The Philadelphia Union are at a crossroads. The U.S. Open Cup is en route to Kansas City and the playoffs are going to Montreal. The 2015 season for the Union has been one long soap opera that can't end soon enough for some of us. But soccer isn't ever really over, is it? Even this wretched season still has some purpose and some good can come from it. There are positions to be won for the 2016 season and contracts to be extended or terminated.
- Fernando Aristeguieta: The Venezuelan striker should start every game from here on out, as the Union have a big decision to make about his future. In a one-striker system, there's no reason to have a Designated Player as a bench option. If he can prove he can replace CJ Sapong up top, his contract should be extended. That being said, Sapong has been nothing short of spectacular for the Union and Aristeguieta has a lot to prove.
- Steven Vitória: Another big decision the Union will have to act on. Brought in to replace Carlos Valdes at center back, an injury early in the year paved the way for the emergence of Richie Marquez. While Vitória has done fairly well in the latter part of the season, it's another instance of what's essentially a bench player making a lot of money. He too will need to play a lot of minutes and prove he is worth the Union extending his contract.
- Brian Carroll: More accurately, the men backing him up at central defensive midfield: Michael Lahoud and Warren Creavalle. Carroll has defied time thus far, however his career is inevitably going to end at some point and the Union should prepare some sort of succession plan. Lahoud seems to have the inside track - getting minutes and starting the U.S. Open Cup (and playing well) - but Creavalle should get a look if only to figure out where he stands on the depth chart.
- Tranquillo Barnetta: Again, it has less to do with Barnetta and more to do with where he fits in the Union's plans. Is he going to be a winger? A central attacking midfielder? This decision will have an effect on how the Union offense lines up, so expect to see the deck shuffled a bit up top with Batnetta and Maidana switching between the center of the pitch and the wings. This too will trickle down the depth chart a bit, with Andrew Wenger, Sebastien Le Toux, and Eric Ayuk all having a stake in how things shape up.
In a greater sense, the Union need to figure out how they're going to operate as an organization. The outcome of the rumors of Octavio Zambrano being hired as a soccer director will speak volumes to whether the club is serious about operating in a serious, professional manner or if it's still going to be run as if this were a real-life game of Football Manager. A real organizational hierarchy will need to be laid out for all to see - and adhered to - in order for the persistent cycle of rumors and denials of Nick Sakiewicz's involvement in day-to-day operations to (hopefully) finally end. The fans need to be able to trust that the club is being operated in an honest manner, and right now that trust does not exist.
From there, the Union need to figure out their identity. Yes we all know the club will look to promote homegrown players from the youth teams at YSC up to Bethlehem Steel in the USL and then to the first team. But what kind of style are they looking to cultivate? Will they look to play a possession-oriented style of soccer or continue with being opportunistic and hit a club on the counterattack? Will the club continue to rely on long balls up the flank or will they look to institute a Barcelona-style tiki-taka short passing game? Again, it's time to stop playing around and make some hard choices about what kind of club this will be - and stick with them and see them through to fruition.
What other hard choices need to be examined and addressed by the Union? Let us know in the comments below!