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Evaluating the 2021 Philadelphia Union Roster

| April 6, 2021 8:52 am PDT

Philly surprised a lot of MLS fans by clinching the Supporters’ Shield last year. In arguably the strangest season in MLS history, Jim Curtin’s men achieved something very special.

Just weeks after helping to secure the club’s first major honor, Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson packed their bags and left for Europe.

Of course, the 2021 Philadelphia Union roster looks a whole lot different without McKenzie and Aaronson – not to mention the other notable departures.

Still, there are plenty of reasons for Union supporters to be optimistic.

In this post, I detail the club’s offseason transfers and analyze the Philadelphia Union roster for the 2021 MLS season. On top of that, I share my thoughts on Philly’s best player, before giving a final assessment of the 2021 Philadelphia roster.

Assessing the Union’s Offseason Transfers

As you can see from the table below, Philadelphia’s offseason outgoings far outweigh the club’s new arrivals.

PHILADELPHIA UNION’S 2021 TRANSFERS
Incoming Players Outgoing Players
Stuart Findlay Brenden Aaronson
Leon Flach Mark McKenzie
  Michee Ngalina
  Andrew Wooten
  Warren Creavalle
  Raymond Gaddis

Philadelphia Has Lost Key Players

It was always going to be difficult for Philly to keep hold of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. After all, both youngsters were named in the 2020 MLS Best XI following standout individual seasons.

Just after the turn of the year, Aaronson signed for Red Bull Salzburg, with McKenzie joining KRC Genk. Both players were sold for around $6 million, meaning they are now among the most expensive outgoing transfers in MLS history.

Having made 28 appearances for the U, Andrew Wooten now represents Admira Wacker in the Austrian top-flight, while Michee Ngalina has joined the Switchbacks in the USL Championship.

Warren Creavalle and Raymond Gibbs retired at the end of the previous campaign. With almost 350 appearances for the Union between them, replacing their experience won’t be simple.

What Do Findlay and Flach Add to the 2021 Union Roster?

It is no secret that Stuart Findlay has been signed as a direct replacement for McKenzie. Sure, that is no easy task. But I think Findlay could prove to be an excellent addition to the 2021 Philadelphia Union roster.

The ex-Kilmarnock center-back already has over a century of Scottish Premiership games under his belt – and he is still just 25. Standing at almost two meters tall, Findlay is set to bring a commanding influence to Philadelphia’s backline.

If you want to learn more about Findlay, check out the post below.

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Meanwhile, fans of the Union have been getting excited about the signing of Leon Flach. The German American midfielder arrives in Philly having made a name for himself at St. Pauli – and his versatility only enhances Philadelphia’s roster for the 2021 MLS season.

Comfortable both in the middle of the park and out wide, Flach looks like another top acquisition for the club.

Philadelphia Union Roster in 2021

The Union may have lost several important players recently, but the 2021 Philadelphia roster still looks strong.

Goalkeepers

  • Andre Blake
  • Joe Bendik
  • Matt Freese

Not only does Curtin have the 2020 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year at his disposal, but he also has a couple of solid backup options.

Former Portland, Toronto, Orlando, and Columbus shot-stopper Joe Bendik has over 150 MLS appearances to his name, while young gun Matt Freese recently earned his first USMNT call-up.

Philadelphia’s goalkeeper depth chart is seriously strong. In fact, I believe that Blake is among the sleepers for the 2021 MVP Award.

Defenders

  • Jack Elliott
  • Jakob Glesnes
  • Stuart Findlay
  • Aurelien Collin
  • Brandan Craig
  • Kai Wagner
  • Matthew Real
  • Oliver Mbazio
  • Nathan Harriel

More often than not, Jakob Glesnes was McKenzie’s center-back partner last season. But with McKenzie gone, I expect Findlay to fill the void this year.

Following Gaddis’ retirement, Olivier Mbaizo looks set to become Curtin’s first-choice right back in 2021. The young Cameroon international kept Gaddis out of the team for much of the previous campaign, so he is definitely ready to make the step up.

Kai Wagner and Matthew Real will likely fight for the left-back berth this year. We could also see opportunities given to Philadelphia Union II graduates such as Brandan Craig and Nathan Harriel throughout the season.

Midfielders

  • Matej Oravec
  • Jose Andres Martinez
  • Leon Flach
  • Cole Turner
  • Jamiro Monteiro (DP)
  • Alejandro Bedoya (C)
  • Jack McGlynn
  • Ilsinho
  • Jack de Vries
  • Anthony Fontana
  • Paxten Aaronson
  • Quin Sullivan

In my eyes, Curtin has the options to name one of the most dynamic midfields in Major League Soccer this year.

Alejandro Bedoya (Designated Player) and Jamiro Monteiro (captain) are two of the first names on the team sheet. Having enjoyed another stellar season in 2020, Brazilian maestro Ilsinho is also likely to play a key role in 2021.

When you throw guys like Anthony Fontana and Jose Andres Martinez into the mix, Philadelphia’s midfield depth is arguably among the best in MLS.

Forwards

  • Kacper Przybylko
  • Sergio Santos
  • Cory Burke

With just three out-and-out forwards to pick from, Philadelphia’s roster for 2021 clearly doesn’t boast depth in the attacking department. But what it lacks in depth, it makes up for with quality.

Sergio Santos bagged 11 goals last year, including a memorable hat-trick against Toronto FC. Following a slow start to his Union career, it feels as though he is now ready to perform on a consistent basis.

Meanwhile, Kacper Pryzybylko was busy scoring and creating last season. The technically gifted striker added eight goals to his tally of six assists in 2020, meaning he averaged just over a goal involvement every other game last year. Could he challenge for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot?

Along with Corey Burke, Philly’s attacking midfielders can add to the goals and assists provided by Santos and Przybylko.

Philadelphia’s Best Player – Andre Blake

The 2021 Philadelphia Union roster is brimming with talent in almost every department. From Glesnes in defense to Przybylko in attack, Curtin isn’t short of top-quality options.

But when it comes to discussing Philly’s best player, it is difficult to look past Blake.

ANDRE BLAKE (2020 MLS SEASON)
Games Goals Conceded Shoutouts
25 23 9

Finishing the previous campaign with a shutout percentage of 36%, Blake was pivotal to the Union’s Supporters’ Shield triumph.

Only one goalkeeper – Nashville’s Joe Willis – kept more regular-season clean sheets than Blake last year, while the Philadelphia gloveman also ended 2020 with the best save percentage in MLS (77.8%).

Goalkeepers often get overlooked as their teams’ best player, but Blake bucks that trend for me.

What Can Philadelphia Achieve in 2021?

While it will obviously be difficult for the U to defend the Supporters’ Shield this year, it is by no means impossible.

Sure, Philadelphia isn’t able to compete with the big-spending powerhouses in Major League Soccer when it comes to signing players. But the club’s focus on youth development has paid dividends in recent times.

The Union’s squad may look light in attack, but I think the club has enough creative midfielders to make up for the lack of outright forwards.

If Findlay and Flach can fill the gaps left by McKenzie and Aaronson, there is no reason why Curtin’s side can’t be one of the best teams in league this year.

But if the 2021 Philadelphia Union roster struggles to cope with the loss its departed stars, defending the Supporters’ Shield won’t be easy.

Following a woeful twelfth-place finish in 2020, Atlanta United will be hoping to get closer to the Union this year. If you’re interested in checking out the Five Stripes’ 2021 roster, check out the post below.

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Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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