Now a consistent force in MLS, the Philadelphia Union are back for another shot at glory in 2022.
Jim Curtin's men built on their 2020 Supporters' Shield win by finishing second in the Eastern Conference last year, before going all the way to the Eastern Conference final in the Playoffs.
Based on their winter business so far, there's little to suggest they'll fall away this season either.
How did Philadelphia Union perform in 2021?
Concacaf Champions League commitments really messed with the Union's start to the 2021 season with just one point from their opening three MLS matches. But once CCL took a back seat, Philly got to work, with only a minor summer dip halting their progress.
A run of just one defeat in their final 11 games saw Curtin's side rise above the pack into second in the East. And although they ended up 19 points behind the Revs, they boasted the second-best defensive record in MLS to cover for their more modest attack.
Liberated from their Supporters' Shield 'curse', the Union took out the New York Red Bulls (1-0 AET) and Nashville SC (2-0 on penalties) in the Playoffs before falling 2-1 to eventual winners NYCFC.
Philadelphia Union transfer activity
- Mikael Uhre (from Brondby IF, $2.8m)
- Julian Carranza (from Inter Miami, loan)
- Kacper Przybylko (to Chicago Fire, $1.15m)
- Jamiro Monteiro (to San Jose Earthquakes, $250k)
- Alvas Powell (to FC Cincinnati, free transfer)
- Matej Oravec (to Podbrezova, loan)
- Jack de Vries (to Venezia U19, loan)
- Cole Turner (to El Paso, loan)
- Anthony Fontana (released)
- Ilsinho (released)
- Aurelian Collin (released)
Jim Curtin: Tactics and style of play
Curtin is a real advocate of the diamond midfield and has stuck to at least a close variant of the 4-1-2-1-2 formation for the last couple of years. Philadelphia love to press and chase high up, but are impressively efficient and disciplined when it comes to recovering their defensive shape.
Despite being incredibly tall, Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott are excellent ball players and surprisingly threatening in front of goal, both on the ground and in the air. Behind them, Andre Blake is arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS - it's between him and Matt Turner.
Full-backs Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo provide the width and are protected by the industrious running of Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jose Martinez in the more withdrawn midfield roles. That said, Flach and Bedoya, in particular, like to get forward and the interchanging of positions in these areas is incredibly fluid.
With Kacper Przybylko gone, the burden of goalscoring now falls on new signing Mikael Uhre, while we could see Paxten Aaronson - younger brother of USMNT star Brenden - start in the No.10 role following Jamiro Monteiro's departure. Sergio Santos will battle with Julian Carranza to start alongside Uhre.
Of course, the Union are known for their homegrowns and Jack McGlynn is another impressive youngster who could win a regular starting spot.
Who are Philadelphia Union's key players?
As mentioned, Blake has a serious claim on being the best 'keeper in the league. He was second only to Turner for last year's Goalkeeper of the Year award, which he won in 2020.
Last season, Blake overperformed his xGA by 7.71 through the regular season. Translated, that basically means he saved the Union almost eight goals - a league-high among goalkeepers. Blake is agile, confident, and commanding - a huge difference-maker between the sticks.
Big moments. Big saves...
To go far in MLS, especially when the Playoffs come around, you need experience and leadership. Few tick those boxes quite as well as Bedoya.
A two-time Gold Cup winner with the USMNT and veteran with time logged in Sweden, Scotland, and France, Bedoya has been around the block. He's been a cornerstone of this Union team since 2016, too. Even at 34, Bedoya has plenty of energy left in the tank and he's a key defensive piece at the heart of the Union's midfield - though don't write off his ability to grab a few goals himself.
Though he was frustratingly wasteful, Kacper Przybylko was still a huge source of goals for the Union. In fact, since his debut in 2019, Przybylko has hit 34 goals in MLS regular-season play, leaving him behind only Atlanta United's Josef Martinez (38) and Seattle Sounders' Raul Ruidiaz (37) during that time.
So with the Polish striker gone, the goalscoring mantle passes to new signing Mikael Uhre. The Danish striker joins the Union off the back of a stellar 2020/21 campaign in his homeland, in which he scored 19 goals in 34 appearances to win the Superliga Golden Boot and help Brondby to the title. He was also named the league's Player of the Year.
The 27-year-old brings vast experience in European competition and international soccer and should level up the Union's attack considerably, if he fulfills his promise.
Philadelphia Union 2022 season prediction
The top of the East looks like it'll be a meat grinder this year, with so many teams strengthening considerably. The Union, meanwhile, appear to have stayed about the same taking all their off-season moves into account - granted, Uhre might push their ceiling a little higher.
With that in mind, expect them to drop a little bit, but Philly will still compete with the best in the East and be a major threat when the Playoffs come around.
Prediction: 4th in the Eastern Conference