Looking Back: The 2012 Union Season – the Novel
So here we are.
Well, at least here I am. I don’t know if any of you are with me when I say this, if you aren’t then hey, no harm no foul. If you are, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when I say this.
The 2012 Philadelphia Union season made me stop caring about the team.
Now, when I say that, I don’t mean it in a negative way…I know, right? No, what I mean is it made me apathetic about the team. It made me stop avidly following the team’s every move. Stop caring about the upcoming matches. As the season ground to its inevitable close, like Sigmund Freud, I had to self diagnose myself. Only instead of finding highly questionable mental issues dealing with my mother, I instead peeled off layer after layer of thought and emotion until I came to the conclusion.
I was tired of being hurt.
I went back to when I first realized it was happening. It was sometime in August not long after I’d started my job. I made it known that I loved Soccer and the Union and yeah, they weren’t doing so hot this season, but damn it they were my team. One of my coworkers, the guy training me in fact, would occasionally talk to me about the Union and how he’d heard of them. He knew I was season ticket holder and that I would go to games whenever I could. One day, he asked me, “Hey, who are the Union playing this weekend?”
And I couldn’t answer.
Holy crap, was it DC? New York? Houston? Montreal? I had no freaking idea. I literally sat there for a solid minute running through the potential opponents. Finally I admitted defeat and said that I didn’t know to some joking from my coworker who questioned my “fan status.”
This astounded me, because I knew damned near every match on the schedule by heart, I could tell you who the Union were playing, who the best players on the opposing team were and if we had a good shot to beat them. I could do this for at least a month in advance of said match. But now? I couldn’t even tell you who the team was playing a mere 3 days prior to the match.
Eventually I came to understand my apathy, and realized the need for it. It basically kept my sanity in place. You see, I’m a Philadelphia sports fan. I love every single Philly sports team even if I’m not a fan of the sport (looking at you 76ers) and I realized how much it actually pains me to see my teams so spectacularly fail.
Seriously, how many of you predicted us to finish the 2012 season at 10-18-6 after going 11-8-15 in 2011?
I think we all knew there would be some drop off due to roster turnover in the offseason; however did we really expect it to be THIS bad? I myself thought that the Union could have gotten a playoff spot at least. A dream that went crashing down to earth a few months ago when the hole that the team had dug itself in had become FAR too deep to ever climb out of. However, John Hackworth said in a October 9th letter to fans, “We’ve continually talked in the locker room that you, the fans, deserve to see us at our best and to see us win games. It’s about the pride that we have for each other, the character of this team and making sure that when we’re at home, we show everyone what we’re capable of.”
We weren’t going to the playoffs but dammit, we were going to be a spoiler for teams that were in the hunt.
So how did we do since that letter was put out on October 9th?
We went 0-3-0 against the 3 teams we played, all of whom were playoff bound teams by the way, scoring 2 goals while allowing 8. The team’s idea of showing the fans what they could do at home was suffering the biggest loss of the season to our hated rivals which allowed them to clinch a bye in the playoffs.
Wow, if this how the team plays with pride for each other and their fans, I would HATE to see how they play when they don’t give a crap and furthermore, if this is what our team is capable of against superior quality teams, then the front office better be scrambling for players in the offseason because our 2013 season is in deep crap as we speak.
Now, I don’t want to be entirely negative, but when I see so little from my team on the field, I find very little to be positive about. But despite that, I decided to do a fair analysis of each position of the team, I’m going to do a breakdown of the following areas of the team Goalkeeper, Defense, Midfield, Forward, Coaching & Front Office. I will put down the situation, a positive, a negative and how to improve for each.
The Union drafted Zac MacMath with the 5th pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. From day one it was made clear that MacMath was going to be the starting goal keeper in the future, while Faryd Mondragón would play out his last years for the Union. But, by the start of the 2012 season, Mondragón was gone and the Union were forced to rely on a goalkeeper that couldn’t even legally buy a beer at the start of the season. How did that work out? Let’s break it down.
MacMath showed flashes of being at the very least an above average keeper, I’m not one of those people who crowns him the second coming of Tim Howard just yet, but MacMath showed physical ability that far surpassed his predecessor. But I had one HUGE problem with MacMath…
And it all boils down to the mental aspects of MacMath’s game. Several times during the season MacMath would commit to coming out of the goal when his defense could have shut the attack down. He would misjudge balls and it cost the team some goals at times. While we weren’t talking about Chris Seitz levels of goal keeping, MacMath had some truly head slapping moments during the season. A majority of it could be tied to his age, at 21 MacMath might not be “comfortable” with yelling at his defenders when they blow up a play. If it is true, its something he needs to get over now. A goal keeper needs to communicate with his team, especially his defense. If ANY player on the Union screws up, even Carlos Valdés, MacMath needs to be up their ass. That is one major area that MacMath has not even come close to replacing Mondragón on.
How to Improve
MacMath I felt was never really “pushed” in the season by one of the veterans on the roster. MacMath needs to understand that its OKAY to yell at his players and furthermore his role as starting goal keeper should not be handed to him on a silver platter. MacMath should be getting the starts because he is the best player on the roster and in practice. If he can’t live up to that, then maybe he should sit a game. MacMath needs to also learn to trust his defenders more because there has been more than one time that he has come flying out of goal only to have the play broken up by the defense. I hope that his time spent with Tim Howard has taught him the value of communication because he needs to step it up in 2013 and prove he was worth the high pick.
An area of strength in the 2011 season, the defense was still decent but injuries, suspensions and general wear and tear seemed to start taking their toll near the end of the season. Still probably the strongest part of our team even with the lackluster season.
The Union pretty much struck gold with Amobi Okugo at CB, though Okugo has apparently made it known that he’d rather be a DM. Which is fine, I’d say he’s earned a shot to play his chosen position, plus it would enable the team to rest Brian Carroll for a game or two every so often.
Another positive was Raymon Gaddis. The kid stepped in and played very admirably in several games. Including the loss at home to close out the season where he appeared to be the only player giving a damn on the pitch. Gaddis has shown tremendous speed to shut down opposing attacks. His biggest weakness is lack of experience as I saw him make some real gaffes, but he was able to recover due to the wheels he has. He also showed some skill in getting to the corner and getting off a cross, with some more experience under his belt, Gaddis could easily pressure Gabriel Farfan for the LB starting job.
And of course, I would be remiss without mentioning Carlos Valdés. Since joining the team Valdés has established himself as a top CB in MLS. The major issue with Valdés is that he very well could be bought by a European team (more on that later), a player of Valdés’ quality doesn’t stay off the radar for very long.
The defense is what I can be the least negative about. I could nitpick but generally it was at least a decent group during the season. There were times that Gabriel Farfan would get too angry during the run of play, resulting in fouls or cards (see the Chivas USA game). Furthermore, the defense needs to stop launching balls over the midfield, it doesn’t work and just gives possession away.
How to Improve
Cut down on the stupid fouls. Furthermore, they need some depth. The Union have been very fortunate in that they haven’t suffered any major injuries to any of their starting players, but if Valdés goes down? Yikes. Furthermore, there is a very real possibility that Valdés could be purchased in 2013. I understand that players want to play in the top leagues, but the Union would be in deep trouble if they sold Valdés mid season and Bakary Soumaré isn’t the player the Union hope he is. I wouldn’t fault Valdés for wanting to go abroad, but I would fault the team for having no real options to replace him.
A veritable log jam, the Union has a disgusting amount of midfielders and the ironic thing is, is that many of them are average at best.
Uh….crap. Positives…positives… They didn’t score an own goal? Not to mention Brian Carroll was his normal workmanlike self. Gomez showed some decent scoring touch and skill with free kicks, and I can’t wait to see him back in the Union blue next season! Wha was that? Oh….
The midfield has sucked. Let’s be honest with each other here, look me in the eye and tell me that the Midfield was a position of strength for the team in 2012. The midfield seemed unable to break down opposing defenses and absolutely refused to try more direct passing to each other. I could not recall a single goal that reminded me of Michael Farfan’s beauty against DC in 2011 (watch the highlights and see how he utterly cuts across the field and unleashes a blast from outside the box that Hamid has no chance of saving).
There seemed to lack a cohesive effort from the team to actually work together, the midfield was especially evidence of this. Players would not make runs, pass back to the defense the moment an opposing player got close to them, and they would NEVER pass to an open player when being double teamed (remember kids, if you have two players trying to dispossess the ball from you, that means that someone on your team is open! FIND THEM!)
Players like Freddy Adu also severely underperformed and before you ask, no, I’m not delving into any major piece on Freddy Adu, others have done it and maybe I will eventually, but not here.
How to Improve
Honestly, I’m not sure if the midfield’s woes were due to lack of skill by individual players or lack of coaching (more on that later in this article). I honestly can’t tell you of any easy fixes. On paper the Union have some decent midfielders, but they can’t function as a team at the moment. The midfield needs to spend the entire offseason and preseason practicing together, they need to be able to “feel” each other out in the field. This sort of thing only comes from practice. Players need to understand for example that if they’re getting double teamed, they need to move closer to the player with the ball so they can be passed to and alleviate the pressure on their teammate.
They also need to play to their strengths as a team. We have a shorter team, so the ball needs to be kept on the ground more. Occasionally you can lob it up the field, but stringing a series of passes together as you move up the field is something that a team of this size needs to be able to do. Utilize your size and speed to get behind the defenders. Learn to utilize the fast break, far too often the Union would get possession back and would slow down at midfield rather than attack and have an advantage in numbers for a few seconds.
Jack McInerney showed that he could be a full time starter, Josué Martínez flopped some (but the jury is still out on him for me personally), Pajoy was of course traded and at the time was our leading scorer which the team came to regret in the match against DC later in the season. The Union find themselves without a big time scoring threat.
Jack McInerney was the only real bright spot this past season. The kid showed signs that with some more experience and seasoning, as well as a good striking partner, he could score some goals for us.
Virtually no one on the team could find the net in fact no one broke double digits in goals For perspective there are some teams that had two players that scored 10 or more goals, hell San Jose had 3. Now, I’m not saying that we can match San Jose’s level of production, but, the team needs to learn to SHOOT THE FREAKING BALL. Seriously if I had a nickel for every time that someone on our team (this includes the midfield) had a decent opportunity to take a shot but shied away from it like a nervous guy thinking the dude next to him is looking at his junk while he’s at the urinal, I would probably be able to buy Lionel Messi from Barcelona and put him in Union blue and gold.
Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit but tell me that when you attended games or watched them on TV you didn’t SCREAM at some point to take the shot. I know that not every shot will be on target, I know that the goalie will save them a decent amount of the time, but when the home crowd at PPL Park starts applauding someone on the team taking a damned shot, then obviously, you haven’t been taking too many of them (I vividly remember this happening several times during the season).
How to Improve
First of all McInerney needs a partner in crime, someone he can play off of and form a lethal duo. McInerney could easily hit double digits in goals if he had someone to take the pressure off him. Acquiring an experienced forward with size in the offseason needs to be a top priority for the Union.
Furthermore, the coaches need to drill into the team that if they have an open look on the net, take the shot. Far too often players would try to get fancy with the ball in the box or just outside it, trying for a “better” opportunity that never came.
Antoine Hoppenot needs to also be taught more finesse in his game. The kid has wheels, but if he wants to avoid being MLS’ next Patrick Nyarko, he needs to learn how to control the ball more, early on he was a good weapon, but teams figured him out quickly and he wasn’t as effective as he once was. But if he could control the ball and pour on that speed? Yowzers.
John Hackworth is currently attempting to prove that he can handle the Philadelphia Union, so far his performance review is to put it mildly, not good.
The Nowak era came to undignified (and duly deserved end) around midway through the season. John Hackworth took the team on a decent run for a few games and the players, for a time at least, seemed to respond to Hackworth far better than they ever did for Peter Nowak.
Hackworth showed that he might not be ready to coach in the “big time” yet. His second half subs were predictable, his tactics never seemed to waver despite teams adapting to them as the game went on. He also seemed to go back to the 4-5-1 as the season went on which the Union absolutely CAN NOT handle, which baffled the hell out of me considering the team’s apparent success with a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.
Furthermore the team’s areas of need were never addressed in training. Hackworth would come out and say, “We’ve got to train harder at shooting/passing/defense/whatever” and the team would play the next game and still have the same problem.
Many issues with the team come down to coaching, its something that Hackworth needs to address and soon.
How to Improve
Hackworth needs to grow as a coach in 2013. He needs to understand that as he game plans around opposing teams, they game plan around him. Good coaches will go into the locker room at the half and talk to their team and change tactics. They shutting down the middle of the field? Okay then, we’ll attack them on the wings. The defensive line playing high? Fantastic, we’ll start doing through balls to our forwards running at full speed past them.
Numerous and I mean NUMEROUS games this season I watched as the Union fell apart in the second half. Hackworth meanwhile stood on the sidelines seeming to wonder how it came to all this.
As I said with the Midfield, Hackworth needs to understand what his team can and cannot do. 5’8 Freddy Adu can NOT jump up to get a header from 6’3 George John so you need to tell your players to stop sending balls in the air to him. Its things like that, that need to be fixed and fixed before the 2013 season starts.
Currently viewed by a majority of the fan base as money grubbing businessmen, the Front Office to date has shown that they care more about their bottom line than putting a decent product on the field.
Imagine me laughing my ass off for about a minute straight if you asked me for positives to my face, then this would be my response.
Hooo boy where do I begin?
Nick Sakiewicz probably had one of the most memorable off seasons/seasons in the year of 2012, but before you get offended by that statement, I would like to point out that the era of the Bubonic Plague could be described as “memorable” and what I mean by that, is that ”memorable” is not always synonymous with “good.”
Basically, Nick Sakiewicz allowed Peter Nowak to dismantle a playoff team in the offseason, then to further exacerbate things he allowed a coach that clearly had an axe to grind with several players to trade them away during the season. He also foolishly believed that the decent run the team put together under Hackworth after he took over would last, which also meant that teams like Columbus and New England went out and got players like Federico Higuaín, Jairo Arrieta, and Jerry Bengtson. The Union did precisely nothing which ended up costing them. He went out and traded our first round pick AND allocation money for a player that saw the field once during the season and who is apparently still recovering from a severe knee injury. I mean, when the hell would a soccer player ever need their KNEES right?
Apparently someone needs to sit down with Nick Sakiewicz and inform him that you NEVER sit on your hands during the transfer window, especially when you have a team that is struggling as the Union were. Nick Sakiewicz utterly failed the team and more importantly, the fan base when it came to improving the team and protecting what they had. I could spend an hour talking about how much I currently loathe Nick Sakiewicz, but that is something I’ll save for another article.
Suffice it to say, were I grading the front office the letter F would not appropriately convey the level of failure that occured in 2012.
How to Improve
Nick Sakiewicz needs to make this offseason a busy one. He needs to sign, trade, buy, whatever players that will improve this team. He also needs to apologize to the fan base for what was done to the team. He needs to publicly state that the youth movement that the team wanted to do on the cheap failed. Furthermore, he needs to say that the front office is just as upset and angry with how the season went as the fans are and they will do everything they can to put a better product on the field, and in case you’re reading this Nick getting back Sébastien Le Toux alone won’t do it. You need several players, and getting hold of a fan favorite just to placate some of us for another season is NOT the answer.
Finally, the front office needs to appoint a general manager. Someone that answers solely to the owner(s) of the team. This GM would have to be experienced within MLS and know what rules he’s playing by. The GM’s job is to evaluate talent and acquire it if possible. The GM would do the hard tasks – cutting players, trading them, making the team better. The GM doesn’t answer to Nick Sakiewicz or to John Hackworth. The problem with either of those men having that role is that any move made by Nick Sakiewicz smacks of trying to get money while when the head coach fills that role, there is the potential for abuse as in the case with Peter Nowak.
No, the GM will act as a go between between the money and the product. He doesn’t sell players simply because they get an offer and he doesn’t trade them because they don’t get along with the coach.
Nick Sakiewicz has a LONG way to go before he earns my trust ever again. Having a good offseason that improves the team will be a small step towards that. Major League Soccer is a league where you can be competitive year to year, and just because our team tanked this past season doesn’t mean we’re going to be basement dwellers forever. With a few signings, we can emerge as a powerhouse and I hope – I sincerely HOPE – that the front office understands this. The Union have a passionate fan base and it’s potential is literally astounding to me. I’ve seen young kids with Union gear walking around my local area, and those are the future season ticket holders. However, the front office runs the risk of driving away the fans in their quest to make money first and win titles second. I think that if Nick Sakiewicz and the front office sat back and realized that winning trophies means that you increase your exposure and therefore your profits, they might actually invest more money into improving this team.
So please Nick, do SOMETHING this offseason, I don’t want to have to stop caring about my favorite team and sport ever again.