Following the most successful regular season in club history, the Philadelphia Union are poised to be even better in 2020.
With expectations high, the Union are likely in store for a stiff opening test on Saturday against host FC Dallas, which looks to do more than squeak into the playoffs this season.
In its celebratory 10th MLS season, Philadelphia set a club record with 16 wins and 55 points. The Union finished third in the Eastern Conference, but actually led the East for a good portion of the campaign. They also won their first playoff game before falling to Atlanta United FC.
All that is still worthy of praise, but it also raised the bar for what the Union are potentially capable of accomplishing going forward.
"We have to rely on each other and we believe in the cohesiveness of the group, and that our 11 together can beat any group of superstars, or whatever you like to call them," coach Jim Curtain told the Union's official website."We are a true team in that sense … We have to believe in everything that we do and that group mindset and mentality."
Curtain has plenty of talent to back that approach.
Kacper Przybylko broke out for 15 goals in his first MLS season while Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro make for a consistent due. Andre Blake, meanwhile, is turning into one of the top keepers in MLS.
One player who should be on the pitch Saturday in suburban Dallas is Fafa Picault, but just not in a Union kit he sported for his first three MLS seasons. Picault, who recorded 22 goals in those three years with Philadelphia, is now plying his trade for FCD, which grabbed the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season.
Picault looks to stabilize an inconsistent left-wing position for Dallas, which has some of the league's best young talent in 19-year-old Jesus Ferreira (eight goals in 2019) and 20-year-old up-and-coming Unites State men's national team prospect Paxton Pomykal. Michael Barrios (five goals) also provides a solid presence in the FCD midfield.
"We're excited and building for this week," coach Luchi Gonzalez told Dallas' official website. "We love each other and we'll support each other to give everything for Saturday.
"Now, we need to be confident in how we work and bring it on Saturday."
Dallas went undefeated in its first nine all-time matches against Philadelphia (5-0-4), but has dropped two of the last three meetings. Including last season in suburban Philly, where FCD held a 1-0 lead before Corey Burke equalized in the 85th minute and Bedoya scored the go-ahead winner in the second minute of stoppage time to cap a rather improbable 2-1 comeback victory on April 6.