2016 was a rebuilding year for the Union and it saw the addition of many new, and surprising, players to the team. The result, early success, but the momentum was not sustained through the entire season. Even with the poor finish, Philly still made it to the 2016 MLS Cup, but was sent home by Toronto in the Knockout Round.
Philadelphia had little turnover during the offseason with the only notable loss being starter Tranquillo Barnetta. They also added several new players to help address weaknesses identified in 2016.
In order to address late season problems with scoring, the Union have added forward Jay Simpson. Simpson comes from the English third tier and has a solid record as a goal scorer. He’s been most successful with a two man forward formation, so it will be interesting to see how he fits with CJ Sapong.
The most crucial transfer Philly made was to replace defensive midfielder Vincent Nogueira. The man tapped to take the role is Haris Medunjanin from the Israeli Premier league. Defensive prowess, an excellent field of vision, and set piece experience are all qualities Medunjanin offers.
Defensive concerns have also been addressed with the addition of Giliano Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum has speed, and attacking sense, and experience with top teams in the Eredivisie. Expect him to battle Fabinho for the starting left back spot.
Philly also made three depth signings. Forward Fafa Picault is fast, young, and hones his soccer skills in Germany. Midfielder Adam Najem is a product of the New York Red Bull’s academy and put up impressive numbers during his 4 years at the University of Akron. Veteran defender Oguchi Onyewu rounds out the list and is the most likely as Josh Yaro is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Union are a team that likes to push the tempo early and hold on to a lead. With the addition of Simpson, there is a solid core of strikers to choose from. Fabian Herbers should see increased minutes in 2017 while Sapong takes a smaller role.
Losing Josh Yaro really hurts the Union’s starting defense. Knowing this, the team will likely look to score more and keep the pressure up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a 4-2-3-1 using two defensive minded midfielders to alleviate the pressure.
Besides defensively, this is one of the deepest Union teams in the past several seasons. There is capable depth at every position.
Expected Philadelphia Lineup
The Union are the team that is hardest to place in the Eastern Conference. They looked very good at the start of 2016, but dropped off late. Their only notable departure happens to be one of the biggest concerns as new players adjust.
When compared to their closest competition, the Union appear to have lost ground. The 2017 season will be a fight from start to finish and the Union will likely struggle to stay above the red line down the stretch.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. This team has a young core to build around that will mature a lot this season. If these players really step up, the team will exceed all expectations.
The Union have a real shot in 2017, but they will need to acclimate their new players quickly. They proved they can compete with anyone in 2016 when they don’t get in their own way. The roster is deep enough to maintain the consistency the Union lacked in 2016.