Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Philadelphia Union season preview

By John McMullen
jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com

CHESTER, PA (The Phanatic Magazine) - Season seven of the legendary Dallas television program was so poorly received that the producers decided to reboot the entire series and call the ill-fated run a dream -- Pam Ewing's nightmare.

The 2012 MLS season may have been real but it felt like a nightmare for most Philadelphia Union fans and while the franchise can't call its ugly campaign a dream like those Dallas producers, it has admitted to a litany of mistakes.

The face of the franchise is back in Chester
The Union, of course, jettisoned unpopular team manager Peter Nowak just 11 games into last year's debacle and then rectified his biggest personnel mistake by reacquiring the face of the franchise, striker Sebastian Le Toux, in the offseason.

After the club's first postseason appearance in 2011 the popular Le Toux was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps by Nowak and the team's other All- Star, veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, was allowed to return to his native Columbia.

The result was a disaster and the Union got off to a dismal 2-7-2 start before Nowak was issued his walking papers in June. Well-liked assistant coach John Hackworth was elevated and provided much-needed stability, but Philadelphia still finished a disappointing 10-18-6.

The 43-year-old Hackworth spent his first offseason in charge making significant upgrades to the team, however.

Le Toux was brought back in a trade from Red Bull New York and while sequels are rarely as good as originals the one thing the Frenchman can do is finish, something that was a chore for the Union a year ago.

Philadelphia scored just 37 goals in 34 matches last season, but with Le Toux and veteran Conor Casey joining the ascending Jack McInerney up front, Hackworth should have much more firepower st his disposal this time around.

Le Toux is Philadelphia's all-time leading scorer, netting 25 markers and adding 20 assists for the Union during the franchise's first two seasons. Philly also added some much-needed size in front of goal by selecting Casey, the former Colorado Rapids star, in the second stage of the MLS re-entry draft. Casey was let go by Colorado after the 2012 season but is the Rapids all-time leading goal-scorer with 50, and helped lead Colorado to the 2010 MLS Cup.

The 20-year-old McInerney, meanwhile, led the Union with eight goals in 2012, including a franchise-record four-game goal-scoring streak. Former UCLA star Chandler Hoffman and a pair of high-energy diminutive options, the popular Roger Torres and Antoine Hoppenot are in reserve.

Defensively, Philadelphia will also sport a far different look as 2012 captain Carlos Valdes was loaned to Colombian side Santa Fe, but Valdes' loss figures to be offset by two solid central defenders, former MLS Defender of the Year finalist Bakary Soumare, along with Philadelphia native Jeff Parke, who was
acquired in a trade with the Seattle Sounders.

Homegrown right back Sheanon Williams, the franchise leader in both games and minutes played, is regarded as a rising star, while left back Gabriel Farfan is best-suited a midfielder but remains the club's best option. Second-year West Virginia product Ray Gaddis, a raw but speedy defender, offers depth.

In the midfield, Gabriel's twin brother, Michael Farfan, a 2012 MLS All-Star, is penciled in as the top playmaker while steady veteran Brian Carroll was named captain.

"It's an honor to officially wear the armband," Carroll said. "I'll just try to do the best job that I can, it's not going to mean that I am going to change completely who I am just because I am officially the captain."

The athletic Keon Daniel, Michael Lahoud, Danny Cruz and Amobi Okugo round out the midfield candidates. The versatile Okugo can also step back as a defender at least for short bursts.

One player who won't be an option at midfield is the highly-paid Freddy Adu, who has been written out of the club's plans. The talented Adu played in 24 matches last season, scoring five goals, but has struggled with conditioning and is on the trade block. His $500,000 dollar salary isn't helping matters and Adu is currently working out on his own.

The goalkeeper is third-year man Zac MacMath, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft out of Maryland. At 6-foot MacMath isn't as rangy as you would like and didn't have the presence of a Mondragon but he's plenty athletic and was well above average in his first season as a starter.

MacMath already has amassed a team record 13 career wins along with 11 shutouts and his leaderships skills and ability to direct traffic will only improve with more experience. His backups, Chris Konopka and Chase Harrison, are both pedestrian so MacMath needs to stay healthy.
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