MLS Training Camp Preview: Philadelphia Union

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By AVI CREDITOR

The training wheels have been taken off, and the Philadelphia Union is ready to ride with the big boys.

After an inaugural season that ended well short of a postseason berth, the Union has made a number of personnel moves to shore up what was a shaky defense in 2010 while providing support for its budding attackers as well.

Only the New England Revolution yielded more goals than the Union did in 2010, which is why the club went ahead and secured the services of veteran keeper Faryd Mondragon from FC Cologne, among its other transactions. In order to create some cohesiveness between all its new parts, the Union has headed to Orlando for a couple of weeks for team building and a few scrimmages.

Here's a closer look at the Union's preseason plans:

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Training Schedule: Feb. 8-20 in Orlando; The rest TBD.

Preseason Game Schedule: Played United States U-17 team to 1-1 draw on Feb. 6 in Orlando; Feb. 10 vs. University of South Florida in Orlando; Feb. 13 vs. University of Central Florida in Orlando; Feb. 19 vs. Orlando City SC in Orlando.

Key Arrivals: GK – Faryd Mondragon, Zac MacMath; D – Carlos Valdes; MF – Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Zach Pfeffer; F – Levi Houapeu.

Key Departures: GK – Chris Seitz, Brad Knighton; D – Toni Stahl, Cristian Arrieta; MF – Shea Salinas, Fred; F – Alejandro Moreno.

What to Watch For: Mondragon's presence in goal and influence on the defense has the ability to be a real difference-maker for the Union. Between the play of Seitz and Knighton, the lack of continuity at the position and visible lack of organization in the back, the Union shot itself in the foot repeatedly in games last year. Mondragon and Valdes, a Colombian centerback, should immediately be able to come in and rectify those problems.

While the team's first draft pick, MacMath, knows his role is a backup from the start, the team's other selections, Farfan and Houapeu, will be fighting to show Peter Nowak that they belong with the first team. Both can be sparkplugs on offense, and with the team relying a bit too much on Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux a year ago, Farfan and Houapeu could really help themselves with a strong preseason showing.

Another offensive player to keep an eye on is Roger Torres, who showed flashes of being a truly special talent at times. A left-sided midfielder with flair and pace, Torres' progression in his second year with the Union is a key for the team's attack.

Of Note: Pfeffer, 16, is the club's first homegrown player…The team has yet to finalize its preseason plans after departing Orlando…Juan Diego Gonzalez and Sheanon Williams, two defenders who helped stabilize the Union's back line after being acquired during the 2010 season, will have the luxury of being with the club from the start heading into 2011.

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23 Responses to MLS Training Camp Preview: Philadelphia Union

  1. jukeboxhero says:

    I see the key to this year being: will the sophomores step up? The unusually large number of sophomore professionals playing significant roles on this team are: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerny, Amobi Okugo, Sheanan Williams, Kyle Nakazawa, and (for all intents and purposes) Roger Torres.

    You know what you’re getting from:

    Le Toux – all out effort, goals and assists;

    Carrol/Miglioranzi – reliable DM professionals;

    Mondragon – uber experienced, comparable to Keller;

    Califf – bad mistakes and penalties conceded.

    The defense has to be better. The new Columbians should help, and a break-out season from Sheanan Williams at right back is quite possible.

    But really, it is about Nowak’s ability to get the young guys to take the next step. There is lots of talent in the squad, particularly in attack. Competition for spots will be healthy. If the team makes the playoffs, then some combo of 3-5 of the sophomores I mentioned above will have stepped up to the plate and turned promising potential into results.

    And get a DP or two already!!

  2. Josh D says:

    ColOmbians with an “o”! : )

    But I agree, they’ll make the difference this season. It’ll be interesting to see if Mondragon speaks English – if he can’t, you’ll still see consistent problems in the back due to a lack of communication. At least they’ll be an exciting team one way or the other!!

  3. Phil says:

    Nowark made a few key moves over the summer with the strategy is clearly to build upon last years momentum, but there isn’t a ton of depth. Two scenrios really jump out at me: Mondragon is a HUGE acquisition, almost of DP stature IMH, but it also means we’re one injured keeper away from being in BIG trouble. Also, if LeToux has a dip in form or gets hurt there isn’t a clear replacement. That said, this startiung XI could make some noise:

    ———Mwanga———-
    Nakazawa—LeToux—-Okugo
    —–Carroll—–Mapp——-
    Harvey–Califf–Valdes–Williams
    ———Mondragon———

    subs: Torres, McInerney,

  4. Colin says:

    Mondy does speak fluent English you can see it in the interview when he was introduced on the Union website so that shouldn’t be a problem. You are right though they will certainly be exciting to watch (at times nerve-wracking)!

  5. RLW2020 says:

    looks like a strong team.. a lot of young key players..speaking of which what happened to Toni Stahl. did he get burnt in that first game and never come back?

  6. Colin says:

    I think you got Okugo and Mapp mixed up there. Okugo is defensive (even CB sometimes on the US youth teams) and Mapp is more of an outside-mid winger type.

  7. Colin says:

    Actually thats exactly what happened. A few bone-head plays the first game and he was relegated to the bench. He was released a month or so ago.

  8. EJ says:

    I actually think we look pretty deep at midfield and defense. In the midfield we have Carroll, Migs, Jacobson, Coudet, Nakazawa, Torres, Mapp, Okugo and Farfan who should all contribute to the team in some capacity. And Harvey and Gonzalez should be some nice depth for the defense. But there’s still a lot of pressure on Le Toux and Mwanga up front. Hopefully we get to see some more of Jack Mac this season.

  9. patrick says:

    what a silly, silly comment abotu speaking english. There are language barriers on virtually EVERY soccer team. You learn the phrases that are important during a game, and work on the rest when he’s got time.

  10. JoeW says:

    I know there’s a lot of optimism about Philly’s attack but I don’t see it. Le Toux may have a repeat year. But I feel that he may be the equivalent of Darren Huckerby who had a blazing, mind-blowing season that had some people arguing it was the best individual performance of the year…and San Jose assumed they’d get a repeat performance. Maybe Le Toux has established a new “norm” for him. Or maybe he’s just a fine player who works like crazy, sets a superb example and last year was his career year. To argue that rookies (like Farfan) are going to be big difference makers on offense is a bit of a stretch. It’s not that Farfan and Houapeu are bad players, it’s just a bit of a stretch to argue that they can come into a side that struggled offensively at times and provide a big difference most of the season.

    I have always been a tremendous supporter of Piotr Nowak. I think he does a tremendous job producing teams that play with heart and (given the talent) style. But when you look at how many expansion picks from last year aren’t on the team this year OR aren’t being counted on to contribute and how many deals didn’t work out, it has to make you leery about assuming the next crop of players coming in are being evaluated accurately.

  11. Ballz Berrodino says:

    We are not deep in Defense. Mondragon will be nice for stability but centrally there’s a big question mark with the skipper Califf. He was awful last year for the most part so that makes me nervous. Who knows about Valdes. Hopefully he will be strong and Williams may just have a good year but we don’t know yet. Harvey is adequate at best. Other than that, you can’t say much so I don’t know what your basis is for this “depth.”

    -By the way, can we name our team “Colombidelphia.” Loads of Colombians that will contribute.

  12. Doug says:

    Okugo and Mapp would definitely be switched

  13. scott723 says:

    I agree with JoeW: the key is whether LeToux’s last year will become the norm for him, or whether it was a bit of a fluke and he won’t be able to repeat it. If LeToux can’t repeat his breakout performance, the Union will continue to struggle. Otherwise I think they’ve helped themselves in the back and should/could be contenders in the East.

  14. Phil says:

    you’re right… my bad!

  15. Phil says:

    well it’s not like he was invisible the year prior at seattle, but I do agree that we’re betting a lot on one horse with LeToux.

  16. dan c says:

    I dont understand the love affair with williams. i thought he was out of position alot last year and had poor distribution. I think the defense was better mostly because orozco was moved to the center and could help defend against the counter with his quickness (califf runs like he has rocks in his pockets). If valdez and califf start in the middle then orozco will either replace harvey or williams. Also, I don’t think they have alot of depth at midfield at all. Only one assist from a cm ALL year. Tons of bodies, but not a ton of quality. Also, when was Arrieta let go?

  17. dan c says:

    just saw on the union homepage that he was waived today…..

  18. tielor2d says:

    Mapp is not a defensive mid … Okugo is not a winger

  19. Gary says:

    Williams is for real. Will be pushing for an invite to gold cup camp. Mark it down.

  20. D says:

    People act like Le Toux is the cornerstone of this team. I liken Le Toux’s year last year to Micheal Vick’s. Maybe he has just found the right coach and system and put it together. Either way, Mwanga is more important than Le Toux. And there’s nothing to say that he won’t be better than he was last year, or any of our young players for that matter. Like the Eagles, the Union is built for the future, but if Le Toux can come close to repeating and Mondragon be what we expect, we may not have to wait as long. Either way, we still have young squad with excellent potential and I’m excited. (PS Okugo will take over for Califf by the start of next season).

  21. Chris says:

    we also have to remember williams is only 20 years old (21 next month) and has shown a lot of potential as i and many others think. he came out of nowhere halfway through the season and played great. if he keeps up his progression of improvement, i could see him earning a spot on the USMNT within a few years.

  22. AD22 says:

    A DP (or two) isn’t necessarily a difference-maker. Sometimes he could end up being an exorbitantly paid body taking up valuable roster space.

    I’m liking the acquisitions brought in to-date. A backline of Orozco-Fiscal/Valdes/Califf/Williams should not be taken lightly. Carroll/Miglioranzi as DMs, Mapp/Le Toux on the wings being able to swap on the fly (with Seba still having free-reign on the field). Where we’re lacking is up front; I feel like we need that big-body, hold-up striker who can play with his back to goal and occupy the attention of multiple defenders allowing Mwanga/McInerney/Houapeu to make their runs to goal.

  23. Paul says:

    The Union are built for the future, assuming that the key players want to stay in MLS. A huge season for Mwanga may result in him seeking a European transfer. He had to be convinced to join the draft last year and only has a 2 year contract (with 2 additional mutual option years.) That being said, either this team wins now or they need to pursue other viable scoring options for long-term success.