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2011 Union roundtable, part 2

We continue with our roundtable discussion of the Union at the start of the 2011 season. You can read part 1 here.  The PSP’s Dan Walsh emerges from the cave he’s been living in for two months to join the guys for part 2.

Who is the young player most capable of having a break-out year?

Ed: I’m hoping McInerney is primed to take his second half substitution havoc-wreaking role to the next level. The local in me wants Richter to explode on the scene—everything I hear about him is good—and I love Pfeffer. I just hope the Union are careful with his development. Too many young signings in MLS have had too much expectation put on them too soon.

Adam: Zac MacMath. Boom. If this choice doesn’t get me an exclusive with Nowak, nothing will. Kidding, but I think that it isn’t far-fetched to think that MacMath contributes to the team this year. Thorne Holder wasn’t brought in to be the number two, so the job should go to Big Mac (if that nickname catches on, we have to get the kid in sesame seed gloves). Look, if Seitz can be that bad, MacMath can be that good.

Is 2011 Amobi Okugo's breakout year? (Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

Eli: Obvious choice here from me. Amobi Okugo. With the addition of Brian Carroll as a talented veteran midfield general, Okugo’s young legs are the perfect compliment. Stefani Miglioranzi has served the Union well and continues to have a part to play coming off the bench to calm a tense match or kill off a victory, but Okugo needs minutes because of the amount of ground he covers and his ability to push the ball up the field.

Mike: You guys want to bet me some beers on this? It’s going to be Sheanon Williams. He came in and confidently took over the right back position last year and he’ll have a full season to prove himself this year. He’s an outside back for 2011, a former offensive player who can bomb out of the back and join in the attack. With more time to train at the MLS level, I expect to see him contributing assists from deep crosses as well as creating his own shooting chances combining through the midfield.

Dan: I’ll break the tie here and go with Williams. His presence changed the Union on the attack last season, and he’s the best guarantee that the Union won’t play a three-man back line. The question is whether the converted attacker has learned to play defense yet.

Will there be another David Myrie or Shavar Thomas this year?

Ed: God, I hope not. I’ve never understood how Thomas gets tossed aside and ends up starting for Kansas City.

Adam: Yes, but he isn’t on the team yet. Nowak said more signings to come and you have to expect one of them will be subpar, signing-deadline defensive cover.

Eli: I fear for Ryan Richter. Less as a Myrie/Thomas, but as more of a Toni Stahl. The very real prospect is that Richter’s first professional action could occur while playing a foreign position and that can cause all sorts of trouble for any rookie and if/ when he’s thrust into action, any stumble could drastically affect his longevity with the Union.

Mike: I’m not ruling it out but I hope not. With so much room left on the roster and with the reserve league back this year, it’s important to keep the squad at a decent size and all of the guys playing.

Dan: Yes, definitely. I think Nowak liked doing that. Myrie was a statement. So was Thomas.

Carroll, Miglioranzi, Nakazawa, Okugo, Pfeffer, Richter: Where will all these center midfielders play?

Will Kyle Nakazawa move to the fore? (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Ed: Most of them will probably be playing in the reserve league, don’t you think? Based on the number of times his photo has shown up on the Union Facebook page, which, again, is a terrible thing to go on, it seems like Nakazawa is being primed for the attacking midfielder role with Carroll as the holding midfielder.

Adam: Richter will play anywhere they tell him. Pfeffer will play in the reserves and maybe a few minutes in the Open Cup. Hopefully Farfan will get some minutes. He has game-breaking ability if his confidence isn’t shot by not knowing where he stands. I look for Nak, Migs, Carroll and Okugo to get most of the minutes down the pipe.

Mike: I’m not counting on seeing much of Farfan and Richter this season. A year practicing with the team and playing reserve league games should put them on pace to be major contributors down the road. I’m thinking we might see Migs and Carroll a lot to start the year, but I’m really hoping to see Okugo push for more of a starting role. Nakazawa seems to be a guy the Union like but he wasn’t impressive outside of his dead ball skills last season. I even think Roger Torres works best at the top of the central midfield rather than deployed outside, but I’m not counting on seeing much of that either.

Eli: I still see Nowak putting out two holding midfielders, one of whom is definitely Carroll. We all know my thoughts on the second slot, but time will tell on that. If it is really a 4-4-2 like we’re hearing then that’s it, assuming Le Toux drops into the right-sided midfield role, with Justin Mapp operating wide on the left. With Mapp’s complete lack of speed however, I’d prefer to see him sacrificed in the name of an attacking midfielder in the center of the park, in that event Nakazawa and Torres split the minutes.

Dan: In another city, in some cases. Not at all, in others, save for the reserve league. Considering how much playing time J.T. Noone got, don’t expect any special treatment for Richter just because he’s local. Pfeffer should be spending his first year in the reserve league. Migs will go in a trade if the Union get a good offer.

Michael Farfan seems a good candidate to see some time quickly. (Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

Will any of the players selected in the draft see significant playing time?

Ed: I think we can all agree that we hope MacMath doesn’t see significant time—yet. If he does, that will mean that either Mondragon is hurt or he’s a bust. Argorsor seems like a good candidate to see some of the kind of time McInerney was getting in 2010.

Adam: I hope to see Farfan. I think he’s different than any other player on the squad in his ability to attack from wide positions and cross with both feet.

Eli: I still think McInerney will be getting the same kind of minutes he saw last year. Ruiz obviously jumped above him in the depth chart and McInerney is still a young, young man. Unfortunately, I’m expecting to see plenty of Farfan and Ryan Richter playing outside fullback, it’s just an inevitability. However, if a player with Farfan’s speed and ability can become a viable defensive option, particularly on the left, look out, he may find himself permanently converted to fullback in the professional game.

Mike: Maybe Farfan as a sub or as an outside back in a pinch—or instead of Jordan Harvey. But I don’t expect to see any of them with any regularity. They will all do themselves well to practice hard and get some games in the reserve league.

Dan: Probably not. MacMatch could play in cup matches. Farfan will hopefully appear at outside midfielder, but who even knows if this team will play with any true wide midfielders? They didn’t last season, and Carlos Ruiz’s addition bumps Sebastien Le Toux somewhere and could create a narrow, asymmetrical 4-3-3 with no true wide right midfielder and Mapp out on the left. Williams’ attacking style and Harvey’s stay-at-home mentality could add to that—but I digress.

What are the chances the Union will make the playoffs?

Ed: On paper, here in March, why shouldn’t they? The problem for me is the size of the roster. How many players can they sign before April 15? Where will they come from? How well and quickly will they fit in? If it is not the lack of depth at the back, it is the abundance of youth versus experience in every other position. Players get hurt, they have a drop in form. We simply don’t have the kind of cover at all positions—except for maybe holding midfielder—that is proven and experienced enough to give me the confidence to say how well I think the club will be doing in at the end of June, let alone the end of September.

Adam: As the defense goes, so goes the Union. The team is stacked with offensive options but needs a stout defense so they can commit players forward. Without a true distributor in the midfield, they need to apply a lot of pressure to get their goals, and that means trusting the back line to hold firm.

Valdes will be key. (Photo: Nicloae Stoian)

Mike: Like Ed, I’m nervous about the size of the squad. They are really only a few injuries away from some major problems, especially at the back. But why not? I think the defense is improved this season with Mondragon and Valdes joining the team. And really, we were only a few defensive/goalkeeper mistakes away from the playoffs last season. Ruiz should hopefully add firepower up top. And the 12th man will hopefully be PPL Park, a home-field advantage that few teams in the MLS will have this season.

Eli: I want to say that they’re good because they have the talent to get there, but as we saw last season, defensive chemistry is the rock on which good teams are built. That’s not saying it won’t be there, but with a new goalkeeper, centerback and defensive midfielder there is a lot up in the air. If Valdes and Califf can gel quickly and Mondragon can be the quality leader that he has seemed to be thus far, then the Union are a good bet to make their first postseason appearance.

Dan: Pretty good, actually. The playoffs now have ten teams, thanks to a stupid, counter-intuitive move by MLS brass. Vancouver, Portland, Toronto and Chivas USA are all bad teams, and Chicago probably is too. New England doesn’t look much better, Columbus has been gutted, and Shavar Thomas might be the best central defender on a Kansas City team that, if not for that, would be interesting. So by process of elimination, even if the Union are mediocre, they could still make the postseason. With a proven goalie in the back, we may see that the team’s back line suddenly looks a whole lot better. They’re still missing a playmaker, unless Roger Torres can emerge as a consistent factor, but even then, they’re probably better than the teams I listed.

Houston v Philadelphia: What will the Union’s starting 11 be?

Ed: I’m going with Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, Harvey, Carroll, Nakazawa, Le Toux, Mapp, Mwanga, Ruiz

Adam: Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, Harvey, Torres, Carroll, Migs, Mapp, Mwanga, Le Toux

Eli: Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, Harvey, Carroll, Okugo, Mapp, Le Toux, Mwanga, Ruiz.

Mike: Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, Harvey, Carroll, Migs, Mapp, Le Toux, Mwanga, Ruiz.

Dan: Seitz, Orozco, Thomas, Califf, Myrie, Jacobson, Miglioranzi, Coudet, Salinas, Moreno, Le Toux. (Oh, wait a second …)


  1. Josh Trott says:

    My starting midfield, if I was coach.

    Okugo, Torres, Mapp, Le Toux. Yeah, that’s right. We’d look good, and score goals. We’d give up a few, but I don’t care about that, as long as we score more.

    My back line.

    Williams, Valdez, Califf, Pfeffer. This I got because of a conversation with Nowak.

    My forwards.
    Mwanga. Yeah. McInirney. Let Ruiz earn his spot.

    In Goal.
    Le Toux. They said he would play everywhere.

  2. Mondragon
    Williams Califf Valdez Harvey
    Torress Mapp
    Le Toux

  3. All the back fours are the same because there is no one to push these guys. Dangerous game, indeed.

  4. Mondragon
    Williams Califf Valdes Gonzalez Alzate
    Le Toux Carroll Torres Mapp
    Mwanga Pescadito

    Torres will need to be replaced by Nak.
    Ruiz can be replaced by McInerney once our lead is comfortable.
    Better to get something for the bucks we’ve spent on Gonzalez Alzate, even if he’s more of a central defender. It’s still better than Harvey.

  5. Mondragon
    Williams Califf Valdes Harvey
    Le Toux Caroll Miglioranzi Mapp
    Mwanga Ruiz

    I’d be in favor of trying Okugo over Migs, but he’s out with the U-20’s

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