This is it. We are just a few days away from that time of year. The players are back in the harsh weather of the northeast, far from the paradise of sunny Florida. Rosters are finalized and the fans are chomping at the bit.
You guessed it: it's MLS time!
This Saturday the Philadelphia Union will travel to Portland for the second time in five years to open the season up against the Timbers. It seems like it's been forever since the Union ended their season with a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City way back in October, but its finally here. So the question for the week is what we've been building up for this whole off-season - how will the Union do this season? I asked my colleagues here at Brotherly Game to predict what amount of points the Union will attain and how their overall season will turn out.
Let's see what the experts came up with:
Jared Young - Check out my article Predicting the Philadelphia Union's Season
JC Escobar - 50 points. Our defense will struggle at the beginning of the year but get stronger towards the end. The biggest problem will be scoring goals, Jack will struggle and Casey's knee will keep him out of a lot of games. We'll make the playoffs but we will be out coached in the first round.
Nicholas Youngstein - 48 points. Their inability to score goals will turn wins to draws and draws to losses. Having no outstanding center back and now a new partnership will make ot hard to keep sheets clean. Their central midfield with Brian Carroll will contribute nothing to the attack, and fans will continue to blame Hackworth for his team selections.
Dan Kenworthy - I went team by team guessing on win/loss/tie - and I'm going to over-estimate my guess (came out to 42) and will say 47.
Most every team looks like they have had a good off-season sans Vancouver, and I would say SKC. Vancouver doesn't matter, that's one game, but we almost always have one of those issues with putting away sure shot games. SKC lost some of their prime stars in the past year, so their ability may not be up to their usual par.
As the few years have gone by, 47 usually is around the cut off point, but that point has been slowly moving up as teams have either gotten more competitive, or just have that much better talent. Our issue is - even though on paper it looks like we have improved -everyone else has improved by about the same ratio (especially TFC, again, on paper).
Other than that - my sentiment goes along what Nick says. Unless our midfield is able to produce chances that our strikers won't over think (JACK!!!!). We'll have a lot of draws, if anything, but I really can't wait for our midfield (assuming the people we brought in will be used, but that would be using logic).
Frank Cobbina - 53 points, 4th place finish in the East. They'll start out slow due to the number of new players in the squad, but as the team chemistry grows they'll make a strong finish towards the end. Also, I think an in-season adjustment will be made where Carroll will be replaced in the XI with a more forward-thinking option (Ribeiro, Pfeffer, Fernandes), leading to the offense coming alive. Jack McInerney finishes with 15 goals, solidifying his place as one of MLS's brightest young stars.
Heather Reppert - 55 points. The union will take a while to gel, particularly in the midfield, but once they get a rhythm going they will be able to give any team in the league a run for their money. I say they'll make the playoffs but be knocked out in the first round. I'm predicting a deep US Open Cup run.
William Murphy - 50 Even
The defense will be shambolic early on. Amobi can adjust to any partner given 4-6 games and it will eventually be as strong as last year if not better.
The midfield will resemble the glorious "blob" from the Nowak era before the new guys gel. There should be much better service to Jack this year. Look for Riberio to get some time in the US Open Cup along with Pfeffer, with mixed results.
It's all about Jack up front this year. Hackworth has hung his hat on the kid so he needs the consistency he didn't have last season. If all goes to plan he has an All Star season and the Union crash out of the playoffs in the first round.
Barry Evans - 40 points. Last year we got lucky with a lack of suspensions/injury/players sent off, and this year it will come back to haunt us.
John Whitesall - I'll go with 55 points this year. The pieces are in place, so now we will see how they play out. I see a more improved midfield this year and we will see this play out after the first four matches. They still need some time to sort things out but will eventually start to click. My biggest concern is still the back line, which will continue to be this biggest problem for them this year. On paper, this looks somewhat like a playoff caliber side so I don't see them going deep in the playoffs. The bottom line is that this will be a fun team to watch.
Matt Ralph - I'll take a wild guess and say 52 points. The team is better this year on paper for the most part but will struggle defensively and will live and die by whether McInerney can score goals and whether Casey can stay healthy. With players like Danny Cruz and Keon Daniel seeing less of the field they will convert winnable games that turned into draws last year into three points. The question will be if it's enough to make the playoffs.
Eryin Wandel - Over the last four years we average 40.25 points total, so I will be optimistic and go with 50 even as well. 50 points normally promises a postseason spot, but this may not be the case this year, but who knows.
With a very promising off-season with some signings and other things that lacked in the previous off-season there is promise. But I have a feeling it will take a few matches to get into the groove of things (or vice versa). I don't think we'll have a consistent year like mentioning above.
The midfield will be an improvement from last year, but with all the changes this could also be the downfall. Jack will have the pressure on him and he won't perform, most likely be looking for a way out of Philly. Conor coming off the injury will be alright, but not what he was last year, and I think we may see some new team leaders this year.
In all reality I don't know why I'm asked to do this, I have horrible insight for these types of things, but 50 points, 3rd in the east, on goal difference.
Ed Welsh - 50 points. I don't think we'll start out too hot. There are new pieces in the team that'll need time to settle in. Once they're all comfortable with one another I think this team could be pretty strong. 50 should be enough for the playoffs, but I don't think we're making a cup run or anything.
John O'Donnell - I think we get 51 points with 13 wins and that let's us finish third in the East. The young defense will be stellar because we don't expect it but Edu & Carroll will help it. The problem will be finding goals from someone besides Jack & Conor (paging Seba, be a nice year for 8). We beat the Pink Cows in the first round but that's where it ends. Ribeiro makes a run at rookie of the year as he starts to get consistent time after the break. And my Hackworth Special is, that Wheeler becomes the starting CB after his first two games produce goals off headers from corner kicks. The result of which gives us a tie in Portland and breaks open a 3-0 game against the Revs.
Eugene Rupinski - I think the Union winds up with 49 points, which should put them just into the playoffs. I think it takes a bit for the team to gel and that will cost them some points early on, however I think once they get going they will be a force. I think they eke into the playoffs and from there, as we all know, anything can happen.
Matt Reppert - I'll say the Union end up with 52 points. I think that the team will take some time to gel but once they get going they'll actually be quite formidable. One question mark I have is actually the forward position. Conor Casey won't even make it through a half a season of games. McInerney needs to take the next step and continue his growth. Aaron Wheeler should actually be getting some time on the field because he actually has the physical body type you tend to expect from a lone striker in a 4-3-3 formation.
The biggest potential issue with the team is the coaching, if the team falls on it's face, its because Hackworth fails to get the team working together. The leash should be very, VERY short for Hack and if the team isn't in the top few teams in the east by the all star game, Hackworth could be shown the door as Nowak was in 2012.
This is a make or break year for John Hackworth's Philadelphia Union. This is truly the first season Philadelphia is removed from Peter Nowak's aura, but this should not be treated as a fresh start. Hackworth has brought in his new players, but he cannot bring in his old tactics that he displayed from last season. I have been critical of the Union's beloved manager, but he has given as a long sample size of how he manages a team and if he does not change those tactics, all the improvements will be for naught.
Now that I have given my warnings to Hackworth, lets get this prediction started. I do believe in Hackworth. He won't be the perfect manager, but his eyes will be open to the quality of play this year from our three new studs in the midfield. The backline will take some time to gel, but Okugo and Berry will certainly prove their worth together and develop into one of the best backline pairings in the MLS.
The problem will develop when our forwards decide to forget how to score and the Union will need to find a replacement whether its on the bench or on another team. My prediction is Sebastien Le Toux will rise from the shadows and save the Union with a bench player filling his role out wide (not Danny Cruz).
The best case scenario for the Union this season will be towards the top of the table competing for the supporters shield and the worst case scenario is being injury riddled and closing in on a DC United-esque season as league laughingstock. I imagine the Union will find themselves somewhere around the former. They will certainly struggle at the beginning, but they will rebound quicker than anticipated and compete favorably for a playoff spot in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. I do believe the Union will become the team to beat down the stretch following an impressive US Open Cup run that results in the Union reclaiming Philadelphia's proud tradition of winning sides to hoist the Lamar Hunt trophy.
The Union will have 58 points at the end of the season tied with Portland and Sporting Kansas City (losing to SKC in the standings thanks to less wins), but only being 3 points shy of the Galaxy's 61 points that gives them the Supporters Shield. The Union, however, will dive out of the playoffs in the first round to Toronto. Tim Leiweke will then shame the Union FO by calling their transfers irresponsible, as they couldn't help them beat Toronto in the playoffs. To celebrate, Toronto will bend the rules and acquire their record breaking tenth designated player just before the conference finals to help them win the MLS Cup (OK I'm getting out of hand here, right?).
All joking aside, this is going to be a season where Philadelphia finally rewards its devoted fan base with not only silverware, but also promise of more success in the future.
Let us know how you're feeling about the upcoming season in the poll and comments below!