You can’t beat the best without having talent. Efficient team chemistry helped the Philadelphia Union qualify for the 2011 Major League Soccer playoffs in their second year of existence. Peter Nowak would return for his third season as Philadelphia’s manager. However, getting back to the playoffs would be a tougher task in 2012.
The uphill climb began even before the first possession on the pitch this season. Many Union fans couldn’t believe midfielder Sebastien Le Toux had been traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for money. In May, defender Danny Califf was traded to the Chivas USA Goats, and Danny Mwanga packed his belongings to Portland in June.
Le Toux tallied 25 goals and 20 assists in two seasons with the Union. He scored the first three goals in club history and netted the Union’s first postseason goal in 2011. The French midfielder played for the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls during the 2012 campaign.
The season didn’t portray a peachy start in the minds of the Union or the Sons of Ben. Philadelphia was 1-3-1 in its first five matches and 2-6-2 after 10 contests. “Fire Nowak” chants could be heard from all directions and Nowak stepped down on June 13 as John Hackworth had taken over as interim manager.
Hackworth’s first match as manager resulted in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United. However, the Union entered the win column in three of Hackworth’s first five matches at the helm. During weeks 16 and 18, Hackworth had been honored by being voted onto the MLS Team of the Week.
While Hackworth served as interim manager, young players such as Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot accumulated additional playing time. McInerney became a key contributor with three assists and a team-most eight goals in 26 games (19 starts). Hoppenot mostly entered as a subsitute (three starts in 23 appearances, contributing to the cause with four goals and one assist.
While the Union concluded the season with 36 points at 10-18-6, they finished in eighth place out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference, 17 points behind fifth-place Houston for the final playoff spot. The Union yielded 45 goals while tallying 37 boom-shaka-lakas. Philadelphia was 3-10-4 on the road, allowing 25 scores while netting 15 goals; at PPL Park in Chester, PA, the Union went 7-8-2 with 22 goals of their own and 20 goals allowed.
The Union also found success in the U.S. Open Cup. Philadelphia advanced to the open cup semifinals before falling to Sporting Kansas City, 2-0. These matches didn’t count toward the MLS standings.
Nowak and Hackworth employed lineups consisting of defender Carlos Valdés (34 games; two goals, zero assists, four yellow cards), midfielder Gabriel Gomez (24 games; six goals, zero assists, five yellow cards), McInerney, Hoppenot, midfielder Brian Carroll (34 games; one goal, one assist, four yellow cards), midfielder Roger Torres (11 games; zero goals, two assists, two yellow cards), forward Lionard Pajoy (20 games; five goalls, two assists, and four yellow cards), midfielder Freddy Adu (24 games; five goals, one assist, two yellow cards, one red card), midfielder Michael Lahoud (23 games; zero goals, zero assists, four yellow cards), defender/midfielder Amobi Okugo (28 games; zero goals, one assist, four yellow cards), defender/midfielder Gabe Farfan (23 games; one assist, five yellow cards, one red card), forward Josué Martínez (18 games; one goal, zero assists, one yellow card), midfielder Michael Farfan (33 games; one goal, five assists, seven yellow cards), defender Sheanon Williams (28 games; one goal, two assists, four yellow cards, one red card), midfielder Keon Daniel (23 games; one goal, one assist, one yellow card, one red card), defender Ray Gaddis (19 games; zero goals, one assist, two yellow cards), and midfielder Danny Cruz (13 games; one goal, one assist). Goalkeeper Zac MacMath appeared in 32 games (all starts), going 10-17-5 with eight shutouts, two yellow cards, 43 goals allowed, and a 1.34 Goals Against Average. Chris Konopka (0-1-0, one goal allowed) and Chase Harrison (0-0-1, one goal allowed, one yellow card) started the other two games in front of the net.
MLS held the All-Star Game at PPL park. Valdés and Michael Farfan represented the Union. Don Garber selected Valdés while Ben Olsen picked Michael Farfan.
After the season, the Union removed the interim tag as Hackworth became the team’s full-time manager. Sons of Ben would be in a frenzy when Le Toux returned to the Union for 2013. Nowak, meanwhile, wanted to take the Union to court because he felt his exit wasn’t handled properly.