Annual Awards

PSP’s Best of 2016

Featured photo: Earl Gardner

It was an eventful year for Philadelphia soccer.

In MLS, Philadelphia Union looked like the league’s surprise team through half the season. Then Vincent Nogueira stunningly returned to France, and the Union became one of the league’s worst — but still slipped into the playoffs for just the second time ever. We saw the rise of Keegan Rosenberry and Andre Blake, the comeback of Chris Pontius, and the departures of Nogueira, Tranquillo Barnetta and — yet again — Sebastien Le Toux.

Down in USL, Bethlehem Steel FC played its first games and looked like a quality club until they cashed in their veterans and stopped winning games. And on the local amateur scene, we saw some really interesting players and clubs, none more intriguing than West Chester United.

Just another year of disappointment for Philadelphia soccer? Not so much.

Blake made great save after great save in 2016. Photo: Earl Gardner

Men’s player of the year

Andre Blake. The Jamaican international made Union goalkeeper jokes a thing of the past by becoming arguably the best goalkeeper in the league this year. For a while, nearly every game brought some spectacular highlight from Blake, and he earned the Union points this season all by himself. To cap it, he started for the MLS side in the league’s all-star game and was named to the MLS Best XI at season’s end.

Honorable mention: Chris Pontius. His comeback season put him back among the league’s best.

Women’s player of the year

Christen Press. The NWSL doesn’t have a Philadelphia entry, so we’ll look a little farther out. Long a PSP favorite, Press tantalizes with her potential.

Amateur player of the year

Nathan Regis. The goal-scoring forward was Division II player of the year for Pfeffer University and led his team to a national title. He then showed his versatility during the PDL’s summer season for the Ocean City Nor’easters. Whereas he was the go-to scorer in 2015 for the PDL’s Charlotte Eagles, he played more of a creator role for Ocean City, scoring six goals and handing out a conference-leading eight assists, allowing fellow attacker Chevy Walsh to score a league-leading 14 goals. Walsh may have gotten his pro contract early, but we think it may be just a matter of time before Regis gets his, whether he’s at the MLS Combine or not. (Note to MLS clubs: He might be a steal.)

Honorable mention: Jorge Gomez Sanchez. The Temple University attacker has been tough for anyone to stop these last two years, and the senior scored 14 goals this year, earning him an invitation to the MLS Scouting Combine.

Coach of the year

Blaise Santangelo. West Chester United’s head coach takes this award for the second straight year after leading his team to the National Amateur Championship final and hosting Harrisburg City Islanders in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup this year. To put this in context, West Chester United’s senior men’s team only began playing six years ago.

Honorable mention: Tim Oswald and David MacWilliams. Oswald quietly left the Ocean City Nor’easters head job after yet another solid year, leading his team to the PDL’s national semifinals — and defeating rivals Reading United in the quarterfinals — before they were knocked out. Meanwhile, the veteran McWilliams led Temple University to a 10-6-2 record this season.

Executive of the year

Earnie Stewart. Philadelphia Union’s sporting director brought a necessary dose of instant credibility to the Union after crossing the Atlantic from top Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. The jury may still be out on some of his acquisitions, and the Union’s best personnel moves (adding Chris Pontius and Keegan Rosenberry — and even Alejandro Bedoya) originated before Stewart came on board. Still, for the first time perhaps ever in the Union’s history, there was a sense that the person with whom the buck stopped was without question a qualified, reasonable and respected soccer personnel man.

Honorable mention: Chris Albright. He adapted to a new regime and laid the groundwork for the Alejandro Bedoya deal.

Team of the year

West Chester United. See above, regarding Santangelo. This team has become an amateur power, and they have demonstrated they can compete with professional clubs.

Photo by Earl Gardner

Rosenberry led all MLS field players in minutes played in 2016. Photo: Earl Gardner

Newcomer of the year

Keegan Rosenberry. The local kid was the best right back in MLS for most of the season and, next to Seattle’s Jordan Morris, the best rookie in the league. He played every minute of every game, the only MLS player to do that, and earned a call in to the U.S. national team camp in January. And to think, many of us thought the Union reached for him in the amateur draft when they needed a left back and could have taken Brandon Vincent. Well, Rosenberry proved the Union were absolutely right.

Local soccer event of the year

Philadelphia Unity International Cup. Who won was far less important than the fact that they were playing at all. The brainchild of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was a brilliant opportunity to spotlight the beautiful game and ethnic diversity of a city brimming with immigrants.

The I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that play of the year
Fabian Herbers. Break a defender’s ankles, and then go upper 90. Seriously, what Herbers did to Columbus was just nasty. Talk about a memorable first professional goal.

Honorable mention: Watch this long buildup to a Union goal in the U.S. Open Cup.

Honorable mention 2: Probably half a dozen saves by Andre Blake. The catch is that, eventually, we all believed he was capable of stopping pretty much any shot. But check out this highlight reel anyway.

Underrated player of the year

Fabinho. Yes folks, this actually happened. The oft-beleaguered Union left back got some respect the hard way: He earned it. Sure, he was still prone to the occasional big gaffe, but overall, Fabinho had a solid season and snuck up on many as a competent starter.

Honorable mention: Fabian Herbers and Sebastien Le Toux. Herbers quietly became a stalwart for the Union. Le Toux quietly became one for Colorado. Maybe one day before he retires some coach will remember that Le Toux plays best as a striker.

Goal of the year

Tranquilo Barnetta. There may be better angles of Barnetta’s game-winning free kick against Orlando, but none capture the impact quite like this fan video.

Match of the year

Philadelphia’s comeback 2-2 draw against Los Angeles. Just an entertaining game throughout, one of those matches that left Union fans saying, “Hmmm, maybe these guys are fun to watch after all.”

Honorable mention: The Union’s comeback win against the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup. Also, Bethlehem Steel FC’s first match of the year. No team had played with that moniker in nearly a century. The USL expansion side went out and quietly won its first game on the road against FC Montreal.

Single-game performance of the year

Roland Alberg’s hat trick. Alberg scored three goals against Chicago on June 22 and came close to netting two more.

Honorable mention: Ilsinho spent the entire first half of a preseason game against the New York Red Bulls trying to get red-carded … and then he did. Not a good performance, but an entertaining one.

Best personnel move of the year

The Union’s trade for Chris Pontius. Sure, the Union’s trade for Pontius actually happened in late 2015, but we’ll count it for this year because he didn’t suit up for the Union till 2016 and the trade couldn’t be evaluated till then. We still don’t know how much allocation money the Union gave D.C. United to get Pontius, but we do know that Pontius was fantastic for the Union.

Honorable mention: Drafting Keegan Rosenberry over Brandon Vincent.

Photo by Earl Gardner

Really? They traded him again? Photo: Earl Gardner

Worst personnel move of the year

The Union trading Sebastien Le Toux to get Charlie Davies. It was bad enough that the Union traded the fan favorite — again. Worse still, they traded him for allocation money so they could then turn around and acquire Charlie Davies, who had played just 15 minutes after returning from fighting cancer. Davies had minimal impact for the Union. Le Toux immediately slotted into the starting lineup for one of the league’s top teams. Sure, Le Toux was never a target forward, but if you need help at striker, is it really that unreasonable to turn to your club’s all-time leading goal-scorer?

Honorable mention: Drafting Josh Yaro over Brandon Vincent and losing Vincent Nogueira. Yaro has been fine, even quite good, but consistent fullbacks are hard to find. Drafting Vincent would have given the Union two young, controllable, high-upside fullbacks and made Fabinho expendable. As for Nogueira, the team collapsed after his departure. He may have forced the Union’s hand, but this didn’t play out well.

Pleasant surprise of the year

The Union’s draft. Most expected Josh Yaro to be the big name out of the Union’s draft, and in truth, when he wasn’t injured, he was good for a rookie. But nobody expected Keegan Rosenberry to be as good as he was, and few would have predicted that Fabian Herbers would play a part in 10 Union goals this year (3 goals, 7 assists).

Disappointment of the year

C.J. Sapong’s second half drop-off. Sapong was an all-star seemingly realizing his potential. Then he went over two months without scoring a goal. The loss of Vincent Nogueira certainly affected his and his team’s performance, but there was more than that at play here.

Honorable mention: Maurice Edu’s injury problems. He lost an entire season to two injuries and may never be the same.

Best goal celebration

This front flip from Fabian Herbers. (Note to Eric Ayuk: Best to use this in games you are not losing.)

Herbers went head over heels after his goal against Columbus. Photo: Daniel Studio

Quote of the year

Keegan Rosenberry. Not quite a quote, but Rosenberry’s facial expression as he reacted to Conor Casey’s red card says it all.

 

Honorable mention: “Don’t panic.” — Earnie Stewart.

The “So long and thanks for all the fish” award

Vincent Nogueira and Tranquillo Barnetta. The two best players in team history both played their last games in Union uniforms. We’d give this award to Le Toux, but we’re pretty sure the Union will find a way to get rid of him again some day.

(Note: It was a total accident that those last two Hitchhiker’s Guide references came consecutively. Serendipity.)

Worst luck of the year

Maurice Edu. Just when he was ready to come back for the Union, Edu suffered another serious injury. He missed the entire MLS season, featuring only for Union USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel while rehabbing.

Controversy of the year

Josh Yaro vs. Ken Tribbett. The debate went on all year over which young center back should start for the Union. With Yaro ending the year with serious concussion fallout and Toronto FC becoming Tribbett’s personal torturers, the debate never really got resolved.

Vincent Nogueira. Gone, too good to forget. Photo: Daniel Studio

Player most missed by his club

Vincent Nogueira. The Union were one of the league’s best teams when he stunned the club and its fans by forcing his departure so he could return home to France. Philadelphia then became one of the league’s worst teams. Meanwhile, Nogueira’s new club, Strasbourg, is fighting for promotion to France’s Ligue 1, and they love him as much there as people did in Philadelphia.

The sneakily beloved veteran of the year

Brian Carroll. Nobody has played more games for Philadelphia Union than the veteran defensive midfielders. Six seasons, 165 games. At 35 years old, he remains a legitimate contributor.

25 Comments

  1. I can’t agree with Stewart as executive of the year, and reading through this column, other than saying “he’s a big name”, there’s really no argument for him, right? Just read what is written about him here – sure, he kinda sucked, but “there was a sense that the person with whom the buck stopped was without question a qualified, reasonable and respected soccer personnel man.” So, if you’re like me, and you don’t believe he’s automatically qualified simply because he did this in Europe, you’re left with a guy who did a poor job whose team improved in spite of him, not because of him.
    .
    Look at the awards, his players only come up twice, both for single game performances, and only one of those was a good thing. We had a 5 point improvement from 2015 and finished 13th in the league table, so get that weak “but we made the playoffs!” line outta here. It was a participation trophy. Looking at what Stewart did this year, he brought in a couple of largely ineffective guys (Ilsinho, Alberg, Jones) and made the “worst personnel move of the year”. Can somebody point to a positive thing he did this year? To the extent that you credit Bedoya to him, it would be that, but as mentioned, that was really Albright and started before Stewart got here.
    .
    Look, I’m not saying that Stewart will continue being terrible, but I feel like somebody needs to acknowledge that this guy had a rough first year and maybe we shouldn’t assume he’s God just because he did this in Europe and go out handing him awards he didn’t earn simply because he exists.

    • So … who would you name instead? It’s not like there are a plethora of Philly soccer executives to choose from.

    • Use the test of removing Stewart and continuing the condition that existed prior to his arrival, Sakiewicz.
      .
      I would make the serious and obvious argument – that has just come into my head – that the 2016 Philadelphia Union Executive of the Year is Jay Sugarman, for firing Sakiewicz in 2015.
      .
      Very understandably you argue from tangible data, a careful, responsible approach.
      .
      Earnie Stewart changed the underlying tone. No, that is not data. Yes, it cannot be measured. That does not mean it is not real.
      .
      Would the Curtin-Albright-(Stewart?) move for Pontius have happened under Sakiewicz, for example? Would Pontius have ever wanted to come play for Nicky S.?
      .
      I am confident that Brendan Burke would not have returned, and, while I thoroughly admire what Blaise Santangelo has done with West Chester United’s adult team, no one in coaching should have to have faced the sheer and utter line-up chaos that confronted Brendan Burke before every one of the 30 games save one.
      .
      The man knew his starters 48 hours in advance of tap-off once. O N C E ! stop and contemplate that for sixty seconds.
      .
      Go find the game tape on the USL website and watch the first twenty minutes of that game. The tape will tell you his quality, what he can do when you give him more than a snowball’s chance by allowing him to prepare his team to compete.
      .
      He has mentioned that his relationship with Jim Curtin is strong, and it must be, because what the organization put him through this season was beyond rough to the point of unprofessional.
      .
      The only thing he could count on for certain was that he might possibly be cobbling his game line-up together as he drove from his breakfast table to Lehigh in his car Sunday morning. That literally had to have happened once, as a Friday afternoon expectation did not occur Sunday afternoon with no externally obvious emergency cause on the first team pitch Saturday night.
      .
      Months later I still want to quote Alec Baldwin to Scott Glenn about Sean Connery from the movie “Hunt for Red October, “Give the man a chance.”
      .
      I have Digressed from my original point, Adam. My apologies.

      • I appreciate the comment. Certainly Sakiewicz had to go, and don’t mistake me not giving Earnie the benefit of the doubt as wishing for Sak back. Being better than the worst is no way to judge, though.

    • I can’t believe you consider Alberg and Illsinho “largely” ineffective.

      Albery was a good backup and scored a lot of goals for his minutes. Illsinho was at times a dangerous winger and looks to have the type of talent that is no where else on the team.

      For their price range, you got two players with legit MLS talent who are going to be important parts of this team.

      The days of Josue Martinez and Profolio Lopez are over. No more are we signing Brian Browns to a loan and wishing they are an attacking answer.

      I’m not sure what you are so angry about. Were you expecting a Giovinco his first year? Then yeah, he failed bit time. What you should have been expecting was a stabilizing presence who started to apply the groundwork for a professional, coherent team for a long time. We got that with Stewart.

      Like, I can’t believe you need to be pointed to a positive thing he did this year. Between you and Scott, you two have enough salt to make up for the lack of eyes on the Union around this city. I feel like I’m listening to WIP with your comments.

      • So $350k+ is what you’d pay for a good MLS backup?

      • With the increasing quality in the league and with the increase in money teams get each year, we are getting there, yes.

        Sure, it’s possible to find good backups for less, but I feel that is becoming more of a lucky grab and find than the general trend line for backups in the league.

        Basically it’s 2016, teams are spending more, more talent in coming into the league, and I think we are very quickly going to reach a point where 350K for real talent isn’t going to turn heads.

      • It turns them when it’s more than 10% of your salary budget and you only have one DP and one TAM guy.

      • I think you’re honestly just misguided. With the salary cap, you can’t be competitive paying 350K+ for backups. Simply not tenable. We may reach a point where it is, but we’re not even close. And if his biggest hits were “a backup winger” and an “at times dangerous winger”, that’s not particularly impressive.
        .
        I’ve said it many times before, but I just don’t see that groundwork. I see a couple of really talented players (Bedoya, Blake, Rosenberry), a couple of solid MLS vets (Fabinho, Marquez, Pontius), and not a whole lot else. It’s literally the same position we’re in every offseason. If you don’t blindly believe Stewart is God, he has been rather unimpressive, with his big credential being “he’s not Sak”. That’s too low a bar for me.

      • The salary cap is growing every year, and with GAM and TAM and who the hell knows what else, no one really knows if that 350K number is hurting us or not. If you want talent, you need to pay for it. If you think you would be able to find someone equally as good for half as much, be my guest.

        Stewart has one of the best resumes in MLS at creating good teams within a strict budget. That’s literally exactly what we need from our GM. Bescause we will never be able to throw money at wins.

        I still think his track record of bringing in players is a far cry from the south american never-beens we used to get. Hell, isn’t arguing over a guys salary number a hell of a lot better than simply realizing that player sucks, like we had when Sak was bringing in players? One year, wasn’t our only summer signing liberally Gilberto, who I don’t even think set foot in Philly? If you don’t think there is a distinct change in atmosphere and hope around the club, you’re crazy.

  2. I hear and have heard for over a year some people use only quantitative data as their measure to determine success…which are important data points but there is also qualitative analysis and phenomenological points of view- which should and quite possibly are the two more important factors in assessing the trajectory of culture within a franchise..which can lead to ultimate victory..

  3. PSP post of the year?… there were some humdingers this season.

    • You know, that’s a great idea. We talked about doing that a while back — i.e. a list of best posts from a year, or best ever — and just never did.

      • Thought about it this time last year too and maybe a few people can save some keepers along the way and send into you via a google doc come christmas 2017— so you do not have to do the work yourself.
        .
        I remember this…only because I was graciously given the award three years ago for a Rocky post.

      • >>I respect your POV Dan… but this is naive. Like inauthentically naive. >>>

        More like Drago than Rocky but my vote for post of the year!

        UnionGoal

        PS. All in fun–Happy New Year, guys!

  4. “the debate never really got resolved.”

    … It didn’t? Did we watch the same Tribbet? Once Yaro is healthy, it’s Yaro over Tribbet every day.

    BUT, it is interesting to say we should have drafted Vincent instead of Yaro. I think there is lots of merit there. Now that we know we have Trusty, he is pretty much the “young CB for the future” that Yaro used to be (plus it feels weird to call Yaro young at 22 when Trusty is 17).

    So yeah, looking back I’d rather have Vincent behind Fabinho and Trusty as our young CB.

    • Maybe you noticed that he wasn’t healthy at season’s end. Maybe you saw the serious concussions he suffered. So no, it didn’t get resolved.

      Separate from that, include me (but not the rest of the PSP crew, to be clear) in the group that thinks Yaro is overrated as a CB right now. He gets consistently owned in the air. He may be a CDM waiting to happen. He’s actually smaller, less physical and less effective in the air than Amobi Okugo, and half our readership is still angry that Okugo was played at CB.

      • It’s odd, but both Yaro and Tribbett may be better suited to CDM. But, we wouldn’t be the Union if we didn’t play guys consistently out of position…

  5. Overall, I thought the Union took a large step in the right direction this season. For the first time in our team’s short history, we saw periods of entertaining soccer and fantastic goals. The team also looks and sounds more professional and organized. A lot of work needs to be done, but for the first time in at least 5 years, I can end the year with a belief that progress was made.
    .
    .
    My concern, however, is that this off-season signaled the arrival of MLS 3.0 (or 4.0, I forget where we are now). We simply have not seen MLS teams bid over $5 million on players as often as we have this season. The DP is no longer a player who is worth $1-4 million. Teams like TOR, LA, ORL, ATL, NYC, CHI, SEA, and POR are going after players who are valued in the $5-15 million range and using TAM to pay down players in the $600-750k region.
    .
    .
    I guess what I am saying is that it feels like the Union have finally reached MLS 2.0, but many of their peers are ascending to MLS 3.0. With Nick Sakiewicz out of the picture, the FO is moving in the right direction, but now the spotlight is on Jay Sugarman. The big question is: what is this team to him? We still do not know the answer to that question. Is this an investment and he is hoping to cash out for the right offer? If not, is he prepared to be an MLS 3.0 owner? With Richie Graham waiting in the wings, there is no shortage of money available to this team. However, there is no incentive for Richie to spend majority-owner money when he is only a minority owner. Earnie Stewart supported by Richie’s finances can win an MLS cup. It’s unclear if Earnie Stewart and Jay Sugarman can win one though.

    • Wow, MikeR, nice post!
      Don’t feel so negadelphian though–Union are in lot better position than the Eagles as far as future season but I’m guessing Jay Sugarman wouldn’t mind those Eagle revenues…

      Happy New Year!

      UnionGoal

  6. I understand Nogs forced the club’s hand to make a quick release, but it surprised me they weren’t able to get any sort of financial compensation for such an established player.

  7. Great stuff! 2017 is going to be great for soccer in the Philly area.
    And, way to go West Chester & Coach S.

    Congrats to all the winners! Happy New Year all

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