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Union open new MLS season with a revamped lineup

In the west end of PPL Park, a banner runs beneath the length of the scoreboard, asking in bold letters, "What Do You Stand For?"

(Michael Perez, AP File)
(Michael Perez, AP File)Read more

In the west end of PPL Park, a banner runs beneath the length of the scoreboard, asking in bold letters, "What Do You Stand For?"

The Union will begin forming their own answer to that question Saturday afternoon when they open their fourth MLS season at PPL Park against Sporting K.C.

After an offseason reshaping the roster, and with manager John Hackworth entering his first full season, the Union's identity is more clear than it had been for most of a turbulent, playoff-missing campaign of 10-18-6 a year ago.

Much still hinges on the Union's youthful core. But Hackworth has armed them with much-needed firepower in two veteran frontline additions, including the return of the club's all-time leading scorer, the popular Sebastien Le Toux.

Le Toux and veteran U.S. national team forward Conor Casey could give the Union a consistent scoring punch they sorely lacked last season.

"Our locker room is different, to say the least," Hackworth said. "You now have the young guys that have grown up and have a very comfortable knowledge of what it's like here. And you have some veterans that have won trophies and can share their experiences. But they're also trying to find their way here within our team."

Both players are trying to find their way back, period. The 29-year-old Le Toux scored 25 goals in the Union's first two seasons, 14 in 2010 and 11 in 2011. But he had just five goals splitting time between New York and Vancouver last season after being traded by former Union manager Peter Nowak.

Casey, 31, scored 40 goals with Colorado between 2008 and 2010. But injuries limited him to eight goals in 24 games the last two seasons.

"Two years ago, he was MVP of the MLS Cup Final," Hackworth said of Casey. "He led the U.S. men's national team to the 2010 World Cup. To have him and to have other guys with rings on their fingers, that's really important."

Their presence should relieve pressure on 20-year-old forward Jack McInerney, who led the Union with eight goals last year.

A deeper front line could give young playmakers Michael Farfan and Roger Torres more options from the attacking midfield. Their roles carry increased importance without Freddy Adu, who remained on the roster as of Thursday but won't play as trade options are explored.

Hackworth expects the end result to be an offensive upgrade over last year's club, which finished near the bottom of the MLS in scoring with 37 goals in 34 games.

"It's a significant change," Hackworth said. "We see ourselves as not one guy that's going to carry the workload but a real team effort."

Defensively, the Union acquired Abington native Jeff Parke to help fill the void left by the departure of former captain and center back Carlos Valdes, who was loaned to a Colombian club. Former Chicago Fire star Bakary Soumare is also in the mix.

Zac MacMath begins his second full season as the starter in goal.

"The unrealistic expectation is for us to be one of the powers in the league right away," Hackworth said. "You don't go from seventh to first without some major shifting occurring. But the expectation . . . is that we're going to be better. And if we can be consistent week in and week out, our performances will add up to something that hopefully puts us in a position to be very competitive when the postseason comes around."