Looking back through the first decade of the Philadelphia Union’s history, there aren’t a ton of successes or any trophies to point to but there are a number of players you could consider underdogs in one way or another. Below is a look at a starting XI I came up with of players who embraced the underdog role with the Philadelphia Union.
Goalkeeper - John McCarthy
There are plenty of options here from journeyman Chris Konopka to MLS pool keeper Charlie Lyon and Brian Holt, who was coaching at Eastern University when he was picked up as a third keeper in 2013. It’s hard to pass over John McCarthy though since he is a favorite son from North Philly who worked his way up to MLS via the Rochester Rhinos after going undrafted out of La Salle University and then worked his way back to Inter Miami after spending last season back in the USL with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He was a solid backup — arguably one of the best in the league — filling in for Andre Blake and was also coaching locally back at his alma mater.
Left Back - Ray Gaddis
The left back choice really came down to Ray Gaddis or Fabinho. Both are great guys on and off the field and Union legends who have done a lot for the team despite not being superstars but I gave Gaddis the edge as a left back because he’s really not a left back.
Right Back - Sebastian Le Toux
Speaking of not being an outside back. Remember when Le Toux came in to play right back? While you could argue that Le Toux is underrated in terms of his place in Philly sports history but as Union fans go he is every bit a legend deserving of his spot on the Ring of Honor in the stadium. He’s also a U.S. Open Cup legend for his performances on that stage both with the Union and the Seattle Sounders.
Center Back - Aaron Wheeler
Keeping with the playing out of position theme, Aaron Wheeler played center back for a spell as an experiment. It wasn’t particularly successful, but it’s a fun piece of Union trivia to look back on. Wheeler was an underdog upon arrival from Finland in 2013 after a few years playing in the lower divisions in the U.S. He spent his last two seasons as a pro with the City Islanders in 2016 and 2017.
Center Back - Ken Tribbett
Like John McCarthy, Tribbett played college soccer in Philly (Drexel), didn’t get drafted but worked his way into MLS after playing well in USL. His time with the Union had mixed returns but like McCarthy he also worked his way back to MLS with Nashville SC.
Holding Midfielder - James Chambers
Chambers never got his shot with the first team, but he certainly deserved it and probably would have if not for his international status. Chambers was the Bethlehem Steel, leading the team from its infancy and willing them to their only playoff success. There’s only one James Chambers.
Midfielder - Matt Kassel
Kassel’s biggest claim to fame with the Union is probably injuring Brek Shea in a friendly but he was also a guy who managed to shed his New York Red Bulls past and despite not playing much (only five games) definitely fits the underdog role as someone who earned his spot on the team as a preseason trialist.
Attacking Midfielder - Jimmy McLaughlin
Jimmy’s chances were limited with the first team back in the pre-Steel/Union II days but he’s fought his way back to MLS now twice - first playing for FC Cincinnati in USL and earning a contract in their first MLS season and again after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. A former season ticket holder who fulfilled his dream of signing a homegrown contract with the Union after a season at Colgate, it’s nearly impossible not to root for Jimmy.
Winger - Morgan Langley
While Swarthmore is just up the road from Chester, it’s still a pretty big deal that Morgan Langley was able to earn a roster spot on the Union after playing Division II soccer locally. The Hawaiian took a similar path that Tribbett, Sheanon Williams and a couple others took getting the attention of the Union technical staff playing for the City Islanders. He only ended up making one regular season appearance in the 2011 season before returning to the City Islanders and playing against them in an Open Cup game the following season.
Winger - Danny Cruz
Cruz came to the Union in a trade with D.C. United for Lionard Pajoy and while he didn’t set the world on fire in his time with the team no one could ever question his commitment and dedication to the team and to the fans. He was and continues to be the definition of hard work, reunited with former coach John Hackworth as an assistant coach at Louisville City FC.
Forward - Antoine Hoppenot
The Princeton-educated forward was another one of those players who seemingly came out of nowhere, catching fans and opponents off guard as John Hackworth’s go-to second half sub for four seasons. He never fully achieved the promise of his early game-changing appearances off the bench, but he’s still harassing defenders and getting into it with referees with Louisville City.
Corben Bone, Shavar Thomas, Damani Richards, Don Anding, Brian Brown, Anderson, Kevin Kratz, Toni Ståhl
Who do you have on your Union Underdog XI? Share yours in the comments.