As the day draws near for the Philadelphia Union season opener, it’s time that we present the 2016 season preview.
What has to be noticed the most upon the Union’s return to the pitch for the 2016 MLS season is the number of new faces on the squad – and mainly in the midfield. After the Union parted ways with Cristian Maidana, Andrew Wenger, Fred Carreiro, Eric Bird, Jimmy McLaughlin, Zach Pfeffer, Mike Lahoud (Loan) and Danny Cruz in the off-season, most of the squad was a disgrace. The team still had Sebastien Le Toux and Tranquillo Barnetta in the center of the pitch but there were some major holes to fill. However, new Sporting Director Earnie Stewart had it covered.
In what may have come down to a stroke of luck, the Union struck gold this offseason by acquiring Leo Fernandes (who is returning from loan), Roland Alberg, Chris Pontius, Walter Restrepo, and Ilsinho. The biggest signings coming down to Alberg and Ilsinho. This is great news for the Philadelphia attack as they continuously missed out on plays in the center of the pitch.
Now if the Union go back to their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation (as they have done through the preseason), then you can expect Maurice Edu to move up to the defensive midfield position next to Vincent Nogueira. With Barnetta filling in right above them, there are two more midfielder roles to be filled. Former D.C United midfielder Pontius may be given the starting role while he is healthy and Ilsinho may be given the start as he is this offseason’s largest signing for the team.
That means Le Toux will most likely find his way onto the bench to start the season. Though he is a high caliber player, he will probably fill the role of a ‘super’ sub coming off the bench to score goals.
The defensive game also got some new faces via the MLS SuperDraft. Draftees Josh Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry, and Taylor Washington have already begun to pull their weight in the preseason. Joining them is Anderson Conceicao, and Ken Tribbett. As a young defense, there are bound to be some issues but they should sort themselves out as the season progresses. The Union still have defenders Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez, and Fabinho – but all positions could be up for contention.
The only addition to the attack was that of draftee Fabian Herbers and with only two strikers on the roster, things look as though C.J. Sapong will be the season starter. In the case of a depth issue, both Le Toux and Pontius could rotate into that position. However, with a weak attack many are expecting the Union to go after a big summer signing.
That leaves us with the goalkeepers. With the release of Zac MacMath, the Union brought in Matt Jones. Jones has already made a few appearances this preseason. With that said, coach Jim Curtin has already named Jamaican international Andre Blake as this year’s starter. Jones will most likely rotate in with John McCarthy.
All these squad changes set the Union up to be in the best shape in their history and everyone is holding very high expectations after last year’s failure to make playoffs. My overall predictions are that Union will make the playoffs solely off of the work in the midfield. The idea of a possible summer transfer striker upgrade also increases this chance. Until then, get ready to DOOP this Sunday when the Union take heat to Toyota Stadium to take on FC Dallas at 3pm.