Reviewing the Union's first season

Forward Sebastien Le Toux scored 14 goals and added 11 assists this season, making him by far the Union's top scorer.
Forward Sebastien Le Toux scored 14 goals and added 11 assists this season, making him by far the Union's top scorer.
Posted: October 28, 2010

The Union's first Major League Soccer season met with great success at the box office but mixed results on the field. Despite being an expansion team, the Union players and coaches stated their goal all along was to make the playoffs.

That didn't happen.

Eight of the 16 MLS teams made the playoffs, and in 2009 the Seattle Sounders FC earned a postseason berth as an expansion team.

That said, the Union were competitive in an 8-15-7 season, but the players and coaches felt a void.

"We felt like we should be in the playoffs and played the kind of soccer that was good enough to be there, and yet we know we made mistakes along the way," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said on Wednesday as the team continued training at the HealthPlex Sports Club in Springfield, Delaware County. "We didn't fulfill our end of the bargain in certain situations. So while we feel good about things, we did some great things on the field, wonderful things off the field, we know especially within the team we could have done better."

The team is already working toward next season, when the MLS will have two more teams and teams will play four additional games. The coaching staff is making its plans to scout college players and professionals abroad.

In fact, the players haven't stopped training together, even though the regular season ended with Sunday's 3-1 loss at Columbus.

According to Union defender Danny Califf, the MLS contract mandates that teams give the players six weeks off during the off-season. The Union will have more than six weeks off. They will shut down training Nov. 12 and report for preseason practice Jan. 20.

So there isn't much of an off-season. Here's a look back at a few positives and negatives of the first season:

Positives

Good finish. The Union went 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and played some of their best soccer near the end, including a 2-1 victory at PPL Park over the New York Red Bulls, the regular-season Eastern Conference champions.

Attendance. The Union were fourth in MLS in attendance, averaging 19,254 for the 15 home games. Even though they play at 18,500-seat PPL Park, they had their first two games at Lincoln Financial Field, which drew a total of 59,898 fans. There were four sellouts at PPL Park, and most games were played near capacity.

Sebastien Le Toux. After totaling one goal and three assists for Seattle in 2009, Le Toux racked up 14 goals and 11 assists for the Union. He might have been the most pleasant surprise in the entire MLS.

"My role was different, and I had more offensive freedom," Le Toux said.

Danny Mwanga. The first overall pick in MLS SuperDraft, Mwanga was brought along slowly by team manager Peter Nowak. But he scored his first goal in the 90th minute during a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas on May 15 at Lincoln Financial Field and took off after that.

Mwanga, 19, had great chemistry with Le Toux and finished with seven goals and four assists in 24 games, while becoming a serious candidate for rookie of the year.

Negatives

Goaltending. Chris Seitz came highly touted, but the backup for 2009 MLS champion Real Salt Lake allowed too many soft goals. Late in the season, he was replaced by Brad Knighton, only to start the final game against Columbus. Neither Seitz nor Knighton did enough to be handed the job next season, and it wouldn't be surprising if the team tried to upgrade.

Defense. While the defense improved late in the season, it still gave up too many goals when opponents were left unmarked, especially on set pieces.

Offensive depth. It was great to have two dangerous goal scorers the caliber of Le Toux and Mwanga, but the Union were just 11th in the league with 35 goals. That means more offensive depth has to be developed, especially from the midfield.

The future

The Union have to prepare for the expansion draft, in which they will be able to protect 11 players and can lose no more than two. There will be changes, but the foundation should return. The expectations will increase among the fans in the second year and certainly among the players.

"We've established within our mind-set that we're a team that is good enough to make the playoffs," said Califf, who started 28 games as a central defender. "I wouldn't say it would be a disaster, but I think it will be pretty poor if we don't make the postseason next year, and I think everybody will be shattered."


Final Union Statistics

Pos.   Player                 GP     Min.     G GWG     A

D       Jordan Harvey            30       2,620    1       0       1

D       Michael Orozco Fiscal    29       2,562    2       1       0

D       Danny Califf             28       2,464    0       0       1

F       Sebastien Le Toux       28       2,520    14       3     11

M       Stefani Miglioranzi       26       2,097    0       0       0

F       Alejandro Moreno       26       1,974    2       1       7

M       Fred                      25       1,913    4       1       1

M       Andrew Jacobson       25       1,294    0       0       0

F       Danny Mwanga          24       1,461    7       1       4

M       Roger Torres             21       958       0       0       6

F       Jack McInerney          17       350       3       0       0

M       Shea Salinas             17       795       1       0       0

D       Cristian Arrieta          16       1,343    0       0       0

M       Justin Mapp             15       855       1       1       4

M       Kyle Nakazawa          14       798       0       0       0

M       Amobi Okugo             11       437       0       0       0

M       Eduardo Coudet          9       631       0       0       0

D/M    Sheanon Williams       8       720       0       0      0

M       Nick Zimmerman          8       159       0       0       0

D      Juan Diego González    7       630       0       0       0

D      David Myrie             1       78          0      0       0

M       Toni Stahl                1       41          0       0       0

D      Shavar Thomas          1       35          0       0       0

Goalie            G     W-L-T     SO     GA     SV%    GAA

Chris Seitz          23       5-12-6    0       41       .596       1.8

Brad Knighton       8       3-3-1      2       8       .697      1.1


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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