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Union have greater depth, thanks to flurry of moves

At first glance, the Union's lineup from the end of last year to the projected one for this season's opener does not appear to be drastically different, especially considering the constant change each year for Major League Soccer teams.

At first glance, the Union's lineup from the end of last year to the projected one for this season's opener does not appear to be drastically different, especially considering the constant change each year for Major League Soccer teams.

Yet as the Union approach their eighth MLS season in their March 5 opener in Vancouver, several recent moves by sporting director Earnie Stewart have made this a much deeper team. Earning a Union starting berth, or even a place in a game's 18-man roster, will be an accomplishment.

Don't be surprised if some players who might not get much playing time are shopped around.

The one big loss was midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who decided to return to play in Switzerland. U.S. national team performer Alejandro Bedoya, who joined the Union in August, will likely take Barnetta's No. 10 spot as the main attacking midfielder.

Last year for the Union, Bedoya played mainly the No. 8 spot in the midfield, a player as much responsible for offense as defense.

The newcomers include Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder Haris Medunjanin, English striker Jay Simpson, veteran defender Oguchi Onyewu, owner of 69 caps for the U.S. national team, young midfielders Adam Najem and Fafa Picault, and Dutch left back Giliano Wijnaldum.

Medunjanin, 31, has not trained with the team yet while he gets is visa issues in order. He has 55 caps for the Bosnian national team and appeared in the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Argentina. He is likely to assume Bedoya's old position.

Simpson, 28, played for six English clubs, most recently fourth-division side Leyton Orient. He's expected to be the target forward, but C.J. Sapong, who scored seven goals last year, remains an option.

Veteran Charlie Davies, who was re-signed in the offseason, adds more offensive depth up top.

Picault, who has one cap for the U.S. national team, is among the fastest players on the team and will challenge for time at one of the outside midfield spots.

Najem, a star at Akron, was a product of the New York Red Bulls Academy and was acquired in a trade with the team. He will also add to the midfield depth.

Wijnaldum, 24, will battle Fabinho for the outside left back spot.

It's likely that the lineups could change on a game-by-game basis. This isn't even taking into consideration midfielder and designated player Maurice Edu, who was sidelined last year with two injuries, a stress fracture in his left leg and then a broken left fibula, suffered on Oct. 22.

Edu said earlier in the preseason he was making progress, but he has yet to train with the team and it's unrealistic to expect him to be ready for the opener.

When he returns, he'll likely play a defensive midfield role that Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll have both handled.

MLS comeback player of the year Chris Pontius, who just earned his first two caps for the U.S. national team, is entrenched at one of the outside midfield spots.

Also back in the midfield are Roland Alberg, who scored nine goals (four on penalty kicks) and Ilsinho, who last season was the best Union player at taking on defenders.

Ilsinho definitely could be a starter as he and Fabian Herbers, who had a team-high seven assists, could vie for time on the outside.

The teams seems settled in the back, even though center back Josh Yaro just had shoulder surgery, which the Union estimated would entail three to four months of recovery. Oguchi might have earned Yaro's minutes anyway, but he will be 35 in May and there is a question as to whether he can withstand the 34-game season.

Returning center backs Richie Marquez and Ken Tribbett started 33 and 19 games, respectively. Veteran Ray Gaddis provides depth at outside back behind all-star Keegan Rosenberry.

The Union have several draft picks, including speedy midfielder Marcus Epps from South Florida. It appears at least initially that Epps and the draft choices will play for the Union's United Soccer League affiliate the Bethlehem Steel.

The Union aren't done making moves. The team will definitely sign a No. 3 goalkeeper. Andre Blake was named MLS goalkeeper of the year and will play a heavy load. Since Blake is often called to duty for the Jamaican national team, a suitable backup to the backup is required.

La Salle University product John McCarthy is the backup now.

One thing is for sure: With so many additions, the Union will be expected to be improved from an 11-14-9 team that lost in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to Toronto.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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