On October 26th, Philadelphia Union fell to Toronto FC, 3-1, in the 2016 MLS Cup, which marked the first time that Philadelphia reached the playoffs in the last five year. Despite finishing July 4th weekend in first place in MLS Eastern Conference, Philadelphia floundered in the second half of the season by only winning four games in the last 16 games of the season. To further belabor the point, Jim Curtin’s side only earned two points and did not earn a win in their last seven matches.
In his first year as Sporting Director, Earnie Stewart overhauled the last-place roster and made the team competitive as the team made the playoffs for the second time in their history. However, this roster will need to undergo overhaul this offseason as multiple players will be gone. Let’s take a look at some of the main questions for the Union this offseason.
Is Alejandro Bedoya an eight or a ten?
This season, Alejandro Bedoya spent most of his time with Philadelphia in the double pivot as a number eight. He played admirably in the position, but most fans know him for his work as a central attacking midfielder.
With Tranquillo Barnetta heading back overseas to join Swiss Super League side St.Gallen, the number 10 position is left wide open for Curtin and his technical staff between Bedoya as well as Roland Alberg. Bedoya will obviously be a starter for this team and he will be the first choice for whatever position the staff decides upon.
What to do with the double pivot?
Since the departure of Vincent Nogueira abruptly in the middle of the season, Philadelphia struggled to defend the midfield. Nogueira was one of the most important players for Philadelphia as he not only played both ways, but he acted as the catalyst that connected the midfield.
It was night and day when Philadelphia did and did not have the Frenchman in the lineup. With him in the lineup, the Union were a cohesive unit that supported their forwards and wingers as well as solidified the defense.
Without him, the inexperienced backline was left with little help besides Brian Carroll or Warren Creavalle at the six.
Speaking of the number six, while Creavalle and Carroll played okay throughout the season, there is need at this position still. Every year Carroll defies critics who believe he is too old to continue playing at a high level. However, there is always a need to look to the future and the future is likely not for Creavalle to start.
There are a few options on the roster to play the number six. The main option is Maurice Edu. Edu was out most of the season with a stress fracture in his tibia and then a broken leg, which ended his season in October before he could play a single match with the first team. With the centerbacks on solid footing with Richie Marquez and Joshua Yaro, Edu could most to his more natural position in the double pivot, which is the most likely scenario.
Another couple of options are possibly Austin Trusty or Derrick Jones, both whom are young players that could grow into key players for this team.
The six is likely spoken for if Edu is healthy for next season, but Curtin and his staff should look for a true Nogueira replacement to help out on both sides of the ball.
Is there a need for a new striker?
CJ Sapong struggled mightily this season as the Union's number one striker as, depsite his early season prediction of scoring 20 goals, he only scored seven times. Of his seven goals, only two came after May 14th.
Not all the blame can be laid at Sapong's feet though. For stretches in the second half of the season, Philadelphia resorted to kicking the ball way down field to Sapong, even if he was not flanked by teammates to join him the attack.
However, Sapong disappeared in way too many games and was largely ineffective this season.
For Philadelphia to become legit a MLS Cup threat, there has to be an upgrade at the striker position. Three of the four teams left in the MLS Cup (Colorado Rapids, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact) have designated player strikers that heavily influence the game and Seattle Sounders have the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year in Jordan Morris, who will likely become a designated player at some point.
For Philadelphia to improve, Curtin and Stewart must invest in a legitimate goal-scoring threat.
As big of a turnover as there was last season, there is sure to be large changes seen for Philadelphia as Earnie Stewart begins his second year as Sporting Director for the Union.