Time to find out what the Union are made of

Photo: Paul Rudderow

This is the point at which you find out what kind of team Philadelphia Union really is.

Are they a lucky, uninspiring team that plays ugly soccer and inflated their place in the standings through opposition red cards all year and is about to crash out of the playoff race?

Or are they a tough, resilient, underrated club that repeatedly shows loads of character as they overcome obstacles in a remarkable turnaround from last year’s debacle?

You’ll find out over the next few weeks as the Union enter the season’s final eight-game stretch shorthanded.

Does no Okugo + no true backup = no playoffs?

The Union host the first place Montreal Impact this Saturday and travel to San Jose the following week, all without one of their best players, center back Amobi Okugo, who is suspended for two games due to yellow card accumulation and a red card in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Montreal.

They need to take probably 4 points from these matches to maintain pace in the playoff race.

And they have to do it without a single legitimate center back on the roster to replace Okugo.

Who will join center back Jeff Parke in trying to shut down MLS top scorer Marco Di Vaio, who lit the Union up for a hat trick in May?

Normally, you might say Sheanon Williams, a tough and fast right back who has deputized at center back before, but Williams is no center back. He stands 5-9 and has tied the league record for assists by a defender. He belongs on the right flank outrunning defenders, not banging with taller and stronger forwards in his own box.

But if it was to be Williams at center back, you would feel comfortable with Ray Gaddis sliding in at right back, where he is as good as most MLS starters. Unfortunately, Gaddis hasn’t played since spraining an ankle on Aug. 3.

If not Gaddis, it’s Michael Lahoud, an athletic holding midfielder versatile enough to play right back but who struggled Sunday in his first extended minutes since returning from injury.

After that, you have Chris Albright and Matt Kassel, who have played 4 and 33 minutes this season, respectively.

You could always try Albright at center back, where he has never been a regular. There’s even Aaron Wheeler in the middle, where he has played one half of a friendly. Alas, while Wheeler may be tall, he is a forward.

Someone asked about activating 34-year-old assistant coach Jim Curtin, a 6-4 former MLS All-Star center back. Not a bad idea.

It makes you wonder how Union insiders really feel about Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz’s assertion that the team needed a box-to-box midfielder (from Brazil’s lower divisions, to sit on the bench apparently) more than a third center back like Danny Califf. In the end, that choice could cost the Union the playoffs.

But there is hope for the tough!

But all is not lost.

For while the hand-wringers may wring hands, they forget one thing:

This team is Philly tough.

Ah ha! You think I jest? Perhaps a bit. We know how much some of you love Union manager John Hackworth’s use of the term, “Philly tough.”

Except this team really is Philly tough.

Sure, at times it’s just the immature, young punk sort of tough, throwing elbows and roughly forcing through tackles in frustration, as some Union players did after they frustratingly had two goals disallowed Sunday (one rightly, one wrongly).

But sometimes it’s the Conor Casey kind of tough, coming back from two years of injuries to regain your status as one of the league’s best forwards.

Other times, it’s Sebastien Le Toux’s kind of tough, returning from exile to show your two great years in Philadelphia were no fluke.

Or how about the Sheanon Williams kind of tough, willing yourself to play through injuries and unwanted position switches in 2012, losing some status in the process, and coming back to quietly have a breakout year in 2013?

Or maybe even it’s the Keon Daniel kind of tough, facing critique after critique (including on this site) during a long 2013 season and then showing through your absence Sunday that, while you may not be a CAM, you might just be a quietly important defensive and possession cog.

The Union are not a team of shrinking violets. To survive Peter Nowak’s tenure, you had to be mentally tough. Now is their chance to show just how “Philly tough” they really are.

American sports coaches love to pull the old “Nobody believes in us card” to motivate their players. Well, here is Hackworth’s chance.

Because, Philadelphia Union, almost nobody believes in you right now.

But your fans hold shards of hope just the same. As much as they might complain and criticize and howl and jeer, they want to believe in the Union. They want to cheer. Deep down, beneath walls fortified by decades of Philadelphia sporting failures that teach them never to dream big, they dare to hope, over and over again.

So, Philadelphia Union, here’s your chance. Print this out, and put it on the bulletin board. Let’s see what you’re made of.


  1. Damn you Dan Walsh!

    You’re right. Oh how I hate it when you are.

    Hand wringers wring hands. And we’ve all sharded. Or hold shards,whatever. We’re hopey! We’re hoping for the lineup change we can believe in! Four more games!! Sorry,flashbacks.

    This team Saturday afternoon could have looked the Revs in the eye and sai we’re gunning for the Shield. They blinked in the “I’m not crying Ive got something in my eye” way. But now they’re back! And tough! And no team of poutine eaters is gonna come into our house and drop 5 on us! Maybe 4, but definitely not 5!!

  2. If they lose again Saturday, I sure hope it is another 5-3 loss like in Montreal so at least we’ll get free haircuts!

  3. this team is so bizarre. they’re literally a few bouncing balls or fouls-called away from being top of the table, top of the supporter’s shield (seattle, rsl, dallas, etc…). and yet, every few weeks they seem to lay an egg the size of portofiro lopez’s afro (his italian name would be “telespalla bob”…). i can’t help but think the last three weeks of the season will be all or nothing games, which will be enthralling in one sense, and will require a fingernail transplant for yours truly afterward, results notwithstanding.

  4. Is there a reason Greg Jordan can’t play CB for the next two games? With Okugo out and Harrisburg’s season over, I would’ve assumed he’s next on the pecking order, but nobody mentions his name.

    • Hasn’t he been on the injury list for like 2 months?

      • I dunno. I don’t remember seeing his name when that doctor from Crozer gives the injury report before each game, but I could be suffering from selective memory.

    • He’s not the best alternative, in my opinion. I don’t know what he’s done in Harrisburg, but he was hopelessly out of his depth at CB during the preseason.

      • Are you sure your not thinking of Schoenle? I don’t remember Jordan doing anything in the preseason

  5. Bill Randazzo says:

    The honest fact is this team is not that good. They are hard to watch at times. Their midfield passing is putrid. Our DP can’t get off the bench. They have relied on opposing team red cards to keep them in the top half of the table. How do compare to Montreal, RSL, LA, and Portland? If we played in the west we would be at the bottom of the table.

    That being said, we have a bunch of character guys on the team and I hope we can make it to the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, the Union will have a punchers chance of winning a game.

  6. Southside Johnny says:

    I’m in as long as we borrow the Harry Kallas tape from the Phil’s to sing “High Hopes” at every match.

  7. Well done, Dan.

    Unless Gaddis is really ready to go, I would think that Albright would be our best option. However, I would still move Williams to CB and let Albright play right back as that’s the least disruptive.

    Aside from Mapp, there are no pacey players in MTL’s starting XI and this change would not leave us vulnerable on set pieces as Albright is very good in the air. Plus, he’s a veteran who will not get taken in by MTL’s guile like many of our other options.

    • Michael Farfan played RB a couple of times in his rookie year. That’s another way to go.
      Or we could have signed a backup CB some time between June and today. There’s still time, I guess.
      Da Vaio is fast enough and very elusive. He would cause everyone but Sheanon serious trouble.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    This statement shouldn’t come as a real surprise, but if the Union don’t get a least a draw this weekend… they aren’t making the playoffs. Period. If that is what happens… Hackworth must go.

  9. I think Wheeler will start at CB. He also played a full game against the Chelsea u21 team and did well. The goals they up against Stoke were also not his fault.

  10. We need a CB. Mamadou Sakho wants out of PSG. Transfer window is still open. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

  11. I’d like an article that breaks down what Houston and New England and Chicago are facing for the rest of the season, compared to us, and what we should be expecting.

    Four points will be tough with the next two games, and I don’t see any easy points on the rest of the schedule.

    • Good idea! I’ll pop it in the idea pile, and we’ll aim to write something on that in the next two weeks. Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jymQCgkKPok

    We found out what they’re made of in that press conference. Hack called out the ref for 2 disallowed goals (though if you’re offside and it’s waved off, it was never a goal to be disallowed), said they were moving on, then wallowed in how hard done by the U were.

    He sounded super unsure who would/could play CB. He gave weak ass answers on why Kelberson didnt play (he hasn’t played 90 in a while so we didnt want to play him 90), which framed against the decision to run Lahoud out for 70 shows an incredible lack of self-awareness. Or assuming the reporters present wouldn’t quiz him on it.

    Leaders lead, he had a great opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say this far no further. We will make the playoffs. I will ensure no efforts like this again. He could’ve owned it. He ended up sounding like a bitch.

  13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49XdTA5wKn4
    Take a look at this link showing all of the Union’s goals from last year.

    I think it is pretty interesting to see the types of goals that we were scoring last year as opposed to this year. Not only will you get to see something as rare as Hackworth’s hair being out of place (Keon Daniel actually scoring a goal), but the types of goals were very different. There were quite a few Farfan and other midfield runs that we brought down to the touchline and sent a wormburner across the mouth of the goal to tap home. Has that happened yet this year? Is it possible that since we have Danny Cruz concretely in place as a corenerstone of our offense, that these goals have disappeared. Is it because Farfan has become a shell of his former self?

    Just some thoughts to ponder as we anxiously await is in store for us on Saturday.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      I think you have posed a good way to at least get a subjective sense of our offensive woes. The answers to your three questions are rarely, yes and yes. If it weren’t for corners and Williams’ throw-ins, I think we would be dead last.

    • Also they never replaced the production of Gabriel Gomez… no I am not joking.

  14. What we will learn is that we are better than TFC and about as good as the Crew. We will also be reminded how much we needed Soumare at CB and Okugu in the midfield. Also that “Philly Tough” is simply a cliche and that Hack was a better assistant coach than a head coach. Win, and prove me wrong. Lose, and it’s going to be neck and neck against the Revs, Fire and Dynamo for a 5th playoff spot (and a very real possibility we do not make the playoffs).

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