The Philadelphia Union closed out the 2018 regular season with 50 points last season, compiling a 15W-5D-14L record and finishing in 6th place, securing a playoff berth for just the third time in club history. Despite coming into the knockout stage with a fairly strong amount of momentum, they were eliminated in the first stage of the playoffs after falling to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium by a 3-1 margin.
However, there is a considerable amount of optimism coming into the 2019 season. Sporting director Earnie Stewart departed the club to join the US Men’s National Team as the general manager, and the Union hired Ernst Tanner in his place. Tanner comes to the club from Red Bull Salzberg, where he headed up their academy and player development programs, and has been tasked with overhauling both their tactical system and restructuring their developmental pipeline.
As we mentioned above, Tanner has begun to overhaul the Union identity, working with Jim Curtin to implement a youth-oriented, high-energy, high-press approach similar to the one that Red Bull-owned clubs utilize across the globe. Leading up to the season, it appears that the Union will be utilizing a narrow 4-4-2 diamond that will demand a high work rate and constant pressure from its players.
Fortunately for Philadelphia, they already had a handful of talented young players, which Tanner and Curtin will certainly look to build upon… but the club have also went out and acquired players in the offseason who are potential game-changers in the Eastern Conference.
Simply put, Marco Fabian is a huge get for Philadelphia. The Mexican-capped star participated in both the 2014 and 2018 World Wup, and has appeared in 42 matches (9 goals), and comes in from Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt. He has the pedigree to be a star in this league, and will take the reins as the No. 10 – filling in the shoes of Borek Dockal, who led the league in assists in 2018 during his one-year loan with the club.
Fabian isn’t the only exciting addition during the offseason, as the club also brought in Venezuelan forward Sergio Santos. The 24-year-old is expected to immediately come in and start atop the Union formation, and appears to be a prototypical example of the type of player that the Union are looking to build around… as is Kai Wagner, a 22-year-old defender hailing from Germany, who spent time with the academies/reserves for Wurzberger, Schalke 04, FC Augsburg, and others.
The Union will be without the services of the aformentioned Dockal, as well as Keegan Rosenberry, CJ Sapong, and Marcus Epps.
The Union have made major changes both on the personnel side and with the overall footballing philosophy with their club. They have the pieces, and they have an identity, so their success (both on the pitch and in fantasy) will ultimately come down to whether or not they are able to execute.
Up top, new additions Marco Fabian (9.0m) and Sergio Santos (8.5m) are virtually guaranteed starters; Fabian is a world-class, All Star-caliber creator and has the potential to light the MLS on fire immediately (provided that he picks up the Union system quickly and avoids injury), and Santos is an exciting young prospect from Chile who fits the mold for Philly’s new youth-centric philosophy.
USMNT veteran and team leader Alejandro Bedoya (7.5) is another expected regular in the Starting XI. It will be interesting to see how his role changes within the new Union scheme – if he finds himself with more attacking opportunities as a result of turnovers created in the attacking third, his price point could be very attractive if Philly manage to acclimate themselves to the 2019 system quickly.
I’m also including veteran DM Haris Medunjanin (8.0m) here for now, although if he’s not able to handle the speed at which Philadelphia’s scheme requires, we could see him replaced by a fresher face in the lineup. He’s also extremely expensive from a fantasy standpoint for someone expected to play so far back in the formation – there are plenty of other FMLS options in similar roles at much more reasonable prices.
Amongst the Union defensive personnel, the centerback pairing of Mark McKenzie (5.5m) and Auston Trusty (5.5m) and goalkeeper Andre Blake (5.5m) are your best bet for consistent minutes. Naturally, there should be some hesitance around defenders on a team with a brand new pressing system, which can leak quite a few goals if implemented poorly… but these guys are talented enough to include in switcheroos early on until we get an idea of how that defensive scheme will shape up.
Contending For Minutes
The biggest question for Philadelphia on the attacking end at this point is whether or not it will be Fafa Picault (8.0m) or Cory Burke (8.0m) will line up alongside Sergio Santos up top. It could be that Jim Curtin will swap them in and out of the XI regularly based on matchup, or he could end up sticking with one versus the other if they manage to earn the full-time spot either in practice or on matchday. That being said, if one manages to get a grip on a full-time spot with a player like Marco Fabian behind them, their 8.0m price points could offer incredible value at the forward position. David Accam (6.0m) is also a dark horse – he’s a proven MLS scorer coming off of an injury, so he’s deeply discounted for fantasy and therefore worth keeping an eye on for a punt or switcheroo in case he ends up in the starting lineup.
Derrick Jones (5.0m) is expected to occupy the fourth midfield position to start the season, although Ilsinho (6.5m) and Warren Creavalle (5.5m) could also make a push for regular playing time within the diamond.
With Keegan Rosenberry moving on to Colorado, the fullback situation for Philadelphia appears to be completely wide open at the moment. The fullbacks are expected to have consider work-rates with this high-press, so we could very well see regular rotation amongst Ray Gaddis (4.5m), Olivier Mbaizo (4.5m), Kai Wagner (4.5m), and Matthew Real (4.5m), at least until one or two establish themselves as the top guys. That being said, we expect Gaddis and Wagner to get the nod on Opening Day.
Englishman Jack Elliott (4.5m) put in several good shifts in 2018, so he could see some starts this year as well in the 4-4-2, or perhaps alongside McKenzie and Trusty if Philly decide to go with a three-man back line. Aurelien Collin (4.5m) also provides some quality veteran depth for Philly and could make a few appearances this season.