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Season review: Toni Stahl

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

When Philadelphia Union drafted defensive midfielder Toni Stahl in the MLS college draft’s second round this year, it looked like a steal. He’d been rated by many as a top five draft pick. Draftniks said he could start right away and was probably one of the most pro-ready of the available players. Sure enough, he was announced as an opening day starter at center back.

It was the last time that would happen in 2010.

Stahl lasted 41 minutes before drawing his second yellow card. He’ll go down in history as a player who started the Union’s first regular season game as well as the first one to get ejected from a game.

Stahl never appeared in another regular season game. He made the field in some friendlies and played well in the time he got at midfield. But he got tossed from the Celtic with two more yellow cards in less than a half of play. (He played fairly well against Celtic until the ejection.)

Suffice to say, it was a tough rookie year for Stahl.

When he did play, he showed aggression (obviously) and hustle. Truth be told, he got some bad breaks on the cautions he received. But there’s something to be said for knowing how to play once you receive a yellow card.

2010 statistics

1 game (1 start), 41 minutes played, 1 foul caused, 1 foul suffered, 1 yellow card, 1 red card

High point

Being named as a starter on opening day.

Low point

Getting kicked out of that opening day game after just 41 minutes and then never getting in another regular season game in 2010.


Aggressive play.


Aggressive play.


Stahl was a 25-year-old rookie, which means he has a different development curve and expectation than every other Union rookie. The others were teenagers or in their early 20s, and the expectation was that they would see a bit of time their first year and slowly develop. Stahl was supposed to be pro-ready. He wasn’t. He isn’t ancient by any means, but his age can work against him when the Union evaluate whether to keep him or not.

Stahl could be back next season, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to bring him into training camp. The first question is: where will he play, midfield or defense? The next question is: will he play? He was a college All-American as a midfielder and then was asked to play some defense for the Union, which didn’t go so well. Philadelphia already has a logjam at defensive midfielder — Stefani Miglioranzi, Andrew Jacobson, Amobi Okugo and Kyle Nakazawa are in front of him — so unless at least one of them goes in the expansion draft, there’s not much reason to keep Stahl if he too plays that position. If he’s truly versatile enough to play center back too — not just in theory, but in reality, without two bookings per half — then that could secure him a roster spot.

But honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Stahl had such a bizarre year that anything’s possible next year. He could get kidnapped by aliens in the middle of a game, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising.

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)


  1. I still view our opening day roster as Nowak and Co. tinkering with things, almost as a continuation of the preseason. That, in my mind, puts a big fat asterix next to all the names on that historical day’s roster. Besides having Stahl start, many other guys started the game either out of their “normal” position – Orozco as DM (although he did have a decent go on-net), Mwanga as AM – or in a position they had no reason being in whatsoever (see Myrie, David).

    I was unable to attend the SuperDraft, but did meet up with some friends at Fado that evening to meet the draftees. Perk, Okugo, McInerney, and Mwanga were making the rounds, pressing the flesh, and receiving congratulatory wishes from all the Union faithful in attendance. Stahl was standing at the bar, busy talking to a couple ladies. That rubbed me the wrong way, immediately setting himself apart from his teammates from the start.

    I hope the FO doesn’t waste one of their automatically protected int’l roster spots on Toni for the upcoming expansion draft.

    • Interesting observation about the post-draft sightings and Stahl.

      And yeah, that opening day lineup was definitely experimental. My feeling is that Nowak basically wanted to find out early on whether any of those experiments would work. Mwanga at CAM, Stahl at CB, Myrie at RB — we got our answers very quickly on all three. I actually think Orozco could fare pretty well at CDM, but with the Union’s logjam at that position, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

      • The backline is still an experiment, and I doubt that the opening day backline next year will look like it did this year at the end. The biggest “if” here is obtaining michael orozco permanently – he has the talent and athleticism to play anywhere on the backline, he’s beginning to look like a dominant starting defender, and he’s 24. It would take a monster acquisition (or two) to replace the flexibility he provides and keep the quality. Play him at CB, play him at FB, or CDM – I dont care. But the Union must find a way to keep him in blue and gold if they hope to make it work on defense next season. Would love to see this for some length of time, just for the attacking skill up the wings: Orozco-Califf-Gonzalez-Williams.

      • For the first 2/3 of the season I think the backline was still being tinkered with. Once Williams came in, the pieces finally started to fall into place. I kinda like the Califf-Orozco Fiscal tandem in the middle. Maybe the U needs to grab a better LB than Harvey. The name Ian Joy comes to mind … recently left unsigned by Portland, played on the U-20 men’s team (possibly knows Nowak and Hack well, and vice versa?), has experience in both MLS and European leagues. Just a thought.

  2. downtown blues says:

    I had the opportunity to see Stahl play a few college games. When I was told by others in the stands that he was their top player, I kept a special eye on him during the match as he played the position I played in college. After seeing him twice, I was wholly unconvinced by his play. Seeing him for a third time, I knew the kid (as much as a 24 yr old college player can be considered a kid) would not be able to play at the MLS level.

    And don’t begin to give the excuse that he played CDM in college and the conversion to CB is difficult!! It is the exact same transition that I and countless other collegiate players had to make when jumping to the next level. Tactically, it is actually an easy switch to make as all you need to do is hold a line with the others in the back, and you only have to worry about opponents in front of you, rather than coming from 360 degrees.
    The kid is simply not up to it at the MLS level and will be let go.

    • Definitely some interesting points. One to add there about the difference between the two positions: At d-mid, you can play more aggressively because you have backup from a center back. At center back, you’re the last man, so if you gamble and strike out, it’s goalie time. It’s a change in mindset that I’ve seen guys struggle with at lower levels of play, but yes, you’d think a top-flight player could make the adjustment.

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