Season Reviews

Season review: The other guys

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Here is the last of our season reviews on Philadelphia Union players, with this piece looking at the Union players who didn’t spend the year in Harrisburg but also didn’t get major minutes (more than 500) with Philadelphia this season.

Aaron Wheeler

2013 season: The former Reading United player first trialed with the Union in 2011, but he didn’t make the team. John Hackworth and Brendan Burke didn’t forget the 6-4 target forward though, and after Wheeler spent a year injury-shortened season in the NASL and another year in Finland, the Union brought him on board. It proved a good signing.

Wheeler was a monster on loan with Harrisburg, recording two goals and two assists in just four games. That earned him a spot in the Union rotation, and after a late cameo in a 3-0 Union win over Columbus, Wheeler scored a big goal in his first extended minutes three weeks later against Dallas. Wheeler was an occasional substitute the rest of the season, making 10 appearances and recording an assist.

Outlook: The 25-year-old Wheeler consistently showed the pace, presence, aggressiveness and aerial ability to indicate he could be a Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon type of target forward in MLS. In particular, he looks like a potential monster in the air. He makes the league minimum salary of $46,500, so he’s very economical. Expect Wheeler to back up Conor Casey once again next season and get more minutes earlier in the year to keep Casey fresh down the stretch. Long term, he projects as a potential Casey replacement. However, he better not wear his long hair in a bun again during games, or we’re going to have to take him to hippie finishing school. 

Chris Albright

2013 season: Albright played just 4 minutes for the Union this year and retired at season’s end.

Outlook: Hackworth clearly would like to find a place for Albright in the organization, either as a coach or in another role. He is respected by the younger players due to his track record and character in the locker room, he has personal ties with the coaching staff (former youth teammate Jim Curtin), and his local ties make him an excellent ambassador for the team.

Gilberto Souza

2013 season: Gilberto signed with the Union during the season after he was out of contract in Brazil. He never appeared in a regular season game.

Outlook: Gilberto may not return to the Union. He didn’t play his way onto the field, and he’s not on a minimum salary. The Union wanted to see him up close, and now they have. They don’t sound excited.

Leo Fernandes

2013 season: Fernandes was one of the draft finds of the year. The former Reading player was the lowest drafted rookie to appear in a regular season MLS game this year, playing in seven and starting three. The Union drafted Fernandes in the fourth round of the supplemental draft, a draft that will be abolished this year. To put that in perspective, when you factor in the MLS SuperDraft’s two rounds, Fernandes was effectively drafted in the sixth round. For what he produced, he was a steal.

Of course, he didn’t produce much, other than minutes. He showed solid footwork and a bit of flair on the field, but none of it turned into goals. For him, it was often a matter of the talent being on display, but the impact just not happening. Still, he will be just 23 when next season starts.

Outlook: Fernandes will be invited to training camp, but he has to earn a contract with a good preseason. On the field, Fernandes definitely has talent. And he’s very affordable, having coming in on a developmental player’s salary ($35,125), and he would likely make only the minimum salary next season.
So he certainly has a decent shot to make the team next year.

Matt Kassel

2013 season: Kassel’s season will be most remembered by outsiders for his crunching tackle on Brek Shea in a friendly against Stoke City, which left Shea injured at the start of the EPL season. More quietly, he impressed his coaches in practice and earned five regular season appearances for the Union. He struggled at right back but filled in adequately at center midfield.

Outlook: Kassel is another former U.S. youth international who Hackworth was familiar with from his years coaching in that role. He also played at Maryland while Union assistant coach Rob Vartughian coached there. So he has linkages to the coaching staff that go back a while. However, pedigree and connections only go so far. Kassel showed he lacks the speed to adequately fill in at right back. He has to break in at center midfield, the position he has traditionally played, or show he can deputize at center back, where he has yet to play. The Union are inviting him to preseason camp, but Kassel has to earn a contract there with his play.

Michael Lahoud

2013 season: Injuries cost Lahoud most of the season. After finishing 2012 as a core part of the team’s rotation, he began 2013 the same way, appearing in six of the Union’s first seven games . But he developed a sports hernia in the spring and didn’t play another game till August, only seeing the field three times from there on out.

Outlook: Lahoud is a good role player and an excellent presence in the locker room. He can play several positions, though his natural role is at center defensive midfield. Expect the Union to keep him, as his versatility and character are valuable to a team.

Oka Nikolov

2013 season: The longtime Eintracht Frankfurt player signed with the Union mid-season after being targeted months before. He never appeared in a regular season game, but his arrival made backup Chris Konopka expendable and led to his trade to Toronto.

Outlook: The Union have waived Nikolov in anticipation of his potential retirement. However, Nikolov cleared waivers, and Hackworth has indicated the Union could bring him back if he decides he wants to continue playing and is willing to once again accept a low salary. (He made the league minimum this season.)

Roger Torres

2013 season: The 22-year-old midfielder impressed looked like the breakout player of the Union’s preseason. But after opening day, he didn’t play again till June. All told, he played just 68 minutes in five regular season games, with two of those appearances coming in the Union’s final two matches. The absence of Torres seemed inexplicable to many Union followers as the team’s midfield struggled to create any kind of attack that remotely approached the best of what Torres provided in his first two years with the Union.

Outlook: This Union original and fan favorite does not appear to be returning in 2014. Hackworth has indicated the Union would consider bringing him back at a lower salary than his current $121,968, but Torres never seemed to earn Hackworth’s trust the same way he did with Peter Nowak. After producing three goals and eight assists in 1,889 minutes in 2010 and 2012, Torres never got regular playing time under Hackworth.


  1. Actually, wheeler cut his hair short recently.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    The only guy I’m genuinely excited about keeping is Wheeler. After that any or all of these guys could go (with obvious exceptions being Albright and Nikolov – as they are retiring).
    We need a big offseason to take th next step.

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