2013 in Review: Philadelphia Union fall just short of playoffs amid youth-oriented overhaul
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 12-12-10 (46 points); 42 GF / 44 GA (-2 GD)
For much of the 2013 season, the Philadelphia Union looked like one of the surprise teams in MLS.
Fueled by the offseason acquisitions of veterans Conor Casey, Jeff Parke and Sébastien Le Toux and the improvements of a young core featuring rising stars Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams, Philly surged into the final three months of the season near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
But the Union crumbled down the stretch, winning just twice in their final 10 games to finish in seventh place in the East with a 12-12-10 overall record and failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season and the third time in four years.
Now heading into the franchise’s fifth season of existence, the Union are still without a postseason victory. But with the continued growth of Philly’s young stars and more resources to work with in the offseason, manager John Hackworth believes the team is in prime position to make a move up the MLS ladder in 2014.
Best Moment of the Year
The Union were down a man and running out of time when Kléberson stepped up to take a stoppage-time free kick in a scoreless game against lowly Toronto FC on Oct. 5. The Brazilian midfielder had been buried on the bench for most of the season but none of that mattered when he scored a stunning goal from about 25 yards out, lifting the Union to a thrilling 1-0 victory and sending the PPL Park crowd into raptures. Sadly for the Union, though, that win would be their last of the season.
Worst Moment of the Year
Giving up one game-tying goal in the 97th minute while up a man is tough enough. For the Union, it remarkably happened twice in the span of five days as they followed up a tough 2-2 draw with Dallas with an even more gut-wrenching 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake on July 3.
The 97th-minute goal from RSL came on a penalty kick after Philly’s Ray Gaddis was whistled for a handball in the box, leaving the Union locker room “gutted,” according to Hackworth. And the points left on the table would certainly come back to haunt Philly in their playoff chase.
McInerney finished with 12 goals, including a whopping 10 before June 1, but none of them showed off the young striker’s skill as much as the first of two goals he netted against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on April 21. After receiving a ball from Casey on a counter, McInerney slowed the ball up (much to the surprise of the Union bench), cut it back, split two defenders and then beat Bill Hamid with a beautiful left-footed strike.
While McInerney endured a four-month goalless skid, fellow Union original Okugo was the picture of consistency for Philly, starting 32 games at center back and anchoring the team’s sturdy backline, along with fellow center back Parke. In what was only his second season playing defense, the natural midfielder frustrated opposing strikers, showed off his fine passing and also proved to be one of the team’s top offensive aerial threats, finishing the season with three goals and three assists..
While Parke and Le Toux were both stabilizing forces in the Union lineup after being signed in the offseason, the best Union newcomer was Casey. After getting dropped by the Colorado Rapids because of injury concerns, the 32-year-old forward was scooped up by the Union in the Re-Entry Draft. And he rewarded Philly’s faith in him by staying healthy, logging 10 goals and five assists in 2,201 minutes, and being named a finalist for MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
"To be honest, you saying it was a rebuilding year is the first I’ve heard of it. Nobody in this locker room thought it was a rebuilding year and we played as such. And I thought we fought hard throughout the season and just came up a little bit short in the end." – Right back Sheanon Williams (pictured at right), following the Union’s season-ending loss to Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 26
1. Acquire a playmaker: Whether it was Keon Daniel, Michael Farfan or Kléberson, the Union lacked a lot of punch in their central attacking midfield spot. Hackworth knows this is an issue and has pledged to search the globe for a high-quality playmaker in the middle of the field.
2. Get some help on the left side of the field: When the Union signed Fábinho in the middle of the season, Hackworth said the Brazilian would simply be used as a backup left back.
But because he was one of the team’s only left-footed players, he ended up as a consistent starter at left midfield. For 2014, the Union not only need another left back but also a true left winger.
3. Sign a quality backup goalkeeper: After trading Chris Konopka and waiving Oka Nikolov, the Union are now left with only one goalkeeper on their roster. And while they have a lot of confidence in starter Zac MacMath, the fact remains he’s still just 22 years old and needs to be pushed and mentored by a proven veteran.