A position that was once the Union's biggest weakness has arguably become one of the team's biggest strengths. Gone are the days of Keon Daniel as the team's central midfielder, as better players now roam the attacking third for the Union.
Central Attacking Midfield
1) Cristian Maidana
The Argentinian DP had an impressive debut season with the Union tallying 11 assists and nearly breaking the team's single-season assist record. Originally brought in to play on the wing, Maidana found a home in central midfield and consistently started there throughout the season. Maidana is a fantastic play maker and is likely to be among the league leaders in assists again, but his fitness is a concern. Chaco was rarely able to play a full game and missed time due to injury, meaning depth in this position is critical.
2) Zach Pfeffer
The Union's first Homegrown Player finally looks poised to contribute in a major way this season. Pfeffer only has nine appearances to date, but he is impressing in preseason and the back up CAM position appears to be his to lose. Head Coach Jim Curtin even seems to think that Pfeffer could compete with Maidana for the starting spot. I'm not ready to had the reigns over to Pfeffer just yet, but he is a young and exciting player who certainly has the skill set to be the number 10 of the future.
The mononymous Brazilian midfielder was re-signed this off-season in a player-coach role, though I expect he will be doing more coaching than playing. Though he may not see the field that much this season, it does not mean that he will ride the bench the whole season. Fred showed that he could still be useful in substitute appearances and could potentially see a start in the event of an injury, but the bulk of Fred's minutes are likely to come in US Open Cup games.
1) Andrew Wenger
Brought over from Montreal in the Jack McInerney trade, Wenger struggled to find his true place in the Philadelphia Union line up. Under Jim Curtin, Wenger was shifted to the left wing and quickly found success as the team's "target winger". Strong, fast and capable in front of goal, Wenger finally looks like he may live up to his number one overall pick. Some are calling for him to have a career year, and it certainly looks as though he has the tools and players around him to do just that. Expect him to be the regular starter on the left wing throughout the season.
2) Sebastien Le Toux
Le Toux basically has the right midfield spot locked up and for good reason. He is living legend in the eyes of Union fans and has proven his ability to score and create during his years with the team. However, Le Toux is now 31-years old and there are fears that his best years may be behind him. I'm not one of those people and I expect Le Toux to be his usual productive self and get 6 or 7 goals along with 7-10 assists. Oh, and he's also a lock to be the Union's PK taker for the season, seeing as he's never missed one in his time with the Union.
3) Danny Cruz
Love him or hate him, Danny Cruz is a Philadelphia Union player and whether starting or coming off the bench, he's gonna run hard, stretch the defense and fall down. He may not be particularly or polished, but Cruz has endeared himself to fans and coaches with his effort and occasional brilliance. His dribbles and running may not always result in goals or assists, but occasionally his hard work results in moments of brilliance, like his long range strike against New England last season. He's certainly not a starter, but he's a very good option late in games and is solid defensively if he needs to start in place of an injured starter.
4) C.J. Sapong
For me, the talk of CJ Sapong playing on the wing falls into the category of "Just because he can, doesn't mean he should". Since he was acquired in a trade from Sporting Kansas City, there has been quite a bit of talk about Sapong featuring on the wing with some regularity. If he needs to play some right wing because of injury, then that's understandable. But it seems like he was brought in to be a striker, and that's the position I suspect he will play for the majority of the season.
5) Jimmy McLaughlin
Poor Jimmy, he nutmegged Cristiano Ronaldo and still can't get a regular spot in the Union's line-up. The Union's other homegrown player is likely to spend the bulk of his season with Harrisburg again. He's played a grand total of 18 minutes with the Union since signing his Homegrown contract and he may get a few more this season, but for now it seems the Union will give McLaughlin another season to improve in the USL.
6) Eric Ayuk Mbu
Brought on as a trialist, the Cameroonian winger played well enough in preseason to earn a contract with the team. Though his pace and dribbling earned him significant minutes in preseason matches, Ayuk is looking at a season with Harrisburg.