PPL Park opening match image
Greg Carroccio

Season preview: Big changes across the board highlight a clean slate for Union soccer in 2014

Change is good, but good change takes time.

It’s a fact of life, one that frames the makeup of the 2014 Philadelphia Union. The technical staff of the club already proved this offseason that patience reaps rewards. Building a culture of winning and perennial success doesn’t happen overnight, but the seeds have been planted with the offseason acquisitions of top talent mixing with a core group all collectively hungry for bigger and better things.

Take the acquisition of a player like Maurice Edu. There are myriad reasons why that signing was well-timed for this club. Edu is desperate to get himself in favor with U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann on the eve of the world’s biggest sporting event: this summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil. On a personal level, it's where he wants his career to return and what better way to showcase goods that here in Philadelphia for an MLS club on the rise.

If you can recall, it's the same exact page current D.C United and U.S. national team forward Eddie Johnson took on his road to redemption.

Johnson and Edu were in similar shoes in that both were (and still are) regarded as top players, who by virtue of either a temporary lapse in concentration or in confidence fell out of favor on a national scale. However, Johnson lowered his head, found humility in Seattle and worked his tail off to once again be one of America’s best young hopes to not just lead the Americans in Brazil but continue to grow a great league. On Thursday, Johnson was further rewarded as it was announced he earned a deserved designated player contract from his new club.

If Edu can do the same thing, find the comfort level and confidence to complement his talent – all the things he vowed to do during his introductory press conference  in February – then the sky is the limit for not only him, but the Union will assuredly reap the benefits.

Certainly his new teammates recognize that.

“We have Maurice Edu who is trying to get back into the national team so I feel like all eyes will be on him,” Union defender Amobi Okugo said recently. “That’s just going to bring more exposure to our team. Also, we have Jack [McInerney] who has been in and out of call-ups and Conor [Casey] been called up in the past. I feel like if we play well with the National spotlight on us then the hype will be around us.”

How you ask?

It’s evident that the inclusion of a highly talented, highly prolific player raises the level of play of the players around them. Look at David Beckham and now Robbie Keane in Los Angeles.

It makes the mindset one of a contender. 

The new pieces the Union acquired have done that. Vincent Nogueira, former captain of a French Ligue 1 team who said he wanted to leave Europe, Austin Berry, a proven defender to bolster a young, but talented back line, Cristian Maidana a true winger who stretches the field and has a ton of tricks in his locker.

All good things; but remember good things in the case of a professional sports team take time to gel.

Patience is key.

The same way it was this offseason to acquire these pieces is the same way it will take time to watch them integrate themselves (for many) into a new culture, language, league, city and raucous fan base.

“It’s obvious that these guys have a ton of talent, you can see that but it’s important to remember what they have to deal with off the field too,” said Union manager John Hackworth. “It’s not easy to get accustomed to a culture, a new city especially when you don’t speak the same language. I tip my hat off to these guys because they come in and they are professionals but there’s a lot behind the scenes, a lot off the field that takes place to them to truly settle in and be at their best.”

Across the board the Union as a organization has made great strides to grow the brand and awareness to supporters, constituents and the community at large.  Fan engagement will be ramped on game day on philadelphiaunion.com with in-game chat features on the website, more articles, imagery and using the latest advances social media. It’s a fun experience to be in-stadium, but if you can’t make it we have you covered.

Anytime you want, follow the Union on Facebook, on Twitter on Google Plus+  and keep with the latest of what’s going on with the club and its partners via Twitter. For specific accounts you need to follow:

Our ticket and fan services department added new faces committed to ensure you receive the best possible fan experience. Our broadcast team added Philadelphia soccer great Peter Pappas to be alongside play-by-play legend JP Dellacamera, who we caught up with this offseason and captured his remarkable story. You can also catch Pappas in a recurring guest spot on the Union's weekly radio show "The 90th Minute." The show presented by Farmers Insurance received an addition as philadelphiaunion.com writer Kevin Kinkead will join host Carl Cherkin eachTuesday to break down the club on CBS Radio (610-AM). 

Our video department continues churning out quality content, but added another hand in the offseason that has already produced dividends beginning with all this great stuff you can find on our YouTube page.

As a teaser, have you seen this? All in-house content.

Know this: this season isn’t a rebuilding year by any stretch of the word. This club has aspirations of making the postseason and those hopes are high. But everyone involved does understand that good things take time.

“First and foremost we want to make the playoffs,” said Okugo. “Whether it’s going to the [MLS Cup] finals or winning [the Lamar Hunt U.S.] Open Cup, we feel like we need to bring a trophy to the fan base. They have stuck with us through thick and thin and we haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011. That’s a long time. But we need those same fans to be patient and know that we want the same things they do.”

The season opens Saturday night in Portland (10:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) before a return to Philadelphia to host the New England Revolution on March 15 (4 p.m., click for tickets) at PPL Park. Portland simply by its nature poses a tough challenge, but it’s one this club, this front office and hopefully YOU our fans are ready for.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com


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