Philadelphia Union: Analyzing Why the Sophomores Are Playoff Bound

David CoyneContributor IOctober 16, 2011

Philadelphia Union: Analyzing Why the Sophomores Are Playoff Bound

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    In their sophomore season, the Philadelphia Union are playoff bound for the first time since their inception.

    With the addition of several veterans and international players, the Philadelphia Union’s roster was hardly the same as last year. So far, this has been an exciting season; players have come and gone, been hot and cold, and as the season is coming to an end, it appears as though the team is starting to get hot just in time for the playoffs. The following are what I believe were the most important factors in the Union’s first trip to the postseason.

Faryd Mondragon

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    The acquisition of Mondragon was the most important acquisition of the 2011 season by far; the former FC Köln keeper has been nothing short of brilliant for the Union this season.

    In 2010, the Union’s starting goalkeeper, Chris Seitz, registered a total of zero shutouts while giving up an average of 1.80 goals per match!

    These numbers have significantly improved with Mondragon in goal; he has seven shutouts and an average of 1.06 goals allowed per match so far this season, nearly one goal less per game. Through the first half of the 2011 season, the Union’s attacking chemistry was completely off; if it were not for Faryd, the Union would absolutely not be playoff bound.  

Calros Valdez, Sheanon Williams & the Defense

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    As noted in the previous slide, the Union’s goalkeeping numbers have been vastly improved this season and while I can not say enough about the play of Mondragon, it would be unrealistic to propose he did it all by himself.

    The truth is that Philadelphia’s back line was greatly improved with the additions of Carlos Valdez and Sheanon Williams. The defensive line has been playing with much better chemistry throughout the season, and it shows. In 2010, the Union allowed 147 shots on goal, in 2011, that figure has dropped roughly 33 percent, to 99 shots allowed so far in 2011 (with one match left to play). It is not hard to imagine that this statistical improvement creates real results in the Union’s record. The improved defense were a major catalyst for their current standings.

Sebastien Le Toux

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    Sebastien Le Toux was a very large piece of the offensive puzzle last year, tallying 14 goals (.5 per match) and 11 assists! It cannot be understated how important his aggressive style of play is for creating scoring chances for himself and the rest of the team.

    Despite his success in 2010, Le Toux had trouble finding the net in the beginning of the season; there were reports of an ankle injury during the preseason, and while I can only speculate that he was not fully healthy, his poor touch and finishing during the first few months of play did nothing to calm that speculation. However, lately Le Toux has regained his stellar form; he currently has 11 goals and nine assists this season. He was even named the MLS Player of the Month in September, scoring seven goals in six matches; without his offensive production in the last two months it would be hard to imagine the Union making the playoffs.

Departure of Carlos Ruiz

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    This is an argument that is sure to cause controversy between Union fans; you either love or loathe El Pescadito—there is no in between. Ruiz has a very long and successful history in MLS, earning the Golden Boot in both 2002 and 2003. The Union brought him in to add to their already dynamic attacking front; however, it is my contention that Ruiz did little to help the team create scoring opportunities and because of his style of play, the entire offense suffered. Although, at the time he was the team’s leading scorer, I believe the team as a whole vastly improved when he departed.

Zack MacMath

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    There can not be a strong enough case made for how important rookie Zack MacMath’s role was in the Union’s playoff run.

    He filled in admirably for the injured Mondragon in the thick of the playoff race, and in his seven starts the Union were unbeaten with three wins and three shutouts. Despite a rocky first match, MacMath gained composure and allowed only 1.07 goals per match during his starting stint, a number that is ironically almost identical to Mondragon’s. If this was any indication of things to come, it looks as though the Union have found themselves a very capable young goalkeeper for the future.

Production off the Bench

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    Philadelphia has a wealth of young talent that they are developing for larger roles in the future.

    Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney and homegrown player Zach Pfeffer all look poised to be future stars in the league. While we have not seen very much from Pfeffer, what we have seen has been very encouraging; the 16-year-old has looked very comfortable on the pitch this season. The other three have seen significant time off the bench this season, and all have shown flashes of brilliance; it is my belief that all three will play a major role in the very near future. If it were not for the solid play off the bench, the Union might be in a completely different position.