Where they Finished Last Season: 10-6-18 (Did not make the playoffs)
Pedigree: 2011 Eastern Conference Semi-finalists.
Rivals: D.C. United, New York Red Bulls.
Coach: John Hackworth
Top Returning Players: MF Brian Carroll, DF Sheanon Williams, MF Amobi Okugo, FWD Jack McInerney.
Key Additions: FWD Sebastian Le Toux (New York Red Bulls,) FWD Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids,) DEF Jeff Parke.
Key Departures: MF Gabriel Gomez (Atletico Junior,) DEF Porfirio Lopez (L.D. Alajuelense,) FWD Josue Martinez (New York Red Bulls,) MF Freddy Adu (Loan-Bahia.)
Young Player to Watch: FWD Jack McInerney, DEF Ray Gaddis
Outlook: A relative newcomer to MLS, the Philadelphia Union have shown in just three seasons that they are steadily building a team for future success. While many franchises have started off swinging in MLS, the Union have taken the path of developing young talent and taking their lumps in their first few seasons.
Although they did have some success in 2011 with a team featuring Le Toux, Colombian Goalkeeper Farid Mondragon, and Midfielder Freddy Adu, 2012 was more accurate about the team’s development. I have never been a fan of former Union coach Petr Nowak as he seems to be from the Bobby Knight mold of coaching: yell at your players, lose your marbles, and toss things around. For a young team like the Union that would seem to be counter-productive to development. So far, I really like the work that John Hackworth has done with the Union. Since taking over the Union, Hackworth has a record of 11-13-6, which is a dramatic improvement from their 2012 team under Nowak.With a team that has seven rookies on their roster and five players over the age of 30, their will be growing pains this season.
When you get a chance to watch the Union, the first thing that you notice is how good Jack McInerney is on and off the ball. As forward, his vision of the field is impeccable. He always seems to be able to find the open spaces in the defense and his excellent footwork. So far this season he has scored over 6 goals, which leads MLS, and I would not be surprised if he will score at least 20. Mr. Klinsmann, if you are looking for young American strikers have a bit of imagination to them, this is your guy.
What makes McInerney even more dangerous is that his strike partner Conor Casey. One of MLS’ most feared strikers, Casey has scored over 50 goals in six MLS seasons. A big tall forward, Casey is able to down headers into the box with ease and is able to take vicious hits from the defense and keep on trucking. While he and McInerney have taken a few games to mesh with each other, their work on D.C. United on Sunday shows promise for the two for the rest of the MLS campaign. Also, if you ever get the chance, make sure to watch Sheanon Williams take throw ins. He may not be able to do the cartwheel throw-in that impressed every high schooler in the 1990’, but he has a cannon.
While the Union’s offense seems to be clicking, their defense still leaves a lot to be desired. While watching them the past few matches, you could definitely tell that their backline is still trying to figure out their roles. Having a veteran defender like Jeff Parke should be able to provide some veteran leadership in what seems to be a very young group. The one player I was impressed during the D.C. United match was Ray Gaddis. A product of the University of West Virginia (go Mountaineers!) Gaddis was not fazed by the footwork of Raphael Augusto and Carlos Ruiz during the United match. Often you can tell the talent disparity in MLS by the players who get bought by the step-over move. Mr. Gaddis stuffed United on multiple occasions and showed incredible poise against seasoned strikers.
Even though Gaddis and Parke are quality players, players like Amobi Okugo and Bakary Soumare have not played to their caliber. And while Chris Albright may have been the future of U.S. Soccer 13 years ago, he should not be anything more than a bit player for this squad. Their goalkeeping is also suspect. Starting keeper Zac McMath has been very disappointing so far this year. On too many occasions he has made poor decisions on his clearances and does not seem to have his backline composed. Still, in what seems to be a running theme for this column, he is still only 21 years old and there is still plenty of room for growth. While backup Chris Konopka has some experience in MLS and in the League of Ireland (Ireland’s top flight division,) it may make sense for the Union to invest in a solid veteran backup as the season progresses.
I could write 20,000 words on the subject of Freddy Adu, the highs and lows of his career, how he has never lived up to his hype and who is to blame for that. I am not going to do that. He plays for Bahia, not the Philadelphia Union. I will say that at 23 (or even his real age of 27) he has accomplished quite a bit and still has plenty of time to do more . Playing professional soccer not only in the United States, but also in Europe and featuring for one’s national team is quite an achievement for any person. Perhaps he has not lived up to the expectations leveled on him. That is on him and the American soccer system. Nonetheless, I tip my cap to him because being able to do what he has done, even if he will never be the next Messi, is a pretty cool thing.
The Philadelphia Union are going to be one of the more interesting teams to watch this year. Not because they will be competing for the MLS Cup or the Supporter’s Shield. This team has the potential to be a serious player in Major League Soccer for many years. While a late season playoff push is possible, they just do not have the experience in the net or in their backline to make it to the fall football classic.
Beer of Choice:
While it would be easy to just say that if you are at a Union game that you should drink a Yuengling or a Keystone Light, both of which are Pennsylvania brews, the true gem of Pennsylvania breweries is the Troegs Brewing Company. A beer with 6% Alcohol By Volume, the Hopback Amber Ale has a nice mix of malt and hops which kind of works well the flashy playing style of McInerney and the simple, straightforward Casey. It also has a bit of a peppery, dry taste at the end of it which sums up the Union supporters pretty well.