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The 2014 Philadelphia Union Year in Review

The Union never looked quite as good as they were capable to be in late January, but we still had hope coming down the stretch and even witnessed our first ever Cup Final for Philadelphia.

It was that kind of season for Philadelphia.
It was that kind of season for Philadelphia.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There's a word to describe the Union this season, and it is definitely a cliche. The roller coaster of ups and downs that Philadelphia took us through was nauseating, yet thrilling. A disaster, yet a success. Steps were taken in the right direction, and they were then turned around and taken in the wrong direction. In a season of contradiction and bewilderment the Union managed not only to frustrate us with horrid play and poor mismanagement,  they also managed to dazzle us with some of the best play in their short history. The season's outlook changed with the season it was, as from winter to autumn, the Union continued to be predictable and unpredictable at the same time.

After a disappointing end to 2013, the Philadelphia Union's off season had the outlook of a team who could catapult into the playoffs in the new year. After being eliminated on the last match day, the Union had a young core to build from and were relieved of the financial shackles that had haunted them the year prior. John Hackworth was in control of this team's destiny, and needing to restructure the midfield he went along and did just that. With excitement, however, came bewilderment. During the exciting talk of rumors involving Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Cristian Maidana, the Union hosted the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and swung big. Trading away their starting center back just a few days prior, the Union acquired the first overall pick and were expected to take a young upstart center back themselves. In Steve Birnbaum they had their choice. The ever present struggle with Zac MacMath at starting goalkeeper seemed to weigh on the mind of the Union brass and they opted to take the very talented Andre Blake instead. Instead of center back coverage, the Philadelphia Union now had two young starting quality goalkeepers.

The end of John Hackworth's tenure in Philadelphia started extremely well. Union fans were clamoring for more after an exciting 1-1 draw with a very good Portland side at Providence Park. Philadelphia was not only controlling the possession, but they were dominating in the attack. New additions Nogueira and Maidana were equally impressive. But all good things must come to an end in MLS, unless you're a team well run and well coached. The Union began to struggle offensively and continued to concede late goals. Aaron Wheeler, a striker, played at center back  simply because he had the physical capabilities to play center back. In honesty Wheeler is a big and tall man, and while I am around the same size as him,  that does not give me the physical capabilities to play center back.

As the season strolled closer to the World Cup break, things were looking rather bleak for the Union. Embarrassed routinely and save for a vintage win at Sporting Park, the Union looked like fish out of water for the most part. Shocking tactics led to a gem  of a quote from John Hackworth, claiming that shots on goal was not an important statistic for a team who had serious issues scoring goals. That thought sums up the Union in a nutshell during the last months of John Hackworth's reign of peculiarity.

Summer began and the Union were behind the 8-ball in a serious way. Aside from the US Open Cup, the Union ultimately had no shot in making the playoffs as Jim Curtin, another inexperienced head coach, took control of Philadelphia. Little did we know that with the mix of the firing of Hackworth and Jim Curtin's slight change in philosophy, the Union would become the hottest team in MLS play. Counter-attacking and tough defense became the style, and it shot the Union into playoff contention - and into the US Open Cup Final. This stretch of games from June to September featured the Union's best play in their short five year history. It would seem that their first trophy was within grasp and that their second trip to the playoffs was theirs for the taking.

As memorable as the first Cup Final was for Philadelphia, they ultimately lost. Draining every ounce of energy out of themselves, the Union players fought tooth and nail with the best team in MLS, the Seattle Sounders. They didn't have the star power of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, but they certainly showed that on their best day they could swing with the big boys of MLS. Ultimately I was proud of the Union, they made it to a Cup Final and they were inches from taking the trophy. It would be said that the US Open Cup would be the last moment of glory the Union would have in 2014.

Coming into the last stretch of the season, the Union couldn't have looked more gassed. With minutes piling up on players like Le Toux, Casey, and Maidana, the Union looked like a team running on empty at the moment they needed that energy the most. Starting with a drab 0-0 draw with the Houston Dynamo, the Union took whatever energy they had and lost to DC United at RFK Stadium. The real moments of horror came from the next two games. Every game was a must win, but hosting Chicago at PPL Park was almost a guaranteed lock for three points. As we've learned from Philadelphia in their short time on the soccer scene, even guaranteed locks are not guaranteed. The newly acquired Algerian goalkeeper,  Rais M'Bolhi, made an error that cannot even be described, to give points back to Chicago right after the Union had taken the 1-0 lead.

Devastation had set in, but the Union managed to make the season laughable once again as they threw a 2-0 lead away and handed the Columbus Crew three points by allowing three goals in five minutes at PPL Park. The scenes were ugly as relief turned into a nightmare and the Union were effectively eliminated from the playoffs for the third straight year.

Once again, the Union watched from home as the LA Galaxy took home their fifth MLS Cup in their history. Somehow the Union promised that things would change and we were given our new head coach in November: Jim Curtin. Jim wouldn't be alone as in a monumental occasion - the Union hired Rene Meulensteen as a consultant for the team in their endeavors. How will this pan out? We will have to wait and see, but one thing is certain-- Heading into 2015, this is a team with a lot more questions than answers. Philadelphia is either on the verge of breaking into the top of the Eastern Conference or falling to the depths of the basement. With questionable management and inexperienced coaching, only time will tell which way they will turn.

As 2014 comes to a close, there is a sour taste in the mouths of Philadelphia fans. We've lost Amobi Okugo and Pedro Ribeiro already this offseason and the sting of handing the playoffs away is something that will never go away. It seems that we find ourselves in a very similar situation with this Union team. It is either make or break for Philadelphia and with new franchises coming to play next year in Orlando City SC and New York City FC, the Union are far more pressured to succeed than in prior seasons.

Its time to wake up, Union. If you don't, this team will be left in the dust of far more ambitious clubs.