Top 10 storylines to watch for as Union kick off 2015 season

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1. Will the Union finally get back to the playoffs?

The Union haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 and it’s been the biggest topic hanging over the heads of the entire organization entering every season since. The league has added one additional playoff spot to each conference with clubs Orlando City and New York City FC joining the league this season. If they can repeat their success of last season, where they finished sixth, it would be good enough for the final playoff spot in the East.

2. Who will lead the team in goals?

Over the past two seasons, Conor Casey has led all Union forwards with 18 goals. Sebastien Le Toux follows just behind him with 15. Expect a new leader in goals this season for the team. The Union have played with two strikers up top in preseason, with C.J. Sapong and more recently Fernando Aristeguieta. Expect Aristeguieta to lead the team in goals this season, where he’s already notched four in just three preseason games.

3. Can Rais M’Bolhi stay consistent in net?

M’Bolhi played in just four games last season. He held a 1-1-2 record where he tallied seven saves while giving up four goals. He’ll have positional security through the first month of the season, as Andre Blake recovers from knee surgery, but in order to keep his starting job he’ll need to show consistency in net. His defense in front of him on paper isn’t as good as it was a year ago.

4. Can the back line work together?

Newly acquired Steven Vitoria and Ethan White, who logged 12 starts in 2014, will hold crucial roles this season for the Union defense. The two are expected to start next to each other at center back, where names like Amobi Okugo and Carlos Valdes manned the middle for the majority of last season. Alongside Raymon Gaddis and Sheanon Williams, this unit will have to find a way to work together and make M’Bolhi’s job in net much easier.

5. Will the team reach the U.S. Open Cup final again?

The highlight of the Union’s 2014 season was playing in the U.S. Open Cup final for the first time in club history. Despite a 3-1 loss to the Sounders in extra time, coach Jim Curtin seeks revenge in 2015. He was quoted as saying the team has some “unfinished business” in the tournament this season.

6. Will any Union players make the MLS All-Star team?

Last season, just midfielder Maurice Edu was selected to the squad from the Union. Expect Edu along with forwards Aristeguieta and Andrew Wenger to have a shot of making it this season. Wenger is one of the strongest and fastest forwards in the league. He broke out last season and should play a major role in the Union offense this year.

7. Can Dzenan Catic make an impact?

Catic, the Union’s first pick in the second round, scored 63 goals in two years at Davenport University. He’ll have the opportunity to learn all season from strikers like Aristeguieta, Sapong and Casey. If he learns fast enough, he could be seeing minutes as a sub in some crucial games for the Union this season.

8. When will Andre Blake return to action?

Blake’s timeline is 4-6 weeks, as he recovers from knee surgery, which works out to be sometime between March 23rd and April 6th. He led the team in save percentage last season at 88 percent, but only started in just one regular season match. M’Bolhi’s play along with Blake’s health will ultimately decide when he sees his first action this season.

9. How will the new CBA affect things?

The MLS announced on Wednesday that they came to an agreement with the MLS Players Union for a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement creates free agency for players 28 and older, with eight years of MLS experience. There will also be salary increases, based on how much each player makes as well as an increase of the minimum annual salary to $60,000 and a raising of the salary cap.

10. How have the Union increased the fan experience?

The Union and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery have teamed up to create the Dogfish River Deck at PPL Park. Fans can now enjoy their favorite beers at the stadium such as Namaste, Aprihop, and their flagship 60 Minute IPA at a brand new beer garden. Of course, Yards’ Sons of Ben Rowdy Style Ale will be available as well.

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