Philadelphia Union is turning the page on a 2023 campaign that finished in a second round exit against Supporter’s Shield winning FC Cincinnati on the road. As they look ahead to the season ahead, the club has made its first offseason roster decision, calling on promising young talent to help shape the squad for years to come.
The team’s historically strenuous 51-game season spurred opportunities for young players like Jesus Bueno, who emerged as a difference-maker in the midfield. Throughout 2023, the 24-year-old Venezuelan’s contributions were plentiful, earning him a new contract extension starting next season. Per his new deal, Bueno will remain in Chester through 2026 with an option for 2027.
“We finished a long year with a lot of lessons and good moments. We also had some bad ones with injuries, but from the bad we always find something good,” Bueno said before departing for the offseason.
“For me, it seemed like a year of personal gain. As for the team, we have that thorn on the side of only reaching the [conference] semifinals, but we are really motivated since it shows we are made to achieve great things as a group.”
2023 was a springboard season for Bueno, who became a regular contributor for the first team after primarily playing for Union II since his arrival in 2021. In his third year in Blue and Gold, Bueno stepped into a starting role when called upon, establishing himself as a reliable game-changer during some of the season's most critical moments. He saw action in 26 league matches, earning 10 starts for a total of 975 minutes, making an exponential jump in playing time compared to his sophomore season. Last year, he took the pitch for just 12 minutes in one outing.
His midfield dominance and offensive aptitude shined most, however, in the team’s inaugural Leagues Cup run in which the Union finished third among 47 MLS and Liga MX clubs. Bueno started in six of the team’s seven matches, compiling two goals and three assists in that span.
Bueno manufactured momentum through multiple marquee moments in the tournament, netting his first-ever senior score in the 10th minute of the team's quarterfinal win against Queretaro, quickly deflating the opponent. He set the tone early again in the team’s third-place match against Monterrey CF when he scored the fastest goal of the tournament, finding the back of the net 33 seconds after first kick.
Unlike Major League Soccer regular season play, Leagues Cup rules state matches cannot end in a draw and in the team’s two shootout wins, Bueno drew on his MLS NEXT Pro experience, locking in two essential victories by converting penalty kicks against both DC United and New York Red Bulls.
Soon after establishing himself as a budding talent on the team in front of an expansive Leagues Cup audience, Bueno earned his first-ever call-up to the Venezuelan National Team, joining the federation first in the September FIFA international break and again the following month.
Another notable match for Bueno was the team’s 0-0 draw against rival LAFC, when he helped prevent last year’s champions from finding a single shot on goal. That game, he had six interceptions, four tackles, and 13 defensive recoveries through a full 90 minutes of play. Though neither team scored in the match, he helped spark the few chances the Union did find, maintaining 89.5% pass accuracy.
“It was a really nice year that has come with experiences like Leagues Cup and Concacaf [Champions League]. A lot of nice moments I lived through with my family,” Bueno said. “We are now ready for a good vacation and to come back refreshed next year to get the best out of ourselves.”
Bueno is among the lot of promising fresh talent in the Union’s arsenal, and after a restful offseason, he’ll look to continue cementing his spot on the field in the years to come. Until then, Bueno has plans to wind down in Venezuela alongside his family and his beloved pup, who he hopes to bring back with him to Philadelphia.
Bueno’s quotes have been translated from Spanish to English for this story.