In 2013, John Hackworth completed his first full season as Philadelphia Union head coach with the season ending in disappointing fashion missing out on the playoffs. Then the offseason came and Union fans adamantly wanted Hackworth sacked, but the Union front office thought otherwise and reassured his job security.
Sons of Ben and other Union fans wanted their team to be active in the MLS offseason. Well, the Union turned out to be one of the most productive and successful MLS teams through the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, trades and signings. Each and every one of these moves made sense and improved the Union as they prepare for their opening 2014 season match against the Portland Timbers on Mar. 8.
Not much will change on the offensive side of the ball this season. Jack McInerney and Connor Casey will be integral to the Union’s success at finding attempts and scoring goals. Most importantly, McInerney’s confidence needs to be high so his 2014 season start can emulate last year’s beginning. At the same time, McInerney’s play needs to remain consistent throughout 2014 or else Philadelphia will repeat a dismal second-half of the 2013 season.
In 2013, there was very little cohesiveness and unity within the midfield. However, the Union brought in three players in Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira in order to fix their Achilles heel. By bringing in Edu on a full season loan, midfielder Brian Carroll will no longer be forced out of position much. Instead, he can remain in a defensive midfield and be the Union’s first line of defense, while Edu focuses more on complementing the Union’s attack as well as dropping back on defense.
Secondly, Sebastien Le Toux‘s wing midfielder role is crucial to the Union’s success. Last year, he was forced to play inside often due to the inside midfielders’ inability to string together key passes and advance up the field. However, with the aforementioned additions of Maidana, Nogueira and Edu, Le Toux can remain in his more natural position out wide and focus on provided quality passes and crosses to the Union attack.
Defensively, the Union made some moves by acquiring CBs Ethan White and Austin Berry from DC United and Chicago Fire, respectively. In the White acquisition, Union CB Jeff Parke was traded to DC due to “personal reasons.” Additionally, the Union drafted Division III product Richie Marquez from University of Redlands. In preseason, he surprised the Union coaching staff and could possibly make the roster this week.
In the other center back spot, Amobi Okugo anchors the Union’s defense. Without Parke, Okugo and the second center back will need to develop chemistry as the season begins. Likewise, right back Sheanon Williams looks to improve on his successful 2013 campaign and be a force to be reckoned with on the back line as well as contribute on offensive set pieces.
Lastly, keeper Zac MacMath looks to build on his 12 shutouts in 2013. With the Union drafting GK Andre Blake No. 1 overall, the pressure is on MacMath to perform, but don’t expect him to lose the starting gig to Blake unless he starts the 2014 season poorly. Having Blake training under MacMath is not necessarily the worst news for the Union’s starting goalie as it could help push and inspire him to greater success knowing there is a solid backup sitting behind him. Overall, the Union’s success will partly sit in the hands of how MacMath plays this season.
Just as the Philadelphia Union improved in the offseason, so did most of the Eastern Conference. As a result, it will be more important than ever to not drop crucial points on the road and at home. Nonetheless, I predict that Union finish within the top five and secure a playoff spot. In doing so, Hackworth’s job is safe for another season. With added depth on the roster this season, the Union will be more competitive in US Open Cup action than ever before.
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