After missing out on the playoffs in 2014 by seven points, the Philadelphia Union decided to opt for continuity as opposed to change ahead of Jim Curtin’s first full season as coach. Curtin, newly promoted from the assistant role has had a colourful career in the MLS having played 175 games and is hoping that his managerial career is even more successful.
But it’s difficult, when you know the ability is there to perform but the team don’t quite cut it, what do you do? Do you try to bring in a handful of new signings to add to depth and bring a new burst of energy? Do you implement a new playing style? Or do you stay committed to the choices you had made the year before and hope that it sticks this time around?
Curtin was very clear however in an interview with Goal USA of how he is approaching the new season. “I’ve seen that fail too many times in our league,” Curtin says. “We’re kind of tweaking a few things and bringing a couple new players that I think will be effective for us. That’s the way we want to do it.”
But who are these new players that have been added into the Philadelphia Union and what can they bring to the squad?
To put it simply, the 22 year old on loan from Nantes is your perfect all rounded Target Man. At 6″2 he will give a lot of defenders trouble from Set Pieces, he’s quick and incredibly strong. I think Sapong will be a backup just incase that Fernando struggles adjusting to the new league but with Ligue 1 experience (and plenty of it) he has played against some of the best defenders in the world and Names such as Thiago Silva will turn the heads of many. The experience this man brings to the club is balanced perfectly by youth. At 22 he will be fit, full of energy and should be a constant starter going into this campaign. He has already scored two on his pre-season debut and shown fantastic signs of athletic ability. I would think that the Union would play a lone striker up front and try to work the ball over the top to find their new target man. Watch the name, Aristeguieta could well be among the top scorers this season.
As teams across the MLS picked their first ever draft players, the names from big Universities went faster than you could say goalasso. By the time the Union’s pick arrived, there wasn’t much in the way of big stars for the future left..or so we thought. They decided to take a plunge and sign youngster Dzenan Catic from a relatively unknown university. He’s a 6″3 goalscorer who can change the tempo of play with the click of a finger. After signing last year with German side Kaiserslautern he was massively overlooked by just about every team as he faded into obscurity. But now, plucked by the City of Brotherly love, he’s hoping to test his talents in the MLS and has already told CSNPhilly that he wants to bring a championship to the city. A statement like that from a player at such a young age is not only pledging loyalty but showing a high work rate. He may not start much, being technically a third string player..but watch out for some off the bench wonders. This man could be the future of the club.
But who is the key man to keep your eye on this season? The answer lies with Maurice Edu. As he switched between CDM and CB roles last year, the 28 year old is expected to settle back into his familiar box to box role this year.He partnered extremely well with Nogueira last season. With the midfield providing the heartbeat to the team, dictating both the pace and rigidness of play, it’s important not only to find continuity but also ability. Something that Edu has in endless supply.
All of the attention from the press has been understandably been focused on on the new signings. Aristeguieta has already made his mark by scoring in Pre-Season and with a large amount of focus being placed on Vitoria as he looks to take command of the back line, it should make life a lot easier for another new signing..goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi who is already proven at this level. So, the one word to describe this currently is solid. No position has a gap or a cloud of doubt over it anymore. There are no “if only we had a better striker” thoughts going around a Union fans mind. We have seen good spells from just about everyone with flashes of brilliance. This season is about turning those flashes into consistent light storms. Every position has a sense of familiarity and that in itself will bring togetherness and morale to the club, making it a hundred times easier for Coach Curtin to implement his strategies. I think that the Philadelphia Union will easily make the playoffs this season. They may not have the strength to win the Eastern Conference just yet, but they will certainly be looking for a .500 record and maybe even a top three finish. Oh, and don’t rule out a domestic cup run!