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Who has the most to prove in 2013?

Photo: Earl Gardner

The clock is ticking down to opening day this Saturday and, while John Hackworth’s overall plans remain a mystery, it is clear that the Philadelphia Union will need their star players to step up if they are to have any chance of a playoff run. 2010’s rookies are suddenly fourth-year professionals, and with age and experience comes increased expectations. With expectations comes pressure. Pressure can turn a much lauded signing into a punch line, earning the player a trip out of town as the team scrambles to secure a replacement. It works the other way too, with pressure inspiring players in any phase of their careers to greatness.

So who will be shouldering this burden for the Union in 2013? Let’s take a look.

Warm: Can someone crack a window?

Jeff Parke
Replacing a team captain is always tough. Jeff Parke will have the unenviable task of making Philadelphians forget the name Carlos Valdes. Still, the former Sounder and recently capped US international will receive plenty of love for his desire to move back east and play for his hometown club. But that will only last so long if he is unable to lead an organized, stout back line.

Jack McInerney
Under John Hackworth, McInerney finally showed Union fans why, despite his young age, he was drafted so high in 2010. But for strikers, soccer is a sport of “What have you done for me lately?” The additions of Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey have raised questions about McInerney’s place with the Union, and he will have to battle for minutes in 2013. That may prove a positive, as it will force the young striker to focus on making the most of his chances. If he rises to the challenge, McInerney could score a dozen goals or more. If not, he may hit his sophomore slump two years late.

Roger Torres
After a year lost to injury in 2012, Torres is back and better than ever in 2013. A bright offseason already has fans calling for his inclusion in the opening day starting XI. All of this is positive for the diminutive Colombian, because he has been a player full of potential for three seasons now. Once Hackworth gives him his chance, he must grab it with both hands, or he risks quickly alienating all of those who have vehemently supported him since his arrival in Philadelphia. From that standpoint, Torres might have the most to gain in terms of ascending into the discussion of quality distributors in MLS, but he also has the most to lose in terms of fading into obscurity if he fails to bring the goods.

Zac MacMath
While there was offseason chatter about a potential veteran goalkeeper arriving in Chester to back up MacMath and mentor the 21-year-old in the process, no such move ever materialized. For the second straight year, MacMath enters the season without having had to beat out a challenger. Hackworth will hope that resting all of his hopes on the youngster so early in his career will strengthen MacMath’s resolve and help him develop veteran smarts and confidence more quickly than some of his peers. MacMath made his share of gaffes in 2012. While physical and tactical mistakes will happen with any young keeper, the Union coaching staff must keep an eye on whether the stress of expectation is getting the better of their No. 1.

Warmer: Kettle is whistling

Brian Carroll
The 2013 Union are Brian Carroll’s team. That means vocal leadership, inspired play and acres of ground covered. If Carroll is deployed as the sole holder in a 4-4-2 and the team struggles, questions will begin to surface about his lack of passing acumen going forward. The Union have been rudderless for too long and are in dire need of someone to drag this team forward, kicking and screaming if need be. Can Carroll be that guy?

Bakary Soumare
Unlike others who have varying levels of expectation, Soumare really must prove just one thing: That he is healthy. He has already succeeded at a high level in this league, and it only takes one look at him to realize just how big he is. But when you are that big, knee injuries tend to linger and recovery times get stretched longer and longer. At only 27 years of age, Soumare could have a long, prolific future with the Union, assuming his knees are stable and his feet remain nimble. Until he proves that they are, that is a big assumption.

Michael Farfan
In preseason Hackworth basically handed the midfield keys to Farfan, anointing him as the team’s attacking fulcrum. Coming off a season where he made the All Star team but struggled to assert consistent attacking pressure from the center of the pitch, the Union find themselves with a whole lot riding on a young player who is still relatively new to his position. Farfan does have the out that, if things aren’t working through the center, he is still the best right midfielder on the team by a healthy margin. That doesn’t take him off the hook however, because he may be forced to lead the attack from a wide spot if the Union manager structures his midfield like an empty bucket. Either way, with no Adu or Gomez and Torres nipping at his heels, all eyes will be on Michael Farfan to become an elite playmaker, and fast.

Warmest: Pressure Chief

Sebastien Le Toux
Welcome back to Philadelphia, Sebastien. Now produce.

The 2013 Union will not be a team that guarantees minutes to anyone, let alone a forward on a team that boasts six strikers in the rotation. In 2012, while McInerney was proving his nose for goal, Antoine Hoppenot reminded fans of just how much of an impact a little guy with a lot of energy can make. Conor Casey is also in the fray to prove he still has gas in the tank, and Chandler Hoffman has shown in the reserves that, given consistent minutes, he can find the back of the net.

This team no longer exists to serve Le Toux’s constant and at times erratic running. For him to find success, he’ll have to cultivate partnerships with his fellow strikers and fall in line with Hackworth’s approach. Whether he is asked to drive through the heart of the pitch, or slide wide to the corners to create space for others, Le Toux must prove himself to be an unselfish team player.

And he must finish. Because McInerney, Hoppenot and Hoffman are all dying for the chance to prove they can.

Instead of acquiring a prolific goal scorer from abroad, or splashing their cash on a Designated Player, the Union brought their all-time leading scorer back to town. Now it is up to Le Toux to prove the move was more than a gesture to the fan base. Pressure’s on.

 

21 Comments

  1. Don’t we have to add Hack and, from higher altitudes, the team and FO suits to the cauldron? I personally need to see more steady, reasoned leadership and a team that plays like one. We desperately need chemistry and synergy to know what these guys are capable of. I think will not get that with a trial and error ongoing experiment.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Excellent point. I kept it on the field. Obviously reading both the posts and the comments on this site, you can tell how much apprehension exists surrounding Hackworth and his plans.

  2. I’m going to challenge PSP writers to stop using the phrase “given the keys to the ___ ” when talking about Marfan. Nearly every article that has his name in it has some version of that phrase in it (not just on this website.) Instead, tell us what that REALLY means. Should he have a certain number of assists? Should he touch the ball on every offensive possession? Does he have to score? You’re writers. Step up.

    • I don’t think I’ve used the phrase, but here’s what that means:

      The attack flows through him. He doesn’t need to touch the ball every possession, but he should be the Union attacker with the most touches. You would expect a handful of goals and eight or more assists. More importantly, he’s sending the through ball that leads to the assist by freeing wingers into space, where they can send in crosses toward goal. He’s breaking down someone off the dribble and forcing a second or third defender to come over to help, then passing to the Union player left open so a shot can be created.

      How’s that?

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        One thing to also watch with Michael Farfan is not just the final ball, but the penultimate one. Who put the fullback up the line to serve in the dangerous cross? Who threaded the needle for McInerney to cut back for a Casey tap in? Who switched fields, catching the defense leaning? That should be Michael Farfan.

        This type of ball allows him to chase into the box after it is played and I am looking for him to start scoring more goals by crashing the box, but also continuing to create his own shot from distance.

      • That has significantly more meaning than “Marfan has been giving the keys to the offense this season.” +1

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Appreciate the comment. I feel like i’ve written 2 dozen preseason articles already and the words all blend together at a certain point. I’m as eager for real, meaningful soccer as everyone else.

      • Well, in their defense, like Eli says … sometimes you write so much that the words all blur together. (We’re writing so much this week because we know people want to read it before opening day.) And with a feature like the one Adam and Eli are doing, it really is a conversation. They’re firing off emails to each other left and right, so they’re balancing the “I know what you mean, you know what I mean” with “how do we have an interesting, flowing and insightful discussion that all our readers can follow and appreciate.”

      • The Black Hand says:

        So are you guys for giving Marfan ‘the keys’? I am for it, as long as he has learned to drive over the offseason. I did not care for his decision making, when he was “the guy”. I like him much better on the wing, without the pressure. I really don’t know who should have the keys.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I am not in favor of giving anyone “the keys”. i’m in favor of players earning the right to represent this team on the pitch. And for me Michael Farfan is and has been the best creative option for the Union. If they have the opportunity to sign an elite, or even good, quality CAM, I would be all for him returning to RM. I am also hoping that Torres proves that he MUST be on the field. Ideally every midfielder outside of the holder(s) are capable of being offensive catalysts. I do not see Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz as being capable of that.

      • +1, though I’m a bit higher on Cruz & Daniel.

  3. I think Le Toux will be fine. If it were up to me I wouldn’t have brought him back. But now that he is here I can see him filling the same role Paunovic filled If he does that and Jack Mac progresses we could have something.

  4. Gordon Strachan says:

    Talk about Marfan as the best midfielder on the team is consistently stated in these pieces as absolute fact. Seems in line with Union coach’s perspective in offering him consistent playing time. Perhaps additionally by his Allstar team nod.

    I feel that I watch his game closely but I honestly just don’t get the “Fan-fare”. Hopefully in 2013 he is held accountable to fulfill these lofty expectations.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I could’t agree with you more, Gordon. I think the adoration is due to his efforts. I thought that Adu, aside from lacking Farfan’s intensity, was a more effective player.

      • We have so little to be excited about, he gets mileage from his feistiness, the nickname and that sublime chip against Real Madrid. The 60 minute man in Torres is our only other hope and his decision making is even more suspect. LeToux and Casey will be bored without any service.

  5. Ricky Zellefrow says:

    Parke wasn’t, capped he was just called up to the camp.

  6. The Black Hand says:

    Holy Website overhaul!!!

  7. Good article! I have a different read on this.
    I think that Marfan, LeToux, Parke, Carroll, and maybe even Jack Mac (for his flurry of goals last year) are proven players at this point. They just need to do what they have been doing. Also, some of these guys are starters and will have the benefit of playing all the time.
    The guys that should be concerned are those that have been around for awhile, don’t have a starting 11 spot, and need to make progress. For me, those players are Torres, Garfan, Daniel, Hoppenot.
    MacMath is, of course, an unproven GK, so he probably has the most pressure.

    Let me know what you think.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I think you make a good point, but I think the separation is that your guys are under more pressure regarding their individual careers. I was thinking more along the lines of which guys were under more pressure to lead the Union to a successful season. When any team has as many question marks as the Union do in 2013, the pressure is turned up on everyone, both for their personal livelihoods and the team’s success.

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