CHESTER, Pa. -- The abrupt finish to the 2011 season still carries with it a bitter taste for the Unions players and coaching staff. On the wrong end of a two-game sweep by the Houston Dynamo in the opening stage of the playoffs, they realized just how far they actually were from being a championship team.
Yet despite the disappointing conclusion to an ultimately successful second season, the playoff loss doesnt mean that major roster changes are coming for the young Union. Instead, the off-season will be more about growth and development than outside additions.
As much as you want me to convince you that we are a championship team right now, we arent, said coach Peter Nowak. Were very close, but we dont have one. We still need to get more understanding of what it takes to be a very good team. The line between being a good team and a great team is very thin, and thats the part we need to take additional steps toward. Its our goal in the off-season to make sure that when we start preseason that we feel like were going to be the group that wins the championship.
Nowak is never shy when talking about trying to add a veteran element to his team via soccers version of free agency in order to solidify certain positions. And with last seasons acquisition of Veljko Paunovic, Carlos Valdes and Faryd Mondragon, hes shown that hes not one to turn away from overseas help, either. According to defender Danny Califf though, while the players understand that, dont expect to see much turnover in personnel.
Were always going to add a piece to the puzzle if there is a possibility that it will help our team, Califf said. Thats the way every professional sport works. But I think were going to improve, even if were going to have the same groupwere going to be better next year. Weve gone through a lot and there was a lot of shakeup last season. There wont be as much shakeup, I dont think. I hope not.
Califfs logic also comes from the fact that the Union reached the preseason goal of 11 wins and a playoff berth. He also has a sense that his talented club will be focused on achieving some unfinished business in the form of playoff performance.
None of the guys in the locker room are satisfied, Califf said. Were stoked that were better than our first year and that we grew and accomplished some things. But I dont think anybody is satisfied with where we are at. We dont play to lose or just get into the playoffs. You play to win and win championships and I dont think anybody will be satisfied until that is done.
However, keeping their current squad together might not be entirely in the Unions hands. With the Montreal Impact joining the MLS for next season, the league will hold yet another expansion draft on Nov. 23. Last season, the Union lost both Shea Salinas and Alejandro Moreno. But unlike the two-team selection of the 2010 Expansion Draft, the Union are able to protect 11 players and will only lose a maximum of one. And with the Impact selecting 10 players from 18 teams in the league, it isnt a given the Union will lose anyone.
I dont think it will be the same as this year, so itll be a different approach, Nowak said of the 2010 expansion draft. Were going to try and keep as much of the group together as much as we can. We have to figure out what the deal is and how we can protect most of our guys and not lose anyone important.
When discussing the Unions 2012 success, not losing anyone important may be the growing teams biggest off-season gain.
E-mail Ryan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org