Union seen as contenders for a playoff spot in 2011

Posted on 15 March 2011 by Breton Bonnette

Photo Credit: Terry McLaughlin, ASN Philly '10

The new Major League Soccer season is upon us as the Galaxy and Sounders get ready to kick things off tonight at 9:30PM EST. The Union, coming off a relatively productive first season in MLS, will be looking to take advantage of what looks to be a wide open Eastern Conference this season. The Union will look different this year, that’s for sure and just like in 2010, Major League Soccer pundits out there are almost unanimous as to where the Union will end up in the standings this season.

Last season, it was expected to be a typical expansion year season for Philadelphia but the media and Union fans alike have higher expectations for the Zolos in 2011. Take a look at where media members see the Zolos finishing up this season.

Glenn Davis – CNNSI.com

League Ranking: 12th
Conference Ranking: 6th

“Philly checks in at No. 12 in the rankings because the midfield and defense require further improvement” – Glenn Davis, CNNSI.com.

SBNation.com

League Ranking: 10th
Conference Ranking: 4th

Part of Tier 3 – the “Something to Prove” tier – the Union are improved and should be battled for one of ten playoff spots this season. This projects they’ll be one of the last ones in.

‘After a year in which Piotr Nowak handled his goalkeeping situation in as confusing a way as possible, he now seems to have clear plan: Turn it over to veteran Faryd Mondragon and groom No. 5 overall draft pick Zac MacMath for the future. Compared to the previously haphazard way in which the position has been handled, this seems like a sensible way forward, and simply improving the goalkeeping could lead to a significant leap forward for the second-year Union”. –SBNation.com

Drew Epperley – WVHooligan.com

League Ranking: 12th
Conference Ranking: 5th

We don’t quite agree with the “less talent” on the roster bit or this whole analysis for that matter. The Union are much improved roster-wise and the fact that none of the previews have mentioned the addition of Carlos Ruiz (even in a skeptical tone) is beyond us.

The keeper situation and offense should be set but the defense will be the real worry again for Peter Nowak’s side. They weren’t that great last season and they have even less talent on the roster right now. – WVHooligan.com

Kyle McCarthy – Goal.com

League Ranking: N/A
Conference Ranking: 5th

Keeping with the trend, the defense should improve but the rest of the supporting cast won’t quite get it done in 2011 according to Goal.com. Contenders for a play-off spot but not much more here.

Nowak’s off-season work deserves plaudits with Carroll, Mondragon and Valdes likely to improve the Union’s rickety defensive shape in 2011. The entire group, however, does not inspire quite as much confidence. A lack of creativity in midfield could impair the proceedings going forward if Le Toux stumbles a bit this season, while Ruiz may or may not be up to the burden of regularly leading the line. – Goal.com

MLSSoccer.com

League Ranking: 10th
Conference Ranking: 4th

These Power Rankings were released before the preseason was underway and the signing of Carlos Ruiz but there is no real reason to believe anything would have been changed. “All eyes are on Mondragon” which is certainly the truth.  

ASN’s Outlook: It’s a solid progression. There were times last year when the team was firing on all cylinders and you saw a glimpse of a possible playoff squad. This year there should be some sort of stability and consistency all across the board and a minimization of those defensive errors that plagued us for most of 2010. The media sees the Union as a clear contender for a playoff spot – progress from years before – but something tells me this team will do a bit better than that. They have the ingredients in our opinion with the new additions of Mondragon, Valdes, Carroll, and Ruiz and now seemingly the chemistry to grab a top-three spot in what looks a wide open Eastern Conference. 3rd in the Eastern Conference, grabbing the last automatic Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Our Projected Lineup:

————————–Mondragon—————————-

Williams———Califf————-Valdes————-Harvey

——————-Carroll————Okugo———————-

Le Toux—————————————————–Mapp

——————–Mwanga———–Ruiz———————–

NOTE: Amobi Okugo gets the nod over Stefani Miglioranzi after ASN Philly readers voted him in over Stefani Miglioranzi and the rest of the Union midfielders. He took in 19.27% of the vote to go with Brian Carroll’s 44.04%. This poll, however, was done over a month ago – before the exit of Andrew Jacobson, Eduardo Coudet, and Michael Orozco Fiscal. So who knows where those voters would have gone if all three departures were taken out of the voting. ASN Philly’s guess is that Miglioranzi will be manning the middle with Carroll come this Saturday. Experience says a lot, especially in a season opener away from home.

Questions to Ask:

Where is that defensive depth going to come from? Richter and Farfan have spent some time at defense in the preseason and it seems Juan Diego Gonzalez will 5th defender on the depth chart but the question still looms. Let’s also not forget the age of Mondragon and the fact that rookie MacMath is behind him. It’s a 34-game season this year and depth for all teams will be a huge factor on where you end up in the standings.

Will the addition of Carlos Ruiz help or hurt the production of Sebastien Le Toux? We have heard a lot of talk about Ruiz helping take the load of Mwanga and Le Toux this season but depending on which Ruiz shows up, he could serve to be more of a detriment to the mobility and versatility of Le Toux in Nowak’s offensive system.

How much more will a balanced schedule in the beginning of the season help a re-tooled Union squad? Our guess is quite a bit. The home atmosphere will play a huge role in the improvement of this team. The infrastructure is in place and the Union won’t be dealing with excessively long road trips, especially during the early season “get to know each other” phase that the 2011 Union will inevitably be going through.

You have seen the additions and the departures throughout the offseason and where the media places the Union this season but now it’s your turn…where do YOU see the Union finishing up this season in the Eastern Conference?

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