Major League Soccer team previews: PHILADELPHIA UNION


Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. MLS first kick is March 2.

No. 6 in the East is the Philadelphia Union:

Significant additions and subtractions: After two injury-slowed years, Conor Casey is healthy and motivated by the sounds of it. If the former Colorado Rapids striker, who moved east in an offseason trade, can find 2010 form (he hit 13 times, tied for sixth best in MLS) the Union will have that veteran finisher so dearly missed last year.

Along with popular forward Sebastian Le Toux, who remains the team’s all-time leading scorer despite a year away, is back thanks to a January trade with New York.

Elite center back Carlos Valdes has been loaned to a Colombian club; Jeff Parke, acquired from Seattle in December, isn’t quite of Valdes’ quality, but he’s a reliable MLS defender.

And then there’s Freddy Adu, who isn’t yet technically gone, but he’s certainly not with the team, either. Keep reading.

Strengths: everything to like and not to like is contained in the brat pack of wonderful young talent around PPL Park: Zak MacMath, Jack McInerney , Roger Torrres, Antoine HoppenotAmobi Okugo, Sheanon Willliams are all 22 or younger. The Farfan brothers, Michael and Gabriel, are just 24. Most of them have MLS All-Star potential.

Of course, they are still young. Head coach John Hackworth, blessed with ample patience and equipped with plenty of experience working with younger types, is the right guy to have around them, to nurse them through the inevitable boo-boos and rough patches. That said, there will be mistakes and rough patches.

There’s plenty of playmaking potential in Torres and Michael Farfan. And with Casey and Le Toux around, the 20-year-old McInerney need not feel the crushing pressure of having to arrive as a scoring force now.

Guys like Casey, Parke and Brian Carroll add some wizened stability to a locker room full of youth.

Pressure points: When Hackworth talks about roster “constraints” and “challenges,” we all know what he’s talking about: Adu, whose career wanderings continue. Hackworth wants to move on without the mercurial playmaker, but the club is hog-tied until it can get Adu’s DP salary off the books.

We are all assuming center back Bakary Soumare still looks like the game-changer we knew in Chicago, but it has been four years since he ruled as such a force at Toyota Park.

The talented MacMath, 21, had more than his share meaningful mess-ups last year. It seems naïve to believe he’s completely past all of them.

There still may be some hangover effect of 2012, and what an odd year it was around PPL Park. Then-coach Peter Nowak tore apart a playoff team, one that seemed to be on the rise. Things clearly were strained behind the scenes and Nowak was fired in June, later to get tangled in a nasty lawsuit with the club.

Hackworth must find the best spot for young Okugo, who filled in splendidly at center back in 2012 but seems set to occupy a holding midfield role for ‘13.


Difference maker: LeToux (pictured right) departed Philadelphia a year ago and got completely lost. He scored five goals while moving coast to coast mid-season, from Vancouver to New York. Perhaps being back in his happy place at PPL Park, where Le Toux struck for a whopping 25 goals between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, can make an All-Star of the Frenchman once again.

Potential breakout player: It could be Michael Farfan – but only if he can hold off Torres as Hackworth’s creative influence. Farfan had some remarkable moments last year but the final production (one goal, five assists) must improve. It should, considering the measurably better striker in front of him now.

Bottom line: Last year was all about stabilizing a listing ship; now with a full off-season (short as it was) and with a talented young roster more to his liking, Hackworth can try to move things forward. Whether his team has enough experience to get there … we’ll see.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan