the case, Philly is one, if not the best, team in MLS. They should navigate these matches with ease, even with the “distraction” of CCL.

  • Projected points through 10 games: 19 pts.

Mid-season congestion

As the season progresses to the middle of the season, we see schedule congestion. There are three-midweek matches throughout the months of May and June. The Union will once again play five home matches and five away matches in this stretch.

The congestion will be a major talking point as the US Open Cup will also feature. Adding some more midweek matches in a stretch of the season that already showcases 10 matches in eight weeks will be a difficult hurdle for the Union. We will see what this team is really made of at this point of the year.

Looking at the teams Philly will play in this stretch, they will face four teams that were good enough to make the playoffs last year (NYCFC, Montreal, Orlando, Miami) meaning that six matches will be played against teams who finished eighth or below in their conference last season. Philadelphia may struggle with the congestion and the midweek matches, but their quality should still shine through.

  • Projected points through 20 games: 40 pts.

A season-defining stretch

Once the calendar turns to the dog days of summer, the Union enters what will be a season-defining stretch of games. The first three matches come in an eight-day stretch before a month-long break for the Leagues Cup tournament. The following seven matches contain a brutal schedule of tough opponents.

This will be a season-defining 10-game stretch for Philly because of how it is broken up by Leagues Cup and also because of the quality of opponents they will face. Seven of these 10 opponents made the playoffs last year (LA, Nashville, NYCFC, Dallas, New York, Cincinnati, LAFC) while the other three teams missed out on the postseason (DC, Toronto, Charlotte). Getting points from these matches will be crucial to the team’s hopes of winning a trophy this year.

Since CCL and Leagues Cup will both be over and the US Open Cup Final will be set by the end of this portion of the schedule, the Union will know their fate in three of the four major competitions that they play in. Will they have a trophy already at this point, or will their trophy quest rely on the Supporters Shield or MLS Cup? Either way, this team will need to prove that they are the best team in the league against the better competition in the league.

  • Projected points through 30 games: 61 pts.

The crucial last four matches

The last four matches in a season are important no matter where the team lies in the standings. With 12 points there for the taking, Philly will look to complete yet another captivating season. This time against four in conference opponents.

In this crucial stretch, the Union will face only one team that made the playoffs in 2022 (Nashville SC) the rest all missed out last year (Columbus, Atlanta, New England) but they may be fighting for a postseason birth in 2023.

With two matches on the road and two at home, Philly will need to secure points in all games if they want to sure up that top seed in the east, and the Supporters Shield. We saw last season how the last few matches can dictate the fate of a team’s entire season. Don’t lose and have the potential to win a trophy and host every single playoff match.

  • Projected points through the 34-game season: 69 pts.

With only days between the Union and the start of their 2023 season, they know what’s at stake. The mentality is to win now; a trophy must be won in 2023 to constitute success. Looking at their MLS campaign there is hope that this team might just be the best team in the league, and if that’s the case, then silverware should follow.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union