CHESTER, Pa. – While reflecting on what went right for the Philadelphia Union in their inaugural season, you have to look straight to the final third of the field.
Scoring was rarely a problem for Peter Nowak’s team as they netted a very respectable 35 goals in their matches, which was good for 11th in the league. Not bad for a rookie club.
It wasn’t just goals though: The team consistently threatened the opposing area through a combination of efficient passing, wide play and a whole lot of hustle. If they can build on these things for next season -- and become more consistent defensively -- they should have a bright second year.
For the next few weeks, the Dues will rank the players at a given position and rate their importance to the squad for 2011 and beyond.
First up are the forwards:
1 Sebastien Le Toux – The Frenchman was first in the hearts and minds of Union fans. The expansion draft selection had a terrific season in the City of Brotherly Love, and with license to work around the pitch as he saw fit, Le Toux put up the stats to back up the claim: 14 goals and 11 assists, good for fifth and fourth in the league, respectively.
The Union owe much of their success Le Toux’s performance in their inaugural year. It’s also worth a mention that he happens to be one of the nicest guys around. Truly a class act.
2 Danny Mwanga – Talk about an exciting set of young forwards. With Le Toux at only 26 and Mwanga not even 20 yet, Philadelphia have plenty to work with going into next year — and the years after. A finalist for this year’s Rookie of the Year award, the first overall selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft had a fine first season, collecting seven goals and four assists. His presence on the field and his willingness to run at defenders were awesome this year. He’ll only get better.
[inline_node:287947]3 Alejandro Moreno – The veteran hold-up man was brought in through the expansion draft from the Columbus Crew and had a solid year in Philly. His goals might not have always been there -- only two on the year -- but Moreno did a lot of the little things that usually go unnoticed and he was second on the team in assists with seven after Le Toux.
4 Jack McInerney – Another talented young rookie, McInerney didn’t see the pitch a great deal this season. But whenever he did he made the most of it. While he played only 350 minutes, he seemed to test the man covering him every one of them, or at least get into a good area on the pitch. He’s a guy that with one year under his belt should enjoy a big boost in playing time and production next season.
Union Player of the Week: Danny Califf
Califf spoke honestly and formally at training last week about how the team performed in their first season, and he was realistic about what they need to do going into their second. He also made it clear that he’d like to spend the rest of his career with Philadelphia and that he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of playing soccer in this town. I’ve spoken to a number of pro athletes in my day and sometimes you can tell when they are just talking to talk. Califf meant every word.
Little-Noticed Observation of the Week
Soccer players are no good at basketball. Sorry if you’re reading this, guys, but it’s the truth. At the very same training session at the Healthplex (where the Union do their conditioning) the team gathered for a full-court five-on-five game, where after about 10 minutes the score barely broke five points each. In other words, don’t quit your day job.
Nowak-ism of the Week
It’s been hard to get Peter Nowak to speak with his adoring media these days if it’s not a postgame press conference. He usually leaves the training talks to his assistant John Hackworth. Hackworth recently spoke honestly about how he understood the position the team was in and also divulged that the front office are actively pursuing reinforcements on all areas of the pitch. It should be an interesting offseason in Chester.