Julián Carranza knows where the net is. He’s found it many times before. Four times in five MLS matches this season after last week’s goal at Nashville SC, to go with the four goals he scored in three Concacaf Champions Cup appearances for the Philadelphia Union.

He doesn’t need to look, leaning on his instincts, the repetition of scoring goal after goal in training and his education in Argentina.

“I had Hernán Crespo as a manager, who people will know was a great forward, a great 9,” Carranza told MLSsoccer.com this month. “He always told me, ‘When the ball gets to you, you don’t even need to look at the goal. You already know where it has to be. That’s what the great scorers do.’

“I really remember Hernán's advice, and it stayed with me.”

Overseas interest

Those words and years of work have helped Carranza to a strong start this year after 14-goal regular seasons in both 2022 and 2023.

It hasn’t been a career without challenges, though. There were times he couldn’t find the back of the net, and even harder times when he felt very alone and very far from home. Now, he’s adapted, and while the 23-year-old is unlikely to live in Philadelphia forever, he’s working to make the most of every moment with the Union.

Life in Philadelphia, he says, is calm. He trains, hits the gym, and occasionally tries a new restaurant. Mostly, he spends time on the field, getting better and enjoying time with his teammates.

“The majority of us understand each other really well, which makes me feel comfortable, and you see that on the field,” he said. “I feel very comfortable, very happy here and we’re preparing for what’s coming in the future.”

Julian Carranza - PHI - celebrates goal

Yet, it hardly was a guarantee Carranza would be back in Pennsylvania, starting the season with a hat trick in Concacaf Champions Cup play against Saprissa and coming into Sunday's match at Atlanta United on a three-match scoring streak (2:30 pm ET | Apple TV - Free, FOX).

In the summer of 2023, European teams like Germany's Werder Bremen and Greece's Olympiacos were linked with a move to acquire Carranza. Even after his 2024 contract option was exercised this winter, there was speculation he might be sold before returning to Subaru Park. Carranza remains scoring for the Union, but questions are asked each time a transfer window opens.

“Honestly, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen, what’s not going to happen and at the end of the day you have to be relaxed,” Carranza said. “I keep doing things as well as possible, and we’re going to decide with my family what’s the best thing for my future, the best option. To stay, to go.

"It all depends on what comes up, the offers there might be and if it’s something good, I hope to be able to come to an agreement. And if not, in December when I’m a free agent, I could go. It all depends, of course, on my performances and the offers that come in."

Julian Carranza - PHI

Made in Oncativo

Carranza does feel ready to move across the Atlantic and be in a pressure-packed atmosphere like the one he experienced in Buenos Aires when he played for Banfield. There, he said, people would stop him in the street after a win to congratulate him. After a loss, there were still words but rarely were they complimentary or repeatable in polite company.

Fans’ demands weren’t the toughest parts of Buenos Aires, though. While Argentina’s capital is the sun around which the country’s soccer solar system revolves, Carranza is a proud native of Oncativo, in the province of Córdoba.

When he was 14, he was offered a trial at Banfield and, after succeeding, moved into the club’s residential program for young players from outside Buenos Aires just a week after the trial.

“In two weeks, my life totally changed,” he said. “I remember the first two months in Banfield were tough at the academy. It was new to me, and I didn’t know many people.

“I really missed my family because I was used to being with them every day. I missed my mom, my siblings, my grandma, my friends.”

The barely teenaged Carranza considered heading back to Córdoba, where he knew asados with his pals, chats with his grandma and Sundays spent with the whole family would be waiting. Instead, he decided to push ahead and totally dedicate himself to becoming a professional player, a mental switch he felt he had to flip in order to truly be focused on the soccer education he was receiving.

Working with Crespo at Banfield, he scored 11 goals in his first three seasons and was on the radar of many teams from outside Argentina.

He moved to Inter Miami CF, joining Matías Pellegrini as one of the first signings ever for the then-expansion club. Now an older man, Carranza transitioned better to Miami off the field than he had when he was homesick in Buenos Aires. On the field, though, he could never get going. There were a few disagreements with manager Diego Alonso, and then Gonzalo Higuaín arrived.

“Obviously Gonzalo is a high-quality player,” Carranza said. And one no manager would bench to give Carranza a shot.

Julian Carranza - PHI

"They gave me confidence"

When he told sporting director Chris Henderson and then-manager Phil Neville he wanted consistent minutes and a chance at a starting role ahead of the 2022 season, they were open to finding a loan that worked. That proved to be in Philadelphia, where manager Jim Curtin put Carranza in the starting lineup and has rarely looked back.

“Phil and Chris allowed me to go, which was a good option because everything got better after. I’m really grateful to Jim and the people who chose to bring me here and give me the chance to be able to show I can play and get minutes,” Carranza said. “From the first season, the first matches, they gave me confidence and I think I repay that with effort, goals and assists.

“It’s going well for me here, and it was just about giving me the chance to show on the field that I’m at a good level.”

Carranza was a Gareth Bale miracle goal away from celebrating an MLS Cup title in 2022, and after 14 goals in the regular season and another in the playoffs, the Union moved to make the loan deal a long-term one. Last season saw a shorter playoff run, but Carranza helped the Union to the final four of the Concacaf Champions League and Leagues Cup.

With Carranza again on pace for a double-digit goal tally and the Union fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, it’s understandable there's again talk about whether or not he'll join the long line of MLS alumni now playing in Europe’s top leagues.

For now, Philadelphia fans are basking in every goal he scores or helps create.

Julian Carranza - PHI