Season Preview: Philadelphia Union / by Andrew Olsen

The Philadelphia Union is a club that doesn't have much in the way of a history. That isn't a knock.  But what they have done is built off plenty of American Soccer history that surrounds Chester, PA. They've taken time to acknowledge the roots that were here in the country long before MLS and even NASL, embroidering the once famous American club Bethlehem Steel logo on both the back and inside of their third kit introduced last season. This is easily one of my favorite things about any third kit out there. Now with their roots going into the community, the club has targeted 2014 as the year they want to start establishing more of their own history. 2013 Finish: 46 points; Sixth place in Eastern Conference, Missed MLS playoffs

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Players In Players Out
GK Brian Holt Free Transfer GK Oka Nikolov Waived
GK Andrea Blake MLS SuperDraft M Greg Jordan Waived
D Ethan White Trade (DC) M Kléberson Waived
D Austin Berry Trade (Chicago) F Don Anding Waived
M Maurice Edu Loan (Stoke City) D Chris Albright retired
M Vincent Nogueira Free Transfer(Sochaux) M Michael Farfan Transfer (Cruz Azul)
M Cristian Maidana Free Transfer D Jeff Parke Trade (DC)
M Corben Bone Re-Entry Stage 1

Roster Churn: 82.19% returning minutes (7th most in MLS)

2014 Preview

phil-rosterPHIINFO

The Union are not a club short on questions. Are they too young? Can Maurice Edu and Austin Berry be enough to limit the WW-II-like gun fire shots that destroyed Zach MacMath's confidence and their play-off chances in 2013? Can Jack Mac finally score goals on a consistent basis? Oh, and can someone finally explain what the heck is #DOOP?

The club won only three of its last 12 games over the final three months, compiling a paltry total of 12 points over that period. I think it's kind of funny that the Union's answer to that would be to seemingly to kick their young goalkeeper in the balls.

Maybe that's not entirely fair to the front office, as picking up goalkeeper Andre Blake wasn't necessarily about improving right now, or even about MacMath's performance last season. Yet it seems, albeit a bit unfairly, that some of the blame of their collapse is attributed to him and how he performed.

Again, I'm not down with that narrative that MacMath had a direct hand in the club flailing about at the end. Surrendering 14 goals over a 12 game stretch and not winning is less about how one individual performed and more about the team as a whole. It's important to understand that goal totals over any specific time period isn't ever a true representation of talent, as it's impossible to say from that tally how many shots were attempted and the quality of them.

If the opposition only fired 14 shots over those 12 games and they were from outrageous locations, such as some where deep in the midfield, then we'd all be appalled with his lack of skill. This isn't the case with MacMath and the reality is that during that time the Zolos went five games without scoring, and their opponents went seven games without scoring.

While there was disappointment by the fan base, I feel that the front office tried to fix something that wasn't broken. Sure, they upgraded the defense, and adding Maurice Edu to the midfield is only going to further help and strengthen that back line. These were all general problems that weren't going to be real hampers when considering whether they had enough talent to get into the playoffs.

I've already mentioned the whole problem of dropping points due to the lack of goals, and the goal-scoring drought of Jack McInerney certainly did not help. Going from June to October without scoring goals was a deeply frustrating time for the striker, as he'd admitted in several interviews. Only 21 years old, he's already seen time with the USMNT being called up to the Gold Cup roster. Though remaining uncapped, it was a great opportunity for the young striker. Unfortunately, his return to Philly seems to coincide with the point where he completely "collapsed."

Now, people are still trying to identify whether or not goal-scoring ability is really about putting a ball where you want it versus the quantity/quality of the shots that are generated by the individual. I'm personally of the belief that there has to be an in between for those two possibilities. Though at the professional level the question of whether or not it matters, or if there exist significant finishing gaps between strikers, is an interesting discussion. McInerney is obviously one of these strange cases to consider. Bestowed as the 'American Chicharito' it's been said that he's always in the right place at the right time. This is basically the secret to Wondolowski's success, and it might highlight why he also went through his own scoring drought, but I think it also has something to do with the lack of support from the midfield creating chances.

The additions of both Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira suggests that this year's midfield will be an improved one for creating goal-scoring opportunities. While it's impossible to say how these new imports will fair in MLS, we've seen success from other attacking midfield Argentinians over the last couple of years, and it will be interesting to see if Maidana will follow in the foot steps of Morales and Valeri.

I see the club's final placement as high as 3rd and as low as 8th, though I've heard a couple of different individuals cite them as possible wooden spoon holders, considering the amount of hope they've invested in several positions and improvements. However, despite making major improvements with Austin Berry, Maidana, Nogueira and Edu, the club has a youthful core with a future.

I think the crowd sourcing group got this one right. They've got a bit of helium but things don't go as planned for any team in MLS ever. There will be problems, and while I'm not sure they will be able to handle all of them, I think they've improved enough to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference. It's going to be tight and it's going to be difficult, but I can see it; and if you can see it, you can build it.

Crowd Sourcing Placement

5th place in Eastern Conference; 53 of the 404 5th-place votes (13.1%), but 250 of 404 (61.9%) don't think Philadelphia will make the playoffs.