Opinion / Season Reviews

Season Review: Winners and losers in 2014

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editors’ Note: PSP’s season review series will look at various aspects of Philadelphia Union’s 2014 season with the new perspective of having had a little bit of time to reflect. One post will run per weekday till Christmas.

Every game has its winners and losers. (Except in soccer, where there are draws, but bear with me here.)

Like so, the 2014 season had its winners and losers for Philadelphia Union. One might argue there were nothing but losers this year, but one would lose that argument.

Here’s a look.

Winners

Ray Gaddis: Gaddis went from borderline starter to leading all MLS field players in minutes and earning more public praise from new coach Jim Curtin than probably anyone on the club. Yes, he may have gone from underrated to overrated in that time as well, but there’s no denying that Gaddis had a good year and cemented a spot in Curtin’s lineup for some time to come. Gaddis may indeed be the league’s best one-on-one defender in space, as Curtin says, and if he’s not, he’s definitely one of the best. Now he just needs to win the starting spot in his natural right back position so he can build on his offensive game.

Andrew Wenger: Wenger’s career was floundering in Montreal before a trade brought him home to Pennsylvania last spring. Still, he continued to struggle as a No. 9 striker until Curtin hit upon the idea of Wenger as a target winger. Suddenly, Wenger was often unstoppable with the ball at his feet. Given another season of progression, he could be an all-star in the role.

Cristian Maidana: Maidana had been experiencing a frustrating career path until joining the Union. A multi-million-dollar move to Russia led to a series of injuries and loans, and a move to Chile changed little. Joining the Union gave the family man a chance to have his family around him in one place, with little concern of another move. He eventually flourished once the Maidana-as-left-winger experiment gave way to a return to the No. 10 role he played elsewhere. He finished in the league’s top 10 in assists, playing the fewest minutes of anyone to rank so high.

Richie Marquez: Marquez went from unknown Division 3 player to leading USL PRO in minutes played while on loan with Harrisburg, for whom he was probably the team MVP in the league championship game. He is the poster boy for how the Union’s USL relationship should work for the Union, and he  earned a shot for MLS minutes next season, either with the Union or perhaps with expansion side Orlando, who have seen him play firsthand and could target him in the expansion draft.

Danny Cruz: In 2013, Cruz may have been the Union’s most maligned player, an automatic starter for perhaps the league’s worst midfield. In 2014, he played fewer minutes, but he looked like an improved player who had worked on his touch and ball skills during the offseason. He still needs improvement with the ball at his feet, a coach who can figure out how best to deploy him, and a lot less drama every time he goes down after a knock. (“Oh, there goes Cruz, full speed into a wall! No, he’s face down! Wow, what a crushing blow! But wait! He’s slowly picking himself up! Danny Cruz, what a tough guy! What heart!”) But now there’s a sense that his development curve could continue and give him a long career in MLS.

Sebastien Le Toux: A tactical adjustment by Curtin pushed Le Toux toward the center of the field and resulted in Le Toux playing less like a right winger and more like a true right forward. The result? A return to his rightful place as one of the league’s better goal-scorers.

Jim Curtin: Curtin may be the Union’s biggest winner in 2014. In the span of a year, he went from inexperienced assistant coach to the manager of his hometown club. Curtin had always wanted to play in his hometown, but he rather cruelly never got the chance. Dreams have a funny way of coming true sometimes.

Losers

Sheanon Williams: Williams has long been an automatic selection for the Union, but under Curtin, that was less the case. His 24 games were the fewest he’d played for the Union since his first season, in 2010, when he only joined the team late in the year. Some days, he looks like one of the league’s best right backs. On others, he looks to have plateaued. Injuries took a toll on his season, but he is just 24 years old, so don’t be too quick to sour on Williams, who may be the Union’s most intense player and is a core part of the locker room. Gaddis may rightly be drawing raves for his man-marking ability, but Williams is the more complete player.

Zac MacMath: The Union’s young goalkeeper looked to have finally gotten over the hump. His prowess at stopping penalty kicks this season was drawing fleeting comparisons to Nick Rimando. He came up big when his team needed him. And then, the Union replaced him. His career with the blue and gold appears over.

Brian Carroll: It wasn’t so much that time caught up with Carroll as much as a coaching change did. John Hackworth preferred him. Curtin did not. Carroll’s role as a pure defensive shield simply didn’t fit the Union anymore. If he returns, it will be as a reserve with a much lower salary.

Antoine Hoppenot: MLS caught up with Hoppenot. Referees know that he dives. Defenders know his style. Over time, he has become more of a one-trick pony, but it may be that this season may force him to improve his game. Certainly, he has the ability and drive.

Aaron Wheeler: This is more of a second half loser, because the first half of his season surely caught the eyes of many. His performances at center back could be brilliant or awful but seldom in between, which makes perfect sense considering his size, athletic ability, and absolute lack of experience at center back. It will be interesting to see what position he plays going forward, whether he remains with the Union or not. His talent ceiling certainly seems higher at center back, but will someone else be willing to try what John Hackworth did? An MLS team with its own USL reserve squad may be ideal for Wheeler.

Brendan Burke: A year ago, Burke looked to be on track to becoming a head coach at the professional level after building the successful Reading United program and nailing down a role as the Union’s top assistant coach. A rumored opportunity didn’t pan out, but he left the Union nonetheless under circumstances that have never been publicized. Had he stayed with the Union, he would have been the likely choice as interim manager after Hackworth was fired. Today, he could be Union head coach. Instead, he’s back home in the Boston area on staff with a college team. Here’s to hoping he rights his career trajectory, because he’s a decent, smart guy who impressed in coaching stints with Reading United and the Union.

John Hackworth: That Hackworth rebounded well by finding a head coaching job with one of the U.S. youth national teams speaks well for him. So too does the fact that nearly all his player acquisitions, including Andrew Wenger, have turned out to be good ones. (Austin Berry is a notable exception, but he cost the Union very little.) But when it came down to it, Hackworth lost the confidence of Union ownership and fans basically because his team couldn’t hold late game leads, and in the end, he lost the job he really wanted.

Nick Sakiewicz: The Rais Mbolhi acquisition could turn out to be a good one, but fans will never forget how it happened and the mockery that came with the Union’s stockpiling of goalies. It’s one thing for some fans to dislike you, but once they start mocking you and most people know exactly what they’re talking about, you’re in trouble. Those goalkeeper jokes aren’t going away anytime soon.

Union fans: This should have been a playoff season. It wasn’t. They deserve one. Without off-field drama.

15 Comments

  1. I would add Ethan White to the winners list. He was invisible in the first half of the season but came on strong under Curtin which can allow the Union to better rotate their lineup going forward as well as allow more room to adjust for injuries.

    • Ethan is a wash. He did well starting out of necessity but his position could be easily upgraded.

      • He’s a winner in the Hack to Curtin transition for sure, but year over year, you’re right that it was probably a neutral year for his overall standing.

  2. Old soccer coach says:

    If either NYCFC or Orlando do take Marquez they have to make him one of their 20 senior roster spots who count against the salary cap and pay him whatever the senior roster minimum will be, assuming that the system does not change radically under the new CBA.

    • Imagine for a second if that happens and be turns into 12-15 goal scorer. Course if Kaka or Lampard were feeding me the ball I could probably score a few too.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        A CB with 12-15? He would be a superstar. I’d leave White unprotected before Marquez. Sounds like he has a great upside.

      • Good call. I have a mental block that has him as a striker.

      • Lots of guys have high upside in USL-Pro. Antoine Hoppenot has scored routinely in both his stints with Harrisburg.

        I don’t know that leading USL-Pro in minutes is a great indicator for a CB. I’m pretty sure Greg Jordan was in HCI’s top 3 in terms of minutes last season, and was dumped unceremoniously before this season began.

      • No, it’s not a definitive indicator in and of itself. He is generally considered to have played well, and he showed a lot of athletic ability in camp. Of course, maybe it leads to nothing more than USL, but for a rookie to do that after not having even played D-1 soccer or at the peak levels of some other youth development, it says that maybe he has some potential and was overlooked.

      • Overlooked talent is a cornerstone of the current American pay to play system of youth soccer. There are a lot of talented kids who are stuck in bad situations who never get seen. 300 million Americans, at least 50 million of playing age.

  3. Unfortunately there was no winners

  4. Where does Nogueira fall on the winner/loser scale this season? Perhaps his overall status neither rose nor fell since captain of a Ligue 1 team to star on a middle of the road MLS team feels like meeting expectations. But someone who comes to a new country and new club, becomes arguably the most talented player ever in a Union uniform, a clear fan favorite, and by many accounts the team MVP feels like a winner to me. Thoughts?

    • I’d say neither. I’d lean toward the winner and considered putting him on here. On the other hand, this guy was captain of a Ligue 1 squad, so in part it’s not a surprise.

    • the fans were winners in the sense that we got to see him play and to understand first hand what a “good” player in the ordinary sense really looks like, because by Ligue 1 standards that’s all he was. Gives us a clear indication of the difference between MLS and Europe.

  5. What, no Corben Bone???

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