The Inside Doop: What went wrong?


The Inside Doop: What went wrong?

When John Hackworth took over as head coach for Peter Nowak three weeks ago, the Philadelphia Union began to look better on the field while creating more good feelings off of it.

But despite that, the Union have still struggled to win games consistently, as evidenced most recently by their disheartening 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

What went wrong for the Union as they dropped to 3-9-2 on the season and 1-2 in league games since Hackworth took over? Lets take a look back and then a look ahead to whats next in this weeks Inside Doop.
Three thoughts about Saturdays game.

1. The turning point of the game was obviously the call that led to the game-winning penalty kick goal from Brian Ching late in the second half. Was it a good call? Probably not. Should it have mattered? People seem to fall into two camps on this issue, with some saying the Union should have done more to make sure it didnt and others complaining about the referees power to make game-changing calls on questionable plays like this one. In this particular case, I fall more into the camp of the latter, although I respect Hackworth for what he said afterwards

2. Instead of complaining about the call, Hackworth chose to focus on his teams own shortcomings. Namely, he critiqued the fact that the Union failed to capitalize on a couple of easy chances to pull ahead 2-1 just minutes after tying the game early in the second half. Its probably not a coincidence that the missed opportunities happened with Jack McInerney a striker that knows how to finish and someone thats come alive under Hackworth missed the game due to illness.

3. One of the bright spots for the Union was on Keon Daniels goal as the midfielder scored on an impressive left-footed blast from distance. Hackworth later said the coaches have been encouraging Daniel to shoot more. But it will be interesting to see if the goal helps Daniel stay in the regular rotation, considering Saturday marked his first start under Hackworth and that the Union already have a crowded midfield.Three questions for the upcoming week

1. The Unions defense has been strong recently, having not surrendered more than one goal in a league match since May 13. In fact, the Union have only given up 17 goals all season, which ranks third in MLS. But the unit will face one of their biggest tests of the season Wednesday with a difficult road matchup against Landon Donovan, David Beckham and the rest of the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, who have scored three goals in each of the past three games. Will the Unions defense crack in California?

2. Hackworth did some lineup and formational changes in Houston, in part to give some players rest during a grueling stretch. The main players who sat out were Freddy Adu and McInerney, two of the main cogs in the 4-3-3 system that had worked so well for the Union in their last two contests coming into Houston. If McInerney is feeling better, Hackworth will likely insert those two back in the lineup against the Galaxy. But after a bout with food poisoning, will the young strike be ready to go in time for the game?

3. Its too early to talk about must-win games but if the Union cant get any points against the Galaxy and then lose to Toronto on Sunday, they will be in last place in the Eastern Conference at almost the halfway point in the season. There will still be time, of course, to put together a winning streak but at what point, if at all, do they stop believing that making the playoffs is a possibility?
Fact of the week: With his goal Saturday, Keon Daniel became only the sixth Union player to score through 14 league games this season. Last year they had 16 different goal-scorers.
Quote of the week: We had two chances to put the ball on frame and their sitters really. They have to be finished. Those are the critical moments of the game. Union interim manager John Hackworth
Player of the week: Amobi Okugo continues to shine at center back and gets the nod this week. The third-year player didnt make any mistakes and made one possibly goal-saving tackle in the penalty area.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for and E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.

Despite woeful final 2 months, Union found stability, optimism in 2016

Despite woeful final 2 months, Union found stability, optimism in 2016

Shortly after the Philadelphia Union’s first playoff appearance in 2011, two of the top players on that team stepped onto a podium and talked about stability.

Sure, it was upsetting for Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Califf that the Union had just been swept out of the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But the stalwarts of the then-two-year-old franchise pledged continued improvements in 2012 if the same core returned and no sweeping changes were made to the roster.

What happened next remains the stuff of nightmares for Union fans. Le Toux, Califf and others were shuttled off with the Union getting little to nothing in return. The 2012 season started disastrously, controversial manager Peter Nowak was fired after orchestrating the puzzling moves (and doing far worse), and you could argue the franchise took years to recover.

Which brings us to the 2016 season.

Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Union once again had a short postseason stay, getting bounced out of the knockout round by star-studded Toronto FC on Wednesday night.

But just like it felt at the end of the 2011 season — before Nowak began his systematic dismantling — the brief trip to the playoffs feels more like a step in the right direction than anything else.

The season has ended, but in many ways this feels like only the beginning.

Forget for a second that the Union finished the season on an eight-game winless streak and consider that three of their top players throughout the year were 2016 first-round draft picks Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers and Joshua Yaro — a rookie trio the coaches hope will remain in Philly for up to a decade.

Forget that the team had a worse record than any MLS team to make the playoffs and consider that they got to the postseason without arguably their two most influential players — captain Maurice Edu (who missed all of 2016 with injuries) and Vincent Nogueira (who returned to his native France in the middle of the season because of a personal health issue).

Forget that they were outclassed by a Toronto team built on the backs of superstars Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and consider that, for one of the first times, owner Jay Sugarman opened the wallet this summer to bring in Alejandro Bedoya, a U.S. national team player who scored the second goal in Union playoff history Wednesday. Bedoya will be a focal point of the team for the next three years.

There were several other positive takeaways from 2016, including the spectacular season of highlight machine Andre Blake in goal, the career revival of Chris Pontius on the wing, and the reliability of Richie Marquez at center back. 

And, to be sure, there were plenty of negatives too, including the late slump of striker C.J. Sapong which coincided with the team’s late-season slump, the inability to turn the attacking bench trio of Ilsinho, Roland Alberg and Charlie Davies into a true weapon, and the hard-to-watch struggles of Ken Tribbett, who once again showed Wednesday that he can’t match up with the league’s best strikers. 

The key now is to fix the areas that need fixing — a big striker should be a necessity, for starters — while continuing to build upon the foundation that got the Union into the playoffs. And yes, that should mean keeping Jim Curtin as head coach.

Like anyone, Curtin has his faults. Deciding not to tinker with the lineup and bench slumping players like Sapong may have hurt the Union down the stretch. And his comments now about how no one thought the Union would be in the playoffs are both not true (CSN’s two Union writers both picked them to sneak in!) and unfairly diminish expectations for a team he himself says should be considered in the top 10 of MLS.

But recalibrating expectations after a season is nothing new. Former Union manager John Hackworth did the same after the Union barely missed the playoffs in 2013, essentially saying he got the most out of his team and that it was a rebuilding season (which came to a surprise to some players at the time). Curtin and Hackworth also, perhaps, share a loyalty to the players they like even in times of struggle, which can be problematic but is a far better trait than Nowak’s old habit of tossing club stalwarts to the scrap heap.

Why bring up the Union’s past coaches when neither have been around for years? Because it’s important for this franchise to learn from its mistakes at what is now a critical junction in franchise history.

The Union have already done that well by building a beautiful new training facility and hiring a smart sporting director in Earnie Stewart, who helped put the team on a better path in his first year. But it will be much harder to continue the building process by undergoing a roster overhaul or switching head coaches in the offseason.

Sometimes a coaching change is necessary. But Curtin has a lot of good qualities that embody what this franchise is striving to be and has been a big part of turning the team around from the dark days. And as Union fans know well, a new coach also can mean going back to square one, which is not something this team can afford right now.

The only other time they made the playoffs, the Union were dismantled. This time, they need to do the opposite.

Union's season over after MLS playoffs loss to Toronto FC

Union's season over after MLS playoffs loss to Toronto FC

For the underdog Union to overtake powerful Toronto FC on Wednesday in the opening round of the 2016 MLS playoffs, they needed a near-perfect effort. 

They didn’t get it. 

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore abused Union rookie center back Ken Tribbett to help Toronto FC dismantle the Union, 3-1, at BMO Field. 

“Only one team’s season ends the right way, good and with a smile,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Our season ends now, it’s difficult. Somewhere deep down in there, I do feel like Philadelphia Union fans and players can walk a little taller. We’re a franchise that is moving in the right direction.”

Toronto FC will face New York City FC in a two-game aggregate playoff. 

After a strong first five minutes of the match, the Union’s worst nightmare came true in the 15th minute, when Tribbett, who needed to be subbed for poor play in a match against Toronto FC in late August, flubbed a clear that bounced back to Andre Blake. The goalkeeper aggressively pursued the ball but wasn’t strong enough to get possession, allowing Altidore to make a crisp cross-box pass to wide open Giovinco for the opening goal and 1-0 lead.

“We were happy with how we came out, we put pressure on them,” Union veteran Chris Pontius said. “The goal was a crazy play, it just breaks down and they get a goal.” 

Toronto FC’s lead was doubled by Jonathan Osorio just three minutes into the second half when he capitalized off a corner. But the Union battled back.

The Union managed to trim the host’s lead in half, 2-1. Tranquillo Barnetta’s corner was flicked by Tribbett to Ilsinho, who hit it back across the box to Richie Marquez. The center back found Alejandro Bedoya wide open on the doorstep. 

“I thought our team pushed the game,” Curtin said. “Especially in the second half.” 

Yet, despite the mild comeback for the Union, Toronto FC put the opposition away in the 85th, when off a fast break, Altidore buried one off another failed clearance from Tribbett for the 3-1 final.

“It was a mistouch,” Curtin said. “If you give Jozy two looks, he’s going to get one. They were broken plays.” 

Although the Union began the season with a burst and flirted with being the surprise of the Eastern Conference, they collapsed at the end. Curtin’s club completed the year with four straight losses and went winless in its final eight matches of the season.

“When we started the season, nobody had us playing in a 35th game, for sure,” Curtin said. “We had a dip in form and we don’t hide from that. But we’ve moved forward. We know we need to get better in the offseason.”