The 2013 season has officially come to a close. We had a series of editorials in the works, but in order to spare everyone the pain of rehashing last season multiple times, we decided to hold a single round table discussion. Our writers and editors shoot from the hip and answered a series of questions.
The discussion was conducted via social media and was attended by:
Staff Writers - Ed Welsh (EW), Andrew Stoltzfus (AS), Frank Cobbina (FC), Nick Youngstein (NY), Matt Reppert (MR) and Barry Evans (BE)
and Editors - John Whitesall (JW), Heather Reppert (HR), and Eugene Rupinski (ER)
Sum up this season in one word
ER: One word to describe this season - predictable.
What was your bright spot of the season and why?
EW: Klebinho's goal against Toronto. I was there, and I was fully expecting a loss which I'd whine about for weeks on end. The rush of "HOLY S%#T THEY WON" emotion was awesome, the fact that it was delivered by "unfit" Klebinho made the moment that much sweeter.
BE: Improvement in the young players - Zac, Amobi, Jack and even Gaddis have shown they can be stars in this league (and maybe others). While this season didn't go anywhere - there is definitely hope for the future.
MR: McInerney leading the league in scoring when they were in contention for the Supporter's Shield nearly halfway through the season.
JW: 3-0 win against the Redbulls. They played like a proper team that day.
ER: Brightest spot of the season - 3-0 win against Red Bull. They dominated them from start to finish. Their finest hour.
AS: Seeing one of the players play well enough to lead the league in goals and earn a national team call up. It ended after he was called up though.
HR: 3-0 victory over Redbull
FC: Danny Cruz's 2 goals against Seattle. The first goal was a shock in itself. But the way Cruz took a poor Sounder clearance off his chest and slammed the ball one-time into the left corner of the net for the second net was dazzling. The goal sparked complete and utter disbelief from me watching from a Portland, ME hotel room, and the sight of Cruz running in circles in celebration always brings a smile to my face. For 5 minutes, Daniel Cruz was a golden god.
NY: My bright spot of the season was the road trip to NJPC. I don't sit in the River End, so it's my annual opportunity to participate in the chants and the like. It wasn't the most exciting match, but earning their first ever point at RBA is kinda special.
Did anyone or anything surprise you this season?
AS: MacMath. Quietly put together a team MVP season
EW: Also MacMath. Wouldn't have guessed he was the goalie everyone wanted gone last season. ("everyone" being the fan base, not taking a shot at anyone)
FC: People will say MacMath here (Never lost faith, Zac!), so I'll answer with Ray Gaddis. He had a shaky start, but in the second half I thought his positioning got better while maintaining the same great recovery. I'd still like a natural LB starting at that spot, but good to see he can perhaps challenge Sheanon for the right side next season.
NY: Conor Casey. I didn't think he had it in him to be healthy most of the year and be a solid contributor
BE: I was surprised by the sudden improvement of MacMath after Nikolov arrived. Whether it was competition (apparently wasn't according to Hackworth) or whether it was more experienced help, Zach went from a poor to average keeper, always liable for mistakes to perhaps the sole reason they were in contention on the last week.
ER: Biggest surprise was how close the team came to actually pulling off a playoff spot. As bad as they could be at times this year, people almost could have been paying to see a match this week.
MR: I would say for surprise it would be MacMath or Fabinho. MacMath managed to put together a solid season and seemed to grow as a GK. Fabinho showed that he has some good service during the run of play.
ER: It was surprising how little room there was between NYRB and the teams who just missed the playoffs. It was also surprising that the team as bad as they played sometimes weren't down there with DC United or Chivas.
FC: Fabinho's a great answer, especially all the poor reviews from A-League fans.
Ok give us your breakout player of the year since we are on the subject
BE: Breakout player is Amobi. He has gone from an able starter, to someone who should be on USMNT camp call up. Just beats out Jack because of Jacks mid-season slump.
HR: Tie between MacMath and Gaddis
FC: Amobi Okugo. He'll be a MLS All-Star someday, no matter what position he's selected to play. Poise, IQ, quickness, the kid's got it all.
ER: I'm just gonna put this out there - Daniel Arthur Quimby Cruz. As derpy as he was last season, he found a role here and played it - and played it well. They needed a guy to make crazy runs and hustle and keep the defense honest and he did that. When he tried to do too much early on it backfired, but once he started playing within himself he really did well. He's my breakout (not MVP) guy for 2013.
MR: It's a coin flip for either MacMath or Okugo. Okugo was solid at CB but since it seems he's finally being moved into the midfield we don't know how he'll perform there. MacMath as well since he went from shaky as hell to a solid player that arguably could be considered a top keeper in the league if he had a more solid team in front of him
There need to be changes to this team. Any season that doesnt involve a post season just isnt good enough.
Name three things you would change and why
AS: 1. Okugo moved to midfield.
2. Hackworth sent to pasture.
3. Eric Wynalda
EW: 1. I'd get rid of Danny Cruz. He is the antithesis of the soccer I enjoy seeing.
2. Get rid of Hackworth, precisely because he trades for/plays players like Danny Cruz.
3. Put more emphasis on technical ability (which I think we already have a lot of). This will help us on offense, defense, and playing attractive soccer.
MR: 1. Portland and other teams that are successful have shown that you NEED a midfielder that can string it together. Diego Valeri, Landon Donovan, Javier Morales, etc. The successful teams have "that guy" who pulls the strings for the offense and makes everyone better. We need that midfielder, DP or not who gives us that ability.
2. Moving on from Hackworth. There are numerous coaches out there that would LOVE to coach the Philadelphia Union. Young talent, passionate fan base, and now we have the 2nd and 6th picks in the draft and a bunch of cap space coming open. Hackworth might be good at finding talent but I'm not so sure if he can develop it. We need a coach who can.
3. Put greater emphasis on smoother passing and discipline. The team often tries the long ball ignoring the fact that Conor Casey and Aaron Wheeler are the only forwards that we have that are tall enough for that sort of thing and Casey is shut down by opposing teams. Furthermore, the team is young but they need to learn discipline. Casey and Williams are both hot headed and other players also get caught up in the moment of the game. They need to have cooler heads and not argue with other players and the refs so much. Not to mention McInerney needs to learn to stop pouting when he doesn't get that goal or shot on net. It's very Carlos Ruizesque how he mopes and stays offside if he doesn't get his way and it annoyed me to no end this season.
ER: 1.) Get a set strategy and idea and look to build on that. Enough of Hacktics. Enough trying to get players and form a system for him. Pick a formation, pick a style of play, and draft/trade accordingly.
2.) Sign players to realistic contracts. No more almost-DP's or DP's riding the pine. Pay Amobi and Casey and MacMath and Williams for the caliber of play they have delivered. Pay Le Toux and Carroll and Torres less.
3.) Use your depth players. One of the reasons we looked like shit (especially toward the end of the season) was because we played the same 11 guys way too often. Give guys time to rest - and suspensions don't count. Let other guys come in and play and force the favorites to compete for a job.
FC: 1. Sign a DP box-to-box CM. A creative midfielder who can effectively orchestrate an attack in open play.2. Sign a quality CB that'll replace Okugo if he moves to the midfield. 3. Sign a winger who can effectively cross from the left side.
FC: I wanted to add that the objective of the offseason is to reconstruct the midfield, make it multifaceted in attack, and supply depth with draft picks and homegrown talent (Hernandez or Pfeffer).
NY: I also want Okugo in central midfield, because not only is he defensively aware enough, I believe he has the passing vision to spring the rush the other way.
Another central midfielder to compliment Okugo and be a goal threat/string puller because no team can be purely dependent upon wings crossing in and long throw ins and be a serious Cup contender.
Third, they need to add a center back. My first change has Okugo going to midfield, so there'd be immediate need. But in general, their backup center back is their starting right back, so they need better depth at the position.
BE: 1) Move Amobi to midfield. The more the season went on, the more i thought this was one year too far for Carroll to be an every day player. A lot of that is probably the players he played with, but if this is a team that is supposed to be built around the youth - play one of the young stars in his preferred position.
2) Get a good central defender as well as defensive cover. A lot of our bench players are midfielders and forwards. When you end up having to play a striker in defense if you get 2 injuries/suspensions - you don't have enough cover. Even within the young, home grown players and guys who never came close to playing - they are all midfielders. Most of the draft should be defenders that we keep for this backup positions.
3) Have a more varied game-plan, especially for poor teams, and especially at home. We ended the season 4 points from a playoff spot. While some will point to the Dallas and RSL games as those 4 points - i'd point to the 4 draws against Toronto (x2), DC and even a very struggling Montreal. Those were games that for whatever reason, we decided to think a draw is better than a loss instead of we should be getting a win. The tactics at SKC and RBA were great. It's not needed against Toronto at home.
Is Hackworth the guy to tale this club forward. Yes, no and why?
JW: No. He's a coach, not a manager.
BE: Not in his current role. I don't think he has the tactical awareness or ability to be a trophy winner. Time and time again, the games where managers have made differences - it's gone the other way.
AS: No, obvious fundamental issues in gameday management from lineup selection to substitutions.
FC: I'm giving a very meager yes. I like how the young players have developed under him and I like the moves he's made on the transfer market despite being hamstrung by the dead money on our salary cap. But assuming we come back next season with a more talented roster, he has to prove he has better tactical awareness or he won't make it through the season.
HR: Hackworth is great with working with the younger players and developing them but fails to be able to make the hard executive decisions that a seasoned head manager needs to make to make a serious playoff push. Instead, he is too predictable.
EW: No. He's doesn't manage a game well and can't react to what's happening on the field. A good manager should be able to read the game and adjust his team's play style accordingly.
NY: No, he's not the guy going forward. He must be good at developing fundamentals which is why he was heralded at the youth level. But a first division team needs a "war time consigliere", someone who can get the skill sets to mesh and produce multi-goal offense and coordinated, disciplined defense
What are your expectations surrounding the SuperDraft?
BE: I would expect us to get defense as the main part of the draft. If there is a CAM available that should help too. However, 2-3 defenders are almost a must for me.
HR: That we address our devensive depth issue.
EW: I think we'll look for a creative player in the midfield, but I have little faith in us actually getting one.
NY: I think they'll look for someone with positional versatility
FC: I'm fine with drafting pretty much any position besides right back, defensive midfielder and goalkeeper. If there is one, I'd love a left-footed winger. Also, if there's a shot of us getting Steve Neumann at either pick, get him.
AS: There are no sure bets in the draft so I'm fine with drafting the best available and looking to plug holes in other drafts
ER: I've been doing research, and you're usually safe with the top 10-15 picks in the draft. Past that it's dodgy. I'd like to see the club get defensive depth and possibly wingers, but my gut tells me we'll get more strikers and midfielders that we can somehow magically convert into depth players.
What do the Union need to change on the field for next season?
HR: A creative midfielder
ER: Definitely a creative midfielder.
EW: Creative midfielder for sure.
FC: Constructing a midfield that can effectively exploit holes in opposing defenses.
BE: Picking the best XI without thinking about who your friends with or who makes a sensible amount of money. Definitely need someone with more creativity to play. Other than that the rest is there for a good season.
Okugo - midfield or defense?
AS: Mid- wasting is poise on the ball when he's in defense
BE: Midfield. Let him grow into his preferred role if you are building team around him.
What does the Union need to do to be a contender?
AS: It doesn't take a lot to be a contender in this league of parity. Don't get in your own way is the biggest thing the union needs to stop all these terrible deals. The Soumare and Adu situations hurt the team. Now that we're past them let's be smart and not hurt ourselves off the field
BE: Be more flexible tactically. We are only 2-3 players short of being a silverware contender, left back, left wing and CAM.Instead of having athletic players and playing them out of position, put the players in positions they have the best chance of succeeding.
HR: Be willing to spend money on veteran players that warrant it to bring our team to a higher level. And what Barry said lol
NY: A striker who doesn't take half a season off, and a central midfielder who can pose a shooting threat.
EW: Need to be contender: A manager (could still be Hack, I suppose) who is willing to change his game plan and adapt to what's in front of him.
FC: A more cohesive attack, a more controlled midfield, and a manager (whether that's Hack or someone else) who will be more tactically sound.
This had been edited from it original form for both content and length.
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