2013 Philadelphia Union Preview: Lots Of Change, Again

Drew Hallowell

The Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, no. 5, is where Philadelphia is headed. The Union have plenty of talent, once again, but that didn't stop them from failing to do much of anything memorable last season.

Last year's record: 10 - 18 - 6 (eight out of 10 in the Eastern Conference, 16 out of 19 in Major League Soccer)

Key additions: Conor Casey, Sebastien Le Toux, Don Anding, Jeff Parke

Key losses: Gabriel Gomez, Peter Nowak, Carlos Valdes

Projected starting lineup: (4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1) Zac MacMath / (r-l) Sheanon Williams, Jeff Parke, Bakary Soumare, Gabriel Farfan / Brian Carroll (CDM), Amobi Okugo, Michael Farfan / Sebastien Le Toux, Jack McInerney / Conor Casey - Bench: Chris Konopka (goalkeeper), Antoine Hoppenot, Roger Torres, Michael Lahoud, Raymon Gaddis, Chris Albright, Danny Cruz

The Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, no. 5, is where Philadelphia is headed. The Union have plenty of talent, once again, but that didn't stop them from failing to do much of anything memorable last season.

A main component of those failures rested upon the almost saboteur nature of Nowak's final months with Philadelphia. Trades of Le Toux, former captain Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga preceded a descent into the pits of the Eastern Conference, an area that the Union had only the previous year dragged itself out of to get to the playoffs for the first time in their - short - history.

The team's attempt to once again climb out of those poor form depths meant the arrival of Casey and the return of the prodigal son, Le Toux. Also brought it was Parke, who essentially replaced the out going Valdes, who went to Colombia on loan to further his national team career.

All in all, the 2013 starting lineup could potentially have up to four near members in it from last year's opening day starting eleven. Okugo's time in central defense may come to an end, with Soumare healthy and Parke already solid in the back.

Okugo's athleticism will allow the Union to open up more over the midfield and embrace a more attacking Michael Farfan, possibly alongside Torres, behind a trio of McInerney, Le Toux and Casey. A diminutive year in front of the net in 2012 should be solved in 2013 by an improved attacking front.

If the defense can hold together and find chemistry despite a new starting center partnership, and the offense can produce in 2010 numbers, the Union should have no problem at least slinking into the playoffs to make a run.

Unless...

Soumare has injury problems for another season or isn't truly rehabilitation from various leg injuries of a year ago. Coupled with a perceived weakness at left back in the form of G. Farfan, the back line could potentially fall apart at the seams despite the club attempting to finally fix its problem of conceding on set pieces.

Or the offense fails, like it did last year when Jack McInerney was forced up top by his lonesome and still somehow put eight goals past opposing goalkeepers. Perhaps it'll come down to the midfield for the fourth straight year, a portion of the team that is never without change, or criticism.

And if the tactics aren't properly formed by the coaching staff, watch out. It'll be another year of poor possession, poor passing and finishing without much help from the sidelines to fix it.

Simply put, to succeed a lot of things have to go right for the Union and a lot of it comes down to man and tactical management by head coach John Hackworth.

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