As the Union continue to retool their roster before preseason starts, fans should prepare themselves for a much different look on the offensive side of the ball once play begins on Saturday.
All signs point to the Union deploying a 4-3-3 formation, which typically has two forwards flanked on the left and right wings of the field and a central striker in the middle of the offensive attack.
Last season, the Union were hoping that striker Fernando Aristiguieta would emerge as the top goal-scorer on the team. He started 14 games for the Union before injuries ultimately landed him on the bench towards the end of the season. The Venezuelan scored five goals in 21 total appearances with the Union.
On Monday, it was announced that Aristiguieta, who had been playing with the Union on loan from French club FC Nantes, would not be returning to Philadelphia in 2016 and instead heading to Ligue 2 outfit Red Star.
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With the decisions to trade both Andrew Wenger and Christian Maidana to the Houston Dynamo in the offseason, along with the decision to not re-sign forward Conor Casey, coach Jim Curtin is left with some roster decisions to make in order to spark some life into the struggling Union offense. As a team, they ranked last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored (42) last season and were tied for fifth-worst in the entire MLS in scoring.
“[We are] actively pursuing players,” Curtin said at last Thursday’s media day. “Again, every team is pursuing players. We're happy with our starting points but you always have to be looking to upgrade. It’s a team that I believe can be a playoff team; that is our goal, we have to get in the playoffs. ... I would be happy to pick a starting XI [from our players now] but we are not a complete roster.”
Striker C.J. Sapong will be relied upon heavily again in 2016 for scoring. He notched nine goals in 27 games for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux will likely start at right wing, where he started last season and scored eight goals along with six assists.
The left wing position looks to be an open competition at the moment. The club acquired winger Walter Restrepo from the New York Cosmos last month, who scored three goals in 24 starts with the club last season. They could also go the route of rookie Fabian Herbers, who the club picked with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Playing mainly midfield in college, Herbers scored 15 goals with 17 assists last season at Creighton.
It’s a situation which both Curtin and Sporting Director Earnie Stewart will be watching closely in training camp.
“The choices that we've made already with players that have left are based on [the system we want to play],” Stewart said. “We are going to play the system that is for the Philadelphia Union in what we expect for our players and make that very clear and make sure they understand their roles that they have. They have to adapt to that.”
The Union will face the Jacksonville Armada FC of the NASL Saturday in the preseason opener. The match will at 6 p.m. on ESPN3.