CHESTER PA - AUGUST 11: Forward Danny Mwanga #10 of the Philadelphia Union is congratulated by forward Sebatien Le Toux #9 and midfielder Justin Mapp #22 after scoring a goal during a game against Real Salt Lake at PPL Park on August 11 2010 in Chester Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Major League Soccer rolled out the red carpet for the Union - literally.
I was there in Seattle when the Union made their way onto the pitch at Qwest Field by way of a red-carpet walk toward midfield. The expansion Union, during their inaugural season, were met with open arms.
A lot went right, a lot went wrong. And one thing that went wrong, however, was completely out of the Union's control.
Danny Mwanga - and not DC United's Andy Najar - should have been Major League Soccer's Rookie of the Year, when the award was announced this week. I'll give you three reasons why the 19-year-old striker, in whom the Union entrusted so much as their No. 1 SuperDraft pick, deserved the league's top rookie honor:
1. Scoring. It's an unfair judge of talent, for sure, but scoring influences star power in soccer. In that regard, Mwanga was a star. He led all rookies in combined scoring, with seven goals and four assists. He found a niche playing alongside the league's top scorer in Sebastien Le Toux. And Mwanga proved he's going to be a weapon for years to come.
2. Growth. It took him 10 games, but Mwanga eventually elevated his game from reserve to starter. He started the opener in Seattle and then not another match until Kansas City. Only a shoulder sprain could limit Mwanga's on-field time.
3. Responsibility. How many top draft choices fizzle? How many fail to live up to the hype? Union fans won't have to worry about that in Mwanga. He handled each task thrown his way. Strong enough to avoid a beating by older and stronger players, smart enough to play to his on-field strengths and talented enough to exploit them, Mwanga is worth keeping your eyes on for his sophomore season.
Here's what Mwanga had to say about the Rookie of the Year snub:
"It's a people-vote (award)," he said. "I was a little bit nervous about it, but it's an award. I'm getting excited about next season and the goals for next season." He added: "I think it would have been a great honor to be Rookie of the Year, but, at the same time, I think I had a pretty good season."
Those quotes show character and maturity - two things that don't show up in the stat sheet, but two things that clearly demonstrate how far Mwanga has come.
And why he was so deserving of MLS Rookie of the Year.
IN FRONT OFFICE, THERE'S NO STEPPING BACK
In professional sports, it's not often you mind a front-office staff as readily available for media interviews as the Union's.
In that regard, Tom Veit will be missed.
The outgoing president, who will step down at the end of this year in favor of a business consultant position with the club, Veit was a quote machine. He produced a personal favorite when asked about the Sons of Ben scaling back the obscenities used in their chants.
"We're not adversarial with them at all - that's the important thing to remember," Veit said Aug. 13, prior to a match against Colorado. "This is a family picnic and we have to talk to Uncle Bob about getting himself under control. It's like, ‘Hey Uncle Bob, go grab the potato salad.' After people talk about the building, they talk about the energy here as the best asset. And that energy is right there (in the River End.)"
It's not like Veit's departure will leave a gap, either.
CEO Nick Sakiewicz will embrace plenty of Veit's duties. And Dave Rowan, who was hired last week as the team's executive vice president and chief revenue officer, will take on responsibilities as well.
"There's no hole for us to fill," Sakiewicz said on the phone with me this week. "Hiring Dave was adding strength to our bench. There's no issue."
Nick Sakiewicz told me this week he's not taking time off between seasons.
"It's all business all the time," the dryly humorous CEO said.
Sure, he plans to spend some down time with his family before the Union begin their second MLS season. But Sakiewicz is a man on a mission.
When I spoke to him this week, he said there were two areas in which he wanted to improve for next season: on-field results and game atmosphere.
The first one makes sense, even if the Union had the third-best record among MLS expansion franchises. The second one, umm, not quite. The Union pulled in 288,810 spectators for their 15 home dates and an average of 19,254, which ranked fourth in MLS (behind only Seattle, Los Angeles and Toronto.)
Sakiewicz explains both.
"A lot went right," he said. "We had an awesome year, incredible launch, wonderful stadium. As a team, everything went very well and we have a great foundation to build on. But there's always stuff to work on. "...We'll be making a lot of major and exciting announcements to our fans in the next four months."
With season-ticket renewals at an MLS record pace, according to Sakiewicz, those annoucements certainly give Union fans something to look forward to.
With all new things, there's always the issue of handling the unknown. One of those new things includes my content-sharing partnership with Brotherly Game.
As Scott told you this week, I'll provide a weekly column, an occasional Q+A with the readers ... and who knows what else.
I'm looking forward to bringing you Union news this offseason and beyond. If you have questions, don't hesitate to be in touch through e-mail (email@example.com) or Twitter (@ChrisVito).