The Philadelphia Union were one of the premier teams in MLS this season. Given their club value and spending, they are the one team far outperforming their spending.
While like other American sports, Major League Soccer attempts to implement parity across the league, in reality, that is very much a feigned and facadian concept. Three of the last four MLS Cups have been contested between the same two teams.
The LA Galaxy have dominated across the decade, Atlanta United won MLS Cup last season, made the Conference Finals this year and won the U.S. Open Cup. Toronto FC have played in three of the last four MLS Cups. These are the dominant teams in MLS, and they are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. An elite is being established.
This week, Forbes released their valuations for all MLS teams. Predictably, those who went far in this season’s playoffs were at the top. In fact, the final four teams all ranked in the top five. The fifth team was the Galaxy, who made it to the knockout round and are the most successful team in MLS history. Money matters.
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But for the Philadelphia Union, the trend is very much being bucked. Ranked as the 18th-most valuable team in MLS at $240 million, less than half of what Atlanta are valued at, the Union, you would expect, could not challenge the elite clubs in the league. And yet, that is precisely what they did.
The Union were routinely sitting atop the Eastern Conference and only missed out on the top two seeds because of a late-season slump and Decision Day loss to New York City FC.
And it is not just team value that the Philadelphia Union are exceeding their expectations. Per Spotrac, the Philadelphia Union spent $8,459,186 on player wages last season. That ranks 18th in MLS. LAFC are spending more on their forwards alone. That tells you everything you need to know.
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Dig a little deeper, and the clever investment of the Union is clear to see. Their most expensive player is Marco Fabian, who was paid $2,274,087 in guaranteed compensation in 2019. He is only the 16th-most expensive player in the league. In contrast, the Eastern Conference representatives in MLS Cup, Toronto FC, have three players in the top seven.
Moreover, Fabian was far from a clear player for the Union this season. He only played 1249 minutes on the year and could well not return for the 2020 campaign, especially with the emergence of youth prospect Brenden Aaronson, who ostensibly usurped the Mexican designated player. The Union’s next highest-paid player is Alejandro Bedoya, who is ranked at 38th in the league.
This is a squad that has been excellently assembled, is very cheap in comparison to the best teams in MLS, and is ready to compete for titles and trophies for years to come. The Union were on the verge of a breakout in 2018, making the U.S. Open Cup final and qualifying for the playoffs for only the third time in their history.
While MLS veers away from parity and towards the money-orientated world of global football, the Philadelphia Union continue to buck the trend. They are outperforming their finances, and that is very impressive indeed.