Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize many members of the Philadelphia Union. Nearly half the roster has been turned over as the Union try to improve upon last season’s 8-15-7 record.
The Union begin their second season in Major League Soccer (MLS) with their eyes set on making the playoffs. The message sent by bringing in 10 new players is that the Union have high expectations and won’t be satisfied with another seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Many of the changes, particularly in goal, appear designed to improve the Union’s defense. The offense wasn’t neglected, however, as the Union brought in Carlos Ruiz (no, not that Carlos Ruiz).
The following is a preview of the Union’s second season, which kicks off Saturday night (8:30 p.m.) in Houston against the Dynamo, who finished 10th in the Western Conference last year and have also brought in 10 new players.
Following last season’s weak performance in the goalkeeper position, the Union replaced their goalie staff. Starting goalie Faryd Mondragon is from Colombia, and he most recently played for FC Cologne in the German Bundestliga. Backup goalies Zach MacMath and Thorne Holder are both rookies with American collegiate experience. MacMath was the Union’s top draft pick.
The Union’s leaders from last year are still part of the team. The captain is still Danny Califf, who heads up the defense. On offense is Sebastien Le Toux, who was the Union’s leading scorer last season with 14 goals and 11 assists.
Of the new faces on the team, there are six rookies and four veterans. Some of the veterans have experience playing in foreign leagues. Zach Pfeffer, a 16-year-old who attends Upper Dublin High School when he’s not practicing with the Union, joins the team as its first Homegrown Player.
Besides being a catching and hitting force on the Phillies, is it possible that Carlos Ruiz also plays the “Beautiful Game?” Although also born in 1979, the Union’s Ruiz is not called “Chooch,” but is known as “El Pescadito,” or little fish. El Pescadito is a veteran of the MLS, having twice won the Golden Boot award for most goals in a season. He is also the leading scorer for his native national team in Guatemala.
Bend it like Beckham
David Beckham and his teammates on the LA Galaxy will be in town to play the Union on May 11. In addition to Beckham, you can expect to see the star of the USA national team, Landon Donovan. Donovan is the one who scored for the USA in stoppage time against Algeria, allowing the USA to advance in last year’s World Cup.
Head coach Peter Nowak’s team has high aspirations for the 2011 season. In order for it to be successful, the team must capitalize more on offense and be more disciplined on defense than last year. The personnel changes during the offseason are meant to address last year’s lapses on defense and lack of scoring. We should expect improvement against last season’s -14 goal differential.
Some may be offended by the name Bimbo being emblazoned on the team’s jerseys. No insults are intended, as Bimbo is the corporate name of one of the team’s sponsors. Bimbo refers to Bimbo Bakeries USA which owns many well-known commercial brands, such as Arnold’s, Stroehman’s and Entenmanns’s.
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