The Philadelphia Union started the season with plenty of new faces, and a belief that they would return to the MLS postseason a stronger team.
In the end, there were too many changes both in number and in terms of what they contributed, and as a result the team took a step back in 2012.
They went from 48 points to 36, and saw numerous personnel changes in season, even after the initial 13 new players. The 2012 season also saw a managerial change as John Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak.
Hackworth brought much needed stability to the team, and under his leadership there were improvement in all areas. Central defender Amobi Okugo and striker Jack MacInerney were the two players who shined under the coaching change. Okugo partnered with Carlos Valdes in the central defense, starting the last 23 games, playing the entire 90 minute span in each.
McInerney was impressive with his totals, as he led the club in goals scored with eight, which included a stretch of goals scored in four consecutive games – a club record. The 20-year-old became a go-to-player under Hackworth after struggling to make the 18-man gameday roster under Nowak.
Both of these players can be expected to have big roles in the 2013 season, but their roles could be different. Okugo could end up back at his defensive midfielder position, if Bakary Soumare comes to preseason 100 percent healthy. The Soumare that was once an MLS defender of the year candidate should be a starter again, here in MLS.
McInerney should still see a lot of playing time as either starter or first option off the bench. If he starts, instead of being the lone threat up top, he could be part of a dual strike force alongside a tall powerful striker.
Playing alongside a proven veteran forward can also help Jack in his continued development.
For 2013, the Union have their shopping list ready.
One imagines that at least one striker is on that list, if not two. A creative central midfielder should also be on that list. Someone who plays like a Javi Morales or David Ferreira can make others on the team that much better. I'm not saying these “number 10” players are easy to find, but they are surely worth shopping for.
When your club ranks 15th in goals scored, 18th in shots and 19th in shots on goal, it's the offense that needs to be upgraded for next season.
The club can look at international players, or look to make a trade with another MLS club. They can look to MLS SuperDraft and to the NASL and USL for additional help, but to get a top striker or two, and a creative midfielder, the best routes are through international selections or the MLS trade market. The new player(s) need not be Designated Players, but in a world where you get what you pay for, the club will have to pony up for the right people.
First things first, the team must look to release players who don’t fit into their 2013 plans. This will free up some salary cap space for the potential new players. A decision will have to be reached on Freddy Adu, first and foremost. His contract is the highest on the team, considered DP money. Towards the end of the season he was in and out of the lineup, mostly out for a variety of reasons.
In MLS DP’s are expected to be stars and pretty much 90 minute players. If manager Hackworth sees Freddy in that vein, and gives him the “keys to the car, “we will see where the car takes the Union. Should Hackworth not view Adu as an everyday starter, then a different decision will be made.
How Hackworth handles this situation will give you some direction as to the team’s thoughts for 2013, but at the very least, it promises to be an interesting off season.