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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hackworth post-NYRB press conference

Some video before I call it a night. The first minute and change of a rather incensed John Hackworth at the Union's 2-1 loss to New York today.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

NYRB 2-1 Union: Post match analysis

For a game that started out quite dull, the Union’s 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls Saturday certainly livened up late. Once again that old adage about a goal opening things up proved true, and that’s exactly what Dax McCarty’s opener in the 55th minute did.

So beyond the nuts-and-bolts gamer and some notes, a few stray observations from the game:

One moment of class by New York's Thierry Henry, left,
undid a day's worth of good defending from Sheanon Williams
and his Union teammates Saturday
in a 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls. (Courtesy of Philadelphia Union)

- It was the focal point of the postgame press conference, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t see the foul John Hackworth thought should’ve stopped the build-up to Thierry Henry’s game-winning goal. Neither did anyone else in the press conference, it seemed. And the replay of the goal on starts with the referee appearing to wave on play after some kind of infraction. Let’s just say it was a physical game all around; one physical collision doesn’t really stand out.

- I take that back: Conor Casey’s physical play stands out. Apparently he has a thing with tall central defenders with shaved heads; he tussled with Sporting Kansas City’s Aurelian Collin in the opener and Jamison Olave today. And then he undercut goalkeeper Luis Robles late to earn a yellow card. Physical.

- Casey also did a bit of scoring, getting the Union’s only goal. His emergence – and return to health, first and foremost – gives the Union another striking option. How to fit him in with Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux and super sub Antoine Hoppenot is a complicated puzzle.
Read more »

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NYRB-Union: Lineups and pre-game

Official lineups:
New York Red Bulls (0-2-2, 2 points)
Cahill (c)
Bench: Castano, Miller, Digao, Sam, Bover, Akpan, Henry

 Philadelphia Union (2-1-0, 6 points)
Le Toux-McInerney
Bench: Konopka, Torres, Fernandes, Daniel, Casey, Hoppenot, Jordan

The talking points:
Not many shocks from the Red Bulls. Fabian Espindola was widely expected to be out, and Thierry Henry's fitness was a serious doubt. He starts from the bench, as does much-maligned defender Roy Miller and newly-acquired striker Andre Akpan. If Peguy Luyindula and Tim Cahill don't produce in attack, expect the hook to be quick. Thomas Holgersson and Jamison Olave get another game to gel in defense. Expect Dax McCarty to do the dirty work in the midfield. Juninho will have to get forward and pull the strings of the the attack.
For the Union, few surprises. The same backline is trotted out again for the fourth time in as many games (fifth if you include the Pumas friendly). Danny Cruz is recovered from his broken nose. It could be a very narrow formation if Michael Farfan sits off the shoulders of the strikers. Sebastien Le Toux and Jack McInerney unsurprisingly pair up top again, with Conor Casey on the bench. Leo Fernandes makes the bench as does Greg Jordan, the only defender on the bench, despite being loaned to Harrisburg earlier this week.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hackworth presser odds and ends looking toward NYRB

The Union haven't had much success in their history against New York, as detailed here. The numbers aren't pretty: 2-6-0 all-time, 0-4 at Red Bull Arena and 0-3 a season ago.

But times have changed. The Union (2-1-0, 6 points) are riding high and have had two weeks to prepare for their Eastern Conference rivals. The Red Bulls (0-2-2, 4 points) are still looking for the first win in the Mike Petke era.

Former Union player and current New York forward Josue Martinez,
here battling with Montreal captain Davy Arnaud last week,
could find himself starting against the Union this week
thanks to an injury-depleted Red Bulls frontline.

They've had their troubles defensively, allowing six goals in four matches, albeit three of them away from home. Next to Jamison Olave, an acquisition from Real Salt Lake last year, there's been a giant question mark in central defense (though Olave did have an own goal against Portland in the opener). Markus Holgersson, the occasionally disastrous, never boring Roy Miller and natural right back Heath Pearce have all deputized centrally.

But the real opportunity this week for the Union may be in the injuries the Red Bulls are suffering. Theirry Henry suffered an MCL strain March 16 and has only recently returned to training, but leading goalscorer Fabian Espindola missed training Wednesday with a hamstring strain picked up Tuesday and is a doubt for the weekend. Those injuries may leave former Union player Josue Martinez, who played the final 11 minutes in the loss to Montreal over the weekend, among the favorites to feature at forward.

So here's Hackworth's take

On the offseason additions:
"Espindola for me is one of the best forwards in this league. He’s very competitive but he’s got quality. He’s very smart. He finds space on the field. And he’s dangerous, and he proved that with Real Salt Lake. They got Olave from Real Salt Lake too, so they have a top center back. I think they made some very wise acquisition in the offseason to make them a better team. Mike is doing a great job so far, and from an outsider’s prospective, and I know some of the players on that roster, I know they’re feeling good about what they’re doing even if they’re not getting the results."

On Henry's possible absence:
"We prepared the whole time as if he was going to be on the field. If you look at the history of Henry in this league, you would think that he’s going to play in a game of this magnitude that was this important for the club. So we’ve prepared to have him on the field, and if he’s not on the field on Saturday, I think that’s an advantage for us because he’s one of the best players if not the very best player in this league."

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Formally bidding Freddy adieu

The image could be haunting.

It seems such a distant memory, the before picture to John Hackworth’s high-achieving after. The portrait of Freddy Adu and Peter Nowak, gleefully mugging for the camera, once signaled the hope of the Philadelphia Union.

Behind them stood the logo of a team that seemed to be figuring out this whole MLS thing, flourishing in its second season with the playoffs on the horizon. Adu’s acquisition, with his undeniable if yet underrealized talent, would take them over the top, as MLS Cup contenders and a team that was more than just an overachieving band of nobodies.

Just over 20 months later, both are gone, Adu’s departure to Brazilian side Bahia being made official Monday. And the Union are, against most odds, much better off.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Adu’s production on the field failed to live up to the expectations. In 35 MLS matches with the Union, he recorded seven goals and two assists. It’s the same goal total as from his meanderings through Portugal, France, Greece and Turkey (43 matches).
Read more »

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bye bye Baky? Maybe not yet

While the frankness with which the news of Bakary Soumare’s desire for a move away from the Philadelphia Union was delivered Monday may have surprised some, the content of the message shouldn’t.

For Soumare to have gone from key acquisition last summer to starting XI frontrunner to persona non grata this young season raised some eyebrows, though mostly over doubts about his fitness. The suddenness of his trade request after not taking part in any of the team’s first three matches is startling to say the least.

Manager John Hackworth’s press conference Wednesday presented an interesting juxtaposition between the fervent search for closure in the transfer of Freddy Adu and what seemed like reserved hope that Soumare’s Union days are not over.

“I think what we need to do is make sure that we make a good decision for the Philadelphia Union and this organization, and this would include saying, 'is this good for us in all ways?,'” Hackworth said of the process of accommodating Soumare’s trade request, which it must be said is much different from the one involving his fellow West African former teammate Adu.

“I can’t tell you that it’s for money or for a trade or for a player. We would explore all those options, and have, to be very fair, for the last two weeks. It’s not like this is something new. It’s been going on. We’ve had some talks. We’re in a good position because we feel comfortable that Baky is still an important part of our team right now and will remain so until something happens.”

Part of the reticence to see Soumare go no doubt stems from a sense of a missed opportunity. Seeing a former MLS All-Star who played in Germany, is in his prime at age 27 and has height at 6-4 you can’t teach play only one game in nine months is cause for regret. Read more »

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The Kleberson question: Where could he fit?

The breadcrumbs aren’t that difficult to follow.

The Philadelphia Union have started the season with three showings from its midfield that have been indifferent and inconsistent.

The Union’s protracted breakup with Freddy Adu has the chance to net them a player, likely Brazil World Cup winner Kleberson, once thought of as one of the foremost central midfielders in the world.

It’s a rare win-win scenario, but it also shines the light on what may be an area of the team to shore up if Union manager John Hackworth and company are intent on hanging onto their high standing in the Eastern Conference.

Hackworth has said all the right things in regard to his midfield. He understands that they’re not yet at their best but that they have a high ceiling. He has faith in the pieces that he’s assembled.

“I’m happy with our midfield,” he said Wednesday in his weekly press conference. “I know we can play better, and I think that’s a major distinction. I sit here as the head coach of a team that's in second place in the East right now. I don't want to plant any seeds out there that I don't think our midfield has done a good job.”

In the “tactical fluidity” Hackworth so often trumpets, he recognizes that part of the onus is on him to put them in systems and combinations that work regularly. Read more »

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rapids 1-2 Union: Postgame thoughts

It took almost three years to get there.

But when the Philadelphia Union used the sixth and seventh overall picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the first in the team’s existence, on Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney, respectively, games like Sunday’s 2-1 win in Colorado is what they had in mind. (The fact that the opponent was the Rapids, the third team in less than 12 months for the No. 1 pick in that draft, Danny Mwanga, well, just put that in the win-some-lose-some file.)

Okugo and McInerney each scored, the former picking up his first MLS goal, in earning the win. Considering the conditions – the game was postponed from Saturday due to snow – and another herky-jerky performance from the Union, they were fortunate to get three points in a tough venue.

Some observations from the game:

Union defender Sheannon Williams, left, and Colorado defender Brian Mullan do battle for a ball in the first half of the Union's 2-1 win Sunday. (Associated Press)

- Is there a more deserving goalscorer than Okugo? Not only was he a rock in defense, he provided a strong downward header in the 34th minute to put the Union ahead. The fact that it came off a set piece, a recent weakness of the Union, is all the more impressive. Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens should’ve done better to read Sebastien Le Toux’s back-post, corner-kick delivery, but it was a textbook header from Okugo, who rose over Marvell Wynne and finished astutely.

- The second Union goal was a tremendous finish by McInerney, calmly slotting one past a committed Pickens after being played through by substitute Antoine Hoppenot. The play was made, though, by Hoppenot shrugging off a defender and showing the most poise in the middle of the pitch any Union player had all day.

Read more »

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Union-Rapids postponed w/statement

Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth wasn’t kidding when he mentioned the effects of the weather in Colorado.
Blizzard conditions caused the postponement of the Union’s game against the Colorado Rapids until this afternoon at 3 p.m. Conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., called for snowfall of 8-14 inches with high winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour, creating treacherous conditions for players and fans alike.
“As always, the safety of our fans, teams and staff are paramount,” said Nelson Rodriguez, MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Game Operations, in a statement released by the teams late Saturday morning. “We would like to thank both clubs for working with us to plan accordingly and we look forward to their match on Sunday at 1 p.m. local time.”
The game will be televised on TCN.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Union vs. Sporting KC: Lineups

Philadelphia Union Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux

Sporting Kansas City Starting XI (4-5-1)

Well, there are plenty of talking points with this lineup. Suffice it to say that surprises abound here in the first starting XI of John Hackworth’s first season opener. Where to begin?

Well remember all those stories about Amobi Okugo being in the midfield? Yeah, don’t worry about it. Appears he’s the choice to go with Jeff Parke in the center. Whether or not that’s a commentary on the fitness of Bakary Soumare will have to wait until after the game.

With Okugo in defense, it means Michael Lahoud will be pairing captain Brian Carroll in the center of midfield. Expect a lot of interchanging between Lahoud and Keon Daniel, as both are capable of filling their respective roles. Lahoud, as well as Ray Gaddis, are players that have impressed in preseason and forced their way into the side after perhaps being on the fringes when camp opened.

There are no surprises in Michael Farfan’s placement in the hole behind the central striker, but Gabriel Farfan, who deputized as a left back through most of last season, is a surprise inclusion in the midfield, his more natural position.

And for all the discussions of a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, the first Hackworth lineup of the season features a lone striker in Sebastien Le Toux, not Conor Casey or Jack McInerney. Guess that's what Hackworth meant when he talked about installing different systems this preseason.
The bottom line about this squad: Sporting Kansas City is a very good team with an outstanding midfield. Bobby Convey, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi are hard-nosed, creative players who can control a game. The Union’s starters seem like a lineup of speedy players designed to clog the midfield and counter-attack. Le Toux, as the starting striker, is poised for that purpose with his blend of speed and hold up play.

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