Philadelphia Union’s 5 Most Important Players for a Supporters’ Shield Push

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It’s far too early to think about who will be the best team in MLS at the end of the 2024 Season. However, with almost a third of the season in the books, and the MLS transfer window now being closed, the Philadelphia Union must rely on the players already on their roster to push them toward the top of the league. Which players will be instrumental in getting Philly in the Shield favorites conversation?

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

5 Players that are instrumental to a Union Shield Push

Right now, the Philadelphia Union sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and 12th in the Supporters’ Shield standings. While this may seem like they are far away from competing to be the top team in the league, a closer look at the standings will show why a Supporters’ Shield push is within reach even this early in the season.

The Union has only played seven matches, while the teams above them in the east have played 9 or 10 matches. all 11 teams ahead of them in the Shield race have played at least one, two, or even three more games than Philly. With those games in hand, Philadelphia can make some major ground on the rest of the teams. They play three games in eight days starting Saturday, the opportunity ahead of the team will answer the question if Philly is going to be in a Shield race or not.

With that, five players will be instrumental to Philadelphia‘s ability to compete for the 2024 Supporters’ Shield. Some of them will be no-brainers, while others may surprise you!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

1. Oliver Semmle

We all know that Andre Blake is the starting keeper for the Philadelphia Union. However, his injury history and the woes of knocks he’s taken this season means that for Philly to play for the top of MLS they need a stud backup.

Not only does Oliver Semmle check that box, but he’s shown in his games where he’s had to come into or start that he can be a match-winner. Philly is used to having a match-winner in goal, someone who can salvage points when they probably should be dropped. Semmle is that guy so far in 2024.

We know that Andre Blake is a player marked in permanent marker on the team sheet when available. However, when he’s injured or away with Jamaica, the ability to have a player like Semmle step up will be huge for a Shield chase!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

2. Kai Wagner

We know just how important Kai Wagner has been to the success of this club over the last few seasons. He’s been instrumental in his ability to solidify a great defensive unit and also create chances down the left flank. He’s doing this again in the 2024 season and will need to continue to do so if Philly wants to compete for the Shield.

The way that Jim Curtin’s team plays is reliant on players’ ability to defend compactly and then find ways to spring counterattacks. A vital part of that is a player’s ability to stretch the field and give a compact team width. Wagner does that, and his ability and vision to make the correct pass is vital.

Wagner only has one assist on the season (MLS seems to no longer count “hockey assists” anymore) but he leads the team in accurate long balls, chances created, and successful crosses. He will need to continue to be a lethal attacking threat down the left side. His ability to chip in on goalscoring, like he did in the last match against is a nice sight as well!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

3. Leon Flach

A player who is often forgotten amongst the Union ranks right now is Leon Flach. While he’s been out with a shoulder injury all season and fell out of favor over the last few seasons, his importance to this team could play a vital factor in Philly’s Shield chances.

Flach is on pace to return to first-team selection in the coming weeks. While he is probably not going to be considered for the left shuttler position (Jack McGlynn has that locked down) he will likely be called upon in the summer to play in a position that is vital to Philadelphia’s success.

Jose Martinez and Jesus Bueno are both likely going to be called up for Venezuela for the Copa America tournament. This leaves Philly without what could be their top-two defensive midfielders. Flach would then slot into that spot, and be assigned to hold down the middle of the field against the opposition’s top attacking playmakers. While he’s been out for a while and his form has seen a decline, this could be the position that revamps his Union career and keeps them in contention for a trophy like the Supporters’ Shield!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

4. Quinn Sullivan

The Union player who has made the biggest jump from 2023 to 2024 is Quinn Sullivan. His versatility has made him an undroppable starter playing in a variety of attacking and midfield roles. He has started every match for Philly this year to be in contention for a Shield race.

In years past Kai Wagner has been the only player to provide this width and crossing ability, but it seems that Sullivan’s emergence as a shuttling midfielder has created the same type of attacking options down the right side of the field. He has a goal and leads the team with two assists in MLS play this season and is amongst the team leaders in expected goals, shots, shots on target, expected assists, chances created, successful crosses, successful dribbles, and touches in the opposition box.

Sullivan is a Swiss army knife of a player vital to the team’s success. If he’s called upon to play up top, he’s shown he can finish, if it’s in a midfield role he is willing to do the dirty work to help create chances and also defend. If he keeps up his form the way he’s started the season, Philly may just be in a place to compete for the Shield.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

5. Julian Carranza

Obviously, the Union’s top attacker is on this list! Julian Carranza leads the team in scoring with four goals on the season. It seems that as Carranza goes so too does the Union. Philly’s top striker is at a crossroads. His contract is up at the end of the season but could leave this summer as there has been internet in his services.

Should Carranza stay with Philly for the full year before deciding his future plans, then he will be the key attacker in this Union team. He scored 15 goals for Philly in 2022, 18 goals in 2023, and has already scored eight goals in nine games played across all competitions so far this season. Carranza is the only consistent lethal finisher on the Union’s roster and is a massively important player.

We will see if Carranza stays with Philly in the summer or longer. Could the club be planning an extension for his services? His production warrants a big payday should the club want to keep him. No matter if there’s a contract extension, or if he tests the waters of being an international free agent, the Union Shield chances are infinitely better with Carranza on the roster for this whole season!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Time will tell if Philly will be the best in MLS

For me, if these five players all step up when called upon to be difference makers, the Philadelphia Union should be in the midst of a Supporters’ Shield race as the season turns from the first third to the later stages. Time will tell if they can do this, but there is no denying there is something special about this team.

Jim Curtin seems to be pushing all the right buttons for this Philly team. They never say die, fight to take points and win in matches where in the past they would have laid down and died. Now is a vital time for this club to show its intentions.

While the goal is still likely to win the MLS Cup, there are only three trophies this club is currently competing for. MLS Cup and Leagues Cup are both tournaments, the Supporters’ Shield is a season-long struggle where a team needs to be consistently great over 34 matches. Let’s see if that is something the Union is playing for as they continue to keep their unbeaten start to the season going forward!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union