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:
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.