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MLS Features: Can the Union be contenders in 2014?

By Brian Wright, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's been roughly seven weeks since Sporting Kansas City hoisted MLS Cup on home soil after a dramatic victory over Real Salt Lake.

Since then, teams have been wheeling and dealing all winter long in preparation for the 2014 season.

D.C. United and Toronto FC endured tough seasons last time out, but both clubs strengthened considerably with United adding Fabian Espindola and U.S. international Eddie Johnson along with veteran defender Jeff Parke.

Toronto, meanwhile, made probably the biggest splash of the offseason by landing England international Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and U.S. international Michael Bradley from Roma in huge deals.

While all this was going on, Philadelphia Union fans remained frustrated by their club's lack of activity.

But things got rolling in a big way during the MLS SuperDraft at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Jan. 16.

With the Union supporters group in full voice, Philadelphia made the first big move of the day, sending the No. 2 overall selection and allocation money to D.C. United in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick.

With the top pick in hand, the Union snagged University of Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake, making him the first goalkeeper ever to be taken No. 1 overall.

Blake, 23, was a bit of a controversial pick for the hometown club as it already has a young goalkeeper in Zac MacMath. But MacMath has yet to reach his potential, although he took some major strides last season, so manager John Hackworth felt Blake was too good to pass up.

Blake was widely thought of to be the best available player among draft circles, but he admitted after being selected by the Union that he was caught off-guard.

"I didn't see this coming, it's a big surprise, but what can I say," Blake told the club's official website. "Every player dreams of being the No. 1 overall pick and for me to do it as a goalkeeper, it's a great feeling and a great achievement."

Philadelphia also held the sixth overall pick in the first round, but traded down twice to recoup some of the allocation money it sent to D.C., winding up at No. 15 in the process.

With that No. 15 pick, Philadelphia selected Costal Carolina midfielder Pedro Ribeiro, who played for Union assistant coach Brendan Burke with developmental affiliate Reading United.

"Pedro is a guy that I worked with for about three months last season and is a player that brings a lot to the table," Burke told the team website. "He brings size and creativity and he's an honest kid.

The Union also bolstered their back line with the selection of Michigan State defender Kevin Cope at No. 25 and Akron defender Robert Derschang at No. 27.

Blake should give MacMath competition for the starting spot immediately, while the selections of Cope and Derschang gives the club some much-needed depth in defense.

But Philadelphia's major offseason coup came on Monday when the club announced the acquisition of U.S. international midfielder Maurice Edu on loan from Premier League side Stoke City.

Edu played minimally under Mark Hughes at Stoke and is exactly what Philadelphia needs to fix a midfield that struggled mightily to provide service to forwards Jack McInerney and Conor Casey last season.

In addition to Edu, Philadelphia signed Argentine winger Cristian Maidana before the draft, and it looks to have a deal in place for Sochaux captain Vincent Nogueira.

However, even with a complete overhaul of their midfield, will these moves make the Union a playoff team in 2014?

In short, it should. But Philadelphia will still need to find a veteran central defender to pair with Amobi Okugo if Cope and Dershang fail to impress in preseason training.

The new signings give Hackworth plenty of options as to how to line up his team. Edu figures to be a box-to-box midfielder who can defend as well as attack, while team captain Brian Carroll will stay in a deep-lying defensive role.

With Maidana out wide on the left, fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux on the right and Nogueira in a No. 10 attacking role, the Union should be much more potent in the attacking third this season.

Philadelphia Union fans have waited several years since their last playoff appearance in 2011, but with all the new faces on the pitch this campaign, 2014 should see the Union back in the postseason.

01/29 12:43:29 ET

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