The Philadelphia Union have come into the 2021 Season looking to end the streak of poor starts in past years. It is safe to say the club has more than succeeded.
The CONCACAF Champions League
The First test for the Union was their first crack at the CONCACAF Champions League, drawing CONCACAF Giants Deportivo Saprissa. But the U were up for the test. In leg 1 of the Round of 16 draw, which would be the club’s first competitive match of the 2021 campaign, the Union would see out a 1-0 Win in the “Monsters Cave” in Costa Rica. The Union played strong on all fronts, with Jose Martinez and Jamiro Monteiro playing in midseason form in the midfield. Kacper Pryzyblko hammering home a header goal off an amazing cross from Olivier Mbaizo. Newcomer just days after being signed, Leon Flach, played with intensity and like he’s been with the club for months. However, the match ended with controversy as Saprissa Defender Ricardo Blanco slid into a reckless and dangerous tackle on Kai Wagner, leading leg 1 to end in a bench-clearing brawl.
Leg 2 of the Round of 16 could not have gone better for the U. The Union would cruise to a 4-0 win in Subaru Park, sending Deportivo Saprissa home 5-0 on aggregate. Jamiro Monteiro once again playing lights out, netting a brace and assisting on the two other goals. Kacper Pryzbylko and Anthony Fontana, who has been playing out of position as a forward due to injuries at the position, knocked in the 2 other goals.
Now Deportivo Saprissa may be historically great in the CCL, but the club had been on the worst run of games in their history, on top of dealing with many injuries. So while Saprissa had the history on their side, the Union should have been the favorites to go through. However, the Union moving on in such dominating fashion should have all of CCL on watch. The round of 16 was a great tie for American Soccer, with 5 of the 8 semifinalists reigning from MLS. The Union will see fellow MLS club Atlanta United in the Quarterfinals leg 1 April 27th and Leg 2 May 4th.
MLS Season Opener
Coming off the triumph in the CCL, the Union faced an even tougher test, kicking off the MLS season on the road against the reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew. MLS Season Openers have been quite the problem for the U, being 2-6-3 (W-L-D) in MLS Season Openers. Given the club’s poor history in season openers, on top of the crowded schedule coming off the Round of 16 in the CCL, no one would have been surprised if the U came out with a dud in the first game. However, they did just the opposite.
The Union would see out a hard-fought 0-0 draw to open their 2021 MLS Season. Andre Blake came out of the gate ready to claim his third career MLS Goalkeeper of the year award, after making save after save keeping the game level. Not to be outdone, Columbus Crew keeper Eloy Room also made spectacular saves for his team. This was a defensive stalemate from start to finish. It became obvious the busy schedule was catching up on the U as the offensive side of the ball fell asleep at times. However, one takeaway from the game is the Union’s growth on set pieces. The U had 6 corner kicks, and almost every time a Union player would get a head on the cross and send it towards goal. Most notably Kacper Pryzbylko almost netting his already 3rd header goal on the year, but Eloy Room made a spectacular save.
Room To Grow
If this hot start to the 2021 season is an indication of anything, it’s that this team has only scratched the surface of their potential. The club has found success while having injuries to every forward and a key bench player in Ilsinho, and losing 2 stars in Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. If the club can build on this success and get healthy, there is no ceiling to the potential this team can grow to. Whether it is a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League or another MLS trophy, Supporters Shield or MLS Cup (or both), Jim Curtin has his team in a position to build off the success the club found last year.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation