Philly Sports Live

PSL Five: Philadelphia Union 2013


This week brings a double shot of the PSL Five, a new  feature where we will look at the five most pressing questions facing a particular league, team or athlete.  Saturday, the Philadelphia Union will open the 2013 MLS season against Sporting Kansas City.  In just three years, the scrappy boys from the banks of the Delaware and their loyal supporters seem to have experienced everything MLS has to offer: a rocky expansion year, an overachieving sophomore season with a surprising playoff berth, the madness of King Piotr and an almost-redemptive run to the semi-finals of the US Open Cup.  Now with a full off season under new head coach John Hackworth, the Union are poised for…something.  Our five questions:


Wait, what just happened?

There’s been alot of turnover this off season, hopefully for the better.  Gone are the last vestiges of the Nowak regime, with the team noticeably younger and more American than last year.  Downingtown native Jeff Parke is here, taking over a centerback slot from the departed Carlos Valdes.  Former Colorado Rapid Conor Casey is here, giving the Union their first true target forward in franchise history.  Sebastien Le Toux is back, though whether its the Le Toux who lit up the scoreboard for the Union’s first two seasons, or the journeyman who couldn’t latch on with Vancouver or NY, we have yet to see.  Carlos Valdes is gone, and Brian Carroll has the armband.  Oh, and they’re wearing new black kits.


What’s the shape?  

The biggest question coming out of the Union’s preseason has to be the formation they’ll be looking to play.  Under Hackworth last season they were deployed in a nominal 4-3-3 that played like a 4-5-1.  That shift may have been intentional, or it simply may have been that the Union lacked complementary strikers to play alongside Jack McInerney, who did yeoman’s work out of position as an undersized center forward.  Now that the boys in blue have the makings of a legitimate three man front line, with Le Toux and McInerney running off of Casey, the Union of course spent the whole off season playing in a 4-4-2 Diamond.


Where does Amobi fit?  

Amobi Okugo had perhaps the biggest breakout under John Hackworth last year.  Replacing Danny Califf at centerback, he was defensively competent, and a revelation going forward, building play out of the back with calm confidence on the ball and sharp passing.  This season, with more than half a million dollars worth of cap space occupied by two centerbacks, Jeff Park & Bakary Soumare, Okugo will likely be moved back into the midfield.  Holding mid, however, is occupied by newly minted Union captain Brain Carroll.  For Okugo to start, the Union will have to play two holding mids, in a triangle with either Michael Farfan or Roger Torres, or Okugo will have to move out to the wing, a bit like Michael Bradley at Roma.  Okugo has earned a starting spot on the team, but finding the right place for him to maximize his impact could be the decisive challenge of John Hackworth’s first full season.


Who has the keys?

With Freddy Adu out of the picture, if not quite off the team, the question becomes, who will run the offense?  Roger Torres was brought onto the team back in 2010 with the hopes he could grow into the role.  His vision and passing are unequaled on the team, if his judgement doesn’t always match them.  After a 2012 season lost to injury, he has reportedly impressed in camp with his conditioning and workrate, and was rewarded with the number 10 shirt.  That said he’s still ridiculously small to play in the middle of the field in a physical league like MLS.  Michael Farfan is coming off an up and down season where he received an allstar selection and seemed on the verge of greatness, but often let his temper get the better of him.  The ideal situation would be for Torres to take over the middle of the field, with Farfan on the outside, where he could use his speed and crossing ability in addition to his creativity.


Have you run out of “much Adu about nothing” jokes?

No.  Never.  The elephant in the room even before last season ended still hasn’t left, and his half million dollar salary cap hit reportedly hamstrung the Union during the off season   The sooner Freddy Adu can be shipped off, the better, but its likely he may sit out the rest of his contract before leaving for pastures new.

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