For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part two of two previewing Philadelphia's 2012 season. You can find Part 1 here.
Depth Chart: 1. Zac MacMath, 2. Chase Harrison
Strengths: MacMath is a rising American star that has all of the physical tools to be a starting goalkeeper in MLS for many, many years.
Weaknesses: Between MacMath and 27-year-old journeyman Harrison, the Union don’t have much experience in net, which proved to be a problem for the club in 2010.
Wildcard: The Union will likely sign a third-string goalkeeper soon, and former Red Bulls goalkeeper Chris Konopka – who has been on trial with the club in the preseason – appears to have the leg up in that department.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Sheanon Williams, 2. Raymon Gaddis; CB: 1. Danny Califf – Carlos Valdés, 2. Chris Albright; LB: 1. Porfirio López, 2. Gabriel Farfan
Strengths: The backline improved by leaps and bounds last season, and should get even better with Lopez joining the steady core of Califf, Valdés and Williams. Califf and Valdés are two of the team’s best players and will also be looked upon as team leaders – especially Califf, who will wear the armband this year.
Weaknesses: Even with the signing of MLS stalwart Albright and draft pick Gaddis, the Union still don’t have many natural defenders on their roster, which could be an issue if someone gets hurt or if Williams gets called up to the Olympics.
Wildcard: The Union were thrilled to snag Gaddis with their final pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, with assistant coach John Hackworth calling him one of the best collegiate right backs in the country before an injury took him off the radar. If healthy, Gaddis could emerge as a viable defensive option for Philly.
Depth Chart: LM: 1. Michael Farfan, 2. Gabriel Farfan, 3. Keon Daniel; CM: 1. Brian Carroll – Gabriel Gomez, 2. Amobi Okugo – Roger Torres, 3. Greg Jordan – Zach Pfeffer; RM: 1. Freddy Adu, 2. Krystian Witkowski, 3. Jimmy McLaughlin
Strengths: This is certainly the Union’s deepest position – so deep that it’s hard to create an accurate depth chart. Nowak will certainly do some shuffling in the midfield, but expect steadiness in the middle from Carroll and Gomez, and creative playmaking from Adu, Torres and the Farfan twins.
Weaknesses: The Union lost some speed and a true left midfielder when the Montreal Impact plucked Justin Mapp from them in the Expansion Draft. Looking to address that issue, they picked up speedy winger Nizar Khalfan but then dropped him during the preseason.
Wildcard: Daniel was emerging as a semi-regular and productive starter in the midfield last year before visa issues derailed the last two months of his season. The skilled Trinidadian has returned to the club but, with a crowded midfield, may need to do so some work to get back into the rotation.
Depth Chart: 1. Lionard Pajoy, 2. Danny Mwanga, 3. Josué Martínez, 4. Jack McInerney, 5. Chandler Hoffman, 6. Antoine Hoppenot
Strengths: Pajoy scored 13 goals in the Colombian first division last year, and Mwanga and McInerney have also shown a nose for the net during their first two seasons in MLS. Throw in Martínez (a rising young Costa Rican star) and Hoffman (who led the nation in scoring last year at UCLA), and the Union pack a powerful punch up top, even if the potential is largely untapped.
Weaknesses: Besides the 30-year-old Pajoy, none of the other strikers on the roster are older than 21. While the team is proud to be building around their youth, having such little MLS experience around goal could also be a problem this season.
Wildcard: It might be hard for him to get on the field at first but Hoffman is an intriguing rookie prospect. The coaches were shocked they were able to get him with the No. 13 overall pick, and Hoffman was surprised he fell that far, too. Perhaps the natural goal-scorer is ready to take it out on all the teams that passed on him.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com.
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