SBI MLS Season Preview: Philadelphia Union

By THOMAS FLOYD

Very few things went right for the Philadelphia Union in 2012. Star Sebastien Le Toux was dealt under odd circumstances. Coach Peter Nowak’s tenure came to a messy end. Goals were few and far between. And a playoff team plummeted to near the conference cellar.

So when it came to getting the franchise back on track, reacquiring Le Toux — whose season didn’t exactly go according to plan either — was a natural first step. Add veteran Conor Casey as a true target forward to last year’s emergence of Jack McInerney, and it seems like a safe bet that the Union will improve upon the team’s woeful 37-goal haul.

“We’ve improved dramatically our attack,” coach John Hackworth said. “We have different roles and players that can play different styles now, and I think that’s going to be really important over the course of a long season where you need to have some versatility. You need to be more than a one-trick pony in order to be successful in this league.”

Here is a closer look at the Philadelphia Union ahead of the 2013 MLS season:

PHILADELPHIA UNION SEASON PREVIEW

2012 FINISH: 10-18-6, 36 points (eighth in Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: M/F Sebastien Le Toux, F Conor Casey, D Jeff Parke, F Aaron Wheeler

KEY LOSSES: D Carlos Valdes, M/F Freddy Adu, M Gabriel Gomez, F Josue Martinez, M Zach Pfeffer, D Porfirio Lopez

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Sebastien Le Toux. After compiling an astounding 25 goals and 20 assists in two season with Philadelphia, the Frenchman totaled just five goals and two assists while splitting the 2012 campaign with Vancouver and New York. If a return to comfort and stability gets Le Toux going again, the Union are a much more dangerous club.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: Michael Farfan. The likes of Le Toux, Casey and McInerney won’t be too productive without service, and that is where Farfan comes in, possibly playing at the top of a 4-3-3 midfield triangle.  Said Hackworth: “I don’t want to put too much pressure on Michael, but our expectations are that he is going to get better and better. If he does that, he’s probably one of the unsung heroes in the league in terms of being a very attacking-minded midfielder.”

OUTLOOK:

Based off preseason, the expectation within the Union locker room is that Le Toux will fit right back in. In midfielder Brian Carroll’s words, “It seems like it wasn’t that long. He’s the same old energetic, fun personality to be around, and it’s great to have him back in the squad to help us out this year.”

Perhaps flying under the radar amid the additions of Le Toux and Casey is centerback Jeff Parke, a U.S. national team pool player with more than 200 MLS matches on his resume. Acquired in a trade with the Seattle Sounders, Parke gives the Union a reliable presence to replace loaned-out All-Star Carlos Valdes. And he’s a native of the Philly area, to boot.

“We wouldn’t have done [the loan] if we didn’t have Jeff lined up,” Hackworth said. “We will definitely miss Carlos, but having Jeff already in the short amount of time he’s been here has been fantastic. He’s a good pro, he gets what this franchise means to this city, he understands the fans here. So his experience, his leadership and his local knowledge, just knowing the culture, has already rubbed off on most of the guys.”

While defender Bakary Soumare and midfielder Michael Lahoud were with Philadelphia last season, both players just spent their first full preseason with the club and could be poised for more meaningful contributions this year.

But if the Union are going to find success in 2013, the continued development of the club’s youthful nucleus will be key. With Freddy Adu not in the organization’s plans, even more responsibility for Philadelphia’s future falls on goalkeeper Zac MacMath (21 years old), fullback Sheanon Williams (22), defender-midfielder Amobi Okugo (21), Farfan (24) and McInerney (20).

Even though these players all are entering their third or fourth year in the league, that still is a lot of raw talent being relied on for major roles.

“There’s no telling how far they can come,” Carroll said. “We still need to come together as a team and have that hardworking togetherness mentality. And hopefully that can find that core young group of players’ talent really coming to fruition and continuing to grow.”

To Hackworth, tempering expectations for those players is key. He fully thinks his team can compete for a postseason bid, but increased consistency will be necessary. Whether the youthful Union at this point are capable of performing game in, game out, remains unknown.

“A lot of people want that kind of development to happen overnight; there’s a recipe for it, a shortcut.” Hackworth said. “And there is no shortcut to development. It’s experience. It’s motivation and dedication. We’re still a young club in that regard.”

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14 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: Philadelphia Union

  1. Josh D says:

    Has Adu left yet? If they can’t get rid of him soon, they may have to deal with him playing another half season.

    Torres is another one I’m keeping an eye on this season. He deserves more playing time.

  2. Jon Roberts says:

    Yeah…. where is Adu? Simple teamless?

    • PD says:

      my understanding is that Adu is still under contract w/ Philly, but they have no intention of playing him.

      • KMac says:

        Adu has been rumor mill linked with Mexico or S Korea…I don’t believe it. Hackworth made it clear Adu is not in his plans. He did not train in pre-season at Deltona. Others’ comments paint the “between a rock and hard place” the Union is in with Adu, his large annual salary and larger contract buyout number, and the lack of suitors that are acceptable to MLS, Freddy, and his agent. It will be interesting to see which party will cave first in this battle of wills/egos/economics.

        • Josh D says:

          It’s amateurish on the Union’s side. They paid for Freddy knowing full well the type of player he is. Now they are willing to spend a million dollars for a player they will purposefully not play, just to prove a point. It’s petty.

          I’m 100% for Adu. Why should he get the short end? He did what was asked of him last season. And OK he’s not the next Pele, but the Union still could use his offensive threat.

          • KMac says:

            Josh, you make some fair points. I am not sure the Union that brought Adu in (Nowak) is the same Union he is dealing with since last summer. Hackworth made it clear M Farfan had “the keys” to the middle of the park – that did not please Adu. I am not sure the Union are trying to make a point as much as to find a home for Adu. I have heard that he has turned down some offers.

            For the record I was cheering for Freddy at every home game (season tix holder) to succeed last year. For me though it is hard to argue that he delivered much (on the pitch, or worse in the locker room) to justify his ~$500k per year salary.
            I personally think there is a bit of arrogance on both sides of this deal, and that like most negotiations, with the clock ticking down, the game of chicken will get more intense. Can the Union afford to get nothing on the field for his huge salary? No, but as others have pointed out, buying him out is even more expensive >$1.3mm. Can Adu afford to sit on the sidelines for a year with no playing time? He really needs to find a club where he fits. So far, he has moved so many times in the last few years I am afraid those who can afford him may not be willing to take the risk to spend that money on him because of his track record, despite being a skilled player.
            For me, a loan makes sense, with the Union eating some of the salary. The question is which club?
            Tick, tock, tick, tock!

          • Frank says:

            I read this kind of thing a lot, people being “for Adu” and I’m not sure what it means. In my opinion, he did not play well last season and acted like a child when he didn’t get his way to the point of being benched for last couple games.

            But all of that is subjective; the objective fact is that there are enough problems between him and the team that they are not going to have him play. He is under contract and the team will pay him for as long as he wants to stay, but he knows he won’t be playing. I don’t get why he would want to stay; it isn’t like he wont be able to find another team that is interested in paying him and playing him

            • Esteban de la Sexface says:

              @KMac and @Frank – you’ve pretty much said all there is to say about the Adu situation. Well done and can we just refer everyone on the internet to your posts and stop talking about Adu?

  3. PD says:

    this is what I’d like to see….

    ———–Jack—Seba————–
    ——-Marfan——–Torres———-
    ———-Carroll–Okugo————-
    Williams–Parke–Soumare–Gaddis
    —————-Zach——————-

    • OM says:

      that would be nice but you wont see that this is what we’ll see on saturday

      ————jack———-
      seba– marfan—-cruz
      —–carroll–okugo—–
      garfan–parke–soumare–williams

      Hack loves cruz for some reason and i think he is lock to start.

      • Esteban de la Sexface says:

        I think OM has it basically correct though it’s worth noting the formation will allow for much flexibility. Keep an eye on how Le Toux and Cruz press the KC backs – that should shed a lot of light on how the Union will approach the game.

        Cruz is a hard-worker, will get back defensively and Hackworth trusts him. I’d prefer to have Casey in the middle and McInerney on the right, but I’m guessing that Hackworth doesn’t think McInerney will defend well enough.

        Depending on how the game goes, I see the subs as Lahoud on for Carroll of Okugo, Daniel on for Cruz and Le Toux goes to right and/or Torres into the middle for someone (depending on score).

    • Jason says:

      I like that lineup a lot. I’m a fan of Carroll, but Okugo makes him redundant now. If Carroll weren’t also captain, I’d probably swap him out for Keon on the left and play with Amobi as the lone holder. I’m also fine with Garfan at LB so Sheanon can stay on the right.