After a playoff appearance in 2016, the Philadelphia Union slid back down the Eastern Conference standings, finishing 2017 in 8th place. With two new exciting, attack-oriented players, the Union will look to improve in 2018 and find themselves back in the playoff hunt.
Off-Season Grade: C
The Union were fairly quiet this offseason, but the moves they did make could prove to be big for the club. Chris Pontius, Charlie Davies, Maurice Edu, Roland Alberg, and Gili Wijnaldum were among the players who left Chester this offseason, along with the retirement of MLS veteran Brian Carroll.
Philadelphia signed three homegrown players, Anthony Fontana, Matthew Real, and Mark McKenzie, and signed Cory Burke after the Jamaican spent the last two years with their USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel.
Andre Blake and the defense kept the Union in a lot of games last season but offensive firepower was clearly a need in the offseason. So, offense is what they went out and spent their money on. The Union traded a large bag of allocation money to Chicago for Ghanaian winger David Accam in January. Accam scored 14 goals for the Fire in 2017 and will immediately slot in to the Philadelphia lineup. If Accam can replicate his relationship with Nemanja Nikolic in Chicago, CJ Sapong will be a very happy goal scorer this season.
The other big move for the Union was finalized this week with the signing of Czech attacking midfielder Borek Dockal on loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye. The 29 year old has made over 350 professional appearances in his career and has tallied 79 goals and 93 assists over that span. With Accam and Dockal joining a team with Sapong, Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, and Ilsinho, among others, the Union should have a much improved offense in 2018. With the signing of Dockal as a Designated Player, the Union used TAM on David Accam to remove the DP tag from him.
Key Player: Haris Medunjanin
A lot of players around the world are described as engines for their team. A guy that does it all in the middle of the park, a field general. Haris Medunjanin fits that description perfectly. The Bosnian is a passing machine, and with the new look firepower in front of him, he’ll be the man that pulls the strings and gets the offensive weapons in position.
Best Case: Making the Playoffs
The East is very good. But best case scenario, the Union defense remains a strength of the team and the offensive additions gel to give Philadelphia a 5 or 6 seed in the playoffs. Their road form is going to have to be better as well, they won just once in their travels in 2017.
The Union have also been one of the MLS teams who have taken the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup very seriously, finishing as runners-up in 2014 and 2015. I could definitely see them making another deep run this season, perhaps to the final again.
Bold Prediction: Andre Blake leaves for Europe
Andre Blake is one of, if not the best, goalkeeper in Major League Soccer. The Jamaican turned 27 this offseason and it seems to be the right time for him to test his skills abroad. Blake could see fellow goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s recent departure as an example of what his future career could be and jump at the chance for a move this summer.