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Season review: J.T. Noone

Editor’s note: Starting today, PSP will be posting season reviews for each current Philadelphia Union player. We’ll run one each weekday for the next few weeks. First up is the hometown kid, former Temple player J.T. Noone, who spent part of the season with the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders before joining the Union.

The year in review: J.T. Noone registered all zeros with Philadelphia Union this season. No appearances, no minutes, and thus no production in the regular season. And yet, I’m strangely sure he made a strong impression. The Union’s favorite guest player started the season in Union camp, hung on with the team until the senior roster date came in April, and then moved to Harrisburg to play the season with the City Islanders.

Noone registered 1,322 minutes for Harrisburg with 15 league appearances and two assists and slotted in as a starter immediately upon arrival. His impact in the midfield was noticeable with strong ball skills and great passing vision guiding the Harrisburg attack. Short on finishes throughout the season, the Islanders often threatened without making the chances count on the scoreboard. Maybe you can blame Noone for not finishing more himself, but fail to set the table he certainly did not.

While playing full time in Harrisburg, Noone also trained often with the Union. Making appearances in several international friendlies for the Union, J.T. signed autographs with his Union jersey number, 17, and glad-handed fans after games. Asked mid-season about recurring Union ‘trialist’ Noone, Danny Califf responded simply that J.T. was not a trialist. And perhaps if we look at it that way—that Noone was in the plans all along—his saga makes more sense. With a team full of unknown quantities, Union manager Peter Nowak was already busy trying to evaluate talent. He and assistant coach John Hackworth seem sure that Noone has a future with the club and if they were sure he was not part of the equation this season, priority number one is getting him professional playing experience. And that is essentially what they did. Toying with roster rules and the potential of international moves throughout the season, Nowak and Hack got Noone almost twenty games this year and remained flexible.

The stats may not be MLS official—the run-outs may have only been in friendlies—but don’t expect Noone’s story to be a unique one. Coach Nowak saw a different way of utilizing a lower division affiliate this season—both allowing talent to further develop (Noone, Sheanon Williams) and getting fitness and recovery games for players like Jack McInerney, Shea Salinas, and Nick Zimmerman. His use of the affiliation may not be in step with other MLS teams, but I doubt that matters to Nowak. If the Union draft into deep rounds this January, expect other players to be looking at a similar track through their first or second year out of college.

High point: Despite appearances in several of the Union’s international friendlies, the high point, or rather epitome, of Noone’s season has to be his two-way performance when the Union visited City Island. Noone started the July 27 friendly in a City Islanders uniform, played 30 minutes as a central midfielder before being replaced by Mpho Moloi, and then came on as a second half substitute for the Union replacing Eduardo Coudet. Three days later, he was announced as a Union signing, and whether they announced it at the game or not, that halftime jersey switch was as symbolic as anything I can imagine.

Low point: For the roller coaster ride he was on, I have to make two arguments. First, it is a low point for any aspiring professional athlete not to be drafted. I know that the Union kept their eye on him throughout the draft process and it must have been a huge boost for him to be invited to camp pre-season, but not being drafted can’t have felt good.

Then, through all the training, traveling, and hoping from January to July, Noone earned his contract with the Union but never got his on-field moment of glory. Yes, he appeared in the Chivas friendly after being signed, but he did not make an appearance at the MLS level this season. Noone was signed to a position the Union are admittedly deep at, but it would have been nice to see him get a late game run-out as a substitute down the stretch, especially in front of the home fans.

Strengths: Passing, ball-winning, movement without the ball, field vision

Weaknesses: Lack of game time at MLS level, on-field chemistry with the team, youth?

Outlook: Noone’s prospects are a wide open question. On one side, you would not expect the Union to sign him late in the season (July 30, 2010) and not have plans for him. Clearly, with his recurring role as a guest player and on the training squad, coaches Nowak and Hackworth have seen potential in the young midfielder that they would like to develop. The potential of an expanding roster and the return of the reserve league will help J.T. in that it might give him a greater chance to develop as a full-time player with the Union, rather than moving frequently between the Union and Harrisburg City Islanders.

On the other side, Noone has already proved that he can be a vital part of a team playing professionally in a lower division. With expansion a hot topic below the MLS level, Noone’s services might be in high demand. Considering the move he has already made, I wouldn’t expect him to look to move back down, and I can’t see him as a selection for either Vancouver or Portland in the expansion draft. For the foreseeable future, expect to see Noone fueling the midfield of the Union reserves, maybe starting to look at significant field time later in 2011.

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)

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