'13 Season Preview: Union looking for bounce-back season

3:45 PM, Feb 18, 2013   |    comments
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Chester, PA (Sports Network) - Golf most likely isn't a forte of those in the Philadelphia Union front office, but the term "mulligan" should definitely be in their vocabulary for this season.

Last season was a major step backward which saw the club start 2-7-2 and fire then-manager Peter Nowak in June. Assistant coach John Hackworth took over and gave the side some stability, but Philadelphia finished 10-18-6.

Thankfully for Union supporters and players alike, 2012 is in the rearview mirror and the 43-year-old Hackworth spent his first offseason in charge making significant upgrades to the team.

Fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux, who was unceremoniously traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps by Nowak, was brought back by Hackworth in a trade from Red Bull New York. Le Toux scored 25 goals and added 20 assists for the Union from 2010-2011 while quickly endearing himself to the notoriously tough Philadelphia fan base.

Along with Le Toux, Philadelphia added some much-needed size in front of goal by selecting former Colorado Rapids man Conor Casey in the second stage of the MLS re-entry draft. Casey was let go by Colorado after 2012, but over six seasons with the Rapids, he became the all-time leading scorer in club history with 50 goals. He also led the team to the 2010 MLS Cup title.

With Casey and Le Toux in the fold, young goal poacher Jack McInerney's role could be in question. McInerney had a breakout year in 2012 once Hackworth was appointed. He became the team's target forward and scored an impressive eight goals and posted a franchise-record four-game goal-scoring streak.

Philadelphia scored just 37 goals in 34 matches last season, but with McInerney, Le Toux and Casey handling offensive duties this season, the number in the "goals for" column of the standings should rise significantly.

Defensively, the Union will have a different look as captain Carlos Valdes was loaned to Colombian side Santa Fe, but Valdes' loss shouldn't hurt too much as former MLS Defender of the Year finalist Bakary Soumare and hometown man Jeff Parke, who arrived in a trade with Seattle Sounders, will be paired together in central defense.

Right back Sheanon Williams is a rising star, but left back Gabriel Farfan is playing out of position and could be a weak spot along the Union backline.

In the midfield, the keys to the car belong to Michael Farfan, who showed he could direct traffic in the middle of the park by making the MLS All-Star team in 2012. Brian Carroll returns to the holding places in midfield and was named captain for his veteran leadership.

"It's an honor to officially wear the armband," Carroll said. "I'll just try to do the best job that I can, it's not going to mean that I am going to change completely who I am just because I am officially the captain."

One interesting storyline heading into the 2013 campaign is that of Freddy Adu. Adu played in 24 matches last season, scoring five goals, but was frequently subbed out in the second half and made it known to Hackworth that he wasn't happy being pulled before the final whistle.

However, Adu has the highest salary on the team and refused to take a pay cut when approached by the club, meaning he likely won't be on the roster when the season begins in March.

2012 IN REVIEW: Things started very poorly for Philadelphia, but once Hackworth took over, morale, as well as form, began to improve. Unfortunately, it was too little too late and the Union finished well out of a playoff spot with 36 points, good for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

ACQUISITIONS: Sebastien Le Toux (F), Conor Casey (F), Jeff Parke (D), Kyle Mendoza (M), Darmani Richards (F).

LOSSES: Freddy Adu (F/M), Carlos Valdes (D), Gabriel Gomez (M), Porfirio Lopez (D), Zach Pfeffer (F), Josue Martinez (F).

OUTLOOK: With franchise player Le Toux back, and Casey providing a physical presence in front of goal, the offensive output should increase, but Hackworth must encourage his troops to shoot more than they did last season. If things go well, The Union should make a run at a playoff spot, but Soumare, who played just one match in 2012 due to lingering knee problems, has to remain healthy along the backline in place of Valdes, otherwise defense could be a weakness.

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