Jake Pavorsky and Scott Kessler take turns predicting who is going to score the most goals and other made up designations for the sake of previewing the 2013 Major League Soccer season.
Team Leader in Goals:
Jake Pavorsky: Conor Casey. After two injury riddled, Casey is looking to get his career back on track, and I expect him to have a year similar to his 2008 campaign. The 31 year old gives the Union their first true target striker since Alejandro Moreno, and his presence in front of the net will certainly advance the team to new offensive heights. Many have called into question Casey's ability to play a full season due to his chronic knee problems, but he'll likely lay those doubts to rest quickly. The team certainly would not have been willing to shell out nearly $400,000 on a player they felt wouldn't be able to contribute for an entire season, especially after Jack McInerney's stellar year in 2012. It may not always be pretty, but Casey will have no trouble finding the back of the net this year.
Scott Kessler: I was also going to go with Casey, but for the sake of our readership, I'm going to say Jack McInerney. If McInerney is given the playing time that he reasonably deserves after his eight goals last year, the young striker has the chance to hit double digits in 2013. He has the scoring touch necessary to get the ball into the back of the net on multiple occasions, which benefited him last season. With Le Toux and Casey up front as well, if McInerney hits the field with them, he should produce more, not less, as he won't have to deal with taller, stronger center backs and will instead get to make the runs he so enjoys without being hindered.
JP: Danny Cruz. After being acquired a little after the midway point of last season, Cruz struggled at times to fit in. However, the former Houston Dynamo star seems poised for a solid 2013. Cruz's contributions will mostly come in the form of assists, as the wing player is quite the pinpoint crosser. With the additions of taller strikers Casey and Sebastien Le Toux, expect them to get their heads on a multitude of Cruz crosses. While passing is his greatest asset, Cruz possesses a deceptively dangerous shot, and displayed his ability to strike from distance during his time in Houston and DC. Now that he's fully adjusted to Philadelphia, expect a better Cruz this season.
SK: In the notes for this article, you rightly predicted that I would go with Roger Torres. He was masterclass during the preseason, and while we can't simply take the preseason as the end all, be all of Torres' 2013, it was nice to finally see him get the run of things and truly take his chances. Torres' passes were spot on, his shots crisp and with power and he was able to shrug off defenders unlike in previous seasons. The most impressive part of preseason games for me was watching him engineer the entire team's attack. Philadelphia has never had someone like that in three years.
Player Who Might Take A Step Back:
JP: Gabriel Farfan. Towards the end of January, head coach John Hackworth publicized his commitment to Gabe Farfan as the team's starting left back, mentioning his "soccer ability" as the main reason he views Farfan as one of the best left backs in the league. Yet Farfan's not a true left back, and he's made that quite clear to anyone who has watched him. Despite his ability to push the ball upfield, he's simply not a technically sound defender. With rookie Don Anding as the team's only other left back (a position that isn't natural to him either), there's an added pressure for Gabriel Farfan to succeed. I'm not sure he can live up to expectations.
SK: You stole this one from me, so I'm going to go with someone else. Sheanon Williams. Union fans have been high on Williams since he burst onto the scene in 2010, but he might be the most at risk player on the team for a step back. He hasn't really improved much beyond his defense, which increased greatly between 2011 and 2012, while his offensive skill set rather stagnated. Williams' crossing and dribbling skills have left much to be desired, especially after considering Raymon Gaddis' own abilities in regard to those skills. It's possible Gaddis could give Williams a true push for the starting right back position at some point in 2013.
Over/Under 15 Wins:
JP: Give me the over. Although the loss of Carlos Valdes certainly hurts, I think the Union's back line will be able to hold up. Jeff Parke is an incredibly strong central defender, Bakary Soumare seems fully healthy for the first time in a while, and Amobi Okugo is a chameleon, able to change from midfielder to centerback without a hitch in his game. There will be times where this Union defense gets exposed, but they're a talented group and if need be, they certainly have enough depth to make changes. On the offensive side of the ball, this team has improved greatly. The Union finally have to competent strikers in Casey and Le Toux, as the team struggled to find someone to complement McInerney, who led the team in goals. With McInerney making the transition to the bench, the Union have two supersubs in both he and Antoine Hoppenot, who can turn the tide of a game late. This 2013 Philadelphia Union team is finally drama free, and with a strong back line and a potent offense, good fortune is in store for this team.
SK: I'm taking the under. There are way too many questions with this team, ranging from front office, to coaching to on the field play to have the Union get over 15 wins. Add in the off the field problems that are created by the Freddu Adu situation and I can't see this team putting it together enough over the course of an entire season to do more than scrap itself into the playoff picture with the fifth spot. Count me for under 15 wins and we'll see what the team can do in 2014.