Breaking News FutbolMLS.com reports Carlos Valdes will return to the Philadelphia Union "next week"

5 Things to Watch From The Union In 2014

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

New season, new players, that new year smell - it's time for soccer. Time to look at what we're going to look at in the 2014 MLS season.

1.) Jack McInerney - This comes from another topic that could have been written as "Look for where the goals should be coming from", but the topic of Jack as his own self overshadows this entirely. A relative fan favorite in the striker position, he was drafted and has been a part of the Union since the club's inaugural season (only Amobi Okugo has been there continuously since the beginning as well), is only 21, and fans have been looking (and waiting) for him to have his breakout year - which last season almost looked like it was time. Our post from Monday brings into question of his consistency, but that question really boils down to the fans' expectation of knowing (and having been told) that he IS good enough. We wanted more from McInerney, and after his USMNT call up it disappointingly fell flat. Our hope, being generally optimistic at the start of the season, is that he does have his breakout year; that his time in Philadelphia isn't all for naught, and that the Union have an exceptional striker on their hands. Being his 5th year as a professional, I'm sure Jack is itching to have his year too.

2.) The New and Improved Midfield - This is as much a question as it is something to look forward to in excitement. Philadelphia brought in international experience with 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year and former Rangers FC and Stoke City player Maurice Edu, former Sochaux (French Ligue 1) captain Vincent Nogueira, and ex- Argentinos Juniors (Argentine Primera División) player Cristian Maidana. The Union appears to now have the experience and ability in the midfield that most critics of the team have complained the club was lacking - that connection between the backline and the front that was blatant in the 2013 season. Now this is of course only looking at it on paper and implementation has yet to be seen, but this is definitely something to get excited over. That is primarily because of-

3.) Roster Depth (use of) - Ethan White (less Jeff Parke), Austin Berry, Corben Bone, Edu, Nogueira, Maidana. Four new midfielders and two new defenders added to the Union's roster. This puts the Union's roster total at 12 midfielders, and with Carlos Valdes on loan and a relative question if he will ever return, and six defenders (pending on how Okugo is listed on the roster sheet). The Philadelphia Union have depth, and not just depth - young, experienced, veteran options on the depth chart. Another critique of Hack-tics tends to be that the substitutions fall flat - predictably the same 2 or 3 players subbed onto the field, at the same time, no matter if we are 3 goals up or 3 goals behind. Adding such depth gives various options to utilize with defense and the midfield. No longer will the fans have a sense of fear that the Union will be one red card and a sprained ankle away of having a weak defensive line each game. Once again, this falls to implementation on game day, and we could end up seeing only the same 15 or 16 guys on game day, but that all relies on -

4.) Hackworth - It's officially his team now. Taking over the team midway through 2012, and for whatever reason not having the leeway or freedom to make large changes in roster in 2013, this is now officially his team. At the start of the 2013 season there was a mild sense that Hackworth had to play mostly with the cards he was dealt with after taking over, for good and bad. But now roster moves have been made, and this team is now essentially his own. It's now up to him and how he utilizes it. Will we see the same substitutions that we can't stand made time and time again, or will there be some creativity and risk going into a game? Hackworth and company brought in high priced talent - will they go used to their best advantage, or will we see another Juan Diego Gonzalez / Roger Torres / Freddy Adu / Kleberson situation on our hands?

5.) Attendance - This doesn't have as much to do with the on-field prep and production as the other points, but attendance is a fair thing to look at with the Union. Often a bragging point between fan bases, attendance usually an indication to a club's front office of how they are doing on-field, or just success as a business. Attendance will also dictate the necessity and need for any possible stadium expansion. Granted, expansion talk is done in phases, how a set amount of time will increase only one side of the stadium. These talks have been going on since PPL Park was built. Years, dates, time frames were tossed around often. 2013 was expected to start a phase one. Or maybe it was 2014, with a wait and see approach towards phase two. Or just an expansion that would suit the needs that are apparent where PPL is lacking. Expansion would help with increased available seating and facilities for international games being played at the stadium, as well as any other events planned, but if attendance begins to slip for whatever reason - be it team performance, front office, atmosphere decline, travel, weather - the likelihood of stadium expansion will get pushed back more and more and could even become non-existent. And once again, let's not forget the bragging factor with other teams. So in regards to what will happen with PPL Park, and the team in general in the next year or two, may be dictated by the numbers coming through the door this year.

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