Season Previews

Union 2014: Who has the most to prove?

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Full credit to Philadelphia Union ownership and manager John Hackworth. After limping across the finish line in 2013, the owners opened their wallets, and Hackworth made smart acquisitions in the offseason to ensure the outlook for 2014 is far rosier.

Now that Hackworth and Co. have done their jobs, it’s time for the players to step up and turn promise into results. Here are the 10 players on the Union who have the most prove during the upcoming campaign.

1. Maurice Edu

After struggling to make his mark with Stoke City in the English Premier League, Edu returns to MLS with everything to prove. At only 27 years of age, there is no reason to suggest that Edu’s prime is behind him. If he can rediscover the form that saw him feature prominently in the 2010 World Cup, he can lead the new look Union into the playoffs. However, if he struggles to adjust… well, let’s not even speculate on that just yet. Regardless of the context of the conversation, Nick Sakiewicz put Edu’s name in the same sentence as Michael Bradley’s. Now Edu has to live up to the comparison. And should he manage to do so, it would only take one good year for the Union to see him fly up the USMNT midfield depth chart, making a potential pairing with Bradley come sooner, rather than later.

2. Zac MacMath

Just when it looked like MacMath had managed to fight through the struggles of being a young goalkeeper and turn into a legitimate MLS starter, the Union dropped another boulder on his back. At 22 years old, it is hard not to feel bad for MacMath, who has dealt with being dropped into the starting XI far too early and having the leadership of Faryd Mondragon taken away, only to be replaced by Oka Nikolov too late. Now that he has begun to establish himself, the Union have acquired Andre Blake with the No. 1 pick in January’s draft. MacMath will start the season in net, but Blake will be breathing down his back all year. One slip-up or minor knock, and MacMath may not see the pitch again for a long time.

3. Sebastien Le Toux

This could be a make or break year for the Union talisman. In 2013, Le Toux showed off his ability to swap back and forth from being an elite wide man to a frustratingly ill-disciplined player. That’s right, elite. When Le Toux sticks to the touch line, races onto balls, and smashes service into the box, he can be extremely prolific. However, when he abandons his wing and goes on a walkabout, steals space from his teammates and clanks his first touch in the middle of the pitch, he is more problem than solution for his team. If he can maintain focus and become an assist leader again, he will win his place for keeps. If not, Hackworth will quickly find himself looking for other options.

4. Brian Carroll

From captain of a straggler to captain of a contender, 2014 is Carroll’s chance to show off his leadership credentials by helping to acclimate new players and fold them in with the Union’s existing young nucleus. On the pitch, Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira are two of the smartest, most responsible midfielders Carroll could’ve hoped to have joined the squad. Now that they have, he needs to prove that he still belongs in the starting XI by dominating the territory in front of the back line and exercising good judgement in possession. If the Union struggle to create offense, Carroll’s limited skill set might be the easiest to sacrifice to add another attacking player to the mix.

5. Danny Cruz

Like Le Toux, 2013 was a mixed bag for Cruz. Despite living in the final third and attacking his fullback like he was shot out of cannon, Cruz was hardly prolific on the score sheet. Netting 3 times and assisting on only 2 others over 2190 minutes is not the return Hackworth will be looking for from a wide player in 2014. If Cruz works harder to be a part of the midfield play on both sides of the ball before rampaging up the wing, he will likely find himself on the end of more passes and have more free runs going forward. That could lead to great things for the winger.

6. Cristian Maidana

A year after Diego Valeri wrote his name in headlines across MLS, the Union are entitled to hope that they may have captured the next head-turning Argentine to enter the league. After stints in Argentina, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Chile, Maidana will also be hoping to show off his quality from the get-go, making himself a mainstay. The Union haven’t had a left-footed threat since Justin Mapp left town, and the table is set nicely for Maidana to assert himself. The latest player to wear the No. 10 shirt for the Union will hope to do more in it than Danny Mwanga or Roger Torres ever did.

7. Amobi Okugo

Not that the training wheels weren’t off in 2013, but with the departure of Jeff Parke, Okugo must go from up-and-coming defender to vocal team leader. New signing Austin Berry will help a lot in the air, but Okugo will have to marshal the troops, ensuring proper positioning and marking assignments. Now in his fifth year in MLS, Okugo also finds himself playing for a new contract. Whether that is in Philadelphia or elsewhere, he will be feeling the pressure to impress.

8. Fabinho

After half a season spent acclimating himself to MLS, it appears Fabinho has been installed as the Union’s left back for 2014. Fabinho must work quickly to build a relationship with Austin Berry to make sure that the qualities he possesses in attack are not canceled out by defensive lapses. Fabinho must improve his individual defending, because while his all-or-nothing style of tackling produces some eye-popping interventions, it also generates some face-palming swings and misses.

9. Vincent Nogueira

Any time a team captures the captain from a club in a top European league, it’s a big deal. When that player is only 26 years old, big turns into huge. Nogueira is that guy, and now he wears No. 5 for the Union. A smooth passer, Nogueira is the kind of smart, technical midfielder that can give teams fits, keeping the ball for himself and his team. Nogueira’s success in MLS will be largely down to his deployment in the Union midfield. He’s never lit up the stat columns with goals or assists before and prefers to function from deep in the midfield. If he is asked to take on a more offensive role, it may take the Frenchman longer than anticipated to adjust to MLS.

10. Austin Berry

Sure it was a move made necessary by financials, but Berry will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after doing nothing but serving the Chicago Fire’s cause, only to be traded to a conference rival. Berry may not have Jeff Parke’s experience, but he is an upgrade in the air and should make a positive difference for a team that tends to struggle on set piece defending.

24 Comments

  1. Using elite to describe Le Toux as a wide man is pretty generous. Elite (or even good) wide men are excellent dribblers, can take fullbacks on and provide a constant threat in the build up.

    Le Toux doesn’t really do any of that. He is basically a punt and pray forward playing wide. In a way his prolific assist tally was a bad thing because it covers up all his short comings. No first touch, bad vision, questionable passing.

    Coincidentally, you know who would be the perfect fit at RW for us this year? Marfan.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Gotta disagree with you. He has a role to play, and when he’s focused, he plays it perfectly. Yes, he could be a more technical player, but he’s not. What he is, is ideally suited to the Union’s needs. They don’t need Marfan (though I like him), they need a player like Le Toux to get up the wing and bang balls into the box.

      • +1. Nearly led the league in assists. Ok.. perhaps “MLS elite” is more apropos, but I’m with Eli on this.

  2. The answer to 1-10 is Jack Mac. He has the most to prove. He wants to be the man so now he has to deliver.

    If Jack succeeds everyone on this list proves what they need to prove. If he doesn’t they all look bad. simple as that.

    • He scored lots of goals, and then he didn’t. He said things that sounded kind of dickish, and made faces when the table wasn’t set the way he wanted. Of all the players on the roster, I will have the least patience for JM this year.

    • The Black Hand says:

      +1
      McInerney drew a great deal of attention, due to his abundant scoring in the first half of last season. Many were calling him one of, if not the, best strikers in the league. Then he was called up for the Gold Cup and never returned to form. This is the year that Jack must prove that he really is ‘the man’.

    • +2

      Plus I believe this is the last year of his contract. Ranked #20th striker in a league with only 19 teams sums it up pretty well.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Not sure how I got through this list and let that slip my mind. Jack should definitely should be on there. My bad.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      20 goals in a season and half. WTF do you want from this kid? I don’t get it. I’ll give you that he needs to continue to mature and improve, but he is more productive than a bunch of veterans in the league and carries a whole lot less attitude issues than many as well.

      • I’m not down on him. Not at all actually. But he has poised himself to me the head poacher in charge of the offense. Going so far and to ask his coach for a through ball every once in a while. He has gone on the record as to say he wants 20 goals THIS SEASON. (If he doesn’t get 20 goals many fans will call his season a failure based on his commens. I won’t. If he falls short of his mark I will say he has had a good season. On the other hand if he REALLY falls short of his mark, complaints will be filed.)
        But long story short he is the barometer by witch the Union shall be judged. If Jack Mac falls then do the Union. Who else is there. Casey is gonna have less playing time. Hoppenot and Wheeler…. I think not.\
        He has positioned himself to be the man. Now he has to back it up.
        /
        and as far as attitude goes, I could care less. Save the attitude rants for sports talk radio. He is a Striker attitude comes with the job. Deal.

  3. Hackworth has the most to prove. Full stop.
    .
    He has a stronger team to work with this season. All/most remnants of the Nowak regime are gone. This is Hack’s team now. He needs to show he has the coaching acumen to lead this team to bigger and better things.

    • james lockerbie says:

      Exactly, like at the playground as a kid you tell your friend well ” it’s put up or shut up time ” do you talk the talk or do you walk the walk ?

  4. The “most to prove” list varies by perspective. I think there’s a big difference between my list, the PSP list, and Hack’s list.

    My quick list:
    1. Le Toux
    2. Cruz
    3. MacMath
    4. Lahoud
    5. Nogueira
    6. Maidana
    7. Jack Mac
    8. Mo
    9. Daniel
    10. Berry

    • I’m okay with Le Toux and Cruz as your #1 and #2, as someone needs to claim that right wing spot to round out the starting 11 (hopefully, Le Toux). I don’t see how Lahoud and Daniel make the list – they are what they are at this point, and neither should see the field much given the revamped midfield the U put together this offseason. One of them may still get released even…

      • The Black Hand says:

        Lahoud is a very good option to have on the bench, if we are protecting a lead.
        As for Daniel…I got nothin’. Can’t make up anymore excuses for him.

        • I agree that Lahoud is useful as a defender in late game situations, and has some versatility. Even Keon is okay killing off a game, as he’s decent in hold up play and posession. I just wouldn’t put them in a top 10 list like this one, as I don’t expect either to materially impact how our season goes.

        • Here’s an argument for Daniel starting *a* game.
          .
          Chaco Maidana is injured or having fitness issues or whatever. It’s a mid-week road game and Hackworth decides tactically just getting the point is worthwhile. He plops Maidana on the bench so he can heal (or catch his breath, or whatever) and inserts Keon Daniel as the left wing.
          .
          If that happens once, I’m probably OK with it. Five times? That’s too many starts for Daniel. (And I like Keon Daniel, unlike some posters.)

          • The Black Hand says:

            Good point, John. That would, absolutely, be the time for Keon.
            .
            I have just grown frustrated watching the man, who is a good player, play like he is in a witness protection program and does not want to be found out.

            • John Ling says:

              Yeah, I agree. Daniel definitely has skill – he shows it when he plays for the T&T national team. He showed it in ’12, too. So what happened to him last year? Was it directions from the coaching staff? A loss of confidence? Lack of chemistry with Carroll?

  5. Welcome to Philly.com says:

    Apparently partnering with philly.com has led to PSP writing articles like: who has the most? Everyone! Next we will see slide shows here? Seriously, congrats on the new channel, but don’t go all plain vanilla on us. And congrats on leaving of our right backs. Insightful. But no Jack, if we are listing everyone else?

  6. Funny about MacMath. The only people he has to impress are his next employers. I can’t see any scenario where he’s still in Philly this time next year. It’s also impossible to play in goal knowing your getting benched your first mistake. Hack is a loyal guy, but if they start losing he’s gonna be gone and he knows it.

  7. Pingback: Season opener previews & predictions, more Union news

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