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Union like their defensive depth

In going 10-17-7 last season, the Union allowed 55 goals and had a minus-13 goal differential. A defensive improvement was the top offseason priority.

In going 10-17-7 last season, the Union allowed 55 goals and had a minus-13 goal differential. A defensive improvement was the top offseason priority.

That is why it seemed curious that one of the team's biggest changes will be moving arguably its top defender last year to midfield.

Coach Jim Curtin has moved Maurice Edu, a defensive quarterback, from center back and returned him to the midfield.

Even without Edu, who is injured with a stress reaction in his leg, in the back line, Curtin is confident that the unit will be improved. He is banking on players from last year being better, especially when pushed by a group of impressive young defenders.

After a successful preseason during which the Union had five shutouts in eight exhibitions, they will play for keeps when the team opens its seventh Major League Soccer season Sunday at FC Dallas.

The Union left little doubt during the MLS SuperDraft which area needed the biggest upgrade. After trading for the No. 2 overall pick and having the third pick, which was their own, they selected two defenders from the same backline.

Georgetown center back Joshua Yaro went second, and his Hoyas teammate, outside back Keegan Rosenberry, went third.

Three of the Union's first four draft choices were defenders, including Taylor Washington, a second-rounder and No. 23 overall selection from George Mason.

Whether any of them is a starter against Dallas, all three could find themselves contributing this season. More than anything, the Union needed depth on defense.

The two outside backs, Fabinho and Ray Gaddis, are projected as starters. Both were prone to being caught upfield because each likes to initiate offense from the back.

"We have improved our depth in the draft with Rosenberry, Yarro, and Washington," Curtin said.

The Union also said they have found a gem in former Drexel standout Ken Tribbett. He signed with the Union's United Soccer League affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel, but did enough in the preseason to earn an MLS contract. He's seriously pushing for playing time.

"He's been a revelation," Curtin said.

It appears that Richie Marquez, who made the most of his playing time about a third of the way through last season and started 21 MLS games, will return at center back.

"I think we are going to have a good defense. We had a strong camp and showed we can play," said Marquez, who is especially strong in the air.

Another addition to the backline is Anderson Conceicao, a 23-year-old Brazilian who was brought in as a center back but also could play on the outside.

While Yaro is 5-foot-11, Marquez, Conceicao, and Tribbett are 6-2 and have the size the Union like in a center back. Yaro is the most athletic.

Last season, the depth was so thin that midfielder-forward Andrew Wenger, who has since been traded, was used at both left and right outside back.

That isn't the case this year. There will be more competition just to get on the field, and with added depth Curtin may not be as patient if defensive lapses persist.

The 55 goals allowed last season was the most in franchise history, six more than the Union allowed in their inaugural season of 2010.

Now the team says it is deeper in the back, but it will be immediately tested by a Dallas team that was second in the Western Conference last year with 52 goals.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard