10 things Philadelphia Union fans are looking forward to in upcoming MLS season


The 2016 MLS season is right around the corner and it will mark the Philadelphia Union’s 7th season in the league. Last year was a underwhelming one, where the Union finished 18th out of the 20 teams. Improvements simply had to be made for this team to make a bigger impact in the MLS, become a playoff contender and to do right by the fans. It’s suffice to say that some drastic hanges have been made to the team this offseason. So with just a couple of days before the MLS roars back into life, we asked what fans were looking forward to. There were 10 main things that fans are looking forward to at the start of this 2016 season.

1. A more unified effort 

2015 was an awkward season for the Union to say the least; injuries plagued the team early on in the campaign which meant the team really struggled to find its identity as the season progressed with a different lineup being fielded every few games. This arguably was behind many of the losses, and the sloppy play. If the team could stay healthy, and roll out the same 11 constantly, then they could be more unified. There also were times last year, where players tried to do too much, and/or gave up on certain games. This again was because of a lack of consistency. Players tried to put the team on their back some games; and other games it was almost a binary opposite. However, the players embodying this kind of play are no longer with the squad; thank you Earnie Stewart and the players are healthy (with the exception of Maurice Edu) as the 2016 season is about to begin. A more unified effort might actually be an accomplishable goal, which would be a step in the right direction for the Union.

2. More emphasis on attacking rather than build up 

With the disunity of the 2015 team, came struggles in the attacking third. It seemed like when the Union got into attacking position they would look for the most clinical way to score. There was too much thinking, and not enough doing. There were many times where a player could have had a shot on goal, and decided to make an elaborate through ball or another pass instead. The Union became very hesitant, and it led to them being one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. This year the Union have a revitalized attack with CJ Sapong, Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastian Le Toux, Eric Ayuk, Leo Fernandez, and new comers, Chris Pontius, Ronald Alberg, Ilsinho, Walter Restrepo, and Fabian Herbers. The Union have plenty of good attacking options, and whilst there may not be much in the way of central strikers, the ability to create goals is something all of these players possess. it’s not just a case of finding a way to pull the trigger when they have the chance to score.

3. How the new core will mesh 

The Union have totally revamped their team. They traded away Christian Maidana, Andrew Wenger, and Zach Pfeffer; they also cut ties with seasoned vets like Conor Casey and Fred amongst others. They have brought in/back a plethora of players. Walter Restrepo, Anderson Conceiçào, Leo Fernandez, Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers, Chris Pontius, Ronald Alberg,to name a few. This team is newly put together, and with preseason now over, it’s crunch time. The first few games of 2016 will be the time for players to mesh together, and really get into the swing of things. Will the players work well together, or not? Only time will tell.

4. Follow the leader

Last season there only seemed to be one leader on the field in Maurice Edu. He was the teams captain, but no else seemed to step up, until the end of last season when Edu got injured; that is when Tranquillo Barnetta stepped up. It seems unlikely that Edu will be fully healed for the start of the season, so other leaders will have to emerge. This year I expect Barnetta to captain the team, and be a leader the team can count on. Also look for Ray Gaddis to take more responsibility as the season progresses.

With many of the older veterans not returning ti the team this year, Gaddis is now one of the longest tenured Union players, and will have to hold down a very young Back line. Another leader could be third year goalkeeper Andre Blake. He is notably becoming one of the better keepers in MLS, and if he becomes more vocal he could help direct the young back line, it’s only going to increase his reputation to command the line authoritatively With Edu, Barnetta, Gaddis, and Blake, the Union could have a prominent group of leaders to help nurture the younger players throughout 2016.

5. A winning season 

This is something that Union fans have wanted ever since the last winning season in 2011. Winning constitutes making the playoffs, and on paper this team that the Union have put together is one that can compete for a playoff spot. Earnie Stewart has helped get pieces that can help the Union compete in 2016. The only thing we can do as fans is hope the team can compete, and win, against “better” teams whilst finding the consistency they have failed to establish in recent years. If they can, the team will have a good chance at a winning season and a playoff berth.

6. Spice is nice

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from pre-season it’s that the Union have a bit of spice in their play. Brazilians Walter Restrepo and Ilsinho have brought a fluidity and flair to the game that was previously unheard of in Philadelphia and if the pair can iron out the errors, there is a huge amount of potential to generate a very intimidating attack force through long dribbles and neat passing.

The Union seemed to favor possession Football in their early pre-season games, playing from the back and working forward. Restrepo and Ilsinho could well be regarded as tempo changers, guys who can catch Defenses off guard and sprint down the sideline whilst making it look effortless. Only time will tell if they can do it at the MLS level and add an extra element to the Union’s gameplan.

7. More passion at the games, and arguing with the away supporters that come to Philly 

The Union’s consistent inconsistencies have meant that there has been less passion at home games. The fans are fed up with the fact that their team gets out played, and some fans don’t even bother showing up. This has led to the away team fans out chanting/ cheering their team. This is unacceptable. We as fans should be there cheering loud and proud whether our team is winning or not; we should be chanting even louder when there is an away presence in our building. In 2016 I hope all fans come to their senses, and come support the team. There needs to be more passion for the team, and we as fans need to out-chant, out-cheer, and be spiteful towards the away fans. The team can feed off of this energy we the fans can provide. Lets hope we can do this in 2016.

8. The new midfield, and how it’s going to work 

So the Union are going to use a new system in 2016, a 4-3-3, and they have been acquiring midfielders left and right. With their new system they can only have three “midfielders” on the field at a time. So how is this going to work, and who’s going to play? We know that the preferred midfield random would be Barnetta at the attacking midfield spot, with Nogueira And Edu as holding midfielders in front of the back four. With Edu injured for the start of the 2016 season, who is going to fill that role? Nog’s feels comfortable playing next to veteran Brian Carroll, but he is someone who is lower on the depth chart it seems.

Theres new comer Ronald Alberg, who is a good defensive player, but is also a valuable acting player. Maybe he and Barnetta switch spots given Barnetta’s defending experience. Whoever fills that role will likely make way for Edu when he is healthy. This gives the Union depth at the midfield position in 2016; as well as, hard decisions to make for who starts in future games.

9. Where the goals are going to come from 

In 2015 the leading goal scorer was CJ Sapong with 9 goals. This is a good amount but is not great by any means. So in 2016 where are the Union’s goals going to come from? They have picked up many good attacking players, but who will really take that step up into having double digit goal tally on the season? I think that CJ Sapong, and Sebastian Le Toux will be able to reach double digits this year. The new 4-3-3 formation fits to their attacking strengths; with CJ winning air battles, and getting good service, and Seba’s ability to drift around the field to find open spaces. Others will contribute in scoring as well don’t get me wrong, but Sapong and Le Toux should be able to carry the load for the U in 2016..especially with the amount of support they should receive from the influx of players around them.

10. Earnie Stewart’s Influence

The Union’s new Sporting Director Earnie Stewart has came to Philadelphia and has already had a huge influence on how the team will play this season. Changing the formation, and keeping/finding players that fit the formation has been the main theme of this offseason, whilst his moneyball mindset continues to intrigue. The first half of the season should be a good indicator if this system Earnie is putting into place really benefits the team. Anything new after a disappointing season looks good on paper and will likely be met with optimism by the fans but only time will tell if this very fresh type of system will really pay dividends for the Union. When it is time for the summer transfer window, don’t be surprised if we see players come and go, especially if the results dictate that the team should be doing better.

So those are the 10 things that some fans are looking forward to for the 2016 season. Let us know if there are any other things that the you are looking forward to as this 2016 season is getting underway. Also, thanks to Amy Lovenguth, Cortney St. John, Kat LeConey, Nick Kling, Cliff Kellett, and twitter personalities DOOPpool, and Union Hulk for letting us know what you’re looking forward to seeing during this upcoming 2016 season! The start of 2016 is right around the corner, lets hope it’s a season where all of these expectations are either answered, or come true.