(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)
Next up in our peak around the MLS landscape are the Philadelphia Union. The third-year expansion franchise — can we really call it an expansion club anymore? — didn’t have a strong 2012 but has plenty of pieces to compete this season. John Hackworth will have a full year to earn his keep after taking over for Petr Nowak midway through last year’s campaign. The big question: Can he combine the wily veterans with a growing crop of talented youngsters to make a push for the playoffs? The answer to these three questions will help us decide.
- Can Jack Mac dominate?
The forward, who turns 21 on August 5, is coming off a kind of, sorta breakout season in 2012. After starting just five matches in 2011, he made the opening XI 18 times, netting eight goals. McInerney is one of the most natural finishers in the league, a talent not shared by too many young Americans. He is young, but entering his fourth season in MLS and could be primed to truly make an impact on every game he plays. The Union, who finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in goals scored, desperately need him to hit for a dozen or more.
- What to do about Freddy Adu?
We know one thing: The teen prodigy-turned-flameout won’t be playing for Hackworth. The coach said as much in his honest, infamous open letter to fans, saying Adu was “not part of our plans going forward.” Hackworth did not spell out those plans — nor does he have to — but it’s clear that the midfielder will find himself elsewhere or sitting out the season entirely. From a playing perspective, Adu’s final destination does not matter as the Union have enough talent to compete without him, but they are hamstrung by his salary. It would be better to be rid of him sooner rather than later, even if that means taking on a portion of that DP fee.
- Are they ready for “the Leap”?
In 2010, the Union got their bearings. In 2011, they surprised the league and made the playoffs. In 2012, they struggled under Nowak, then managed to find some stability with Hackworth but still finished in eighth in the Easter Conference. Anything could happen in year four. It’s doubtful that they will be one of the top teams in the conference, but a good year could see them compete for a playoff spot. If a few players can improve, the entire squad could follow. A lot of ifs, however.
Step back in 2012 after a strong 2011
MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:
Up Next: Portland Timbers
Tottenham Hotspur’s thin hopes of winning the Premier League demand all three points from its visit to Chelsea on Monday (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).
Spurs are eight points behind Leicester City, and a loss or draw makes the Foxes the 2015-16 champions.
[ MORE: Burnley clinches promotion to the Premier League ]
Reigning champion Chelsea, in an odd twist, can play the spoiler for either its London neighbors or the fairytale Foxes.
Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Pedro; Diego Costa. Subs: Amelia, Baba, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Oscar, Hazard, Traore.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Dembele; Lamela, Eriksen, Son; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Davies, Wimmer, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Clinton.
Sam Vokes‘ 61st minute header has Burnley back in the Premier League at the first time of asking, and there’s only one way to describe it.
[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]
Burnley clinched automatic promotion thanks to its 1-0 win over QPR and Brighton’s draw earlier in the day. With Brighton facing Middlesbrough this weekend, only one could pass Burnley in points.
Take away the math, though, and Burnley is flying off the emotion of the 1-0 win.
From the BBC:
“It’s magic, it’s a great feeling. You could feel the anticipation around the place when we kicked off. We knew what we had to do after the Brighton result earlier. Magic scenes here today. Getting that goal sparked relief around the place. I missed a lot of the Premier League last season but hopefully I’ll get another chance next season.”
And here’s Sean Dyche, classically stoic in the face of extreme emotion:
“That was well off our performance level but the result was all that mattered today. The resilience, belief and character got us through. You can’t be brilliant every week, we don’t think we’re the real deal, but we’re a real group that sticks together.”
If you don’t know much about Burnley, we suggest Joe Posnanski’s SportsWorld piece from last season’s Premier League campaign.
Congrats to the Clarets.
One claret and blue team has been relegated from the Premier League, but another is taking its place.
Sam Vokes did not score in 15 Premier League appearances last year with Burnley, but his goal on Monday boosted the Clarets back into England’s top flight.
[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]
Vokes, 26, headed home in the second half to give Burnley a 1-0 lead over Queens Park Rangers, and the Clarets held on to make sure their absence from the Premier League was a mere season long.
The win gives Burnley 90 points with one match to play. With Middlesbrough and Brighton & Hove Albion sitting on 88 points and playing each other on the final day of the season, only one winner can pass the Clarets.
There seems to be growing interest in USMNT striker Bobby Wood, who is having a sensational season for Union Berlin in 2.Bundesliga.
Linked with Liverpool in March, Wood is now said to be desired by Hamburg in Germany’s top flight.
[ MORE: Klinsmann calls up 40 for Copa America camp ]
Hamburg’s strike corps consists of young target forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga, ‘Gladbach loanee Josip Drmic and veteran Ivica Olic.
Bild.de says the fee is around $4 million, but that the club has yet to begin discussing terms with Union.
Wood has 17 goals and 3 assists in league play this season, and has also become a mainstay with the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann.
[ MORE: Timbers striker wanted by Palace, St. Etienne ]
Union Berlin is sixth in 2.Bundesliga, while Hamburg is 11th in Bundesliga.
Fellow USMNT striker Aron Johannsson has faced a long injury lay-off with Werder Bremen, while a similar situation has faced Terrence Boyd. The latter is with Red Bull Leipzig and is set for a promotion to the Bundesliga barring extreme unlikelihood over the final few weeks.