In the past the Philadelphia Union have often been very busy in the off-season. From the initial attempts to putting a team together in 2009-10 to dismantling a playoff team in 2011-12. This year, with funds being available to coach John Hackworth for the first time - I took a look at the off-season's acquisitions and trades. These are my top 5 moves in terms of impact they will make to the Philadelphia Union in 2014.
5. Traded up to get the #1 draft pick and selecting Andre Blake.
Going into the draft, the question was would Hackworth and company get defender Christian Dean or would they choose defender Steve Birnbaum? While there was a hint days before, it was still a shock when the Union traded draft picks with DC United (and sent them some allocation money) to pick Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake at #1. It was even more of a shock when you consider incumbent goalkeeper Zac MacMath had a great second half of last season and US Youth team prospect Zach Steffen is a possibility for the next home grown contract. However Blake was widely regarded as the best player available in what may have been a poor draft class (the fact that as of writing this he was the only signed draftee for the Union out of 8 picks suggests the Union were unimpressed with the draft class). Blake will give MacMath a fight for the number 1 spot, and while a sub keeper isn't going to get many minutes for the first team, maybe a run in the US Open Cup will give Blake some time to improve. It is also never a bad idea to have two quality goalkeepers on the roster in the case of injury or suspension.
4. Signed Vincent Nogueira.
The last piece of the puzzle in terms of our off-season retooling of the midfield, Nogueira brings experience from one of the top European leagues (France's Ligue 1), is skillful on the ball, and we managed to get him on a non-DP wage. He will likely be the playmaker in midfield, linking up with Cristian Maidana and Sebastien Le Toux / Danny Cruz to feed chances to Jack McInerney. If there were more worthy moves, I'd probably put the revamped midfield at #1 on it's own, but while Nogueira's signing was a plus, it wasn't quite as good as......
3. Signing Cristian Maidana.
I put this ahead of the Nogueira signing because of the fact Maidana is left footed. One of the biggest gaps in the Union's midfield recently has been the lack of a left-footed player. While Keon Daniel is left-footed, he was unable to be a consistent threat going forward and struggled during his chances last year. Maidana was the first DP signing of the winter and was the start of what is an impressive turnover of the weakest part of the team - the midfield. Whether he plays on the left in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or similar formation, he should provide everything that Daniel didn't last season. From early pre-season reviews he also has an excellent delivery from set-pieces.
2. Trading Jeff Parke for #1 in the allocation list, and Ethan White.
Whether Jeff Parke needed to be traded to DC for personal reasons or there were other reasons we aren't aware of, this was a huge move by the Union. Parke was a local guy, happy to come to Philadelphia last year. He was involved with the USMNT when he signed, and was one of the Union's most consistent players throughout 2013. In return the Union got an allocation list spot and a player likely to be a backup this season. As a move all on it's own, it really doesn't look good for the Union. However it allowed us to.........
1. Sign Maurice Edu.
Immediately, Edu became the "biggest" name ever signed by the Union (with the exception of Kleberson - since he was likely never signed to play for us). The move was even more dramatic considering all of the speculation and rumor around the draft - would MLS veto the deal? How could they do that after allowing Toronto to spend? "MLS are biased against the Union" etc etc. Nothing has united the Union fanbase more since the confusion over Piotr Nowak's team selections. In the end, the deal was done - and Edu became a Union player. On the field, Edu will help control the midfield for the Union. He will help out Brian Carroll defensively, while hopefully getting forward and helping out with some goals and assists (it was his pass that allowed Jack McInerney to score in Saturday's friendly versus Montreal). After tasting glory with Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, Edu will be wanting to forget his stint in England with Stoke and get back into the USMNT picture. That ambition and drive should mean good news for the Union.
I'll also cheat and add the trade for Austin Berry to this - as it makes the loss of Parke even more palatable, giving us a tall, young center back to partner with Amobi Okugo for the season. If he can re-capture his MLS Rookie of the Year form, our defense could be set for years to come.
Overall it's been a pretty successful off-season for the Union. We will see if that translates into a successful season.
That ends my top 5 off-season moves - is there a move the Union made i missed and didn't mention? Comment below and tell us what your favorite moves are.