'12 Season Preview: New-look Union hopeful of playoff return

The Philadelphia Union may have hit a turning term success.

After an impressive sophomore season that saw Peter Nowak's team finish third in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, the seasoned MLS coach overhauled the squad during the offseason, getting rid of some major pieces that contributed to the Union's success.

The move that grabbed the most attention was Nowak's decision to trade talisman and fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in exchange for allocation money.

Le Toux garnered MVP consideration during his two years in Philadelphia. He delivered 25 goals and 20 assists to the club, showing his ability to create scoring opportunities in addition to finishing them off.

Despite coming under a fair amount of criticism, Nowak stuck to his guns by consistently defending his decision to trade a player who has been the face of the team during the club's first two years in existence, saying that the allocation money will be more beneficial to the club down the road.

"We were able to have Carlos Valdes back and give a new contract to Roger Torres, and we believe that it was important to make this move for the long term," Nowak said.

But at what cost in the short term? With complementary pieces like Justin Mapp, Veljko Paunovic, and Stefani Miglioranzi also making way, there are major questions harboring in Chester about who can shoulder the scoring responsibilities.

Much of the pressure will fall on Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu. Mwanga, still only 20 years old, is entering his third season in MLS and has contributed 12 goals and eight assists in his 30 appearances with the club. Adu, a longtime star in the league who made his MLS debut at age 14, has shown bright spots during his career but will be looking to put together a full season of consistently effective play.

Philadelphia may also experience some hardships in front of its own net after veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon returned to Colombia to join his former club, Deportivo Cali. Chris Seitz was the first-choice 'keeper in the Union's debut season and did not inspire much confidence, posting the worst goals against average in the league (1.80) for goalkeepers with more than one start.

Zac MacMath deputized for Mondragon on occasion last season and performed admirably, but his ability to sustain that type of form for an entire season remains to be seen.

2011 IN REVIEW: Philadelphia made great strides in its sophomore season, finishing the regular season third in the Eastern Conference with 48 points. The Union lost only once at PPL Park during the regular season, but their second home loss of the season ultimately prevented them from advancing in the postseason. They were ousted by the Houston Dynamo after losing 2-1 at home and 1-0 in the return leg at Robertson Stadium.

ACQUISITIONS: Chris Albright (D), Gabriel Gomez (M), Nizar Khalfan (M), Josue Martinez (F), Jimmy McLaughlin (M).

LOSSES: Levi Houapeu (F), Sebastien Le Toux (F), Justin Mapp (M), Stefani Miglioranzi (M), Faryd Mondragon (GK), Kyle Nakazawa (M), Veljko Paunovic (F).

OUTLOOK: Philadelphia appears poised for a minor step back. Wholesale changes have been made from a team that found a great deal of success against the odds, and while the club's commitment to youth could prove to be promising for the future, it may not pay dividends in 2012. Philadelphia would be fortunate to make the postseason this season.