CHESTER, Pa. – After an offseason of wheeling and dealing, the Philadelphia Union begin their 2011 season Saturday in Houston.
And if this week’s workouts are any indication, they’re ready to go.
“We’re getting pretty anxious,” Union manager Peter Nowak said Wednesday. “I had to cut off practice yesterday because it was too competitive.”
When Saturday night’s game against the Dynamo (Robertson Stadium, 8:30 p.m. ET, 6abc) kicks off, the Union will have at least four new players in the starting lineup. Faryd Mondragon will man the net, while central defender Carlos Valdes, central midfielder Brian Carroll and striker Carlos Ruiz also take their place in the starting 11.
They will likely be joined by defenders Danny Califf, Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey, midfielders Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi and Sebastien Le Toux, and striker Danny Mwanga – all holdovers from the ’10 team. Second-year players Roger Torres, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo and Kyle Nakazawa figure to be key players off the bench, while rookies Zac MacMath, Michael Farfan, Chris Agorsor, and Zach Pfeffer, among others, will try to find their place in the club's pecking order.
It’s a team that’s significantly different from the 2010 team – but one that Nowak believed meshed well during the preseason.
“I think the camp in Greece showed the group can come together,” the Union manager said. “They understood the concept of being away from their families, from their friends, from their girlfriends. It was good to get them out of their comfort zone. They need to spend time together.”
If this Union team really wants to be different from last year’s, they’ll need to address a serious problem that doomed their inaugural season – the inability to win on the road.
In 2010, Philly went 2-12-1 away from PPL Park as they finished their first season with an 8-15-7 overall record.
“Last year, instead of winning the game, we tied the game. Instead of tying the game, we lost the game,” Nowak said. “So now that’s something that has to change. And of course with the road games, we need to improve dramatically. We had seven points last year (on the road) and we need to change that.”
Interestingly enough, the Union’s first road win of the 2010 season came in Houston. Now, they’re eager to start the 2011 season with another win there - and then keep on rolling.
“The preseason is long and so it’s now kind of hitting home that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Califf, who served as the first team captain in club history last year. “We’re talking about games that mean something now. It’s exciting. There aren’t a whole lot of weeks more exciting than the week before we start. We’re certainly really looking forward to it.”