For a majority of the 2013 regular season, the Philadelphia Union emerged as one of the surprise teams in Major League Soccer. First off, the Union acquired forward Sébastien Le Toux, who recorded 20 assists and scored 25 goals for Philadelphia from 2010 to 2011 before being traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps; Le Toux netted the Union’s first three goals and only playoff score in club history. The Union also acquired veterans Conor Casey and Jeff Parke plus improvements would be made by a young core featuring Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, and Sheanon Williams. Maybe the Union would play more inspired under the direction of second-year manager John Hackworth, who was in his first full-season at the helm.
Philadelphia surged into the season’s final three months near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. After 24 matches, the Union were 10-7-7. However, the Union deteriorated down the stretch, going 2-5-3 in their final 10 matches while being outscored, 12-6, to finish in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 12-12-10 with 46 points on 42 goals (three points behind the fifth and final conference playoff berth). It marked the second straight season the Union didn’t qualify for the playoffs and the third time in four years.
Perhaps a playoff berth would’ve been within reach when the Union played a man down in second-half stoppage time when subsitate Kléberson stepped up to take a free kick in a scoreless affair against Toronto FC at PPL Park in Chester, PA on Oct. 5. Kléberson had been stuck on the bench for a good chunk of the season but he launched a kick from approximately 25 yards out into the net to lift the Union past the visitors, 1-0. Unfortunately, that win would be the Union’s last of the season (0-2-1 during the final three matches).
If a stretch of bad luck possibly defined the season, surrendering game-tying goals in the 97th minute while up a man twice had been energy-deflating. It happened to the Union in a five-day span as they followed a 2-2 draw against Dallas with a 2-2 draw versus Real Salt Lake on July 3. The 97th-minute goal by Real Salt Lake resulted from a penalty kick after Philadelphia’s Ray Gaddis got called for a handball in the box.
McInerney, the Union’s lone All-Star, tallied a team-most 12 boom-shaka-lakas, including 10 before June 1. The young striker’s skill had been on display with his first of two goals he cashed-in against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on April 21. After receiving a ball from Casey on a counter, McInerney slowed the ball, cut it back, split two defenders, and beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid on a left-footed strike.
Even while McInerney played through a four-month scoreless drought, Okugo demonstrated strings of consistency. Okugo started 32 games at center-back and anchored a backline along with Parke. The natural midfielder frustrated opposing strikers by displaying his passing prowless and proved to be one of the Union’s top offensive aerial threats as Okugo posted three goals and three assists.
Le Toux wasn’t the scoring threat from his first Philadelphia stint with three goals in 32 games (25 starts), but he contributed 12 assists without any yellow or red cards. Casey started 25 of 31 games, 10 nine scores and five assists but he received a team-worst nine yellow cards. Parked started 31 games and compiled zero goals, one assist, and three yellows.
Veteran midfielder Brian Carroll notched two goals, an assist, and six yellows in 33 starts. Midfielder Michael Farfan started 22 of 29 matches, depositing a goal, recording one assist, and received six yellows. Keon Daniel, also a midfielder, had one assist and four yellows in 24 matches. Forward Aaron Wheeler accumulated one goal, one assist, and one yellow in 10 contests (one start).
Throw-in specialist and defender Sheanon Williams posted two goals, eight assists, six yellows, and one red card in 32 starts. Midfielder Danny Cruz started 32 matches and tallied five yellows, two assist, and three goals. Antoine Hoppenot came of the bench in 28 of 30 matches and proved his worth with three goals and two assists. Brazilian defender Fabino scored a goal, posted two assists, and was sent off with one red card in 14 matches (10 starts).
It’s hard to believe third-year goalkeeper Zac MacMath never sat on the bench the entire season. In 34 matches (all starts), MacMath was 12-12-10 with 44 goals allowed (1.29 Goals Against Average), 12 shutouts, and one yellow.
The Union also qualified for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After receiving byes in the first two rounds, the Union defeated the visiting Ocean City (New Jersey) Nor’Easters, 2-1, in the third round on goals by McInerney and Carroll. However, the Union’s participation in this tournament ended in the fourth round in a 3-1 loss against host D.C. United, the worst team in MLS with 16 points (3-24-7 in regular season action).