2012 in Review: Philadelphia Union
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 10-18-6 (36 points); 37 GF / 45 GA (-8 GD)
Fresh off the franchise’s first playoff appearance, expectations were high for the Philadelphia Union heading into the 2012 season.
But after a tumultuous offseason that saw veterans Faryd Mondragón, Sébastien Le Toux and Justin Mapp leave town – and captain Danny Califf follow soon thereafter in a May trade – the Union sputtered to a 2-7-2 start.
Combined with what team CEO Nick Sakiewicz called “philosophical differences,” those results led to the midseason firing of Peter Nowak, who had managed the club since its inception but quickly drew the ire of fans for his puzzling moves and erratic behavior. In his place, Nowak’s deputy, John Hackworth, took over on an interim basis, and led the team to a 4-1 record in July – the same month the Union’s home stadium, PPL Park, hosted the MLS All-Star Game.
But an eight-game winless streak from the beginning of August until late September effectively squashed all playoff hopes for Hackworth’s young squad, which scored only 37 goals in 34 games and finished with a 10-18-6 record, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Best moment of the year
The first win for Hackworth was more than just a win; it was an all-out blitzing of the best team in the Eastern Conference. Led by two goals from Jack McInerney, the Union routed Sporting Kansas City, 4-0, at PPL Park on June 23. The Union had lost to D.C. United in Hackworth’s managerial debut a week earlier, but the rout of SKC seemed to push aside the dark clouds hovering over PPL Park and ushered in a new era for the franchise.
Worst moment of the year
On May 26, the Union traveled to Canada to take on a Toronto FC club that was winless – and pointless – through nine games. They returned to the US with nothing to show for their trip as Toronto picked up their first win of the season. Afterwards, Nowak said he was “extremely disappointed” with the team’s performance in the game, and he wasn’t alone. It ended up being the last league game he’d coach.
With time ticking away in the first half of the Union’s July 4 meeting with the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, playmaker Michael Farfan beat David Júnior Lopes to the line and played a cross to McInerney, who was heavily covered by A.J. DeLaGarza. But with his back to the net, McInerney put a nifty back heel on the ball, which beat Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders and snuck just inside the far post. That stunning goal – as well as a beauty from Farfan in stoppage time of the second half – helped the Union upset the eventual MLS Cup champs, 2-1.
Graham Zusi was certainly one of the best players in MLS this season, but for a few moments against the Union on Oct. 24 the Sporting Kansas City midfielder was thwarted of two easy scoring chances. The first came when Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath punched away a Zusi shot from the middle of the box. Zusi then got his own rebound and tried again from close to the same spot. But MacMath made another huge save, this time with his right foot, as he was getting up from making the first stop.
When Califf was traded to Chivas USA early in the season, Carlos Valdés was not only asked to anchor the defense but also wear the captain’s armband. The 27-year-old Colombian handled both roles beautifully, emerging as one of the best center backs in the league, leading the club in minutes played and even scoring a couple of goals. He was rewarded by being selected to play in the MLS All-Star Game in his home stadium, entering the contest to a standing ovation.
When Antoine Hoppenot was selected by the Union in the third round of the MLS Supplemental Draft, it was unclear if he would even make the team, let alone have an impact in the league. But after playing just one minute through the club’s first 10 games, the Princeton product quickly became the team’s most valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The feisty rookie finished with four goals in 817 minutes and provided many more scoring opportunities by drawing fouls and penalty kicks against weary defenders.
1. Bolster the attacking corps: The Union’s need for a proven striker to pair with McInerney has been well-documented, and Hackworth addressed that need with Thursday’s trade with the Red Bulls for former Philly fan favorite Le Toux, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Will the Union now try to add another goalscorer with size to further help the team’s offense, which took a big step back in 2012?
2. Get more defensive depth: Amobi Okugo and Gabriel Farfan both did an excellent job on the backline this season, but the fact is both players are natural midfielders. The Union would be wise to acquire at least one more defender this offseason to complement Valdés, Sheanon Williams, Raymon Gaddis (the team’s best newcomer besides Hoppenot) and Bakary Soumaré (right), who’s recovering from knee surgery. Since both Williams and Gaddis are right backs, bringing in another left back – or grooming a player for that position, like they did with Gabriel Farfan – is especially important.
3. Figure out the Freddy Adu situation: To say the least, the marriage between Adu and the Union has not been the smoothest one so far. Adu wasn’t happy with how he was used in 2012 and Hackworth wasn’t happy with Adu’s consistency level. If Adu returns – which is a very big “if” – these issues have to somehow be resolved. If he doesn’t, the Union should look for another creative attacking midfielder to help fill the void that would be left behind by the team’s most polarizing player.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.