The Union had a rough end to 2016. The Union were winless in their last six games of the regular season. They did secure the last playoff spot thanks to a better goal difference than New England. This drop was concerning since they were first in the east after the first half of the season. As the 2017 offseason comes to a close the question is this: Can the Union finish better than they did last season?
The Union lost its shape/style of play when Vincent Nogueira left in June. Philly lost their distributor in the middle of the field. This was one main reason the Union fell last season. Another reason was consistency along the back line. The Union couldn’t keep the same four on the field, due to injuries. They also had to rely on rookies to stop dangerous attackers. The Offense was consistent scoring wise, but it was by committee. CJ Sapong stop scoring in the later months of the season. These were the issues the Union faced last year. 2016 was still more successful than previous years, can the Union build off that success in 2017? Philly brought depth in all over the field, and have addressed their problem spots.
Haris Medunjanin is the Union’s new central midfielder. He is a the distributor that Nogs was, and has more to offer on the offensive side of the field. Coach Jim Curtin said that Medunjanin is “the best passer I’ve ever seen.” That’s high praise, we’ll see if he can live up to his expectations and push this team. Josh Yaro is still dealing with injury problems, which is why veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu was brought in. His experience international will be put to the test in MLS. While his lack of speed is a weak spot, his positioning will help to make the Union’s defense consistent. Jay Simpson has been brought in to be the next Bradley Wright-Phillips. The English striker hopes to provide a pure goal scorer for the Union. He will try to lead the Union’s attack this season. Are these new faces really an improvement?
They all bring skill to a Union team who was inept at the end of last season. So they should be an improvement. The team’s culture looks to have changed already. Great chemistry between the returners and the newcomers sis a really promising sign. This Union group can be better than the 2016 squad, because of these new guys adding their talents to this already talented group. They can also be better than last years team because of their strength of schedule.
The Union are tied for the third easiest schedule in MLS this season. They get a majority of their big rivals (DC United and Red Bulls) early in the year, and at home.Philly only play Toronto and NYCFC twice this season. The Union get West powerhouses Portland and Seattle at home this season. The Union’s schedule is one that works in their favor good preparation and execution could see them be a very good team in 2017.
The Union’s combination of new additions to address key problems, and strength of schedule makes me think that this team will be better than last years team. How much better is still to-be-determined, but I think this season looks brighter than last year. Think about it, before the beginning of 2016 people had the Union finishing last in the east. They defied expectations, and finished just good enough to make a playoff spot. This season people are projecting that they will finish sixth or seventh in the east. While their additions are good, the rest of the league also got stronger. I just feel that this team got a taste of the next level and wants more.
I think this team can, and will finish better than last year. They will finish fourth/fifth this season due to the reasons I stated earlier. It’s time for this group do exceed expectations like they did at the beginning of last season. Happy start of 2017 everyone!
Come back to Philly Sports Network for more on the open of 2017, and an update of how we will cover the Union this season. Until then, peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports