Union starting 2d season with a new look
While there is optimism as the Union prepare for their second Major League Soccer season, there also is uncertainty. Has this team progressed enough to be a playoff contender after an 8-15-7 inaugural season?
While there is optimism as the Union prepare for their second Major League Soccer season, there also is uncertainty.
Has this team progressed enough to be a playoff contender after an 8-15-7 inaugural season?
With the addition of veteran goalie Faryd Mondragon, the Union appear to have corrected their biggest weakness. But there are questions about the defense, and the midfield has to be sorted out.
The strength of the team should be the offense. Team manager Peter Nowak employs an attacking style, but last year the Union scored 35 goals in 30 games. Like many teams, they didn't take advantage of scoring opportunities.
The addition of Carlos Ruiz, who played abroad the last two seasons after spending seven years in MLS, is a significant upgrade.
Ruiz is a target player who will draw plenty of attention. The 31-year-old Guatemalan will have to show that he hasn't lost a step. He is second in MLS history with 16 career postseason goals.
Ruiz will team with MLS all-star Sebastien Le Toux (14 goals, 11 assists) and second-year forward Danny Mwanga (seven goals, four assists) to give the Union some options.
Probably the least-heralded group will be the Union midfielders, but Nowak says there is plenty of talent there, too.
Gone from the midfield is Fred, who will never make anybody's all-defensive team. But he did offer creativity that needs to be replaced.
Nowak is especially high on Brian Carroll, a defensive midfielder who started 27 games last year for Columbus. Carroll started on the 2004 D.C. United team that won the MLS title.
Justin Mapp, acquired July 26 from Chicago, seems to have a foothold on a midfield spot. Mapp has good speed and the will and ability to take on defenders. Stefani Miglioranzi started 25 games last year and brings a solid veteran's presence.
Three young midfielders return: Roger Torres, 19; Amobi Okugo, 20; and Kyle Nakazawa, 23. Torres is the most creative of the midfielders.
The Union suffered a key loss on the back line when Michael Orozco Fiscal wasn't re-signed. They brought in highly touted Colombian Carlos Valdes, who will serve as a central defender with returning starter Danny Califf.
Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams, a late-season pickup, return as key outside backs. Harvey was the only player to appear in all 30 games, with 29 starts, last year. Williams started eight games after signing on Aug. 31 from the team's USL-2 affiliate in Harrisburg.
With a 34-game MLS schedule, others will get playing time, and, just as they did last year, the Union are likely to makes moves to upgrade during the season.
This is a team that, on paper, appears to be improved, but Nowak doesn't want to hear about that. It's all about performing on the field.
At least the Union won't start out with so many road games. Last year, PPL Park didn't open until June 27. The Union traveled for eight of their first 10 games, and played the two home games at Lincoln Financial Field. They opened the season 2-7-1.
With the newcomers this season, the Union will be expected to have a much stronger start and finish. Earning one of 10 MLS playoff berths certainly is a realistic goal.
National team players. Okugo and goalkeeper Zac MacMath will join the under-20 U.S. men's national team for the 2011 CONCACAF championship in Guatemala from March 28 to April 10. Both will leave after Saturday's opener in Houston.