Philadelphia hope for continuity in 2012 to keep building

CHESTER, Pa. – When the original players from the Philadelphia Union’s 2010 expansion squad returned for the 2011 preseason, they had to get used to a lot of new faces.

As it turned out, Philly’s roster overhaul transformed the second-year franchise into a playoff team. But as another offseason looms, the Union’s current crop of players hope there is less player movement heading into the 2012 campaign.

“Our hope is to have everyone come back because it would be great to keep the same guys, to keep working together,” Union striker Sébastien Le Toux said. “Last year there were a lot of changes, and it was very difficult to do something in the beginning. I hope with the good result we got this year, we’ll get most of the guys back and move on and continue.”

Along with Le Toux, defender Danny Califf is one of the few remaining players who have been with the Union from the start. And as a longtime MLS player, he understands there will be at least some roster movement to help Philly return to the playoffs next year and go on a deeper run once they get there.

But Califf doesn’t expect there to be the same kind of sweeping changes as there were last offseason when, between Nov. 24 and March 1, the Union lost or got rid of 11 players from the 2010 squad while bringing 10 new players into the fold.

“If there’s a possibility to add someone to help the team and make an immediate impact, I think steps are going to be taken,” Califf said. “But I think we’re going to improve even if we keep the same group. I think we’ve gone through a lot. There was a lot of shakeup last year, and I don’t think there will be as much player movement. I hope not. Obviously I don’t have any idea really.”

Even if the Union do not bring in many new players, their current group recognizes there is still plenty of room for improvement in 2012. And the pain of losing the franchise’s first two playoff games will keep them motivated throughout the offseason and into the new year.

“I know none of the guys are satisfied,” Califf said. “We’re stoked we were better than our first year. We grew and accomplished some things, but I don’t think anyone is satisfied with where we are. You don’t play to get into the playoffs; you play to win the championship. I don’t think anyone is going to be satisfied until that’s done.”

Soon, Califf will feel that kind of hunger to improve and win an MLS Cup. For now though, with the grueling season only just coming to an end last week, the Union veteran is preparing to simply relax and decompress.

For about a month at least.

“It’s massive just to be able to get away from soccer,” Califf said. “I don’t want to turn on the TV and see soccer, I don’t want to read about soccer, I don’t want anything like that. I just want to try to spend as much time as I can with my family and the people I care about and really recharge my batteries. In the middle part of December, I’ll start getting back into training and then really have the desire to get back out and play soccer.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.