In just 11 seasons the Union are gearing up to play in their fifth semifinal game. Wait did I just say semifinals and five? New fans may not realize this but while the Union have only played in just 6 MLS Cup playoff games, under Jim Curtin the team has been really good in the U.S Open Cup. That streak looks to continue here in the MLS is Back tournament, with the U looking to nab their first piece of hardware.
Now if this is your first taste of the Philadelphia Union, we have a lot to catch you up on. I mean there are 11 seasons of soccer we need to discuss. So grab the pens and pencils as the history lesson is getting underway.
The U’s first season was in 2010, they played their first few home games in the Linc, under the team’s first manager Piotr Nowak. That season saw the boys in blue earn 31 points with 8 wins. They placed 7th in the conference and did not make the playoffs. Ring of honor member Sebastien Le Toux was the team’s top scorer with 14 goals.
Nowak’s second season was a successful one. The U made the playoffs behind a great backline and another solid performance of club legend Sebastien Le Toux. The Union got knocked out in the first game, but with the club reaching playoffs in just their second-year great things were ahead. Except it would take another 5 seasons for the U to reach the MLS Playoffs. So what happened?
For one Nowak seemed to have lost his mind. Selling his best players, I remember a wonderful day in January 2012 when Le Toux tweeted out about a trial with Bolton. That trial didn’t net him a contract with a Premier League team, but he did end up getting traded to Vancouver for “allocation money.” Now you are probably wondering why I quoted allocation money, well Nowak and the front office really only traded for allocation money, and fans never really knew where that money would be spent. During the season the team would move on from Nowak, it would be years until we learned of all the crazy messed up things Nowak would do during training. John Hackworth would end up guiding the team to their first semifinal game, in the U.S. Open Cup. Jack McInerney would be the team’s top scorer with 8 goals.
Here we are, three seasons in and we have a new team manager, the John Hackworth era begins. Heading into the 2013 season, the Union spent the offseason trying to make up for some mistakes Nowak made. First was bringing back now club legend and fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux. That was such a great December day, I actually remember where I was when I saw the tweet that Le Toux was returning. That month also saw the team trade for Jeff Parke and pick up Conor Casey in the re-entry draft.
The U also shipped out Freddy Adu, who made 35 appearances for the club and scored 7 times. He was shipped out after the team brought former Brazil national team member Jose Kleberson on loan. Kleberson would make 7 starts that season and score once. The team would also get knocked out of the U.S Open cup in the fourth round. Overall Jack McInerney would be the team’s top scorer with 12 goals.
To sum up 2014 in one word: drama. That drama would cause Union fans to scratch their heads multiple times. First, this was the start of many people learning about Nick Sakiewicz. Sakiewicz was the CEO and Operating Partner, however he started getting involved with every soccer operation move. The U would end up having FOUR goal keepers on the squad, and it wasn’t like there was an issue at that position. The U had Zac MacMath, Brian Holt, they drafted Andre Blake in the SuperDraft at first overall. Then after the World Cup Sakiewicz announced the signing of Rais M’Bolhi.
That season would also see the removal of the team’s second team manager; he was replaced with the third and current manager Jim Curtin. It also saw the loan of Maurice Edu to the team. The Union would also reach the finals of the U.S. Open Cup losing to the Seattle Sounders. Le Toux would once again lead the team in scoring with 12 goals.
Drama continued into the 2015 season. Union continued to have four goal keepers with M’Bolhi quickly getting benched early in the season, after a poor game against Sporting Kansas City. After the benching Curtin went on record to say he would never play for the team again. You read that correct, the big former World Cup goalkeeper flamed out in Philly and probably is one of the worst, if not the worst, signings made by the Union.
But the building of the current squad continued, Warren Creavalle was brought into the team in August of that year. The Union once again reached the finals for the second year in a row of the U.S. Open Cup, losing to Sporting Kansas City in penalty kicks. Edu would suffer a groin injury in September of this season that would have him out for the rest of the year. It was also his last first-team game with the team. That season would see newly acquired CJ Sapong become the team’s top scorer with 9 goals.
During this time the supporter group, “The Sons of Ben,” also started to be demonstrated publicly that it was time to sack Sakiewicz. The groups held a protest before a nationally televised game. That protest would also see members carry a coffin towards the stadium. By the end of the season Sakiewicz was bought out and the team started a search for an actual sporting director.
In December 2015 Earnie Stewart was announced as the team’s first sporting director. In just his first season he brought in a few players you will recognize that are still on the team, Ilsinho and the captain Alejandro Bedoya. The offseason also saw a ton of players not get their options picked up like Conor Casey, Danny Cruz and Antoine Hoppenot. Other notable players were traded away like Zach MacMath and club legend Sebastien Le Toux. One thing was clear Stewart was set on a total reset of the team.
The moves would look good for the U, as for the first time in 5 seasons they qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The team however would lose in their game against Toronto FC. The team would also lose in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, once again the game ended in penalty kicks. Newly acquired Chris Pontius lead the team in goals that season with 12.
The year 2017 was a down one for the Union. The team did not qualify for the playoffs and had a disappointing run in the U.S. Open Cup. The real highlight of the season would be the U signing their draft pick of Jack Elliott. Elliott would make 30 appearances that season and score twice. C.J. Sapong would once again be the teams top scorer with 16 goals.
The year 2018 saw the Union sign two homegrown players, defenders Mark McKenzie and Matthew Real both, who are still on the team. The boys in blue would once again have success in the U.S. Open Cup, with the team reaching its third finals in five years. They would go on to lose 3-0 to the Houston Dynamo. The U would also find themselves back in the playoffs but would lose to New York City FC in the knockout round. Fafa Picault and Cory Burke were the top team scourers for the season with 10 goals.
It was also the same year Earnie Stewart would leave his sporting director position to take the new General Manager role for United States Soccer Men’s National Team. So, the U were now searching for a new sporting director. In early August their search ended when current sporting director Ernst Tanner was brought in. Since his arrival the U have seen their identity on the field change to more of an attack.
With many eyes on Tanner’s first offseason November 2018 would see 7 players leave the club because their contract options were declined, or they were not offered a new one. The changes didn’t stop there as he would trade Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers. He also would bring in Sergio Santos, Aurelien Collin, Kai Wagner and make a homegrown signing by inking Matt Freese to a contract.
The year 2019 would see the Union perform poorly in the U.S. Open cup with a 2-1 loss to D.C. United. Besides the Open Cup performance, the U did a pretty good job in league play. Finishing third in the conference and fifth overall. The boys in blue in their 10th season would also finally win their first playoff game. They would go on to the conference semifinals, where they would lose 2-0 to Atlanta United. Kacper Przybylko would score 15 goals on the season, setting a new club record.
Now here we are 2020, a season that has seen plenty of late-night kickoffs, a pandemic that has shifted the league and some other interesting headlines. The Union’s home park now has a new name, the stadium is going through naming rights just like they went through team managers, and a new scoreboard. The U also have yet to play a game Infront of their home crowd, after opening the season with two road games. Since losing 2-0 in Texas, the boys in blue have gone 6 games without a loss.
There you have it, 11 seasons of the Union’s up and downs in less than 2,000 words. Obviously, there is a lot of information packed within this post. But now you have a basis of what it is like to be a Philly fan and can act like you have been following the team since their early days in Chester. Before the training grounds were created and lot B helped to create a memorable weather delay because of heavy rain, wind and Dust.
Now, all of the Union fans lets share our high and low points of being a fan in the comments section. That way we can add more stories our newest brothers and sisters can bask in the knowledge of the blue and gold.