Annual Awards

The best of 2014

Cover photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Yes, you’ve wasted another perfectly good year reading the Philly Soccer Page.

That means it’s time to hand out PSP’s annual awards, just like we do every year. We’ve been at this for five years. Yep, five years. Wow.

Let’s dive in.

Men’s player of the year
Dan Gargan

Gargan was a unanimous PSP pick for men’s player of the year. (Photo courtesy of LA Galaxy)

Dan Gargan. There may be no player who personifies the best intangible qualities of a Philly player like Dan Gargan. Here’s a guy who has bounced around MLS, even retiring once, only to continually force his way into starting lineups and prove himself a valuable player to every team he joins. This year, it was the Los Angeles Galaxy, who the former Chestnut Hill Academy player effectively joined as a preseason trialist. When injuries struck his club, he stepped in as a starting right back, recording five assists and helping stabilize a back line on what became a championship team. He’s long been an interesting figure off the field due to his artistic puruits and willingness to be the sort of guy who flips the bird to the Timbers Army. Now he’s an MLS champ who played a significant role in his team earning that title.

And his friends aren’t causing trouble at PPL Park anymore either.

Women’s player of the year

Carli Lloyd. Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach may claim the headlines, but this may be the year that Carli Lloyd made the leap to become the best player on the U.S. women’s national team. The center midfielder led the team in goals scored in 2014 and continued to play a key role as a central fulcrum for the attack. At 32 years old, the Delran native is peaking at just the right time, with next year’s World Cup looking like quite the stage.

Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Amateur player of the year
Steffen, with the Union Academy. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union.)

Steffen, with the Union Academy. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union.)

Zack Steffen. What a two-year run the Downingtown native has had. He was named the top defensive player at the 2013 College Cup while playing for the University of Maryland in front of his hometown fans at PPL Park. This year, he was just as good, and he turned it into a professional contract with SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga. Many locals hoped Steffen, a Philadelphia Union academy product, would sign a professional contract with the Union. If that was ever a chance, it probably went out the window when the team’s University of Maryland goalkeeper pipeline left with former Union and Maryland goalkeepers coach Rob Vartughian.

Honorable mention: Darius Madison, of the University of Virginia, La Salle High School and Philadelphia Union Academy.

Coach of the year

Ben Olsen. What? He’s not local? Au contraire! If you grow up in Pennsylvania and your brother plays pickup soccer in Philly with the PSP crew, you’re local enough for us. D.C. United’s turnaround was remarkable.

Honorable mention: Bill Becher. How many thought Harrisburg City Islanders would reach the USL PRO final until they were actually there?

Team of the year

Central Bucks High School West’s girls soccer team. You might call them unconventional, but you also have to call them state champs. Their 2-1 victory over Canon-McMillan in the PIAA Class AAA title game came about thanks to coach Jorge Rodriguez’s uncommon tactic of sending goalkeeper Grace Bendon to midfield for free kicks. Two of those free kicks led to goals — and the title.

Honorable mention: Vereinigung Erzgebirge. The local amateur club plays in the United Soccer League (Philadelphia’s version, not the one affiliated with MLS) and won its third straight Eastern Pennsylvania Amateur Cup this month.

Executive of the year

None. Nobody earned it.

(Caveat: If we give it to Reading United’s Art Auchenbach every year, then what’s the point? So we didn’t consider him this year. Sorry, Art. But if the NBA could do it to Michael Jordan, we can do it to you. Take heart in that comparison.)

Morgan Langley has been playing well and under the radar for years. (Photo courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders.)

Morgan Langley has been playing well and under the radar for years. (Photo courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders.)

Underrated player of the year

Morgan Langley. The Harrisburg midfielder and former Swarthmore College player got a cup of coffee with Philadelphia Union in MLS, but he’s been in USL PRO since then. Why? He continues to be one of USL PRO’s better midfielders. Here’s to hoping he gets another shot in MLS, because he appears to deserve it.

Match of the year

The U.S. Open Cup final. Philadelphia Union didn’t just make it to their first final. They hosted it. And nearly won it. Had Vincent Nogueira’s late game shot been a few inches in the right direction, 2014 would have felt like a different season. Instead, an agonizing kidney punch of an overtime loss ended the Union’s midseason hot streak and began the death spiral that dropped them out of the playoffs. Even so, it was a match to remember.

Photo by Earl Gardner

The Union suffered a crushing loss in the U.S. Open Cup final after coming so close to winning it. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Goal of the year

There were a few good contenders for this one, so we’ll let you appreciate them all.

Nogueira’s screamer

Great buildup leads to Casey goal

Fantastic counterattack vs. Vancouver

Wenger’s stunning left-footer

The I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that play of the year
  1. Zac MacMath’s two PK saves in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Dallas. Since we can’t find the video of the dramatic stops that sent the Union to the final, we’ll link you to MacMath’s similarly remarkable penalty kick-stopping prowess earlier in the season. 
  2. Mbolhi’s clearance vs. Chicago. Sadly, we can find the link for this play. We don’t want to rub salt in the wound any further, so we’ll force you to actively click on that link if you want to watch the play, rather than post the video here.
Photo by Earl Gardner

Vincent Nogueira emerged as one of the best midfielders in MLS in 2014. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Best personnel move of the year

The signing of Vincent Nogueira. Nogueira became one of the league’s best midfielders upon joining the Union. Yes, they had to learn gradually that he was far more comfortable in a holding midfield role, but that doesn’t diminish his performance. Nobody in MLS can switch fields like Nogueira. If he stays healthy, he should be an all-star in 2015, by which point everyone will know his name.

Honorable mention: The signing of Cristian Maidana. It took Maidana longer to find his footing, but once he did, he was worth every penny.

Worst personnel move of the year

The signing of Rais Mbolhi. For so many reasons. Overpaid. A third starting-quality goalkeeper when what you needed was a striker. Damaging to team chemistry to elevate a guy to the starting lineup without competition, particularly when the incumbent was finally coming into his own (see PKs, above). Bloated transfer free for a goalkeeper. The list goes on. If the Union cut ties with Mbolhi in 2015, it will only compound just how bad a move this actually was. And it’s not even Mbolhi’s fault, really. Nobody is calling him a bad player. A great 2015 season will make this piece of business look better — a bit.

(And note that this move was bad enough that none of the PSP crew suggested the Amobi Okugo trade for this award, even though that would probably get the nod in any other year.)

Quote of the year

“I’m personally very excited because now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, in my opinion.” — Nick Sakiewicz, Union chief executive.

Just like that, the Union became a punchline in MLS again. To this day, you can still read MLSsoccer.com stories on random topics and find jokes about the Union signing goalkeepers in the comments sections. The worst part? They’re still kind of funny.

Rival of the year

Ben Olsen. Olsen took D.C. United from worst to first in a historic turnaround after a historically bad year.

Controversy of the year

Rais Mbolhi’s signing and elevation to starter without competition. See above. And this photo.

Rais Mbolhi's reaction after surrendering the game-tying goal against Chicago says it all. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Rais Mbolhi’s reaction after surrendering the game-tying goal against Chicago says it all. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Disappointment of the year

Philadelphia Union. Most pegged the Union as a playoff team. It wasn’t just us or Union fans either. MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle (one of the best American soccer analysts), for example, often called this one of the league’s most talented teams. At the very least, they had one of the most talented starting lineups. But the season ended the same way that most Union seasons have ended: Out of the playoffs. And the way it ended was classic Philly sports. The Union got fans’ hopes up just enough during their improbably good summer run to then dash them again with a late season collapse, with the Chicago and Columbus kidney punches at the end sending the team out of the playoffs.

Pleasant surprise of the year

We’ll go with two of them here.

Andrew Wenger, target winger. When the Union traded Jack McInerney for Wenger straight up, most were surprised. Then Jim Curtin moved Wenger to left winger, and Wenger suddenly blossomed into the player that everyone had been waiting for since he was the top overall pick in the 2012 draft. He’s a smart, hard worker who is fun to watch on the field, and he looks like he’ll be part of the team’s nucleus for years to come. (That last part was a joke. Sarcasm. Get it? Because nobody looks that way! Because they’re all expendable! Because … OK, deep breaths.)

Jay Sugarman’s post-season press conference. The Union’s principal owner finally came out from behind the scenes. Nobody expected much. We weren’t even sure he actually paid attention to the team. Instead, he produced a remarkably thoughtful, pragmatic, and frank press event that may have subtly changed the Union’s direction and instilled a bit of hope for this beleaguered franchise. (If you missed it, it’s still worth watching. Click here to watch it or read the transcript.)

Local soccer event of the year

CONCACAF women’s championship at PPL Park. Any time you get to host the semifinals and final of a continental championship, that’s a great event. This was no exception.

USA-Costa Rica, in the CONCACAF women's championship final.

USA-Costa Rica, in the CONCACAF women’s championship final.

Honorable mention: The Kelly Cup. The Casa Soccer League hosted this tournament’s final at PPL Park this summer. The tourney is named after the late Shane Kelly, a one-time Casa player and first division commissioner and friend of ours at PSP who was murdered in Fishtown back in 2011. This could have been the event of the year if the Union had let more fans in the stadium to watch it.

Worst 5 minutes of the year

The Columbus collapse. Up 2-0 with the playoffs on the line, the Union shipped three goals to Columbus in rapid succession to end their playoff hopes. It was so bad Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter said in his postgame press conference, “I feel bad for Philadelphia. They’re a better team than that. I felt that they wilted after that second one. And, you know, visions of last week [when the Union blew the lead to draw with Chicago after the Mbolhi gaffe] started coming back on them. And the season in general. I feel bad for them. Like I said, they’re a better team than that.”

Most damaging questionable penalty call of the year

The PK against Vancouver. The Union had come back from 2-0 to go up 3-2 in what shaped up to be an absolutely fantastic game back in June. Then a questionable 82nd minute penalty gave Vancouver an equalizer, and the game ended a draw. Had that penalty not been called and the Union walked out with a win, John Hackworth almost certainly would not have been fired as manager during the June break.

Foreshadowing moment of the year

The late goal conceded against Portland in stoppage time in the season opener. Everyone thought that was a one-off after a very good performance by the Union. Little did we know that moments like this would be repeated throughout the year.

Farewell of the year

And not in a good way.

Alas, Amobi. We knew thee well. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Alas, Amobi. We knew thee well. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Worst loss of the year

RIP, Eric Shertz.

shertz4

No loss on the field compares to the sudden passing of Eric Shertz. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Best reader’s description of what it is to be a Philadelphia fan

This comment from one of PSP’s best commenters, Joel, really resonates. It was in response to a column about how being a Philadelphia sports fan is like volunteering to get kicked in the nuts repeatedly.

“Dan your article is why the movie Rocky is so important to who we are and how the rest of the country sees us. Without fail a true Philadelphian will see the left hook, step in to absorb it and then keep coming forward. Relentlessly pressing and absorbing the blows year after year for love of the game and landing our shots to the body to make the tongue stick out like Apollo Creed. I comment about the Philadelphia Pathos often in my writing on this blog because it is distinctly what separates us from other areas. Yes we know failure. Yes we know the shoe will drop. Yes we know bullshit and hacks. Yes we are neurotic to a fault but we are dead loyal to the cause and without fail will keep getting up and fighting landing body blows till you can’t breath- often times to stand and watch the other guy raise his arms in victory. But one thing I am certain of– If you ask anyone in this country who they’d want on the wall or in the hole when shit hits the fan- pun intended, the answer would be a native Philadelphian.”

Photo by Earl Gardner

Union fans cheer on their team during the U.S. Open Cup final. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

That comment, dear readers, sums up the best of 2014. You’re still there, and you still care.

We wouldn’t keep publishing The Philly Soccer Page if not for our great readers. PSP remains all-volunteer. We remain too disinterested in profits to try to actually turn one, so the cost comes out of our pockets. We try (and sometimes fail) to find the time. This was the year we considered closing up shop due to the way life was taking us all in different directions, but we kept going because we truly enjoy this community that all of you have created with us.

This year, two PSP members (Jeremy and me) welcomed their first babies. One got engaged (Eli). One moved halfway across the world (me). Adam’s still stuck in Texas. Mike went under the knife and on some fantastic hikes. (Yes, you should absolutely click that link.) Ed continued the herculean task of holding down the PSP fort. Fortunately, a couple of new contributors (Peter Andrews, Kevin Kinkead, and Davis Russell) signed on to help keep this ship afloat with great MLS content, and the solid PSP crew of Josh Trott, Bob McBride, Greg Orlandini, Earl Reed, Daniel Gajdamowicz, Paul Rudderow, and the Superstar himself, Earl Gardner, continued their great, reliable work, as did this season’s group of Fans’ View writers, Scott Ellis, Seth Finck, Staci Klemmer, and Scott Pugh.

To think, this all started back in 2009 because a bunch of us were playing Philly’s Casa Soccer League. (I’ll tell the full story some day, I swear!) Those grass roots proved to be deep roots.

Thanks for watering those roots and helping make this publication worth creating. Happy new year.

30 Comments

  1. “willingness to be the sort of guy who flips the bird to the Timbers Army.”

    — Hadn’t heard about this. Give LA whatever they want and bring this guy home!

  2. i agee Carli Lloyd is the best player on the USWNT and she was actually First in goals scored she had 15 and Abby Wambach was second with 14

  3. Dan, don’t get it twisted. Those of us that are loyal and regular PSP readers come back day after day not just because we love the U. It’s because all of you contributors do a damn fine job. We get the facts here and we get them presented with an obvious love for both the Union and the game itself. Thanks to PSP for giving this addict his regular Union fix. Please continue to resist the urge to close up shop. We need you and certainly appreciate all your hard work. Best wishes to all for a Happy and Healthy New Year. As for me, 2015 will be happy as long as it includes PSP.

  4. Great to have this site.
    .
    Y’all get better each year!
    .
    Thank you and happy new years!

  5. Please,Please,Please resist the urge! This site is a remarkable treasure that we can not lose. How can those of us that have no talent as writers be of help to the site?

    • Hmmm. Good question. We’ll have to think on that. There must be ways.

    • Share the site with others. If you use Facebook, link to articles and recommend them to your friends who like soccer.
      .
      Continue to comment. The articles here, of course, are wonderful. But a big part of what keeps me coming back is the thoughtful comments. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes angry, but just about always worth the read.
      .
      So there’s two ways.

  6. I can’t thank you, the PSP staff and contributors, enough for continuing this worthwhile project.

    If needed, I would sincerely donate an annual or monthly fee to sustain the page. I expect many of my fellow readers might feel the same way, a la Wikipedia.

    Just a thought.

    Keep Doopin’

    Gobbler

    • Really?

      Honestly, I’m not sure we ever thought to ask. I’ll talk with Ed about it. (He’ll probably yell at me for even considering it!) But I’m a fan of that sort of thing. Make it sustainable. Make it last.

      Thank you for offering. It’s definitely really nice of you guys (I see the +1!) to do so.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Shut up, Dan! 😉

      • ROFLgobbler says:

        Absolutely. Like others have mentioned, this site is a valuable piece of the fan experience. Other engrained sports have blogs, fan sites, and independent coverage that fuels fans passion for the team between games or seasons.

        PSP is at the forefront of this coverage and is worth sustaining. It’s only right that we assist in carrying the mantel.

        Dan, shoot me an email if youd like to chat further. I have some ideas to execute this if PSP are interested.

        Gobbler

  7. Love the site. Love the conversation in these comments. Happy New Year and a less soul-crushing 2015 season to all!

  8. Fan group of the year: Shirtless Crew

  9. This blog has been a revelation and breath of fresh air. Whatever it takes keep it afloat. Congrats to all of you ushering in new lives, directions and children.
    .
    In closing for the year 2014….being an MLS punchline, as noted above in the article, is the worst insult of all. The pits. Here is to somehow finding a way to change that. Steadfastly. Urgently.
    .
    Urgently.
    .
    Here is to: A Vision. A Plan. A Philosophy.

  10. This site is one of my favorite things about being a Union fan. It’s truly unique and long may it continue. Love you guys, can’t wait to see most of you in Lot A in a few months!

  11. UnitedPenn13 says:

    Dan, Thank you and the rest of the PSP contributors for another great year of reporting, editorials, and analysis of all things Union. I make infrequent comments but visit the site multiple times during the day, every day and enjoy the reports and the comments from everyone. My “name”, UnitedPenn13 refers to the soccer club I played for back in the 70’s and my number. The club was in Harleysville, Montgomery county. I’m sorry to say it no longer exists. But that should give you an idea how long I have been a soccer fan. Keep up the good work. Here’s to a successful 2015 season. DOOP!

  12. old soccer coach says:

    I echo the appreciation expressed earlier by prior commentators and reinforce the admonition to resist the urge to fold up shop. When I began my association with this game forty odd years ago, my qualification was that I could walk and chew gum at the same time. You continue my four decade quest to educate myself in better understanding that which unfolds before my eyes. Much obliged and many thanks!

  13. Always love checking the site through the day. Happy New Years to PSP and all the readers. Hopefully we’ll having exciting transfer rumors to follow this month.

  14. james Lockerbie says:

    Thank you Psp staff for keeping this site going. I enjoy reading the articles and love reading the comments under them. I want to thank Ed and Dan for helping me with my fan’s view articles. I really like sharing my thoughts on the team and wait cautiously for the reactions of my fellow readers.

    `
    I encourage everyone to submit a Fan’s view Dan and Ed are wonderful to work with, if anyone hasn’t already noticed they do edit the work before it’s published

  15. John Osborn says:

    I still love when Gargan was playing for the Quakes how he made the Sounders’ Alonso blow his cool after saying Philly Cheesesteaks are better than Cuban Sandwiches.

    http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2013/07/15/dan-gargan-follows-earthquakes-1-0-victory-over-sounders-twitter-smack-talk-

  16. Thanks for all the great comments everyone. It’s really nice of you, and believe it or not, as silly as it might seem, this sort of thing helps keep the motivation going. 🙂

  17. The Little Fish says:

    I echo everyone’s comments. I love the articles and comments on this site. You guys do a great job. Thank you for putting in the time . It is very much appreciated…!!!

  18. Thank you PSP for not shutting down. One reason I love this site is the passion and honesty come right off the…page…phone… computer screen.I love that it’s a volunteer site so no outside influence taints the contents…. If you need to make ends meet…we your readers would gladly contribute. Your people are entertaining to read and just great all around good people. I’ll use this to say a” thanks man !” To Ed. He spoke with me several times in lotA,and gifted me a cool bucket hat. He would not take any money for it and just smiled and said “Enjoy”. So I tell people about the site all the time. The very best to all in 2015!!! Thanks to the staff and comenters to this site for an enjoyable year!!!

  19. Thank you, Ed and Dan for giving me the opportunity to write a little for the site. I’m even more thankful for the amazing contributions of everyone else – writers and comment-ers alike. I never fail to find some interesting idea or comic relief from the site. It makes being a Union fan that much more enjoyable. The PSP is truly a community with some of the most thoughtful soccer commentary anywhere around. Kudos to all who visit.

  20. Great site; great summary of 2014!!

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