Can Union be contenders in 2013? "It's not far-fetched"

Danny Cruz

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CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union had two main goals for their 2012 season finale: to give the New York Red Bulls a worse playoff seed and also give their fans something to feel good about going into next year.

They did neither.

But while the Union players were disappointed by Saturday’s ugly 3-0 setback to their rivals from New York, another feeling seemed to be more prevalent in the locker room following the game:

Optimism.

“The fans have every right to have a sour taste,” Union midfielder Danny Cruz (above) said. “But I think they’re just as happy for the season to be over, as far as now it’s that much closer to the beginning of next year.”

READ: Hackworth to discuss Adu's Union future with him

Being that Saturday’s game was the final one of the season, it was only natural that much of the postgame chatter was centered around the offseason and the 2013 campaign. With a talented young core, the Union have a lot to look forward to – but also much to improve upon.

That was evident on Saturday when the Red Bulls scored on most of their good chances while the Union failed to finish, one of the main problems of a season that ended with a gloomy 10-18-6 overall record.

“I think it’s indicative of the way our team has to grow,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “You look at their execution and the few chances they had and it was clinical. And yet we created more chances and had more great looks on goal and couldn’t finish. If you don’t do that, you’re never going to be on the right side of the scoreboard.”

Hackworth could have been angrier about the three-goal loss but, like his players, he expressed mostly pride and enthusiasm following the game, saying that his team “proved we can play soccer against the best teams in the league.”

The Union manager knows he’ll need to make some key acquisitions in the offseason but he believes a big turnaround in the Eastern Conference table is very possible. Cruz thinks so, too.

“I came from a team in Houston where we were awful my second year,” he said. “And for my third season, we came back and went to the MLS Cup [in 2011]. It’s not far-fetched to say we need to take care of business in the offseason and work hard for next year.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.