Facing punishments from Major League Soccer for tampering with youth players, even though the exact scope of their violations hasn’t been made public, the Philadelphia Union are one of the disappointments in the American circuit a third of the way through the season.
The Union are 2-2-4 heading into their next match at Subaru Park against Toronto with eight points, well off the pace set by the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati who lead the Eastern Conference with 17 points.
After reaching the MLS Final in 2022, the Union were listed as one of the favourites to soar according to the many online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania and are still as one of the top teams to return to the grand final of MLS but have stumbled.
In their last five matches, the Union have been favoured three times, but have only managed two draws. A defensive team that allowed an MLS-low 26 goals in 2022 has already allowed 11. Keep that in mind the next time you’re studying the Pennsylvania online sportsbooks and thinking of putting some bets down.
It is worth wondering, is Philadelphia experiencing a let-down after the incredible heartbreaking loss to LAFC in the MLS Final last year? Or have the tampering allegations dimmed the prospects for the Union pushing forward.
Bican scoring 805 goals in just 530 games is insane 😬#Ronaldo #Messi #PSG pic.twitter.com/vEoDH9zuXm
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) April 17, 2023
Who Said Tampering?
In a detailed report by the esteemed US sports site The Athletic, the Union were cited as a team being punished by MLS for violating multiple rules when it comes to stepping outside their homegrown territory rules and creating their protected youth player lists.
MLS still relies on – some would say an antiquated – system of territorial development for youth players and the corresponding MLS team academies.
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MLS allows franchises to create a list of 54 protected youth players from those geographic areas, 45 who play within their academy and nine who reside in the territory but may play in different club organizations.
Any other player outside those lists can be scouted and recruited by other MLS franchises. And it’s supposed to be hands-off for any player below the under-15 level.
The report never specified exactly what the Union may have done to circumvent the rules, but speculation points to the team going after players below the age range or ‘forcing trades’ of players, so eventually the Union was fined an undisclosed amount out of their GAM (General Allocation Money).
On the one hand, critics can say MLS isn’t doing enough and that the Union can easily recoup the money lost from their GAM with one big transfer of a youth star, even if they recruited him early. Others believe that the Union should have been punished further or will continue doing these tactics.
Some MLS administrators would prefer to see the entire recruiting system overhauled and let the market determine where the best players go. The Union Academy has alums playing at high levels with Leeds, Frankfurt and Birmingham.
A Worse Union
The Union and LAFC played one of the best games in MLS history in last year’s MLS Final with multiple goals being scored late. The Union trailed 1-0 and 2-1, but scored in stoppage time to take a 3-2 lead, only to see LAFC tie the score in the final seconds and win on penalties 3-0.
Philadelphia has been in MLS since 2010 and only has one trophy in that time, the Supporters Shield in 2020.
A loss like that in the MLS Final is hard for any franchise in any sport to overcome.
Union Coach Jim Curtin has fielded an uninspired club that returned the bulk of last year’s Eastern Conference champions. Third-year Union midfielder Daniel Gazdag and second-year Union forward Julian Carranza lead the squad with three goals each, but the Union are well off the pace of last year’s 19-win campaign.
The New Kids On The Block
The surprise of the MLS season thus far has been the play of expansion team St. Louis CITY SC has a long history of soccer success in America, it’s where five members of the nation’s 1950 World Cup team hailed from. That team is still remembered for one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history a 1-0 win over England.
St. Louis CITY SC had the best start by an MLS expansion team in MLS history through seven matches with 15 points. They currently have six wins and lead the Western Conference table ahead of defending MLS champion LAFC.
Moreover, St. Louis CITY SC leads the league in shots on frame and has the most goals in the league with 20. Joao Klauss is tied for third in MLS with five goals.