It had been a disappointing end in 2013 for the Philadelphia Union. After being officially eliminated from the playoff picture during the last day of the regular season, manager John Hackworth needed to reconstruct the midfield in order to be consistent in Major League Soccer. The Union had deteriorated down the stretch, going 2-5-3 in their final 10 matches while being outscored, 12-6, to end as the seventh-place finisher in the Eastern Conference.
Maybe the sour end to 2013 could be resolved through new acquisitions. There were rumors about the Union signing Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Cristian Maidana (they did add those three players). Also, the Union hosted the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, and by trading away their starting center-back a few days beforehand, they acquired the first overall pick and used that pick to select goalkeeper Andre Blake out of Jamaica and the University of Connecticut.
Philadelphia had been expected to take an upstart center-back instead of Blake. Well, primary goalkeeper Zac MacMath played every second at that position for the Union the previous season, compiling a 1.28 Goals Against Average with 12 shutouts. Now, the Union would showcase two quality netminders.
Opening match could’ve frustrated Union fans after an exciting 1-1 draw against the host Portland Timbers Providence Park. Philadelphia didn’t solely controlling the possessions, they dominated in the attack. Philadelphia held a 1-0 advantage until the Timbers talled the equalizer in second-half stoppage time.New additions Nogueira and Maidana were equally impressive.
Unfortunately, the Union struggle offensively and continued conceding late goals. Striker Aaron Wheeler played at center-back since he displayed the physical capabilities to play that position. Also, Jack McInerney, who netted 12 goals in 2013, had been shipped to the Montreal Impact for Andrew Wenger.
Heading into the World Cup break, the Union were 4-8-6 and the outlook looked rather bleak. Hackworth even claimed shots on goal wasn’t an important statistic for a team with serious goal-scoring issues.
Aside from participating in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Union had zero chance in qualifying for the playoffs. Anyway, Hackworth received the boot as Jim Curtin replaced Hackworth as Philadelphia’s manager. Well, combine Hackworth’s firing and Curtin’s slight philosophical changes and the Union would become one of the hottest team in MLS competition. In the 10 matches following the World Cup break, the Union posted a 5-1-4 record.
Counter-attacking and a challenging defense helped the Union believe they could get back into playoff contention. It appeared the Union’s first trophy was within reach for the open cup playoffs. Oh yeah, Philadelphia decided to shake-up the goalie situation even further by signing Algerian Rais Mbohli.
Although Philadelphia competed (and hosted) its first cup final at PPL Park in Chester, PA. The Union ultimately lost, dropping a 3-1 decision to Seattle Sounders FC in extra time. The Sounders didn’t have stars Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, but the Union couldn’t hold on to a 1-0 lead after one half.
However, the Union mustered one win with two losses and three draws to conclude the 2014 campaign. Overall, the Union finished 10-12-12 with 51 goals scored and 51 scores permitted. On the road, the Union were 4-9-4 with four fewer goals (21) than the opposition (25). At PPL Park, Philadelphia was 6-3-8 and had a plus-four goal differential (30-26).
Midfielder Sebastien Le Toux returned to his scoring glory by recording 12 goals, seven assists, 50 shots (21 on goal), and two yellow cards in 2,050 minutes (29 matches, 23 starts). Maidana posted two goals, a team-most 11 assists, 36 shots (11 on goal), and one red card in 1,889 minutes. Forward Connor Casey proved to be a scoring stalwart for the second straight year with eight goals and two assists in 26 appearances (18 starts).
Defender Ray Gaddis started all 34 contests, compiling two assists and three yellows in 3,051 minutes. Midfielder-defender Amobi Okugo committed 39 fouls, assisted two goals, deposited two scores, received three yellows, and was sent off for one red card in 32 matches. Edu totally went all-put with his aggressiveness by posting three goals, two assists, 37 shots (nine on target), 46 fouls committed, and 41 fouls suffered along with five yellows and one red.
Nogueira committed 14 fouls (suffered 41) and notched two goals and three assists in 29 matches (28 starts). Midfielder-forward Danny Cruz started 6 of 28 matches, producing three goals, two assists, 35 shots (16 on point), 27 fouls committed, and 23 fouls suffered. Defender and throw-in extraordinaire Sheannon Williams contributed three goals, four assists, 17 shots (six on goal), 24 fouls committed, 34 fouls suffered, and two yellows in 24 matches. Wheeler was scoreless in 15 matches with 21 fouls suffered and 21 fouls committed.
Veteran midfielder Brian Carroll added an assist in 21 matches. Defender Fabinho started 19 matches, recording two assists, committed 30 fouls (suffered 21), and was booked for six yellows. Midfielder Fred spent 341 minutes (11 matches) with one goal, 13 foul committed, and 13 fouls suffered. Defender Ethan White didn’t take a shot on goal in 12 starts.
MacMath had been called upon for 29 starts, going 9-10-10 with five shutouts, 77 saves, and 45 goals allowed (1.55 GAA). Mbolhi (1-1-2) saved seven shots, yielded four goals, and shutout an opponent. Blake lost in his lone 90 minutes on the pitch after seven saves and two goals allowed.
Acquiring Wenger had been a gamble the Union had been willing to chance. McInerney already had a goal and an assist in four matches before the trade. In 28 matches (19 starts) with Philadelphia, Wenger tallied six goals, four assists, 59 shots (23 on goal), 27 fouls committed (suffered 17), 19 offsides, and one yellow.
Curtin would be named the Union’s full-time manager for 2015. MacMath had been sent to Colorado on loan. Mbolhi grinded the Union’s gears to the point he eventually lost playing time (technically his job) as the team wanted to buy out his contract throughout the 2015 campaign.