The 2017 season openers have been announced for every MLS team. The Union have their first two games released by the league. The 2017 Union season opens at Vancouver, and then returns home the next week vs Toronto. Lets take a look at the Union’s first two opponents.
OFFICIAL: Union host Toronto FC in 2017 home opener on Saturday, March 11.
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) December 21, 2016
Vancouver had a subpar 2016 campaign. At the beginning of the season, they looked to be a team that would compete for a playoff spot. As the calendar read October, Vancouver’s race was all but run. Their poor finish in 2016 has promoted them to make some moves this offseason.Vancouver has had a busy offseason thus far. There are rumors connecting them to players, trades to get players, re-signings, and departing players; this happening all before the transfer window is even open. They will without a doubt have a newly structured team by opening day, and this could actually help the Union.
Any kind of structure that Vancouver had last year was dismantled throughout the 2016 season. They are a team looking to create a fast paced, high-press style of play. With the departures of the 35 year old Panamanian goal scorer Blas Perez, and 31 year old designated player Pedro Morales they lose their veteran attackers. This team’s identity will be different with the departure of Pedro Morales. His time in Vancouver came to an end while fist fighting goalkeeper David Ousted in a practice in October. Morales, a once valued leader for the team, was showing frustration; like he wanted to leave the club. He got his wish, and the Whitecaps attack will now look different in 2017. However, with players like Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado, and Giles Barnes they have a more than formidable front three. There defense will also be different.
MLS veteran, and ex-Union fan favorite Sheanon Williams was traded to Vancouver two weeks ago. His pace, ability to move forward, and hell-of-a throw in make him a quality add on to a lackluster back line. They are also rumored to pursue ex-Orlando City defender Kevin Alston. Alston is a unique MLS defender. He is similar to the Union’s Ray Gaddis; in that, Alston has experience playing both right and left back. His addition would truly help solidify Vancouver’s outside backs. The Whitecaps are also looking to bring in a high caliber defensive midfield player. 26 year old Costa Rican international David Guzman has been linked to Vancouver; he would be a solid player to help out in front of the backline. All of these additions could help Vancouver but would they be able to jell before the start of the season?
Vancouver is doing the right things after a 2016 season that was below their expectations. They are getting rid of their older players, and looking to bring in youth that can solidify their defense and support their young attackers. The problem is that when this happens there are growing pains. If the Union want to start the new season on the right foot, they will exploit the newly put together defense of Vancouver.Alejandro Bedoya’s first MLS preseason, a full year of MLS play for Roland Alberg and Ilsinho, and the chemistry this team spent all of 2016 producing should create a hunger for better play for Philly in 2017. I think this game ends two-one Union in a hard fought game at BC Place. Now lets move to the Union’s home opener agaisnt the MLS Cup runner ups.
Toronto lost to Seattle in penalties after dominating the 120 minutes of actual game play. The Reds are 11-1 favorites to return to the final game and win it all. Toronto, unlike Vancouver, has been pretty quite on the transfer front ahead of the January Transfer window. This is the case because they have spent the majority of their time ringing back key components of their team from last season. They are a team that will look very similar to the team the Union lost to in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
Every player who was in the starting 11 for Toronto during their 2016 playoff run are returning to Toronto. Giovinco, Altidore; Morrow, Osorio, Bradley, Cooper, Beitashour; Hagglund, Moor, Zavaleta; Irwin are all returning and could be the starters for Toronto in Philadelphia on March 11th. However, the Toronto keeper had an interesting journey to returning to Toronto.
Irwin was not on Toronto’s list of protected players when the expansion draft took place. This meant that Atlanta or Minnesota had the chance to acquire him from Toronto.Which is exactly what Atlanta did. They selected Irwin, but before the end of the day Toronto made a deal with Atlanta to keep their starting goalkeeper. They negotiated with the new MLS side Atlanta United, and came to an agreement. Toronto could keep Irwin, if they sent right back Mark Bloom and general allocation money to Atlanta. The deal got done, and Irwin was ecstatic about staying with Toronto. The MLS Cup runners up had their starting 11 back; however, some key role players found themselves on the list of Toronto’s released players.
When Toronto released players list came out two names stuck out. Benoit Cheyrou, and Will Johnson were great contributors for Toronto in 2016. Cheyrou was a substitute hero for The Reds in the game that sent them to MLS Cup. In their second-leg match against Montreal, an injury to Giovinco made way for Cheyrou. Two minutes after coming on the pitch Cheyrou netted the winner for Toronto in extra time. Will Johnson netted a goal in stoppage time of the second-leg of the Voyagers Cup that won them the Canadian Championship. The beautiful goal-scoring heroics earned him a broken leg and an extended absence. These two players will no longer factor into Toronto’s squad, but The Reds are still a very dangerous team. How will the Union fare agaisnt them in their home opener?
Toronto plays at Real Salt Lake on opening weekend, then comes to Philly the next week for the Union’s home opener. This is a lot of travel for a team coming off of a long offseason. This could give the Union an edge. The first home game of 2017 agaisnt the team that knocked Philly out of the 2016 playoffs, and Toronto’s traveling sets up a decent scenario for the Union. However, Toronto is still leaps and bounds ahead of Philadelphia. Giovinco is still Giovinco, and unless the Union really sure up their defensive problems I think the atomic ant scores in this game. I think this game ends as a one-one draw. The Union start their first two games with a win and a draw, and fight for further results as the season continues.
The rest of the Unions 2017 schedule is set to be released in the coming months. Make sure to come back to Philly Sports Network when the schedule drops to read some analysis on the 2017 Union opponents. Here are all of the Home openers from the MLS to hold you over until then. Also be sure to stay tuned for an analysis of 2016 and, a preview of Philly Sports Networks 2017 Union coverage coming before to you on New Years Eve! Until then, peace out Union faithful!
📅 The 2017 home openers are set! pic.twitter.com/UHk5ak1RKN
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 22, 2016
Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports