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2012 Union roundtable, part 2

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

The PSP writers discuss how the Philadelphia Union look ahead of the start of the 2012 season. You can read part one of the roundtable here.

How much will the Olympics affect the Union?

Ed: Before the last camp ahead of the Mexico game when five players were regularly getting the call, it seemed like the answer would be a lot, particularly if MacMath was going to be away. Now, it doesn’t seem so bad. There’s cover for Adu, McInerney and Okugo and Adu is the only regular starting candidate of the three. We’ll know very soon, March 13, I think, if all of those will go when Caleb Porter reduces the roster to 20.

Greg: Depends on who goes. MacMath wasn’t called into the last camp. Feel bad for him, but that could be good for the Union. Okugo and Adu seem like locks for the team with McInerney still a possibility. If MacMath doesn’t get the call then I think we have enough depth handle the other departures.

Dan: Amobi Okugo and Freddy Adu appear to be Olympic locks, but each is replaceable in the Union’s rotation. Otherwise, it’s possible the Union go unscathed, despite having sent so many players to U-23 games in recent months. Zarek Valentin has at times been first choice right back over Sheanon Williams, but Williams will probably (and certainly should) be called up. If so, he can be replaced, but there could be a significant drop-off in the effect the replacement has. Chris Albright has the experience, Raymon Gaddis has the speed, but neither has the total package at this point in their careers. Zac MacMath is probably the third choice Olympic goalkeeper behind Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, unless an overage player makes the roster. Union backup goalkeepers Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka have played in just one game (combined) in a top-tier professional league, and that will come back to haunt the team if they’re not up to the task.

Mike: I’d be scared if MacMath ended up making the squad. It would be rough to lose Williams but there seems to be cover for everyone else that could go.

Eli: I see no way that MacMath isn’t with the Union for all of the 2012 campaign. So that’s good. Sheanon Williams is better than Kofi Sarkodie at right back, but Sarkodie is an Akron guy and knows Porter well. In the end, I think Adu and Okugo are the only locks for this team, though Jack McInerney is very likely to make the squad, as well. As already mentioned, there is cover for all three of these players, so the Union should be able to absorb their losses on a temporary basis.

Adam: I hope that Jack McInerney makes the team because at some point someone has to give the kid a chance to play soccer for more than 25 minutes at a time. The Olympics are going to hurt the Union’s depth, but this team was assembled with the idea that everyone on the roster is there for a reason. In other words, there should be no Juan Diego Gonzalez’s on the squad so every player should see minutes in 2012. Last year the team struggled midseason, maybe the Olympics will allow some reserves to offer the first team a jolt of energy in the dog days.

Which new signing will have the biggest impact on the Union?

Ed: Based on seeing him in Orlando, Gabriel Gomez is my answer. He’s a monster.

Greg: I really think Gomez will have a big and immediate impact on the team. He will give them a physical dimension the team has lacked.

Dan: Gomez. He will be this year’s Carlos Valdes.

Mike: Being that I haven’t seen most of them play yet, hard to say. I’m hoping Pajoy can be the big, physical, hold up striker that the Union have lacked.

Eli: Has to be Gomez. He has the physicality, distribution and veteran leadership that the Union didn’t get out of Carroll in 2011. Gomez will boss the midfield, both offensively and defensively, which is something the Union simply didn’t do last year, as the center of the park was generally a free hunting ground for opposition playmakers to roam and create havoc.

Adam: Who is this Gomez guy everyone keeps talking about? Should I go the ESPN route and say that a healthy Freddy Adu is like having three new signings in one? Nah. Everything about Gabriel Gomez oozes class, and if he is given the freedom to express himself offensively, he will be a game changer for the Union this year.

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

Ed: I figure it is between Mwanga and Torres. I’ll go with Mwanga.

Greg: I think this is a big year for Jack McInerney. He has shown quality, but has lacked playing time. He is out of Generation Adidas next season, and I think he will see the pitch more.

Dan: Michael Farfan. He’s ready for prime time. But so many other young guys (Mwanga, Gabriel Farfan, Torres, McInerney, Okugo, etc.) could emerge if given the time.

Mike: Michael Farfan showed tremendous upside as a rookie, I think he can score 10 goals from the midfield.

Eli: I picked Mwanga when we talked about who the offensive leader would be, but I’d like to add a second name to the list: Roger Torres. He is here to stay, which can only help the confidence of a player who has improved steadily from appearance to appearance over the last two years. He has learned to crank up his defensive tenacity and with so many capable attackers around him, Torres could have a breakout year setting the table for his teammates.

Adam: Seriously? Nobody picked Zac MacMath? OK, I’ll go out on a very, very solid limb and say the young goalie will excel between the pipes this season and show that some of Mondragon’s leadership rubbed off on him.

How likely are the rookies — Hoffman, Jordan, Gaddis, Hoppenot, Witkowski, McLaughlin, and Hernandez — to see time in 2012?

Ed: I can’t really see any of them getting many starts unless someone is injured, and then only if it was Williams who was the injured player. It’s been good to hear Hoffman, Hoppenot and Witkowski have all be finding the back of the net in the preseason and I figure we’ll see them, particularly Hoffman, getting some time late in games. I thought Jordan looked decent enough in Orlando but I don’t see him as starter just yet.

Greg: Gaddis if Williams goes to the Olympics. I think Hoffman will see the pitch a bit.

Dan: Hoffman is the fourth or fifth striker, and he’ll get some time. Raymon Gaddis could see the field if Sheanon Williams makes the Olympic team, but Chris Albright could be Nowak’s choice over Gaddis. The supplemental draft picks have an uphill battle, as Nowak has not really given those players much of a chance in the past.

Mike: Gaddis for Williams if he goes the Olympics. Hoppenot seems to have a nose for net based on the preseason, but Hoffman is probably the most likely rookie striker to get a run.

Eli: As they did with other Generation Adidas players before him, the Union will cling to Hoffman’s status for at least a couple seasons, so while he’ll get a look here and there, he won’t play many minutes in 2012. Jordan would be the next most likely to get a look, and then only as a center back, which is something I think we can all agree we hope not to see this year.

Adam: Hoffman and Gaddis should see good time. Hoffman’s will be more limited because the team definitely wants to preserve his GA status. The rest of the guys should look to impress in the reserves.

(Editor’s: Hernandez had not yet signed at the time most PSP writers responded to this question.)

What are the chances the Union will make the playoffs?

Ed: Last year I said, looking at the team on paper, why shouldn’t they make the playoffs? This year’s really no different, although I do think it would be a bigger accomplishment if they were to do so in 2012 given how much younger the team is.

Greg: The East is a lot better this year. KC will likely pace the conference the whole year. DC will be improved as well. I think the Union can be a playoff team, but it will be much more of a fight.

Dan: 50-50. Five Eastern Conference teams will make the playoffs this season. KC is the class of the conference. DC looks improved, and Chicago and Toronto played well after key midseason acquisitions last season. New York and Houston remain talented clubs when healthy, and rebuilding Columbus remains a wild card. The Union could finish anywhere from 2nd to 8th place, and none would not surprise.

Mike: There is so much parity in the league that I won’t be surprised either way. I’m trying to stay positive so I’ll say yes.

Eli: KC and Houston will still be right there in 2012. As Greg said, DC will be much improved and so too will be Chicago. And then there’s the Red Bulls. I think it will again be down to how the Union start the season. They’re not just a young team, but in the cases of Martinez, Pajoy, Gomez and Lopez, they’re also inexperienced in the ways of MLS which, lets face it, has a very different style of play to other leagues in the world. And with the Union playing no preseason games against MLS opposition, there will a steep learning curve for these players to face. The Union are right on playoff bubble in my mind. Getting out of the gate fast would go a long way towards making it to the postseason in 2012.

Adam: If the Union defense allows fewer than 40 goals this season, they make the playoffs. 40 or more and they will be on the outside looking in.

Is this a make-or-break year for Peter Nowak?

Ed: It might be if he wasn’t also an executive vice president of the club. In all seriousness, though, I don’t really think so. He and Sackiewicz have been very clear from year one that this is a multi-year project, and that 2011’s success was ahead of their own expectations.

Greg: I think Nowak’s job is safe. Unless the Union has a disaster of a season, he isn’t going anywhere.

Dan: It should be due to the club’s fiasco of an off-season, but it won’t. This winter aside, Nowak should be on a four-year cycle. If this year is a failure, next season should be the make-or-break year.

Mike: I’d like to say yes and that if the roster turnover doesn’t work he’ll be out of a job. But I just don’t see it that way.

Eli: Peter Nowak is here to stay. Win, lose or draw. It may be hard for some to swallow, but the sooner we except it, the easier it will be to get on board.

Adam: My theory is that Nowak may not stay too much longer as a head coach, but he will remain with the organization in some capacity for a long, long time. That said, this year will have no impact on his job. Especially when you consider that firing Nowak means the Union would probably have to compensate him and pay good money to bring someone new in. Does that sound like the Union we know?

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

Ed: MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Carroll, Gomez, Martinez, Adu, Mwanga, Pajoy.

Greg: Let’s go with a 4–3–3 with two holding mids: MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Gomez, Carroll, Torres, Martinez, Mwanga, Adu.

Dan: Really? Really? Predict this? OK. Let’s go with MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Carroll, Gomez, Adu, Marfan, Mwanga and Pajoy. If that’s right, feel free to join me in Atlantic City after the game.

Mike: MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Carroll, Gomez, Adu, Marfan, Martinez, Mwanga.

Eli: MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Gomez, Carroll, Marfan, Adu, Mwanga, Martinez.

Adam: ZacMac, Por-Fro-io Lopez, Bearfight, El Kaiser, Sheanomenon, G2, BC, Neon, Flighty Freddy, MwanGenius, MacAttack

Part one appeared on Monday.


  1. Good stuff guys. Agree with Mike Farfan having a breakout year – he was excellent down the stretch last year. I think he has to be a starter on this team.

    We’re definitely gonna see Carroll and Gomez on the field together, but you can’t technically a run a 4-3-3 with two defensive midfielders.

    Gomez is certainly gonna be a beast this year.

    • That is actually exactly how you run a 4-3-3. Check out Real Madrid. Xabi Alonso next to Sami Khedira with Ozil in front of them. Two more defensive and possession minded players provide the cover necessary for three full time attackers and fullbacks who bomb forward. And Gomez is a box-to-box midfielder, not a true defensive midfielder so he will naturally slide further up the pitch to initiate the offense.

      • Wait Real Madrid and Mourinho abandoned his trusty 4-2-3-1 formation?!?! Im pretty sure Mourinho consistantly puts out the following lineup:

        Am I watching incorrectly?

      • It was my understanding that Kaka was wider and Ozil was more central. Either way, its a creative player in front of two holding players, supporting three attackers. If you don’t like that one, go with Chelsea, with two of Essien, Mikel or Ramires playing behind a creative type like Lampard. Two holding midfielders, usually one more defensive and the other more box-to-box. 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are close cousins.

      • Your right that Chelsea runs a 4-3-3 but your wrong in that their are two holding mids and 4-2-3-1 is very different than 4-3-3. Now if you said that 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 are close cousins I would have agreed with you…if you look at Chelsea’s lineup you would see that it looks more like a 4-5-1 than a 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder

  2. I think its cute that everyone has a nickname. i also cant wait to see how 4-3-3 looks with two holding midfielders…Away against the Timber, the U start two holding mids, counter attack system, hope for a win but play for a tie.

  3. @Los117. Nope. But thanks for always being the negative.

    • Dont know how I was being negative…is it because I dont believe everything y’all write. Clearly you are misinformed regarding formations. Seriously, you cited Real Madrid as a 4-3-3 formation when they run a 4-2-3-1. Curious what the “Nope.” is directed at? I guess your saying Im completely wrong…

      • RM doesn’t technically even play a 4-2-3-1 since Ronaldo plays high, wide and whenever he wants. Love the debate. Just question the need for the vitriolic tone. Glad you’re out there reading and disagreeing.

      • What does vitriolic mean? As for tone, your the one who is quick to name call and label me as “always being the negative” and thanks for being the sarcastic PSP staffer who thinks he knows formations…really streching it there with Madrid arent ya?

      • Dan Walsh says:

        OK guys, back to your corners. 🙂

        I’ve seen the 4-3-3 run in a few different ways. Like with any formation, it can appear to look like other formations (4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, etc.). We all label formations because it makes it easier to convey what we’re referring to, but the reality that I’ve seen is that most are fluid and tailored to the talent set available to the manager and may not fit a simple label. Plus, coaches often like to hide what their formation truly is.

      • Vitriolic means severly bitter or harsh. Especially as related to criticism. Serioulsy though Los, if you don’t think you are negative you need to re-examine your life. I check into this site almost every day and I can honestly say that I have learned numerous things from your posts but, let’s face it, you are always negative. I didn’t say you were wrong, I said you are negative. I cannot remember the last time you had anything positive to say about the U.

      • Rob, I never denied that I am negative…I very much am, especially in regards to philly sports. And I knew what vitriolic means…I was pointing out that I wasnt the only one in the “debate” who was being “vitriolic.” In all honesty, prior to Eli’s post at 4:34 pm, I not even sure how I was being negative. Rob maybe you can tell me?

      • It’s a cumulative effect Los. You obviously know your stuff and as I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned from you. I just wish you would use your powers for good instead of evil.

  4. All the hype about Gomez reminds me of the hype over Adu, which was obviously unwarranted. And I think we can be sure that Gomez will not be as good as Le Toux. Nowak deserves to be fired, and the U deserve to lose thanks to him.

    • I hope Gomez pans out he is on my stupid MLS fantasy team.

    • Why was all the hype over Adu clearly unwarranted? Because he was hurt and didn’t transition well in the midseason? If you saw the US-Mexico U-23 friendly, you saw a Freddy Adu who could be dominant at the MLS level. I can’t say if he will bring that effort and skill 100% of the time this season, but there is clearly a reason for the hype for Adu.

      Your comparison of Gomez and Le Toux is also impossible to verify. They play completely different roles. Why not let the players play before we jump to conclusions?

      • becauase we have seen this before. Once in a blue moon Adu will have a great national game, but day in day out he has never played at a high level consistently.

      • How is play in one U-23 friendly a better indicator of sucess in the MLS, then half a season of actual MLS games?

      • I didn’t say it was a better indicator of success. I’m just saying that hype is built on talent and capability, rather than on track record. Hype is almost always about ceiling, and the friendly showed just how good Freddy could be. That’s my point.

      • Fair enough. I can agree that Adu has a high up-side potential. I am concerned, however, that this has never really translated into actuality. Aren’t you? What do we think is so different about the Union that we’ll get him to play to his potential when no one else seems able to? With his massive contract, I’m very concerned that he turns into a much larger JDG situation.

      • Of course I am concerned. I think Freddy just works harder for the national team, but more importantly, is put in a position to succeed. I think if Peter lets him actually play CAM or as a winger IN A POSSESSION ORIENTED OFFENSE, he will be great. He isn’t a speedy winger in a bunker ball offense. That’s why I am strongly advocating for benching Carroll and playing Gomez and Adu together up the middle, flanked by Marfan and Keon. We need to hold the ball if we want to make this new team work. All we can do is wait and see I guess.

    • I can’t stand Peter Nowack anymore than you, Liz, but let’s not attack Gomez. He has looked very good in preseason and has yet to play a single MLS game. I agree he’ll never become 60% of our offense, but that’s not his job on the field.

  5. Completely disagree with McInerney being “very likely” to make the U-23 squad, with it only be a 20-man roster for qualifying and him competing against Shea, Agudelo, Adu, Gyau, Bunbury, Boyd, Taylor, and Wooten.

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