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PREVIEW: Edu is just one element in Union's upgrade
by Ridge Mahoney, March 6th, 2014 11:08PM

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TAGS:  mls, philadelphia union

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[MLS 2014: Eastern Conference] The acquisition of U.S. international Maurice Edu signals a serious effort to correct a disappointing showing in 2013.

After the Union won only two of its last 10 games to fall out of playoff contention, Coach John Hackworth discussed the situation with team management, which reiterated its commitment to sign a Designated Player, which turned out to be Edu. He’s not the only significant addition, a point that Hackworth used to convince his superiors of a valid overall plan.

“John is one of the best coaches I’ve worked with,” says team president Nick Sakiewicz, who before coming to Philadelphia ran the show as general manager of the MetroStars/Red Bulls as well as Tampa Bay Mutiny. “There’s no doubt in my mind John is our manager for the long haul.”

To address the short haul, the Union had to make a few moves. Kleberson, a classic DP bust, is gone. Defender Jeff Parke’s courageous play got the demanding PPL fans on his side, but once the season was done he requested and was granted a trade, and so his Philly tenure ended in less than a year. Michael Farfan’s slick, skillful play earned him a transfer to Mexican club Cruz Azul. Chris Albright’s reduced playing time last season prompted him to retire.

2013 Philadelphia Union
Record: 12-12-10
Finish: 7th in Eastern Conference.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

Edu will certainly draw intense scrutiny as the midfield fulcrum, as befits a DP, yet overall the exchange rate of players in and out looks positive. Foreign signings Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira are tasked with upgrading the quality of midfield, and give Hackworth myriad options of how to deploy them as well as Danny Cruz and Sebastien Le Toux.

Austin Berry, acquired in a trade with the Fire, adds a young yet experienced player to the defense, where Amobi Okugo improved considerably last season. Andre Blake, the No. 1 SuperDraft pick, is a strong challenger to starter Zac MacMath. Ethan White and Corben Bone will start the season as backups, though White could move up the depth chart if leaks spring in the middle.

Eastern Conference Preview:
Chicago | Columbus | D.C. United | Houston
Montreal | New England | New York

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Edu could be a tremendous addition, as the middle looked a bit soft last year though Brian Carroll worked as hard as he’s ever done. If Maidana and Nogueira can slot in and contribute, the stain of Kleberson’s tenure will fade rapidly. The midfield should be more explosive and less predictable, which would provide forwards Jack McInerney and Conor Casey with more consistent service. Fabinho playing left back would add a valuable alternative to Ray Gaddis, who is more comfortable on the right, filling that slot.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC?
McInerney’s long goalless drought greatly lessened his influence, and Hackworth must rebuild his confidence. Age will soon begin to be an issue for Casey and Carroll, who are both 32, and Casey missed the entire preseason with a strained calf. If the new pieces don't jell rather quickly, the Union could fall back in the pack and create tensions it can ill-afford in this pivotal season.

PROJECTED FINISH: 4th-7th place. The offseason moves are encouraging but more dramatic moves by Eastern Conference rivals that also didn’t make the playoffs make the middle tier difficult to forecast.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-5-1
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
18-Zac MacMath (22)/USA (4th season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
25-Sheanon Williams (23)/USA (5th season)
4-Austin Berry (25)/USA (Chicago Fire)
14-Amobi Okugo (22)/USA (5th season)
33-Fabinho (28)/Brazil (2nd season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
7-Brian Carroll (32)/USA (4th season)
21-*Maurice Edu (27)/USA (Stoke City)
10-Cristian Maidana (27)/Argentina (Argentinos Juniors)
5-Vincent Nogueira (26)/France (Sochaux)
11-**Sebastien Le Toux (30)/France (2nd season)


Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
9-Jack McInerney (21)/USA (5th season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
6-Conor Casey (32)/USA (2nd season)
44-Daniel Cruz (24)/USA (3rd season)
22-Leo Fernandes (22)/Brazil (2nd season)
28-Raymon Gaddis (24)/USA (3rd season)
Philadelphia Union: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.
*on loan.
**second stint at club.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: at Portland, 10:30 pm ET
March 15: New England, 4 pm ET
March 22: at Columbus, 6 pm ET
March 29: Montreal, 4 pm ET
Philadelphia Union: complete schedule.



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