According to our numbers guru, Mr. Jared Young, last year our strikers performed above average in both shooting percentage and goals. Our Midfield was near the bottom of the league in both shooting percentage and assists (with the exception of Sebastien LeToux). Will an improved midfield translate to an even better performance for the strikers in 2014?
Unfortunately, the reality is that as of right now, there's too many unanswered questions. Which Jack will show up in 2014? Can Conor Casey and his bad knee be able to play as much as he did in 2013? Can Antoine Hoppenot and Aaron Wheeler do a good job filling in in case of injury?
The reigning goal scoring leader for the Philadelphia Union will return this season another year older, another year wiser, and another year better. Its hard not to have high hopes for the 21 year old, who enters his fifth MLS season on the back of 12 goals scored last year. The biggest thing he can improve, however, is his own head. Jack had a bad case of lost confidence last season after being called into the USMNT camp for the Gold Cup. Despite being on that roster, Jack could not continue the goal scoring hot streak he put on in the first 16 games. The more telling stat could be his 2 goals in the final 18 games of the 2013 season. Only time will tell for Jack, but if he doesn't work on other skill sets, he'll only be known for his poaching ability.
After being picked in the 2012 MLS Re-Entry draft by the Union, many here questioned as to why we need the big and powerful forward. Oh boy did he answer those questions. A finalist for the Comeback Player of the Year award, Casey rebounded from an injury plagued 2012 to score 10 goals for Philadelphia and cemented his place in Union fans' hearts. He often found himself as the workhorse on the field up front, playing the role of linking up the midfield to the attack, for Philadelphia due to the lack of a midfield and the opportunistic McInerney providing little to no possession game. Casey was one of the few reasons during the second half of the season collapse that Union fans held out hope for the playoffs. If he can repeat a healthy season look for him to continue this productivity in 2014.
The electric Frenchman from Princeton has provided a spark off the bench in his first two seasons for the Union and I do not see 2014 being any different for him. The speedy striker has his limits, but stretching the defense and essentially being annoying to a tired out backline of the opponent is his game and he does it very well. Many remember his goal against Vancouver in this season that gave the Union a crucial 3 points on the road. Hoppenot must improve at being multi-faceted in attack, if he does, he will be even more menacing off the bench.
A surprise to have been on the roster in 2013, Aaron Wheeler proved his worth by providing several key moments last season. His combination with Hoppenot against Vancouver and his goal against FC Dallas were most likely the only reason he stayed on the roster without being loaned out to Harrisburg. With his tall, hulking frame, Wheeler was a like for like substitution when Casey needed a break (around the 60th, 70th, or 80th minute). Wheeler looks to have done enough in his first MLS season to keep his roster spot with no other strikers acquired by the Union, but be wary if the Union don't add any more defensive depth we could be seeing him alongside Okugo at CB.
Clesio, as he is simply known, was on trial with the Philadelphia Union this season and has joined the team on load from Portuguese giants Benfica. The Mozambique international has impressed the coaches enough to bring him into the team after his trial here. Clesio has brief international experience despite being only 19 years old. Clesio seems to be joining a stacked bench this season with a 4-3-3 being expected. Unless Clesio can play out wide, expect him to play little during the season.
Connor Maloney (Freshman at Penn State)
Maloney didn't score his first college goal until November but he showed his offensive prowess setting up teammates, assisting on three game-winning goals and finishing the season with two goals and six assists. Expect bigger things from him his sophomore year in State College.
Sean Wilson (Class of 2015) (Ranked 21st by TDS) (HG Eligible)
The top rated player in the academy for the Class of 2015 according to Top Drawer Soccer has played all over the field. He was selected for the U15 Boys national team as a midfielder, but as a defender he played with fellow Academy player Chris Gomez on one of the best U15/16 defenses in the country at Players Development Academy (PDA).
Dawson McCartney (Class of 2016) (HGP eligible)
McCartney played for the U14 BNT in May 2012. He's part of a crowded, talented corps of potential forwards on the U16 team.
Raheem Taylor-Parkes (Class of 2016) (HGP eligible)
Former Arsenal trialist Taylor-Parkes has played for the US youth national teams at every level since the age of 13, and was selected to the U17 men's national team this month. He joined the Union academy in December.
Isaiah Young (Class of 2016) (HGP eligible)
Young scored 7 goals in the fall for the U15/16 academy squad. He was a member of the Developmental Academy U16 squad that played during the Winter Showcase
Special thanks to Matt Ralph, Frank Cobbina, John Rossi, Jared Young, Douglas Gobrecht, Eugene Rupinski and Barry Evans for their hard work on putting this series together.