The preseason is over and that means it's time to start getting in touch with our friends across the SB Nation network of MLS sites to get a sense of each of the Portland Timbers' opponents. First up, as was the case back in 2012, is Philadelphia Union, who have made some significant changes in the offseason. Eugene Rupinski of Brotherly Game gives us details on what to expect from last season's seventh place team in the Eastern Conference.
Portland has been susceptible to allowing goals from set pieces, both in 2013 and in this preseason. Does the Union have a threat who could take advantage of that specific weakness
Sebastien Le Toux has historically been our go-to guy on set pieces, however that might change with the addition of Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana. Both Noguiera and Maidana have the potential to be deadly on set pieces - especially Maidana's free kicks. Unfortunately, most of the information we have on this is anecdotal, as the Union did not stream most of its preseason matches. We'll just have to wait and see I'm afraid.
Some of Philadelphia's biggest offseason acquisitions have been defensive-minded players. How will they help slow a potentially prolific Timbers attack?
I think that's a huge question that most of us are eagerly anticipating the answer to. Losing Jeff Parke and the uncertainty of Carlos Valdes' future here will put the spotlight squarely on new additions Austin Berry and Ethan White. Someone will have to step up next to Amobi Okugo at center back and shore up the back line. I think the Union have a decent defending corps with Fabinho and Sheanon Williams being solid at left- and right back respectively, with Raymon Gaddis providing a good solid option should either of them go down with injury or out due to suspension. Williams and Okugo could very well be MLS All-Stars at their positions, so it'll really come down to who can replace Parke at center back. I also think playing Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu as a tandem at central defensive midfield will help whoever is back on defense to slow down any oncoming attack. Any time you have 6 back on defense it makes it difficult for anyone looking to score. Also, look for Edu and Carroll to serve as the pivot to start any counter-attacks by the Union. John Hackworth seems to like the idea of plays originating from the CDM position, as this was used quite extensively last season (although that could be a result of the poor quality of attacking midfielders that the club had).
Jack McInerney scored several goals in the preseason. Are the Timbers likely to face the McInerney who was so strong in the first half of last season, or the one who tailed off later in the year?
That will all come down to the service he receives. Jack is primarily a poacher who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. That was easy for him last season with two strikers and him playing off of a power forward like Conor Casey. This year however, the Union have committed to playing a 4-3-3 (really more likely a 4-5-1 with a lone striker up top). This means that the service to Jack will be key because he won't have Casey to play off of (Casey is currently out with ankle and groin issues). He will have Sebastien Le Toux and Cristian Maidana giving him service, and that should be a huge upgrade over Danny Cruz and Keon Daniel, however he'll really have to work hard in order to break the inevitable double-teaming from center backs that he'll receive.
Expected starting XI: Zac MacMath; Fabinho, Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry, Sheanon Williams; Brian Carroll, Maurice Edu; Christian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, Sebastian Le Toux; Jack McInerney