Preseason training kicks off to the Philadelphia Union now in Wimington, Delaware before the team’s first trip to sunny southern Florida.
The offseason has been a productive one in relation to participant acquisitions and moves with Jamiro Monteiro’s return being the biggest and most pleasant surprise. Marco Fabian, Fabinho and RJ Allen are gone and Cory Burke is in Austria on loan until May but the rest of the group is back, assuming super sub Ilsinho accepted the offer to return (it hasn’t been declared ).
Homegrowns Jack de Vries and Cole Turner are officially on the first team now while José Andrés Martínez and Matej Oravec will be the new faces in the locker room at the 76ers Fieldhouse. If you are keeping track at home, that is 24 players (counting Ilsinho and Oravec) on the roster with space for six more and a seventh player if he’s loaned down to Union II for the complete season.
That’s what we understand, but here are five questions that come to mind with the 2020 season on the horizon.
Are there enough goals up top?
After beginning the season in USL and lost a few games with a broken toe, he came on strong to lead the Union front line and would have had a shot to tie or break CJ Sapong’s record for most goals in a season had he not gotten hurt before the season finale. His absence was especially felt at the loss against Atlanta United. It’ll be interesting to see how many goals he can score in a complete season if he stays healthy but teams will also be a bit more prepared for him this year. The other two primary forwards on the roster have fascinating questions of their own. Michee Ngalina and Jack de Vries, two players that are perhaps better suited to playing as wingers in a 4-2-3-1, will be leaving to fight over what minutes are left.
Without Marco Fabian, who were second in goals last season despite having a disappointing year, and Fafa Picault, who hit double digits in goals in 2018 but fought in front of goal this past year, the Union are likely to have to locate goals from Brenden Aaronson and others. More goals off corner kicks and place pieces sure wouldn’t hurt either.
How much will Haris Medunjanin be missed?
While Sporting Director Ernst Tanner’s motives for not bringing veteran midfielder Haris Medunjanin back make sense — his age, fit in the system and a desire to grow younger players at the place — Haris will still be a major loss for the club on the field and in the locker room. He was especially helpful to Aaronson in his rookie season and wore the captain’s armband when Alejandro Bedoya was injured last season. While he was somewhat of a liability at times defensively, his skill on the ball and ability to begin attacks with his passing range was crucial to the Union’s assault in 2019.
Heading into the preseason, it is not clear who his successor will be. Martinez is 25 and the team paid a transfer fee for him but Tanner has called him a project and said he expects it to take some time for him to adapt to the team. Oravec has largely played as a defensive midfielder in Slovakia but it isn’t clear yet how he’ll fit in with the group. Cole Turner is also available on the roster along with veteran Warren Creavalle, who is a spot starter when needed and can also be good as a late sub for defense.
Is Ray Gaddis still the regular right-back?
Ray Gaddis was not expecting to be the full-time back in 2019, but Union fans shouldn’t be surprised anymore to see the veteran seeing so much of the field. He’s not perfect for a system that needs skills on the offensive end Gaddis has never been known to possess but he’s still a steady and reliable player head coach Jim Curtin understands and likes having on the field, especially with a back line that is still learning on the job. Injuries maintained Olivier Mbaizo from seriously challenging Gaddis in 2019 and barring a change in his status as an international player it will be harder to justify having him on the roster for a third consecutive year without playing. There are other players on the roster who Curtin could experiment with at right-back and there is a good unsigned right back in Nathan Harriel in the machine but for now, it is still Gaddis’s place to lose.
How many goals will Brenden Aaronson score?
From his early teenage years playing in the academy system, one of those question marks about Brenden has always been his goal scoring so it wasn’t too surprising to see it become a talking point in his rookie season (even after scoring in his MLS debut) but time in USMNT camps in the offseason and countless hours he has spent at the gym and training on his own should have him poised for a much better second season in MLS. As the only true No. 10 on the roster — Jamiro Monteiro, Anthony Fontana, and Ilsinho can also play there — he will be counted on to generate more goals and assists while solidifying his starting role.
Regardless of where the fault lies — it’s not always all on the trunk line — the Union conceded way too many goals last season, a point Tanner highlighted at the start of the offseason and has focused on with his roster moves. While Tanner is not done yet — he has said that he has another centre-back to the shopping list — locking down Mark McKenzie with a contract extension was an excellent move that promises both he and Elliott won’t have to worry about any distractions over contract talks during the season. Andre Blake needs to rebound from a down year by his high standards and whoever gets the majority of minutes in the No. 6 needs to prove his worth restricting chances in Zone 14.