2012 Philadelphia Union Preview

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  1. The Richuation

    The Richuation Walk On

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    Goalkeepers

    Depth Chart: 1. Zac MacMath, 2. Chase Harrison

    Strengths: MacMath is a rising American star that has all of the physical tools to be a starting goalkeeper in MLS for many, many years.

    Weaknesses: Between MacMath and 27-year-old journeyman Harrison, the Union don’t have much experience in net, which proved to be a problem for the club in 2010.

    Wildcard: The Union will likely sign a third-string goalkeeper soon, and former Red Bulls goalkeeper Chris Konopka – who has been on trial with the club in the preseason – appears to have the leg up in that department.

    READ: 2012 Philadelphia Union Preview

    Defense

    Depth Chart: RB: 1. Sheanon Williams, 2. Raymon Gaddis; CB: 1. Danny Califf – Carlos Valdés, 2. Chris Albright; LB: 1. Porfirio López, 2. Gabriel Farfan

    Strengths: The backline improved by leaps and bounds last season, and should get even better with Lopez joining the steady core of Califf, Valdés and Williams. Califf and Valdés are two of the team’s best players and will also be looked upon as team leaders – especially Califf, who will wear the armband this year.

    Weaknesses: Even with the signing of MLS stalwart Albright and draft pick Gaddis, the Union still don’t have many natural defenders on their roster, which could be an issue if someone gets hurt or if Williams gets called up to the Olympics.

    Wildcard: The Union were thrilled to snag Gaddis with their final pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, with assistant coach John Hackworth calling him one of the best collegiate right backs in the country before an injury took him off the radar. If healthy, Gaddis could emerge as a viable defensive option for Philly.

    SEE: Preseason Schedule and Results

    Midfield

    Depth Chart: LM: 1. Michael Farfan, 2. Gabriel Farfan, 3. Keon Daniel; CM: 1. Brian Carroll – Gabriel Gomez, 2. Amobi Okugo – Roger Torres, 3. Greg Jordan – Zach Pfeffer; RM: 1. Freddy Adu, 2. Krystian Witkowski, 3. Jimmy McLaughlin

    Strengths: This is certainly the Union’s deepest position – so deep that it’s hard to create an accurate depth chart. Nowak will certainly do some shuffling in the midfield, but expect steadiness in the middle from Carroll and Gomez, and creative playmaking from Adu, Torres and the Farfan twins.

    Weaknesses: The Union lost some speed and a true left midfielder when the Montreal Impact plucked Justin Mapp from them in the Expansion Draft. Looking to address that issue, they picked up speedy winger Nizar Khalfan but then dropped him during the preseason.

    Wildcard: Daniel was emerging as a semi-regular and productive starter in the midfield last year before visa issues derailed the last two months of his season. The skilled Trinidadian has returned to the club but, with a crowded midfield, may need to do so some work to get back into the rotation.

    READ: Philadelphia Union 2011 season statistics

    Forwards

    Depth Chart: 1. Lionard Pajoy, 2. Danny Mwanga, 3. Josué Martínez, 4. Jack McInerney, 5. Chandler Hoffman, 6. Antoine Hoppenot

    Strengths: Pajoy scored 13 goals in the Colombian first division last year, and Mwanga and McInerney have also shown a nose for the net during their first two seasons in MLS. Throw in Martínez (a rising young Costa Rican star) and Hoffman (who led the nation in scoring last year at UCLA), and the Union pack a powerful punch up top, even if the potential is largely untapped.

    Weaknesses: Besides the 30-year-old Pajoy, none of the other strikers on the roster are older than 21. While the team is proud to be building around their youth, having such little MLS experience around goal could also be a problem this season.

    Wildcard: It might be hard for him to get on the field at first but Hoffman is an intriguing rookie prospect. The coaches were shocked they were able to get him with the No. 13 overall pick, and Hoffman was surprised he fell that far, too. Perhaps the natural goal-scorer is ready to take it out on all the teams that passed on him.

    Setting the Scene
    After an inconsistent expansion season in 2010, the Philadelphia Union enjoyed an impressive turnaround last year, finishing with an 11-8-15 overall record and earning a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Union exited the postseason quickly with two straight losses to the Houston Dynamo but hope for a deeper run in 2012.

    2011 Philadelphia Union Goals



    Despite their steady improvement from Year One to Year Two, Union manager Peter Nowak did a lot of retooling in the offseason, bringing in 11 new players while parting ways with some key cogs from last year’s team, including goalkeeper and captain Faryd Mondragón – who was granted a release so he could finish his career in his native Colombia – and leading scorer Sébastien Le Toux, who was traded to Vancouver for allocation money.

    With those two out of town, a heavy burden will fall upon second-year 'keeper Zac MacMath, a young batch of strikers and the slew of international players signed in the offseason to keep the Union headed in the right direction in Year Three.

    BUY UNION TICKETS HERE

    In and Out
    IN: F Josué Martínez (12/7: transfer, Deportivo Saprissa); M Jimmy McLaughlin (12/12: Home Grown); M Gabriel Gómez (12/21: Indios/Mexico); D Porfirio López (12/22: Dalian Haichang/China); F Chandler Hoffman (1/12: SuperDraft); M Greg Jordan (1/12: SuperDraft); D Raymon Gaddis (1/12: SuperDraft); D Tom Brandt (1/17: supplemental draft); F Krystian Witkowski (1/17: supplemental draft); F Antoine Hoppenot (1/17: supplemental draft); M Brandon Zimmerman (1/17: supplemental draft); F Lionard Pajoy (2/8: Itagüí Ditaires); D Chris Albright (2/13: free); GK Chase Harrison (2/21: free)

    OUT: D Juan Diego González (11/23: waived); G Thorne Holder (11/23: waived); M Justin Mapp (11/23: expansion draft); G Chase Harrison (12/12: option declined); M Stefani Miglioranzi (12/12: option declined); F Levi Houapeu (1/17: option declined); M Morgan Langley (1/17: option declined); M/D Ryan Richter (1/17: option declined); D Joe Tait (1/17: option declined); F Veljko Paunovic (1/18: retired); G Faryd Mondragón (1/30: released); F Sébastien Le Toux (1/30: trade to Vancouver); M Kyle Nakazawa (2/1: trade to LA); M Nizar Khalfan (2/22: released)

    READ: 2012 Philadelphia Union Depth Chart



    Star Attraction: Freddy Adu
    It was a massive story in Philly when the ex-wonderkind returned to MLS in August to play for his first professional coach in Nowak after a rough few years overseas. But the first chapter of the Adu-Nowak reunion did not go quite as planned as the midfielder was slowed by an ankle injury and registered just two goals and one assist in 609 minutes for Philly. Now, with a healthier ankle and a full preseason to get readjusted to MLS, can Adu rekindle the magic that once made him the most hyped soccer prospect in the United States?

    READ: Filling Le Toux's shoes will be a team effort

    Unsung Hero: Brian Carroll
    Carroll’s middle name should be “unsung hero.” The defensive midfielder (pictured right) has led his team to the playoffs in all nine years he’s been in the league and yet has never been named an All-Star. Last year, teammate Danny Califf called him “one of the most underrated guys in the league,” but the Union certainly recognize his value linking the defense to the attack and understand that his addition was one of the main reasons for last season’s big-time turnaround. As one of only a handful of MLS veterans on the Union, Carroll’s leadership and steadying presence in the midfield was also vital last year – and will be once again in 2012.

    Ready for Primetime: Zac MacMath
    There are a number of young offensive players who could be poised for breakout years (Roger Torres and Jack McInerney immediately spring to mind) but none will have the spotlight on them as much as 20-year-old goalkeeper MacMath. Thrust into the starting role maybe a year earlier than the Union coaches would have liked because of Mondragón’s request to play in Colombia, MacMath will have a lot of weight on his shoulders in just his second year in the league. But the Union love the goalkeeper’s talent and maturity, and MacMath showed he’s certainly capable of big things when he went undefeated in seven starts while filling in for Mondragón last season.



    READ: Countdown to First Kick: MacMath gets his chance

    Storylines to Watch
    1. Who will score the goals? Over the past two seasons, Le Toux had 25 goals and 20 assists, which made him a part of nearly 60 percent of Philly’s scoring. With the Frenchman now in Vancouver, who if anyone will emerge as the team’s go-to offensive player? The Union certainly have a lot of options in Danny Mwanga, McInerney, Chandler Hoffman, Josué Martinez and Lionard Pajoy, and the Philly coaches appear to be high on all of them.

    2. Who will leave for the Olympics? It’s likely that the Union will lose at least three players during the Olympics as Adu, McInerney and midfielder Amobi Okugo were all invited to the most recent US U-23 camp. MacMath and defender Sheanon Williams are also possibilities to go to London, which would leave the Union pretty shorthanded for part of the season.

    READ: Philly's Williams rewarded for making most of chance

    What He Said
    “We have a bunch of young guys that we’re looking to get a lot out of this year. I think a lot of those guys are ready. This is going to be a big season for a lot of us.”

    – Union defender Sheanon Williams

    SEE: 2012 Season Preview Archive

    If Everything Goes Right
    It’s hard to get an accurate reading on the Union since a few of Philly’s key players have yet to play an MLS game. But if Gabriel Gómez, Martinez, Pajoy and Porfirio López can perform as well as the coaches think they can, the team’s youngest players continue to make big strides and the club’s veteran backline led by Califf and Carlos Valdés aids in MacMath’s development, a deep playoff run is certainly possible.
     

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