This is the first in a series reviewing the 2016 Philadelphia Union season.
The date is May 17, 2015. The Philadelphia Union are set to play DC United at PPL Park in Chester, PA. The Sons of Ben do something they’ve never done before: They hold a protest march to express their displeasure with Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. Sakiewicz had been responsible for some questionable personnel decisions, with the most infamous being the signing of Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli on to a team that already had 2 first round SuperDraft picks at that position. Those personnel moves, combined with years of underachieving play by the Union, made him perhaps the most unpopular sports executive at the time (well, maybe not quite, considering the Phillies had Ruben Amaro, Jr. in their front office then, but that’s setting the bar low). The Sons of Ben wanted Sakiewicz out.
The Sons of Ben and the rest of the Union faithful got their wish on October 2, 2015, when Sakiewicz was sacked by majority owner Jay Sugarman. There was no plan yet on who would replace him.
Now let’s forward to October 25, 2015. On that date, the Union beat Orlando City SC for their tenth win of the season, giving them 37 points to end the regular season. That was good for ninth place in the standings and the fourth year in a row where they don’t make the playoffs. Considering 60% of the teams make the playoffs in Major League Soccer, this is quite a dubious accomplishment. Even when they played well, they’d find a way to lose. That led Union fans to coin a phrase: “That’s so Union.”
However, Union fans weren’t in complete despair. Even though the U sat next to the bottom of the table, a new era was about to begin.
That era officially began the very next day — October 26, 2015 — when we found out who was the man chosen to get the team back on course. The Union announced the hiring of Earnie Stewart, the Technical Director of AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie. Stewart was already familiar to many Union fans from his playing career where he earned 101 caps with the US Men’s National Team. The announcement said he would start the job at the start of the new year, however Stewart managed to start a month early.
A Sporting Director who had succeeded at a top division in European soccer was taking over. AZ Alkmaar is not a big money team, but they had made it into the Europa League six straight times under Stewart’s direction. Union fans had reason to be excited again. Despair had given away to hope as the calendar turned to 2016.
NEXT: Revamping the roster