The Philadelphia Union set numerous club records in 2019 and will certainly be chasing more with the 2020 MLS season right around the corner. Led by a mixture of veterans and young players, Jim Curtin’s side set a new club record for regular season points while also earning their first-ever playoff win.
Feb. 29th marks the Union’s 11th MLS season with the team traveling to FC Dallas for their season opener. Club captain and veteran midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is preparing for his fifth MLS season with the club and reflected on camp so far in Clearwater, Fla.
“It’s preseason, double practices and working on things, building on the way we want to play,” Bedoya told Philly Influencer. “We have a good mix of older guys, but also young guys too. We are trying to keep that team culture from last season going and of course in preseason there are going to be some growing pains, but that’s part of the game.”
“I think Jakob [Glesnes] has impressed me the most so far, he’s been good defensively,” Bedoya said. “Some of the games we’ve played, he’s been able to hit these long diagonal balls on a dime that opens up our offensive play. I think Jose [Martinez] and Matej [Oravec] have been good, but they are still developing and learning. Those two are also battling for the same position, so it’s an interesting battle since they both bring different attributes. Hopefully we’ll see more from them.”
Glesnes, Martinez, and Oravec are the three acquisitions made by Union sporting director Ernst Tanner this offseason to help make up for the losses of several starters. Marco Fabian, Fafa Picault, Auston Trusty, and Haris Medunjanin all left this winter after combining for 8,530 minutes, 15 goals, and 10 assists in 2019. Medujanin’s presence in midfield was key for the Union, running the show offensively and tracking back to help win possession on the defensive side. His loss is one that won’t be easy to replicate, but Bedoya knows a combined effort could help ease the burden.
“We lost our No. 6 in Haris so replacing him is going to be tough, but we just have to work in who will fill that role,” Bedoya said. “Fafa also played some important minutes for us last season and was always looking to create chances for the team. We were able to bring some players in so they will need to be ready for us this season. We just have to bring that Philly effort and attitude that the fans deserve and I think we can play with anyone in the league.”
The Union worked in several formations in 2019, using a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 diamond mainly throughout the season. Both formations give the Union different looks both with and without the ball, allowing them to press teams high up the field and force turnovers. It is undecided what formation will be used on Matchday 1 in Dallas, but Bedoya is confident on everything used so far in their four preseason matches.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve been using a 4-2-3-1, but this preseason we’ve also used a 4-4-2 diamond and even a 3-5-2,” Bedoya said. The 4-4-2 allows us to use a high press and get up field to pressure our opponents and win possession back. When we lose the ball, we want to be able to pressure and produce turnovers. We’ve been working on this a lot more this preseason than in years past so we want that to be a major part of how we play. We can show different formations to confuse teams and hopefully force them into a lot of turnovers and mistakes.”
The Union prided themselves in 2019 by standing up to the big boys in MLS and going toe-to-toe with anyone who stepped into Talen Energy Stadium. A 10-4-3 home record helped the Union finish third in the Eastern Conference, while picking up results against LAFC, Atlanta United, D.C. United, Seattle Sounders, and New York Red Bulls.
Homegrown players Brenden Aaronson, Matt Freese, and Mark McKenzie all saw minutes in 2019 and played important roles when called upon. Striker Kacper Przybyłko registered 15 goals and four assists in his first season with the club, Sergio Santos added four goals in 19 games, Jamiro Monteiro was influential in midfield with four goals and seven assists on loan. Andre Blake continued to improve as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS and Kai Wagner recorded a stellar season at left back in his first ever season in North America. Bedoya praised the entire team’s effort for 2019’s haul and knows doing well at home is important for even more success this season.
“It’s like I said before, we don’t have the marquee names, but we have guys who are ready to work,” Bedoya said. “We have a cohesive unit who are always battling and wanting to get better. You saw it last year, we were pretty good defensively and harder to score against. We want that to be a focus this year as well and I think with our pressing we can turn those mistakes into goals.”
“At home we were pretty good and we also improved on the road as well. A lot of this league is home field advantage and using that to your strengths. We have to be good on the road this year as well because if you can do that then it makes playing at home that much easier to get results. Not being scared on the road is key if you want to make the playoffs.”
The Union’s 2020 season begins with back-to-back road matches at FC Dallas and LAFC, two playoff teams from a season ago. Their home opener takes place on March 14th against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team that fought until Decision Day for a late appearance in the postseason. In a season which will feature two expansion sides (Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC), Bedoya admits returning to the postseason is a goal knowing how much experience the team consumed last season.
“My first goal is to make the playoffs because once you make it then anything can happen,” Bedoya said. “A lot of people didn’t think we could do much last season and others will probably think that this season too. We just have to control what we can control and believe in ourselves. We’re going to match every team’s intensity and if we do that on a consistent basis then we can pull off any result.”