Philadelphia Union: Looking Back at the Season and Looking Forward

Oct 26, 2016; Toronto, CANADA; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) collides with Philadelphia Union defender Ken Tribbett (4) at BMO Field. Toronto defeated Philadelphia 3-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2016; Toronto, CANADA; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) collides with Philadelphia Union defender Ken Tribbett (4) at BMO Field. Toronto defeated Philadelphia 3-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

While not exactly the greatest result in the Philadelphia Union’s first playoff game since 2011, Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss in the knockout round to Toronto FC was a sign of what is to come for the team moving forward.

The playoffs are done, but from the moment Earnie Stewart arrived in Philadelphia the winds changed for the better for the Philadelphia Union and one playoff loss is not the end. This is just the beginning.

Making playoffs in the first year under Earnie Stewart was much more than expected. Jim Curtin was putting together a new lineup from scratch, and the new system surely could not be that of a contending team. The only real remaining players from the corps of the 2015 lineup were C.J. Sapong, Tranquillo Barnetta, Vincent Nogueira, Maurice Edu, Richie Marquez, and Brian Carroll. Added to that were a mix of rookies, younger players from lower divisions and abroad, and Chris Pontius. This concoction of players should not have made anyone in Philadelphia think this team was playoff bound.

But a hot start, and in form strikers really did the team wonders. Maurice Edu was out but destined to come back, Andre Blake, C.J. Sapong, Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius were all hot. Keegan Rosenberry was the greatest right back in MLS history. Rosenberry still could be the greatest right back in MLS history. The Philadelphia Union, however, were slowed down in the doldrums of summer. Vincent Nogueira was homesick for France and mutually agreed to leave. Maurice Edu wasn’t coming back. C.J. Sapong was not scoring.

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That is how the season went for much of the summer and into the fall. Alejandro Bedoya arrived and while giving new hope to a seemingly tired team, he honestly has not been the same player this season. Hopefully like many midsummer MLS signings that can be rectified in his first full season. Josh Yaro taking over at Right Center back proved worthy of his high draft pick, and Ken Tribbett proved at times serviceable.

But at the end of the season, Maurice Edu still was not back. Eventually, he hurt himself again, Josh Yaro got injured twice near the end, and Ken Tribbett started making more fires than he stopped. The team did not win a game after the month of August and limped into playoffs like a dying wildebeest.

The playoff game proved interesting and for the most part competitive. A stolen away victory would have given the Union the chance to surprise some people. But without key players, and with Toronto FC on the docket winning was too much a task. Looking back maybe finishing 6th in the Eastern Conference and limping into playoffs was not great for how the team played, but it is about where they should have expected to be.

Moving forward the Philadelphia Union have decisions to make. Tranquillo Barnetta leaves for Switzerland and we bid him adieu. The important offseason moves are finding some depth and positions, and most likely looking for a striker that can play a full 90 that can compete with C.J. Sapong and push him. Josh Yaro will return, and hopefully, that sees him as a full-time center back starter alongside Marquez and Rosenberry.

The big move away may be Andre Blake who likely has winter trials lined up, and may or may not have another year on his contract. Either way, he is likely gone by the end of next season. It will be vital to find a good replacement for the Jamaican keeper.

Leftback may also be an issue as Fabinho is getting old and it may be time to find your Left bck of the future. If Chris Pontius resigns you likely keep him as a starter, with Herbers and Bedoya at Right Wing and Center Midfielder. Warren Creavalle has proven vital in the last weeks, and with Brian Carroll likely retiring or leaving that move is incredibly important. This also means that finding a strong central midfielder for that pairing so Creavalle will have someone to work with. Be it Bedoya moving back and playing Alberg up at attacking midfield, rehabbing Maurice Edu in time this year, or signing someone new that is paramount to the success moving forward.

Other things to look forward to is the expansion draft and seeing who the Union potentialy lose. Does Ray Gaddis leave then, or someone like him? Will Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones be part of the team in full next year? Are players like Walter Restrepo and Leo Fernandes still in the team’s future plans? Is Eric Ayuk ready to be a part of the revamped team, or is Bethlehem steel the place for him and the aforementioned Trusty and Jones?

Related Story: Philadelphia Union Expansion Draft Primer

In Earnie Stewart’s first year in Philadelphia we saw a lot of change for the better, and the elevator likely only goes up for the Union after a massive rise in the first year of the regime. There will likely be lots of interesting signings in the winter months and I for one am happy to prepare for the bright future of Philadelphia Union soccer.