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Five burning questions for 2013

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Here we sit, on the eve of First Kick 2013 filled with the hopeful optimism that greets fans of all sports on opening day. As Philadelphia Union fans, we can rightly feel more optimistic heading into the new season following the emotional roller coaster that was the 2012 Philadelphia Union. The franchise’s heartbeat and leading scorer, Sebastien Le Toux has returned from his Nowak induced exile. Reinforcements were brought in to bolster the anemic, sputtering 2012 offense. The popular captain, Carlos Valdes, has departed for Columbia to chase the dream of playing in the 2014 World Cup. His replacement, Downingtown, PA native Jeff Parke brings US National Team credentials and veteran leadership to what is once again the youngest roster in Major League Soccer. The Farfans are another year older and will continue to dazzle the Philly faithful while infuriating opponents with their magical ball skills.

Still, while the Union have had a very good offseason, questions linger like dark storm on the horizon. Let’s take a look-see at five things that could make or break the Philadelphia Union’s 2013 campaign.

What to do about Freddy Adu?

OK, let’s get this one out of the way first.

Freddy Adu is the Phantom Menace. (Yes, I am a self professed Star Wars nerd, get over it.) Many of the Union’s moves this pre-season have been influenced by the game of chicken being played by Union boss, John Hackworth and the cast off former soccer prodigy. Adu has two guaranteed years remaining on his contract with the Union and his salary, which is upwards of $500,000, chews up a significant portion of the club salary budget while still occupying a crucial spot on the roster. Coach Hackworth in an open and honest press conference in January may have over played his hand and hindered the team’s ability to move the midfielder. More troubling for the team’s future prospects, Hackworth and the coaching staff have been forced to make difficult roster decisions that affected some young and capable players.

For all parties involved, the best thing to do is to find a resolution to this mess quickly. For the Union, the least expensive route may be to send the disgruntled Adu home and pay him. Adu is said to want to the team to buy out the remainder of his contract and release him, which is a $1.3 million hit the Union front office is unwilling to take.

A messy situation indeed.

Will Roger Torres become a full time starter for the Union in 2013?

Roger Torres can make magic happen. The diminutive 21 year old Colombian has been in fine form this pre-season. Coach Hackworth commended a revitalized Torres, “Roger came in the door ready. His fitness is the best I’ve ever seen in four years. His mentality and approach is different. I think Roger senses this is the time to really take this opportunity.”

While the fan favorite dazzled Union supporters with an audacious assist on Leo Fernandes’ first professional goal and turned in a man of the match performance versus a woeful Toronto FC at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, questions remain as to whether the team’s new No. 10 can become a fixture in the Union’s starting XI. Is Torres a defensive liability? Can he go a full ninety minutes? Can his 5’5”, 137 lb. frame withstand the abuse dished out in a physical league such as MLS?

With Hackworth building his team around fellow playmaker Michael Farfan, Torres may again have to settle for the role of super sub and spot starter.

Where does Amobi Okugo fit it in the Union formation?

When Peter Nowak was dumped by the Union on June 13, 2012, it marked a new dawn for Okugo. Under Nowak, Okugo started just 15 matches in his Union career. Under Coach Hackworth, Okugo became a permanent fixture at center back next to Carlos Valdes and started 23 consecutive matches to finish 2012.

Though the sixth pick in the 2010 SuperDraft played very well at center back, Okugo may find himself competing for his spot in the Union’s 2013 starting XI. With the arrival of Parke and Bakary Soumare return to full fitness, Okugo may forced into battling for a spot in a very crowded midfield. Newly minted captain Brian Carroll occupies Amobi’s natural position of holding midfielder. Could the Union coaching staff be forced into a more defensive posture by playing two holding midfielders to keep both the club’s skipper and the ultra talented Okugo on the field? Might Coach Hackworth opt to rotate Okugo between center back and midfield depending on other player’s form and health?

An interesting 2013 awaits for one of 2012’s break out players.

How will Coach Hackworth deploy the Union’s forwards?

Much was made of the Union’s offensive woes in 2012. Lio Pajoy squandered so many scoring opportunities before was shipped off to DC United. Jack McInerney, called back into the Union line-up by Coach Hackworth after being exiled to Peter Nowak’s doghouse, blossomed into an effective goal scorer and posted a career high eight goals. Super sub Antoine Hoppenot harassed defenders was his relentless work rate late in matches and chipped in with four goals. Despite the bright spots, the club recorded the fewest shots on goal of any team in MLS, managing to turn just 112 shots on frame.

Heading into the offseason, the Union made acquiring a proven goal scorer priority number one. Hackworth and company quickly acquired the services of the club’s all time leader in goals and assists, Sebastien Le Toux and former MLS Best XI forward Conor Casey were brought in to lead the Union’s attack. Questions were immediately raised amongst Union fans, do the new additions push Jack back to the bench? Can Le Toux regain his form from 2010 and 2011? Will Conor Casey stay healthy? What formation is the best suited to the Union’s attackers?

Hackworth has indicated that he prefers having three attackers on the field. However, even with three attackers on the field, the Union struggled to find goals during their pre-season adventure in Florida. The Union had their most successful outing during the Disney Pro Soccer Classic playing with two forwards (Hoppenot and Casey) against TFC.

How well the Union the new additions do in front of goal will determine if this team can improve upon last season’s dismal record of 37 goals in 34 matches.

Will the 2013 Philadephia Union make the MLS Cup Playoffs?

The balance of power in Major League Soccer has shifted to the Eastern Conference making the Union’s job of reaching a top five spot in the East all the more challenging. Sporting Kansas City and Houston have retooled and reloaded for another run at winning the Philip Anschutz Trophy. That team from North Jersey has enough fire power to be in contention for the top spot in the conference, while teams like Chicago, D.C. United and Columbus have improved their squads and will be playoff contenders.

Coach Hackworth is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the Union in conference play. “All the contenders have improved, and I think the teams that weren’t in the playoffs have made significant improvements, us included. And that’s just going to make it a really tough season every single weekend.”

If we’re being realistic, the MLS Cup playoffs may be just out of reach for a young team that is still learning how to win. As the East is currently constituted, the Union look to be the sixth or seventh best club in the conference. There are too many ifs that surround this club to pencil them in as a pre-season favorite to make the playoffs.

Can they make it to the playoffs for a second season? Absolutely, but a lot of things will need to break the way of the Blue and Gold.

Now it’s your turn to help answer some of the questions facing the 2013 edition of our beloved Philadelphia Union. So have your say, and then back the boys in what will certainly be another memorable season of soccer at PPL Park.

C’mon the U!

 

7 Comments

  1. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    Send Adu to Harrisburg or Reading. That might not bring down his salary to anywhere near affordable, but the ignominy of playing 3rd or 4th div soccer in the provinces might be enough to bring him back to the bargaining table. Or he could blossom and be a worthwhile sell again.

  2. The only thing I have to say about hack ” over playing his hand and that’s why we can’t get rid of him” is chivas got rid of shalrie after saying they really didn’t want him, sure they had to pay to move him but it got done because he didn’t act like a child. Do I think the Union have fumbled the situation, for sure. But Adu isn’t helping it by refusing transfers and demanding that the Union just pay him to leave. At this point I hope the Union sit him for 2 years and ruin his career even though it will hamstring them for those two years.

  3. If Hack stunts the attack by playing two holding mids as some favor to that fossil Carroll, then he oughta get run out of town as well. Okugo should be patrolling in front of the backline solo, while someone is paired with Marfan to feed the ball to your three quality attackers up front, assuming a 4-3-3 formation.

    It’s crazy we’re even having this conversation…

    • WilkersonMcLaser says:

      I think you’re jumping the gun a little here. Can we at least find out if Soumare-Parke are a fit? I’m not ready to give up on the Okugo CB success story so hastily.

      Barring that, I’d sooner see Okugo as a box-box or semi-regista than in Carroll’s CDM role — which he does very well if that’s his main and only task.

      • Jaap Staam says:

        Hack loves Okugo on the back line like a “security blanket.” I’d be shocked if he doesn’t start the season there. Same goes for Marfan.

        I see Torres as the #10 with The Farfans on the wings and Gaddis and Williams flanking Parke and Soumare in the back. Clearly Hackworth does not see it that way…..at all. I hope he is right. Big win today! Let’s take it to them!

  4. “Hackworth and the coaching staff have been forced to make difficult roster decisions that affected some young and capable players”

    -5 points for Hackworth and the FO for not anticipating this. If they knew they couldn’t afford to sign any of their draft choices, why didn’t they just sell their draft picks?

  5. Question 6: When does the team tire of competence and bring me back? Seriously, just imagine watching the U without me? Does that bring a smile to your face and have you doing backflips? I didn’t think so. Bring back Rigby! $&$?;?)(?,.::!!!

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