Union Dues: 2010 Far from a Wash

Despite no playoffs, Philadelphia can build on promising core

I think my fellow Englishman Richard Ashcroft said it best: “’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life.”

Sitting in the press box at PPL Park on Saturday, watching the Seattle Sounders triumph 3-2 over Toronto FC, thereby dashing any hope of the Phildadelphia Union making the post season, it hit me that, despite no trip to the playoffs, things weren’t all bad.

In their first season in Major League Soccer, Peter Nowak’s Blue-and-Gold squad performed at an extremely high level for the majority of their matches and didn’t suffer the usual troubles of an expansion franchise (scratch Seattle last year and Chicago in ’98).

From having a guy in the running for MVP and a top candidate for Rookie of the Year, to creating a fortress of sorts at PPL Park, the Union have plenty to be proud of. And, more importantly, more to be excited about for next season.

The young core is in place with Danny MwangaJack McInerneyAmobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams, among others. They have a strong contingent of veteran leaders in Danny CaliffStefani Miglioranzi and Justin Mapp. And they have, of course, “Le Unforgettable One,” Sebastien Le Toux.

Outside of the players and the on-the-field product created by Nowak and assistant John Hackworth, there is a distinct culture in place that is dedicated to the continual building of a championship-caliber team, one that can run the league for years to come.

Throw in 18,000 crazy Philadelphia soccer fans who constantly fill a brand-new stadium and you have quite the recipe for success.

Good things to those who wait, and not making the playoffs in year one should not be considered a failure by any stretch.

In the previous edition of Union Dues, I was in a much less nostalgic mood, as the team was fresh off a 3-0 pounding of Chivas USA and hope for the postseason was alive and kicking. Colorado quickly helped to put our feet back on the ground as they polished off the Union 4-1 midweek.

On Saturday, though, the ship was leveled as a solid 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo built on an already staunch home record to send the Union into a painful final stretch of matches on a high note.

Philadelphia have a mini-playoff run of sorts to round out the season. The Los Angeles Galaxy are on deck for Thursday, to be followed by the New York Red Bulls, and finally a trip to Columbus.

Despite 2010 not ending in an MLS Cup coming home to PPL Park, the team can surely be proud of what they’ve accomplished up to this point.

Player of the week: Sebastien Le Toux

The French wizard could have played 15 minutes in the match, scored the goal he scored, and still would have been the Union’s Player of the Week. A goal of unbelievable quality, Le Toux was able to settle a very weighted cross from Roger Torres and, in practically the same motion, slam it home with his right foot. World. Freaking. Class.

WATCH: Le Toux's beauty

Little-noticed observation of the week

He hasn’t gotten much time on the pitch this year and isn’t really high up on Nowak’s depth chart, but on Saturday, Nick Zimmerman put in a fine performance before having to be subbed off in 59th minute due to injury.

Playing well whenever he is out there, Zimmerman is also realistic about his chances with the team and is unwaveringly optimistic about his abilities as a player, not to mention the fact that he’s just an all out nice guy. Provided he remains with the Union next season—there is that two-team expansion draft coming up—he could become a very useful player.

Nowak-ism of the week

Nowak likes to keep us media on our toes, that’s for sure. Announcing the starting lineups an hour or so before kickoff, Philly’s manager revealed a team without stalwarts Califf, Miglioranzi, Mapp and Fred. They didn’t even make the subs bench.

“I bet you guys were surprised, weren’t you?” asked Nowak after the match.

Yes, we were. Never a dull moment with this team.