Cover photo: Paul Rudderow
Well, you’ve wasted another perfectly good year reading the Philly Soccer Page. Much as we’ve done in previous years, some of the PSP crew looked back to determine the best there was from the year in soccer in the City of Brotherly Love and its picturesque surroundings. Here’s what we got.
Men’s player of the year
Amobi Okugo. (Click to read full post.)
Women’s player of the year
Sinead Farrelly. (Click to read full post.)
Amateur player of the year
Zack Steffen. (Click to read full post.)
Coach of the year
Tim Oswald. (Click to read full post.) After being named PSP’s coach of the year last week, Oswald was also named NSCAA coach of the year.
Team of the year
Lehigh Valley United. They won the U-19 national championship in July with a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire Academy in the 78th McGuire Cup. In doing so, Lehigh Valley joined a pretty cool collection of previous winners from the region, including Lighthouse (5 titles), FC Delco (3 titles) and Mercerville SC of Trenton (1 title). Their path to the championship included three comeback wins in the regionals, which only makes their title run that much more impressive.
Honorable mention: Holy Ghost Prep won a Pennsylvania state title. Not bad at all.
Newcomer of the year
Conor Casey. The veteran resurrected his career and carried the Union’s offense for a good chunk of the season.
Honorable mention: Jeff Parke. He slid seamlessly into one of the league’s better back lines and looks set to be there for a long time.
Most underrated player of the year
Sheanon Williams. He had seemed forgotten entering the season, coming off the heels of an injury-plagued 2012 that also saw him play entirely too much center back. Caleb Porter had buried him on the Olympic team’s bench. People left him out of discussions about best right backs in the league. Not anymore. He tied the league record for most assists by a defender. Soccer America even listed him as the top MLS right back in 2013. Still, he seems overlooked. Jurgen Klinsmann opts for Brad Evans, who isn’t even a true right back, over Williams. But Williams can flat out play, and he is an intense competitor.
Executive of the year
We can’t give the award to Reading United’s Art Auchenbach every year, can we?
We have a high regard for how Auchenbach runs Reading United, but nothing really jumped out about the team in 2013. After all, while other professional and semipro team executives were losing the confidence of their fans or botching the team’s historic opportunity to host a massive U.S. Open Cup match, Reading United was producing the same old thing: Consistently good quality of play on the field (including a terrific US Open Cup run), well-run club off the field (the team picked up this year’s PDL Communications Award), and what seemed to be a fairly seamless transition to a new head coach (David Castellanos) at year’s end.
Wait. Consistency? Quality? Minimal drama off the field? Enjoyable team to watch? No major management errors? Oh. Well then. Auchenbach is PSP’s executive of the year for the second straight year.
Match of the year
The NCAA Division III national championship game featured two teams from the Philadelphia region: Messiah, the perennial small school powerhouse from the Harrisburg area, and Rutgers-Camden, coming off a miraculous win to make the title game. Then the match goes into overtime. Finally, Messiah wins it 2-1 in double overtime with a 104th minute goal.
Goal of the year
This was the unbelievable overtime goal from Keegan Balle in the national semifinals that got Rutgers-Camden into the title game.
The I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that play of the year
Kleberson’s game-winning goal against Toronto. Because none of us could believe he did it.
Best personnel move
Philadelphia Union’s acquisition of Conor Casey in the MLS Re-Entry Draft. Union manager John Hackworth did his homework on this one, and secured a player who reestablished himself as one of the league’s top target forwards, and gave up nothing other than a standard salary for a good starting player.
Worst personnel move
The Union’s failure to reacquire Danny Califf. Califf should still be playing professional soccer. Certainly, John Hackworth thinks so. The Union had the chance to bring Califf back and didn’t. Instead, Califf grew fed up with the ridiculous cycle he was trapped in after he spent a little more than a year bouncing through the three most dysfunctional clubs in MLS. (Philadelphia may no longer be one of those three teams, but they certainly were when Peter Nowak traded Califf.) Califf chose to retire so that he could stabilize his family and bring them back to their adopted home of Philadelphia. Today, the former national team center back is just 33 years old, lives 20 minutes from PPL Park, and remains loved by fans and respected by Union players. Meanwhile, the Union still have no center back depth whatsoever.
Quote of the year
Anything related to “Philly tough.” Once Hackworth uttered this phrase about his players, Philly fans unleashed a mix of humor, bile, sarcasm and appreciation, sometimes all at once.
Rival of the year
Mike Petke. Petke seems like just the sort of guy Philadelphia fans would love if he was one of theirs. Good on him for helping transform the New York Red Bulls into a competitive team. It only makes the Philadelphia–New York rivalry better.
Controversy of the year
The Union midfield. Keon Daniel played attacking midfield without attacking. Somehow, Roger Torres and Kleberson couldn’t get off the bench. The Farfan twins were second choice to Danny Cruz, who did little to justify Hackworth’s starting him in over 30 games. Union fans spent the season alternately mystified, furious, frustrated and resigned over Hackworth’s midfield selections. By season’s end, every creative Union midfielder had departed.
Disappointment of the year
The Union midfield. A midfield boasting Roger Torres and the Farfan twins in attack looked like fun. Instead, they’re all gone.
Local soccer event of the year
The opening of the YSC Academy. Since debuting in 2010, the Union have formed innovative developmental partnerships with Harrisburg City Islanders, Reading United, and local youth clubs through a player development partnership program. While 2013 saw the league expand on the Union’s relationship with Harrisburg through the implementation of a league-wide program of affiliation with USL PRO clubs, the Union took their youth development program to the next level through a partnership with YSC Sports and opened the YSC Academy in September. It’s an actual school. Youth players take classes there and then focus on soccer. This is a big development for American sports.
Saddest local soccer story of the year
The death of Jessie Miele. Jessie was a passionate Union fan, along with her husband, Drew, with both joining in as members of the Corner Creeps and Sons of Ben. Jessie developed complications during the birth of the couple’s child, Natas, and subsequently died. Her sudden death at what should have been a joyous moment was crushing. It was a sad, sad day when we learned about Jessie. (If you want to donate to a fund to help support the family, click here.)
Bloopers of the year
Best Union hair
Jeff Parke. That’s how you pull off the long hair thing.
Worst Union hair
Amobi Okugo. His brief flirtation with a semi-high top fade could have prompted a telephone call from Kid and Play. Lucky for Okugo, he was the Union’s best player last season, because you can’t pull that off unless … unless … OK, there is no caveat here. It can’t be pulled off anymore.
Honorable mention: Aaron Wheeler’s bun. Wasn’t there anyone around to give him lessons on tying a ponytail? Wheeler went from Thor to Betty Crocker when he walked on the field.
Best local addition to the Philly soccer scene
Media FC. Good shop for soccer gear, and you can watch a game there. Brilliant!
Preseason player of the year
Roger Torres. Great preseason. Looked ready to break into the lineup. And then … you know the rest.
PSP’s readers, as usual. You provide good insights, useful feedback, and a recognition that people can agree to disagree in a civil manner. Skeptical outsiders might not think this possible in a sports town like Philadelphia, but you routinely show that intelligent discourse on sports without regular flame wars is in fact possible. We wouldn’t bother keeping this site up if our readers weren’t worth it, and you are. Thanks for another good year. We’ll see you in 2014. Happy new year.