We’ve got a break in the Philadelphia Union’s 2023 season, sort of.

The team is on a pause from MLS play, but currently competing in the first edition of the “Leagues Cup,” which combines Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX in a month-long tournament where all of the games are played in the United States and Canada. It’s not exactly the most balanced competition, but the Union are 2-0 so far and host D.C. United on Thursday night in the round of 32.

When the U return to MLS play in late August, they’ll pick up from their fourth-place position. After falling short in the Champions League semifinal months ago, they’ve increased the pace and are once again playing at a high level, which begs the question – would a best XI of players from 2010 to 2021 beat this current version of the Union?

It feels like an absurd notion on the surface, with a huge assortment of players to choose from over the past decade-plus, but look at these two squads and tell me how the results would turn out:

There’s a ton of talent on both teams.

I put the former group into some sort of 3-2-4-1, but for the sake of the exercise don’t put too much stock into the shape. It’s less about formation and tactics for me and more about how much total talent is on the field. This weirdo Manchester City-looking design was just a way to configure the best XI guys that I personally identified.

Some thoughts then, in no particular order:

  1. Andre Blake has been the Union’s top goalkeeper for 8+ years now, so I picked Faryd Mondragon for the old school group. Faryd was at the end of his career when he came to Philadelphia, but played almost 300 games in Germany and Turkey at his peak. Both guys at their apex are/were fantastic, and Andre may not have even reached it yet.
  2. I went with a back three of Auston Trusty, Carlos Valdes, and Mark McKenzie. Two young guys playing in Europe and one of my favorite Union CBs ever. My thought was that the Union have had better center backs than fullbacks over the years, but if you wanted to go with a four-man backline, you could drop Carlos and put Sheanon Williams and/or Ray Gaddis in there. Certainly Kai Wagner is the best fullback (on either side) that the Union has ever had, and Jakob Glesnes is reigning Defender of the Year. The 2022/2023 defense is rock solid and impossible to top, though McKenzie and Trusty have bright European futures ahead of them.
  3. The defensive midfield is a tough comparison because the Union play a single pivot in the diamond but were a double-pivot team for most of their history. I think a duo of Maurice Edu and Vince Nogueira, which we only got to see for a very brief portion of 2014, would be just as good as Jose Martinez + whomever else (Jesus Bueno or Jack McGlynn). The Union have had some great d-mid/two-way midfielders over the years, like Brian Carroll, Haris Medunjanin, Jamiro Monteiro, and Gabriel Gomez. I always loved Vince Nogueira’s game and would have loved to see him play here longer.
  4. I put Leon Flach over Jack McGlynn on the 2022/2023 team, but obviously Jack has been getting more LM starts this year. They’ve also played more 3-5-2 recently, so take that for what it’s worth. This exercise sort of combines the 2022 and 2023 teams, since they ran it back with the starting group.
  5. The attacking midfield lines are impossible to compare based on what I’ve concocted, but I have to give the advantage to the old guys. As good as Daniel Gazdag has been, he’s logged so many more penalty kick conversions than high-level link-play moments, and that of course was always going to be the case with the direct style the Union play. That said, the U have had fantastic attack-minded mids like Brenden Aaronson, Tranquillo Barnetta, Borek Dockal (underrated), and Ilsinho, who is the most skilled player to ever wear the shirt. If you give me all five of those guys in their primes, I’d probably rank Gazdag 5th, though I’d really have to see him play in a 4-2-3-1 or different tactical setup to make that determination.
  6. As much as Sebastien Le Toux means to this franchise, Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre are both on pace to break his 50G/50A numbers, which Seba logged over the course of 13,437 minutes. It’s true that Le Toux played entire seasons on the wing, so he wasn’t always in goal-scoring or assist-providing positions, but if Carranza and Uhre stick around, they will outpace him easily (which is crazy to think since Uhre has felt very average in 2023).
  7. Are we considering managers here? Well the only guy among those 22 that Jim Curtin did not coach was Mondragon, so we’ll call it a wash. Peter Nowak was in charge when Le Toux and Valdes started, but Jim did manage them during their second stints in Philly.

That’s about it. I think the 2022/2023 defense is amazing, but that old school midfield group really is incredible and would provide some problems. That’s easily the strength of that team. When I chose that configuration, I did omit guys like Cristian Maidana, Kacper Pryzbylko, Conor Casey, Danny Califf, and some talented guys who weren’t here very long, like Roland Alberg, Veljko Paunovic, and Chacho Coudet. You might be able to craft a different lineup that includes some of those dudes, as a different way to approach this hypothetical.

Something like this:

Whip up your own XI at Football User and tell me if you think a group of classic Union players beats this current squad. I’m not sure they do.