Sunday, March 21, 2010

Philadelphia Union 2010 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/George Frey

The City of Brotherly Love finally has an MLS franchise to embrace.

The Philadelphia Union will embark on its inaugural season with full support from the fan group the Sons of Ben, and they certainly have a good amount to be excited about.

Putting together an entirely new team has its advantages and disadvantages. A positive is that the coach, in this case former U.S. men’s national team assistant Peter Nowak, can shape the team any way he likes. The negative is that there is a hole at every single position, on the field and for reserves, that needs to be filled.

What Nowak and the rest of the Philadelphia front office seems to have done is follow the blueprint put into action last season by the then-expansion Seattle Sounders and that is to start by creating a stingy defense.

The defense will start between the pipes with heralded prospect Chris Seitz.

Seitz was selected fourth overall in the 2007 MLS Super Draft and is considered to be in line to be one of the next best American goalkeepers.

However after three years at Real Salt Lake he had trouble finding playing time. Nick Rimando shined as the starter and Seitz was only able to appear in seven league games.

Now he finally gets the chance to live up to his potential. Seitz played for Nowak in the 2008 Summer Olympics and has been awarded the role of number one keeper.

Playing in front of him are two more U.S internationals: center-back Danny Califf and left fullback Michael Orozco.

Orozco, a teammate of Seitz’s at the Olympics. He is notorious for the red-card he received for throwing an elbow in the final game of group play in the Olympics, a game the U.S. needed to win in order to advance. Still, he is a good defender who became a regular starter at Mexican club San Luis.

Califf was one of the best center backs in MLS when he was a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2000-2004, and was named to MLS Best XI in 2005 as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes. He moved to Aalborg of the Danish Superliga where he captained the squad. A strong and tough defender, Califf has made 22 appearances with the U.S. national team.

Filling out the rest of the backline are MLS-veterans Shavar Thomas and Jordan Harvey.

The Union also brought in a ton of young talent to develop through the draft.

Danny Mwanga, a freshman out of Oregon State, was the team’s first ever draft pick and the number one overall selection. Mwanga is a big, strong target standing at 6’2” that has a knack for scoring goals. Nowak and his staff were also impressed by his ability to see the field, make crisp passes, and his touch on the ball.

Toni Stahl, 24, isn’t as young as the other rookies for Philadelphia, but the midfielder is thought to be most-ready for MLS of all of Philadelphia’s selections and has impressed early on in the preseason.

Amobi Okugo, from UCLA, is another freshman from the PAC-10 the team selected in the first round to develop.

While the defense is the strength and a pool of youngsters that are still developing, Nowak will look to MLS veterans Alejandro Moreno, a forward formally of the Columbus Crew, and Fred, a midfielder acquired from D.C. United, in order to create a solid attack that would complement the defense.

It will be difficult to match the success Seattle had in its first season, and the Union probably won’t be as good as them, but they have put together an impressive squad and in the down Eastern Conference they could really fight for a playoff spot.

They need to upgrade at forward as well as develop the very young roster they currently have before the team is a legitimate title contender, but they should be an exciting team to watch as the season progresses.

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