Union welcome Rapids to PPL for season opener

Chester, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids tangle on Saturday at PPL Park as both clubs look to get their 2015 seasons off to a positive start.

Both clubs underachieved in 2014, with Philadelphia missing the postseason by finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind fifth place Sporting Kansas City, while Colorado finished in eighth place in the West with 32 points, well behind fifth-place Vancouver.

Under former head coach John Hackworth, the 2014 incarnation of the Union started the season brightly by earning a point away from home against Portland, but as the first few months of the season passed, they developed a harrowing trend of conceding late goals and coughing up valuable points.

A trend which eventually cost Hackworth his job as he was relieved of his duties by the Union following a 3-3 draw with the Whitecaps just prior to the World Cup break.

One of the bright spots from the Union's inconsistent 2014 campaign was the much-improved midfield with U.S. international Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana. All three players will return in 2015 which should give the Union one of the best midfields in the league.

With Edu and Nogueira holding down the defensive midfield spots in Curtin's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Maidana should thrive in his No. 10 creative midfield spot, while fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger on the wings.

"Mo is an extremely important player to our organization and we're excited that he will be in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future," said Union technical director Chris Albright. "We look forward to him helping lead us toward building a winning team."

One of the biggest needs for the Union to fill this offseason was finding a true striker, a position which all teams covet but find difficult to fill. For Philadelphia, the club enters 2015 with some nice depth up front.

Former Sporting Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong was brought over in a trade, while Venezuelan international Fernando Aristeguieta arrived on a one-year loan from French side FC Nantes.

In order for Colorado to succeed in 2015, they must improve their shaky defense.

The Rapids gave up an MLS-high 62 goals in 34 games last season, and over the final few months of the campaign, they were particularly bad, yielding at least four goals in a game five times in their final 11 matches.

To that end, Clint Irwin returns to the starting goalkeeper spot, while former Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath will backup Irwin.

"Signing MacMath was about building depth in a position where I felt we could use it," said head coach Pablo Mastreoni. "Zac has experience and he is coming off his best year so he'll have a lot of confidence. But Clint Irwin is a great young keeper. The more competitive we make this position, the better these guys will become."

The back line is another area that could use some improvement from last season, but the club will have to do without two of its best defenders following the departures of Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute.

Mastreoni is left to rely on Drew Moor, Shane O'Neill and Marc Burch in defense, while Michael Harrington was added in a trade from the Portland Timbers in December.

Deshorn Brown enjoyed a strong campaign last season for the Rapids as he led the club with 10 goals, and the 24-year-old will hope to take another step in his development by building on that performance this season.

Veteran Vicente Sanchez, 35, provided six goals alongside Brown, while the club will hope for improved production from Gabriel Torres, who managed just three goals in 23 appearances.