Philadelphia Union: The Best Bad Team in MLS


May 10, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; D.C. United midfielder Lewis Neal (24) battles for the ball with Philadelphia Union midfielder Vincent Nogueira (5) during the second half at PPL Park. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The acquisitions of Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Maurice Edu thrust the Philadelphia Union into the spotlight before the season even began. After finishing just shy of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference a year ago, everyone agreed that the lack of creativity the midfield was to blame. However, whenever you bring in three high caliber players in a single off-season, expectations go through the roof.

Chester, PA and Union fans across the nation were buzzing about their 2014 squad leading up to the season opener. With Maidana and Nogueira serving as the creative midfielders and Edu holding down his usual defensive midfield role, John Hackworth‘s midfield was expected to be as good as any in MLS.

Thirteen games into the season and you can throw those expectations out the window. After an abysmal start, Philly sent forward Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for Andrew Wenger in hopes of shaking things up for better results. Wenger is a bigger body, two inches and approximately 35 pounds bigger, than McInerney, meaning he would fit the 4-5-1 style of play that Hackworth has implemented. Wenger managed to score in his Union debut but has yet to duplicate that performance in seven matches.

Philadelphia currently sits in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, above only the Montreal Impact. It’s no coincidence two basement dwellers were both willing to take a chance on players that were potential risks. Still, neither team has been able to get their head above water since the blockbuster trade went down.

In its thirteen matches, the Union have mustered up just twelve goals despite flashes of brilliance in the midfield. There is no denying the skill of Nogueira in particular, but between Wenger, Conor Casey, Sebastian Le Toux, and countless others, nobody has been able to step up and be the goal scoring threat that the team and their fan base so desperately desires, despite the quality of service that the midfield has provided.

As you can see in the video above, the play-making ability of Nogueira is undeniable. There are even rumors that the French midfielder could become a Designated Player for the Union surfacting on among others. Jonathan Tannenwald probably took it the farthest with this statement:

"“Unless the Union have a lot more allocation money on hand, Nogueira has become a Designated Player. He’s the team’s third, joining Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu.”"

Noguiera is magnificent, Maidana is dynamic, and Edu is rock solid. Unlike 2013, the midfield is not the issue in Philly, however, goal scoring is. Regardless of how creative these DPs (or non-DPs) are, someone has to finish off some of the quality chances that they create. McInerney couldn’t get it done, and now Wenger has stalled as well.

John Hackworth has made it known that his club is in the market for a goal scoring threat, meaning he does not believe he has a strong enough attack with the personnel that he has now. ““We need to look outside of our own locker room right now and see if we can bring in a player — and we are,” Hackworth said on Wednesday during his weekly press conference.

While the attack has been a big enough problem to keep the Union out of playoff contention, the defense has not been much better, if better at all. With Brian Carroll and Sheanon Williams already missing time this season due to injury, and Maurice Edu missing time due to U.S.M.N.T. duty, the Union have had a revolving door in terms of starting backs already.

Austin Berry and Amobi Okugo were the starters at center back for the season opener, with Ray Gaddis and Fabinho at right and left back respectively. Since then, forward-turned-fullback Aaron Wheeler has played significant minutes in the back, Sheanon Williams has moved from right to center back, and Okugo has taken over Edu’s defensive midfield responsibilities. On top of it all, Berry, the 2012 Rookie of the Year, has been inconsistent at best, and has found himself in and out of the rotation.

After getting embarrassed 5-3 at home to the New England Revolution, the defense remains a huge question mark. Fortunately for Hackworth, he will have captain Brian Carroll back for Sunday night’s showdown with the Los Angeles Galaxy, including Landon Donovan, who will likely have something to prove after not making Jurgen Klinsmann‘s 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup.

Listing all of the issues that the Union have right now is easy, but it hasn’t all been dreadful. As a matter of fact, they managed to beat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 on the road less than two weeks ago. Despite not possessing the ball for much of the game, they stuck to their game plan that consisted of counter-attacking at every opportunity they got. Danny Cruz opened up the game with a goal before Dom Dwyer came on as a sub for Sporting KC and rocketed an equalizer into the upper right corner in the 80th minute. As you can imagine, the back four got caught ball-watching and never tracked the run of Dwyer.

Luckliy for Philly, Cristian Maidana managed to slot home the game-winning goal just a minute later.

Although they have managed just a 2-6-5 record thus far, the Union’s wins have come over quality opponents. First, they managed to beat the first-place Revolution in their home opener before a nine-game winless streak was snapped when they beat Sporting KC on the road.

There you have it: all the proof you need to dub the 2014 Philadelphia Union the best bad team in MLS.