In 2014, the Philadelphia Union were bested by the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup final due to what many fans believed to be lack of depth. We played the Sounders evenly until substitutes became an issue, and our bench could not match with the bench of the Sounders. Seattle was able to replace forward Chad Barrett with well known goal scoring machine Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle with Marco Pappa, while our answer was to replace Conor Casey with rookie Pedro Ribero and Sheanon Williams with Fred. While talented players, Ribero and Fred could not compare to Martins and Pappa as far as substitutes go. Since the final last year, the Union have made significant changes to their starting line up which begs the question, have they developed depth in the past year, and are they really better than the 2014 XI?
Goalkeepers: 2014 Zac MacMath vs 2015 Andre Blake/John McCarthy
Zac MacMath had been a consistent goalkeeper for the Union before being loaned to the Colorado Rapids and played well in the final against Seattle. The goals that were scored against him would have been tough for any keeper, and he had a lower goals allowed per game average than John McCarthy has had this year (1.55 for MacMath, 1.63 for McCarthy). One thing to keep in mind is John McCarthy's 6th sense in goal during US Open Cup matches. He seems to be on another planet in key games somehow and has made incredible saves, usually from the penalty spot to help push the Union through to the championship game. Andre Blake, however, has had a lower average than both MacMath and McCarthy (0.6 this year). Andre Blake also has recently broken Zac MacMath's record of saves in a single game, with Blake recording 10 saves in last Saturday's game against the New England Revolution.
Verdict: 2014 Zac MacMath over 2015 John McCarthy, but 2015 Andre Blake over 2014 Zac MacMath
Defenders: 2014 Sheanon Williams, Ethan White, Carlos Valdes, Raymond Gaddis vs 2015 Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Maurice Edu, Raymond Gaddis
LB: Trading Sheanon Williams halfway through this season was extremely difficult for fans as he held (and still currently holds) the Union's franchise record for most games played. Williams had been a part of the Union since the founding year and was a fan favorite, trademarked with the "Boom" chant for his long throw ins. He was a great defender for the Union and has been playing well for the Houston Dynamo, but I'm sure some fans would argue that Fabinho is having a better season this year than Williams had last year. I would argue that their play has been similar, Fabiniho has helped more defensively and Williams helped more offensively, so I'd have to give the Left Back battle to be a tie.
CB: Looking back at the Union's roster from last year, this was the position I believed to be weakest. Carlos Valdes was a good defender but was very 'on again off again' with the franchise and his teammates. It was clear that he did not necessarily enjoy his time with the team and wanted to get out. He played well while in the Union's jersey, but his actions off the field were clear indications he wanted out. His partner in crime that year, Ethan White, has never quite found his stride since joining the Union. Though having experience, White tended to play like a rookie that was never sure of himself and it showed in the final against forwards like Clint Dempsey, Chad Barrett and Obafemi Martins. This year, the choice pairing at center back has been a combination of Richie Marquez and Maurice Edu. Typically, the pairing has done well throughout the season with Marquez's defensive ability and Edu's veteran experience. One key thing to watch for is Maurice Edu's recent hamstring injury as he may not still be at 100%. Regardless, I give this one to the 2015 center backs as they have looked more consistent this season than the choice pairing last year.
RB: Raymond Gaddis has had a tough season this year. He has not looked to be as dynamic of a defender as he had been in years past, possibly due to the enhanced competition of international stars like Kaka or David Villa. He has not been able to make as many upfield runs or contribute as much to the offense as he has in the past, so I'm going to say I'd take 2014 Gaddis over 2015 Gaddis
Verdict: 2015 Defenders over 2014 Defenders, but not by much.
Midfielders: 2014 Vincent Nogueira, Maurice Edu, Andrew Wenger, Christian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux vs 2015 Vincent Nogueira, Brian Carroll, Christian Maidana, Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux
DM: Maurice Edu gave the Union their only goal in last years final game and has always done a good job controlling the midfield when in the CDM position. Alongside playmaker Vincent Noguiera last year, the duo was one of the toughest to beat. This year, the choice pairing has been veteran Brian Carroll with Maurice Edu pushed to CB and Vincent Noguiera keeping his role. Noguiera has been exceptionally better with goals this year, scoring 5 in 2015 and only 2 in 2014, however Noguiera has yet to record an assist this season, compared to 2014 where he assisted 3 goals. Brian Carroll has more veteran experience than Maurice Edu, but Edu has played in higher leagues such as the Scottish Premier League with Rangers FC and the Barclays Premier League with Stoke City. As far as the Defensive Mids are concerned, I'd go with the 2014 pairing.
Wings: 2014 was Andrew Wenger's best year in his career. He made key runs that lead to crosses, he scored goals, got assists, he was simply unbeatable. His counterpart, Sebastien Le Toux, was quieter last year than he has been this year and some fans thought he was past his prime. With the addition of Tranquillo Barnetta to the roster this year, Christian Maidana has been pushed to the wing to replace a struggling Wenger. Maidana has had a supurb season again tallying 14 assists so far and scoring 1 goal. Maidana has become a fan favorite for his ability to find teammates and set them up in the box for a shot, as well as taking chances and shooting as well. Sebastien Le Toux has also been playing well this season, scoring 6 goals and grabbing 6 assists in regular season play and 1 goal and 1 assist in this years Open Cup. He now holds the record for most career goals scored in the modern era of soccer in the US Open Cup and recently joined the 50 goals 50 assists club for MLS. Due to the form Le Toux is in and the addition of Barnetta, I'd give this one to the 2015 wings.
AM: Christian Maidana was possibly the best player on the Union last season. Maidana came in to a brand new team and earned 2 goals and 11 assists. He was a huge play maker and was exciting to watch. This year, we have had the addition of Tranquillo Barnetta. Barnetta has not been with the team long enough to make a huge impact, but he showed promising signs against Houston with his first goal with the club and fans hope that the form continues against Sporting Kansas City come Wednesday. Barnetta has had less time to impress but his experience with big name teams like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke, and earning caps for Switzerland's national team make him a key asset to the Union and a huge improvement on the roster.That being said, I would actually give the hand to 2015 Barnetta over 2014 Maidana, because Barnetta has a lot to prove.
Verdict: 2015 Midfield over 2014 Midfield due to improvement from Noguiera and Maidana
Strikers: 2014 Conor Casey vs 2015 CJ Sapong
Conor Casey has consistently gotten 8+ goals for the Union when given playing time and is a huge fan favorite due to his willingness to give and take hits for the team. He has a lot of experience in the league and the US Open Cup tournament but that failed to show in the final last year. This year, the Union have signed C.J. Sapong from their opponents in the final, Sporting Kansas City. Sapong has typically gotten the nod from head coach Jim Curtin and will likely start against his former team on Wednesday. Sapong has scored a career high 9 goals with the Union this season and is their leading goalscorer so far. With the run of form he is and the fact that he is in shape and can go a full 90 + extra time, I'd have to lean towards CJ Sapong on this one.
Verdict: 2015 CJ Sapong over 2014 Conor Casey
Bench: 2014 vs 2015
Our benched has strengthened, there is no question about that. The fact that our substitute striker last was a rookie who had struggled has since improved to the point where our starting striker from last years cup final is not even the first choice striker substitute is a great sign. Fernando Aristeguieta has been a big threat off the bench along with Casey and should push come to shove and both of them came in along side Sapong, all hell would break loose in Kansas City's goal. Our defensive depth has improved in the center back position as well. Again, one of our starters in last years cup final is now a bench player and not the first choice to go in. Steven Vitoria has started to find his place on the Union after being out with injuries and has started to look good with the team when he plays. The Union will also have the energetic young legs of Eric Ayuk for late in the game to be a real difference maker.
Overall Verdict: 2015 Philadelphia Union over 2014 Philadelphia Union. While we may not have gotten all the results we would like in the 2015 season, the important thing is that we are stronger, we have more depth, and we have a better chance at winning the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Winning this title would solidify that 2015>2014.