CHESTER, Pa. — Anyone who watched a Philadelphia Union game this season will tell you that the team’s main struggles came from the back.
Inconsistent and mistake-prone at times, it took Peter Nowak’s defense three quarters of the season to really gel with each other. During the final quarter, however, the Union were able to shut teams down.
The defenders who got minutes for Philly this year come next in the Dues’ continuing breakdown of the entire team. As always, they’ll be ranked by how valuable I feel their contributions were to the team.
Michael Orozco Fiscal: Looking back over the entire season, you could make the argument that Orozco Fiscal was up there with Sebastien Le Toux as one of the team’s top three most important players. Moving from right back to center back whenever the manager needed him to, the 24-year-old loanee was a strong presence. He even chipped in offensively, netting two goals. It’d be a huge loss if the team can't bring him back permanently.
Danny Califf: Brought in as one of the team’s core players, Califf started the season slowly and his adjustment back into Major League Soccer wasn’t as smooth as Nowak would have hoped. But Califf got himself right, and wore the captain’s armband admirably during his first year with the Union. By the end of the year, the American center back’s worth was obvious.
Jordan Harvey: Most games played. Most games started. Most minutes. Most reliable. I’m a huge Jordan Harvey fan and in a world of so-so MLS defenders, Harvey has established himself as a very serviceable and effective player for Nowak. He’ll get better in year two with the team and his stock will only rise.
[inline_node:288063]Sheanon Williams: Brought in midway through the year, Williams’ main contribution was finally solving the right back issue that had troubled the Union up to that point. Quick, smart and determined, the former Harrisburg City Islander showed a great deal of potential and will benefit from a whole offseason to train with the team.
Juan Diego Gonzalez: A quick fix of sorts, Gonzalez was signed in August to bring an added veteran presence to the defense. Playing reasonably well, the 30-year-old Colombian showed he could adapt well to the style of MLS. Given that he’s admitted he’d like to stay with the team, he could be a very useful bench player next season.
Cristian Arrieta: Similar to Gonzalez, Arrieta was added to the team midseason to provide some experience to the young team. Playing mainly down the right side in the pre-Williams era, Arrieta was good but not quick enough to cause any problems for opposing defenses. His service was quality, though.
Toni Stahl: The team’s starting center back to open the year, Stahl, a rookie out of UConn, was at the bottom of Nowak’s depth chart the entire year after he was ejected in the Union's opening match. Only managing 41 minutes, the rangy utility man didn’t impress his coaches enough to see the field and a new team may be in his future by the time 2011 rolls around.
Player of the Week: Shea Salinas
The Union midfielder’s goal against the Houston Dynamo on May 29 – his one and only of the year – was recently voted the third-best of the entire MLS season. It was one of those goals that you watched at the time and didn’t really believe happened. A terrific individual effort. Seeing some more of that next season would be a welcome bonus for the club.
Little-Noticed Observation of the Week
Given that it’s the offseason and a lot of the players have returned to their respective hometowns, whether it’s in this country or abroad, it’s not always easy as a member of the media to get interviews set up. One of the most open and willing players on the team, captain Danny Califf, called me on Saturday to have a chat and it turned into us setting up a weekly time to talk.
Nowakism of the Week
This isn’t a Nowakism per se, but you can bet when the news broke that Danny Mwanga was retaining his Generation adidas status (which means he doesn’t have to be protected in the expansion draft) Nowak was doing a little jig in his office at PPL Park. One of the most important players on the roster, Mwanga has made life a little easier on his manager given this announcement.