1) How will the Philadelphia Union find equilibrium between the US Open Cup Final and staying relevant in the MLS Playoffs race? Are both mutually exclusive for the Union in its current state?
While the MLS Playoffs are still mathematically possible, they're a long shot even by the most optimistic views. The focus now is on the US Open Cup - it has to be.The opportunity to win one game and get the club's first major trophy is certainly much more immediate and pressing than the outside shot of making the Playoffs with no guarantee of advancing, let alone winning silverware. That's not to say the Union will roll over and die in league play. They're certainly going to try to be competitive and win games, but I think players are going to have it in the backs of their minds that they need to be fully healthy when Sporting Kansas City comes to town.
2) How are the Union's recent acquisitions perceived by fans, media? (Barnetta, etc..)
It's been a mostly "wait and see" attitude from the fans about Tranquillo Barnetta and Warren Creavalle both - not because of anything they've done or not done, but because of the Union's poor history of midseason signings (see: Freddy Adu, Rais M'Bolhi, Bakary Soumare, etc.). I think Barnetta has gotten people fairly excited so far. While he's not at full match fitness yet, we've still been able to see glimpses of what he can do offensively. Once he and Cristian Maidana are on the same page, the Union's offense could go from decent to fearsome. And personally I'm high on Creavalle - I've always thought he had good potential even back when he was with the Houston Dynamo. He's not as flashy as Barnetta, nor should he try to be at central defensive midfielder. While he's still a bit unpolished, he now has the opportunity to learn from Brian Carroll, who is a master at his craft even at this stage of his career. Both of these guys should help the Union's cause for some time to come.
3) Why is the City of Philadelphia struggling with its goalkeeper situation? Whether it's the Philadelphia Flyers or the Union, finding a permanent decent solution between the posts has been a challenge for both franchises. Is this a cultural stigma for the city?
Personally I'm not a Flyers fan, so I had to ask my writers about this. Here's what they said:
Justin Feinberg: A lot of it has to do with expectations. Many in Philadelphia expect perfect goalkeeping and when they do not get it they stigmatize them as being awful when they may just be league average. Which of course is not to say that all goaltenders/goalkeepers between the Flyers and Union were underrated because that is not true either. Chris Seitz was bad. Michael Leighton was bad. Rais M'Bolhi was bad. Ilya Bryzgalov was bad. But Steve Mason, who was horrendous with Columbus Blue Jackets, has played stunningly well in two-plus seasons for the Flyers. Brian Sylvestre has surpassed the admittedly low expectations set for him and Zac MacMath maintains support among Union fans. It's not all bad, it is just not all great, and fans in both soccer and hockey can unfairly blame goalies/keepers for bad play in front of them.
Nick Youngstein: For the Flyers, some of it is bad luck. Before the salary cap, they always used to just throw money at the problem. Then, with the salary cap, they had to spend better but never really addressed the entire defense. When the goalie was good enough, their defensemen weren't. And then the inverse would happen. But then culture did factor into it. Being that their only championships came from the Broad Street Bullies era, and then the front office being run by a succession of those players, they've had a history of being undisciplined, taking penalties that put the defense at a disadvantage.
Predicted lineup: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Steven Vitoria, Ray Gaddis; Brian Carroll, Warren Creavalle; Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana, Tranquillo Barnetta; CJ Sapong
Predicted score: The Union have never done well in Montreal, and being without Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira will hurt. Impact 2-1 Union