Philadelphia Union To Begin Inaugural Season in MLS
The City of Brotherly Love finally has an MLS franchise to embrace.
The Philadelphia Union will embark on its inaugural season with full support from the fan group, the Sons of Ben, and they certainly have a lot to be excited about.
Putting together an entirely new team has its advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side is that the coach, former U.S. Men’s National Team assistant Peter Nowak, can shape the team any way he likes.
The negative is that there are holes at every single position, on the field and for reserves, that need to be filled.
What Nowak and the rest of the Philadelphia front office seem to have done is follow the blueprint last season by the then-expansion Seattle Sounders: start by creating a stingy defense.
The defense starts between the pipes with heralded prospect Chris Seitz.
Seitz was selected fourth overall in the 2007 MLS Super Draft and is considered to be in line to be one of the next best American goalkeepers.
In his three years at Real Salt Lake, however, he had trouble finding playing time. Nick Rimando shined as the starter, and Seitz has only appeared in seven league games.
Now, he finally gets the chance to live up to his potential. Seitz played for Nowak in the 2008 Summer Olympics and has been awarded the role of No. 1 keeper.
Playing in front of him are two more U.S internationals: center back Danny Califf and left fullback Michael Orozco.
Orozco was a teammate of Seitz’s at the Olympics. He is notorious for the red card he received for throwing an elbow in the final game of group play, a game the U.S. needed to win in order to advance. Still, he is a good defender who became a regular starter for Mexican club San Luis.
Califf was one of the best center backs in MLS when he was a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2000-2004. He was also named to MLS Best XI in 2005 as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes.
He moved to Aalborg of the Danish Superliga where he captained the squad. A strong and tough defender, Califf has made 22 appearances with the U.S. national team.
Filling out the rest of the backline are MLS veterans Shavar Thomas and Jordan Harvey.
The Union also brought in a ton of young talent to develop through the draft.
Danny Mwanga, a freshman out of Oregon State, was the team’s first-ever draft pick and the No. 1 overall selection. Mwanga is a big, strong target, standing at 6’2”, and he has a knack for scoring goals. Nowak and his staff were also impressed by his ability to see the field and to make crisp passes—and his touch on the ball.
Toni Stahl, 24, isn’t as young as the other rookies for Philadelphia. Of all of Philadelphia's selections, the midfielder is thought to be most ready for MLS, and he has impressed early on in the preseason.
Amobi Okugo, from UCLA, is another Pac-10 freshman the team selected in the first round to develop.
Defense is the Union's strength, along with a pool of youngsters that are still developing. Nowak will also rely on MLS veterans Alejandro Moreno, a forward formally of the Columbus Crew, and Fred, a midfielder acquired from D.C. United, to create a solid attack to complement the defense.
It will be difficult to match the success Seattle had in its first season. The Union probably won’t be as good, but it has put together an impressive squad. In the down Eastern Conference this year, the team could fight for a playoff spot.
The Union needs to upgrade at forward and develop the very young roster before it is a legitimate title contender, but it should be an exciting team to watch as the season progresses.
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