Union officially launch Earnie Stewart era with 2016 season opener against FC Dallas

Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas

What: 2016 MLS Regular Season Match; When: Sunday, 3 p.m.

Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas

TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas

Radio: None; Online: MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

Let the dawn of a new era officially begin.

That’s the sense around Doop-land as the Union will depart for Frisco, Texas this weekend to kick-off the 2016 MLS Regular Season on the league’s official opening day on Sunday. With a full-slate of action with 10 matches, there’s no arguing that hope has sprung eternal for all clubs.

“Excited to get going,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “There’s 20 MLS teams right now that think they have something special; that’s the beauty of the start of the season, it’s an exciting time. I believe, and I know the guys in our locker room believe, that this year is going to be different.”

While the Union will have plenty of returning faces on the field and on the sideline come Sunday against FC Dallas, it will be the first game that actually counts under the leadership of Sporting Director Earnie Stewart. The former U.S. Men’s National Team legend joined the club last fall and has helped put a new imprint on club alongside Curtin and technical director Chris Albright.

That’s reenergized the organization at all levels.

“There’s a lot of exciting things happening at the club, a bit of Union 2.0, so to speak, with the new training facility, the new practice building, and there are a lot of new faces in the locker room,” Curtin said.

Yes, Curtin will lead a group Sunday with a few new faces to say the least. Of the 26 players on the team, exactly half of them weren’t with the club last year. Of the other 13 returnees, the Union could be without a few, such as Maurice Edu and Tranquillo Barnetta.

“It’s hard, they’re two leaders in our group,” Curtin said. “To their credit, they’ve both, in their own way, done what you can do when you’re not on the field each and every day with the guys — putting an arm around a young player, doing a little mentoring and helping players as they prepare for some a new league, some the first time they’re playing as professionals.”

But, if there’s one area the Union loaded up with in depth, from an experience standpoint, it’s the midfield. Newcomers Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Roland Alberg all could potentially make their Union debut. In addition, Leo Fernandes – who spent 2015 on loan with New York Cosmos – has continued to impress in preseason and has a shot at cracking the starting XI.

As for the opponent, it’s certainly not an easy one. FC Dallas has been an extremely tough team to beat at Toyota Stadium and certainly look like a team poised to have repeat success of last year’s 18-10-6 campaign. Offensively, they’re led by Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, who both present difficult matchups.

“Hope they don’t get on the ball, hope they don’t play in the game I guess would be the first part,” Curtin quipped in respond to how he can defend them. “Those guys are incredibly talented. Castillo one-v-one is a top player in our league, has the ability with speed to go by anyone and get to the end line. We’ve worked very hard on how we recover to the front of goal, particularly our center backs because at the end of the day during the course of 90 minutes he’s going to get to the end line a couple of times. That’s something we’ll do our best to prevent but in the case that he does we want to make sure our guys are prepared as best as possible.”

What do you think is the key to success vs. FC Dallas? Leave your comment below.

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