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Union predictions — Team MVP, surprises and disappointments

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Union predictions — Team MVP, surprises and disappointments

The Union accomplished what they set out to do this offseason.

After years of instability under former leadership, they wanted to remain consistent with their roster, system and decision-making — which they did.

They wanted to bolster the attack with two marquee playmakers, one on the wing and one in the attacking midfield — which they did with their draft-day trade for David Accam and Wednesday's acquisition of Czech playmaker Borek Dockal.

And they wanted to give opportunities to teenagers coming through their burgeoning youth academy — which they did with the signings of homegrown defenders Matt Real and Mark McKenzie followed by the preseason decision to give prominent roles to center back Auston Trusty and midfielder Anthony Fontana.

But is it enough to keep up with the rest of the Eastern Conference and make the MLS playoffs? Or win the first playoff game in the club's nine-year history? Will the newcomers be able to mesh with the returning core? Who will star? Who will disappoint?

Leading into Saturday's season opener vs. the New England Revolution (7 p.m., PHL17), it's prediction time. (Part 2 can be found here.)

Team MVP

DZ: Andre Blake
Try to argue that the Jamaican isn't the most talented goalie in the league. You won't get very far. And while Blake's gifts will likely get him to a top European league at some point, the 27-year-old showed commitment to Philly by signing a new multi-year contract in the offseason. Considering the Union have an inexperienced backline, locking down Blake was a good move — and he'll likely reward them with plenty of show-stopping saves.

RB: C.J. Sapong
With 16 goals in 30 games, Sapong had a career year that was so impressive, it opened opportunities with the U.S. national team. Now that the physical scorer has a legit playmaker feeding him passes, Sapong is set up for an even bigger and better 2018 season. He'll lead the team in goals and be an MLS All-Star. 

Top newcomer

DZ: David Accam
The Union shook up the draft by sending money to the Fire for the speedy winger. Accam was great in Chicago, scoring 33 goals over the last three seasons, but he has the opportunity to be even better in Philly, where head coach Jim Curtin's 4-2-3-1 system is designed to maximize the production of his wingers if they can get behind the defense or beat fullbacks one-on-one. Look for Accam to do both, early and often, and perhaps find the back of the net even more than he did in Chicago.

RB: Borek Dockal
He'll be the quarterback the Union desperately need. The offense will run through Dockal and he'll have no shortage of targets. With Fafa Picault on the right, Sapong in the middle and Accam on the left, Dockal will have every opportunity to get on the score sheet with that powerful trio.

Biggest surprise

DZ: Auston Trusty
Given how much exposure he's gotten this offseason, from starting and scoring goals in the preseason to reading the traffic report on the PHL17 morning news, the 19-year-old center back won't surprise anyone when he makes his MLS debut Saturday. What will surprise people is how well he grows into the role — and how much trust Curtin shows in him by keeping him in his starting spot even when he has a bad game or two. "Trusty the Process" indeed.

RB: Alejandro Bedoya
With expectations low, Bedoya will surprise by shining next to Dockal in the midfield. The Czech playmaker will be a safety valve for the US national team stalwart, who will feel less of a burden in possession and make more advantageous runs into the box. He'll have a good season.

Biggest disappointment

DZ: The strikers
Sapong is enjoying a nice moment in his career, coming off a terrific season and well-deserved appearances with the U.S. national team. But is it fair to think he'll be able to duplicate that production after he never hit double-digits in goals in his first six MLS seasons? If he has to miss any time, the dropoff to Jay Simpson or Cory Burke may be steep.

RB: Haris Medunjanin
With 12 assists last season, the well-traveled veteran helped hold a shaky Union team together with his poise on the ball. But the 32-year-old struggled to gain his footing in the preseason and could be primed for a slump in his second MLS season. While it may not be a bad campaign for Medunjanin, there's some reason to believe he won't match last year's success.

Union scoring big on international soccer stage

Union scoring big on international soccer stage

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union were having a lot of fun at the end of Thursday's practice, firing shots from the edge of the box and going nuts when an equipment intern ended the session with a perfectly placed blast into the corner of the net.

Perhaps the only Union player having more fun was an 18-year-old about 7,000 miles away. That would be Philly homegrown kid Auston Trusty, who scored a great goal to help cap the U.S. Under-20 team's 6-0 pasting of New Zealand in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16 in South Korea — and then celebrated in style afterward.

Along with fellow Union homegrown Derrick Jones, who's been a starter at the World Cup, Trusty is gaining valuable experience on an international stage. The same can be said for captain Alejandro Bedoya, who joined the U.S. senior national team ahead of two big World Cup qualifiers, as he usually does.

And then there's Bedoya's midfield partner, Haris Medunjanin, who was called into the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team for next Friday's World Cup qualifier vs. Greece.

"I always like to go back and play for my country because I was born there and it's a big honor," Medunjanin said after practice. "I think for anybody to play for their country, it's a dream come true."

If that's the case, Union players have been fulfilling a lot of dreams as the international break approaches. But devotion to the club is important too as Medunjanin decided he wanted to play in Saturday's game vs. New York City FC (1 p.m./6ABC) before meeting up with his Bosnian teammates.

For Union head coach Jim Curtin, that says a lot.

"Haris is a great professional," Curtin said. "He really will do anything for the Philadelphia Union badge. He's a guy who led our group through this good stretch of games … not just because of the goals or the assists but also the little things off the field, keeping the group together. He's a big part of the team.

"If you talk about a guy you want young players to emulate, to look up to for all the things he does on the field and off — he's a true professional."

Medunjanin has a unique national team history, suiting up for Netherlands youth teams before moving over to play for Bosnia, where he's earned over 50 caps and helped guide to its first World Cup berth in 2014. He lived in Bosnia until he was 7 before he fled with his mother and sister at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, growing up in Holland and learning the sport at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar's youth academy. He's since played in top leagues in Spain, Israel and Turkey, giving him quite the pedigree to be a leader on a young Union team.

And even though other European players have been snubbed by their national team coaches after coming to MLS, Curtin believes Medunjanin will continue to be a mainstay for Bosnia and help change the league's perception across the pond.

"On every roster, there's a great European player, a great South American player that plays in this league and goes, 'Wow, there's quality here, it's getting better,'" Curtin said. "The stadiums, the atmosphere, the way we travel, the hotels we stay in — the bar is getting raised. And it spreads quickly throughout the soccer world.

"When Haris talks about it with his teammates when he goes back to Bosnia, it just spreads more and more. And it's really spreading quickly. It's a rapid rise right now. If it was a stock, I'd invest."

Medunjanin certainly believes MLS is a growing league, admitting Thursday that he's been "surprised" by the quality and that it's "better than I thought." And while he's still learning to deal with some of the league's tougher aspects — like the kind of travel and jet lag that doesn't exist in European leagues — he's also trying to use his experience to teach a thing or two to the team's younger players.

One of those guys is Jones, who, with his strong performance for the U-20s, is looking more and more like he could have a bright future both in Philly and on the international stage.

"He has a comfort level on the ball that is unique," Curtin said. "He's brave and sometimes he'll try to dribble out of situations where I cringe on the sideline but he always bounces out with the ball at his feet. Some guys have that; some guys don't. He's one of them. When he goes into a tackle, the ball always comes out at his feet.

"Derrick's fearless. I think he's turned a lot of heads. We're not surprised here back in Philadelphia because he's a special player."

Union's Auston Trusty joins Derrick Jones on U.S. U-20 World Cup roster

Union's Auston Trusty joins Derrick Jones on U.S. U-20 World Cup roster

CHICAGO -- Union defender Auston Trusty has replaced Fulham's Marlon Fossey on the U.S. roster for the Under-20 World Cup.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said Wednesday that Fossey arrived at training camp with a groin injury.

Trusty will join his Union teammate Derrick Jones, who made the original cut. Jones was the first active Union player to participate in the U-20 World Cup. Trusty will be the second. 

The Americans open the tournament in South Korea against Ecuador on Monday, play Senegal three days later and Saudi Arabia on May 28.

The revised roster:

Goalkeepers: Jonathan Klinsmann (California), J.T. Marcinkowski (Georgetown), Brady Scott (De Anza Force)

Defenders: Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham, England), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (New Mexico), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), Tommy Redding (Orlando City), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia)

Midfielders: Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Luca De La Torre (Fulham, England), Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union), Eryk Williamson (Maryland), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal, England)

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Lagos Kunga (Atlanta United), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake), Emmanuel Sabbi (no club), Josh Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake)