Philadelphia Union had its best season in its history in 2019 capped by its first ever playoff win. Lacking big names, and less flashy than teams most in MLS, the budget-minded Union take more of a Moneyball approach, plucking unknowns from obscurity and seeking diamonds in the rough. While a seemingly known commodity of Marco Fabian did not succeed for the most part in 2019, unheralded Kai Wagner from the German lower divisions was included in a conversation of the best leftbacks in MLS by the end of the season, and previously unknown Kacper Przybylko broke into the second tier of strikers.
The Union perform in fantasy in a similar fashion. Not flashy, Philadelphia has some consistent performers who can be good value picks, particularly when at home. The season could be somewhat disjointed, however, due to player absences for Olympic qualifying in March and the Olympics in July. Philadelphia starters Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie will make the Olympic team and left back Matt Real has an outside chance.
Tactics & Key Players
With slightly difference tactics this season, the 2020 Philadelphia Union mostly will be more of the same from 2019. Gone are Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault and Marco Fabian, but the core of the 2019 team that finished in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Conference Semifinals remain. The Union will try a more high pressing style in 2020 which should have them see less of the ball. Head coach Jim Curtin and Sporting Director Ernst Tanner want the Union to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes and be more of a counterattacking team than in past years.
With Medunjanin serving as a deep-lying playmaker in past seasons, he provided very little on defense. Unsatisfied with the number of goals conceded in 2019, the Union let Medunjanin leave and instead brought in young Slovakian Matej Oravec and Venezuelan Jose “El Brujo” Maartinez to compete with veteran Warren Creavalle as a more traditional defensive midfielder at the base of the 4-4-2 diamond.
Keeper: Andre Blake returns as the clear starter after a lackluster 2019 campaign. Blake made costly mistakes last season, sometimes due in part to a lack of cover in front of the center backs. Expect Blake to rebound this season with a more traditional defensive midfielder in front of the back 4.
Defense: Philadelphia returns its starting defense from last season and has added some additional depth. Expect the outside backs to play a bit higher now that there will be additional protection in the middle. The crosses from Kai Wagner at left back led to assists and the passes from Jack Elliott produced bonus points. Mark McKenzie won the starting job from Auston Trusty midway through the 2019 season and the Union transferred Trusty to Colorado during the offseason. The team brought in Norwegian Jakob Glesnes to compete at center back. Glesnes impressed in preseason and will be the starter when McKenzie leaves the Union to play for the US Olympic team after the second game of the season. Durable Ray Gaddis is an excellent defensive right back but provides few fantasy points. As in the past, the Union defense should be a low-risk fantasy play at home against weaker teams, but generally should be avoided when on the road. Note that Wagner is injured to start the season and untested Homegrown Matt Real is the starter.
Midfield: Captain Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro and Brenden Aaronson return in the midfield. With Bedoya at the right point of the diamond, expect Aaronson and Monteiro to interchange a bit on the left and at the 10. Matej Oravec, somewhat of an unknown commodity, is expect to start at defensive midfield, but will be challenged by Martinez and Creavalle for that position. It is unclear what will happen when Aaronson leaves after the second game to join the Olympic team. The likely scenario is that Monteiro will play the 10 and that Martinez, Creavalle or Anthony Fontana will be slotted into the Starting XI. Exciting came-changer Ilsinho is back for another season. Now 34 years old, Ilsinho still has skill, but likely will not start many games making his fantasy value low.
Forwards: Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko are the clear starters with often-injured (and currently injured) Andrew Wooten the backup. Santos and Przybylko seem to have developed a strong partnership both on and off the field. Unfortunately, for fantasy purposes, this makes Przybylko less valuable. Whereas he was the main target and goalscorer for the Union in 2019 with Santos injured, expected Przybylko’s fantasy production to decrease a bit in 2020 in favor of Santos.
The Philadelphia Union’s “team first” mentality unfortunately does not translate well to fantasy success. With few stars, the Union can be counted on for consistent points, but mostly have low fantasy ceilings. When playing at home against weaker opponents, Blake, Wagner, Elliott, Monteiro, Aaronson and Przybylko can be strong value picks. Otherwise, even though the Union likely will have an above .500 season, there tends to be better fantasy options available from other teams.
The Union will play a 4-4-2 diamond. When healthy, the expected starters will be: