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Will a Hapless Transfer Window Scupper Philadelphia Union’s Hopes of MLS Glory in 2021?

It would be fair to say that Philadelphia Union’s run to the Supporters’ Shield in 2020 was a surprise to everyone – apart from those within the camp, perhaps.

The Union have been slowly improving under Jim Curtin’s tutelage in recent years, but even so, such consistency in the regular season has not been something that Philly fans have come to expect.

Of course, the campaign fizzled out in a whimper in the end – the franchise was dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by New England Revolution. But all things considered, Curtin and co. should be very satisfied with their efforts and will, no doubt, be looking forward to 2021 with relish.

The likes of Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos revealed themselves to be relatively prolific frontmen. Meanwhile, breakout stars Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie – named in the MLS Best XI – confirmed that the Union was a team to behold ahead of the new season.

And then, well, the unthinkable happened. Both Aaronson and McKenzie were tempted to Europe and joined Red Bull Salzburg and Genk respectively, and they have yet to be replaced with the transfer window slamming shut on June 1.

There are rumors that Daniel Gazdag, a very handy attacking midfielder at Honved, is close to signing on the dotted line. However, his potential capture is hampered by the fact that he is likely to be part of Hungary’s squad for the European Championships in June and July.

There tends to be a period of transition when a European player heads Stateside and so any hope that Gazdag will be a knight in shining armor to rescue the Union’s season might be wide of the mark. Well, at least in the short term.

A deep run into the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals arguably hasn’t helped matters, either. Midfield schemer Ilsinho picking up a muscle injury that could be down to weariness as much as anything else. The upshot is that the Union has been weakened during the off-season, and their start to the 2021 campaign is indicative of that.

A Fall from Grace

The only team to average more than two points per game during the 2020 season, Philly’s start this time around has been headline-making for rather different reasons.

Four games in and the Union have won just one game, scored a paltry three goals (they averaged 1.91 per game last term), and have a negative goal difference. Additionally, the deeper stats such as Expected Goals reveals a team that perhaps should have conceded more than they have.

To make matters worse, a key function of their success last season – big chance creation – has also fallen by the wayside, and they currently rank 12/14 in the Eastern Conference for xG.

If they aren’t creating opportunities for the likes of Przybylko and Santos to thrive upon, Curtin will see his franchise’s goal tally dry up – it really is as simple as that. Perhaps there should be no surprise that the Union have slumped to +1600 in the MLS Cup 2021 outright winner football betting odds, having been among the favorites back in April.

Clearly, the loss of Aaronson and McKenzie has hit hard, and the hope is that the back-office staff are working hard on bringing in replacements of a similar quality to continue the Union’s upward trajectory. If they don’t, it could be a return to the ranks of also-rans for Pennsylvania’s premier soccer outfit.

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