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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Training camp observations, January 28

Much of the attention Tuesday at Union practice at YSC was focused on the arrival of Maurice Edu, who participated fully in the morning session before his big unveiling ceremony. The American looked impressive, however limited the action was. But he wasn't the only notable performance. A few others:
Fred: A blast from the Union's past
on trial with the club. (AP file)

- The 11-on-11 scrimmage sided shaped up thusly:  

Orange Team 

Navy Team
Le Toux-Ribeiro-Fernandes

The only roster players absent where Hoppenot, Kassel and Wheeler, who we're playing 7-v-7 on a lower field. Amobi Okugo wasn't involved.

- I got to see some impressive saves from first overall pick Andre Blake. It's odd to see the lanky guy (he's not 6-foot-4 as some outlets suggested before the draft; the Union measured him at 6-1) get low to make saves since he needs to almost fold his body out of the way to get his hands down. He's got great reach and leaping ability, all the things you’d expect from a goalkeeper. But what I thought was most impressive is that when a ball hits his hands, it stayed in his grasp. That's something Zac MacMath had struggled with at times.

- As far as MacMath, he has warmed to the competition of Blake. The two are constantly communicating in drills, and MacMath is quick to offer encouragement.
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Maidana a promise of what's to come, say Union brass

Cristian Maidana, from his Spartak Moscow days,
could have a big impact on the Union this season,
even if fanfare over his arrivals is subdued. (AP)
In the past, there have been spectacles. There have been press conference, meet-and-greets, jersey presentations, artsy pictures with the players portrayed as towering over the backdrop of PPL Park.

Those gimmicks are what have awaited the designated players of the Philadelphia Union’s past.

Cristian Maidana’s arrival to the club Tuesday was heralded by a press release. All of three paragraphs.

Some of is certainly timing, with the signing of the Argentine midfielder being finalized a mere 18 hours before the club was slated to host the coming together of American soccer’s biggest power players at the 2014 SuperDraft.

But it’s also a testament to the Union’s new direction, one that manager John Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz touted Thursday at the draft.

Maidana’s deal makes him just the third designated player in the Union’s four-plus years of existence ... the equivalent of what teams in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles call a transfer window. He follows in the underwhelming footsteps of fellow supposedly play-making midfielders Freddy Adu and Kleberson, one move precipitating the other in 2013 and yielding not much more success.

But where Adu’s arrival was the occasion for a stadium press event and Kleberson’s an excuse to bring together the Philadelphia Brazilian community, Maidana’s wasn’t gotten much fanfare. The draft and the Union’s major moves there have overshadowed it, as has the prospect of the Maurice Edu acquisition, a transaction that supersedes Maidana’s in terms of both media attention and potential on-field value. And perhaps there’s also the hope that the divergence in the arrivals of Maidana compared to his DP predecessors also translates into a difference in quality in a Union kit.

There may still be time for all the bells and whistles once Maidana’s visas are finalized and he meets up with the club. But such has been the profile of the Union’s other postseason dealings that Maidana’s capture was relegated to almost an afterthought in discussions Thursday. Read more »

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Breaking: Union trade for No. 1, take Blake

PHILADELPHIA – The fans of the Philadelphia Union made their presence known at the Philadelphia Convention Center from the moment they filed in Thursday morning.

Once the 2014 MLS SuperDraft festivities begun, their club announced its intention to put a similarly emphatic stamp on the draft.

The Union traded up from No. 2 for the first overall draft pick, taking goalkeeper Andre Blake from the University of Connecticut.

Terms of the trade with D.C. United were not disclosed, but the two teams swapped picks No. 1 and 2 with the Union sending allocation money to D.C. D.C. picked defender Steve Birnbaum of the University of California with the No. 2 pick. The deal is not related to their swap of Jeff Parke and Ethan White on Tuesday.

In Blake, the club got a player about as surprised to be the number one pick as many people were to see the Union vault into No. 1.

“Words can’t explain it. I didn’t see it coming,” Blake said. “It’s just a great feeling. … It’s a great honor. It’s definitely a lot of pressure on me because I’m number one, but I’m just going to work hard.”

The 6-4 goalkeeper from Jamaica who came out after his junior year with the Huskies is seen as one of the best goalkeeping talent in some years. He is one of the only goalkeepers rated as a first round talent.

Though he’ll take some time to develop, he is a member of Generation Adidas, which defrays some of the cost of his salary for the first few years based on his contribution on the field.

He’s not seen as a starting goalkeeper yet, giving him time to study under starter Zac MacMath. And potentially push him in the future.

He’s fine with that arrangement for now.
“Everyone wants to be the starting goalie, so for me, I’m just going to go in and take it one step at time, go and earn my respect just work as hard as I can,” Blake said.

As far as the prospect of coming to Philly, it’s not something Blake has thought much about before today.

“Based on what I just heard, I got a warm welcome (from the fans), so I’m looking forward to getting their support,” Blake said. “… I don’t know much about Philly. I read something the other day about the best place to get a cheesesteak.”

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SuperDraft Preview: What to look for

We’re just about an hour away from the start of today’s MLS SuperDraft. The consensus about this draft is clear: There is no consensus. Between mock drafts, big boards and the trade scenarios, things could shake out a lot of different ways, and it’ll be a pretty fluid situation.

In talking with some people and gauging some of the interest out there, a few quick predictions on the Union’s choices today with selections No. 2, 6, 25 and 27.

- Everything is down to D.C. Whether they trade the No. 1 pick is open to debate. They can also go a variety of directions with it: The team that authored the worst 34-game season in league history has more than a couple of needs. The can go homegrown (Patrick Mullins), they can take a badly needed defensive option or they could go with a goalkeeper. Or they can package it for assets to sign a more expensive, established player.

- Andre Blake is the name. Maybe not for the Union, but the UConn goalkeeper holds the power in this draft. For all the midfield and defensive depth, Blake may be the only goalkeeper rated as a first-round talent. As such, interest in him is high for a couple of teams in need of a goalie, most notably Vancouver at 3. For the Union, there could be value in expressing interest in him, if for no other reason than to drive up the value of the pick in a possible trade.

- A numbers game. Blake will go in the top five. At least one of the top central defenders – Christian Dean and Steve Birnbaum – will go in that time, as well as likely Mullins. But it’s certainly possible that one of those guys slides down to the Union at six. If not, I think the Union are good with taking Steve Neumann there, but it’

My thoughts for the Union: They snag a center back with the first pick (I think Dean goes one, Birnbaum second. They’ve made enough noise about wanting Blake that maybe they can entice something out of Vancouver to swap up a pick. With six, Reading United’s Neumann is the pick. Look for the second round to involve a best player on the board if there’s a big slipper, or a left-footed player.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A video look at Cristian Maidana

The Union’s first offseason signing came Wednesday with the finalization of a deal with Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana.

He’s soon to be 27 and well-traveled with stops in Russia, Spain, Chile and Mexico. He can man either wing but is naturally a left-footer.
Cristian Maidana, right, here running next to Marseille midfielder
Matheiu Valbuena in a UEFA Cup match in 2008 during his
Spartak Moscow days, signed for the Union Wednesday.
(AP File)

Watching some highlights of him, he’s got a skillset that appears enticing. He can use his left foot for sure, but he’s also capable of cutting in on the right. Maidana doesn’t come cheap, as he’ll make DP money, but it’s cash that the Union had and were trying to spend.

Compared to the corps assembled, he steps in as the most skilled and most attack-minded, and one that I think could play centrally as well. (I find it interesting that he’s just the second Argentine player in Union history, joining the memorable Eduardo Coudet.)

Maidana checks off a number of boxes for the Union: He’s relatively young, he’s a left-footer, he instantly improves their set-piece ability, not just with his precision on the ball but also by inserting Sebastien Le Toux as another weapon to attack corners and the like. What I think is important is that he’s a solid 5-11, meaning he’ll be able to hold up to the physicality of MLS better than some more diminutive play makers (paging Roger Torres.)

What the Union are hoping for with this swoop is a player like Claudio Bieler or Diego Valeri, a playmaker who instantly makes those around him better. Maidana’s profile isn’t that far off from those guys. He didn’t have anywhere near the sustained success Valeri had at Lanus, but both had less than stellar stints in Europe. Bieler also bounced around South American before impressing with Sporting Kansas City last year.

The measurables seem similar, and if the Union’s deal with Maidana is at a non-extravagant price (I would think somewhere in the $300k-$500k range), it could be a good deal.

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A look back: What the Union can expect in the SuperDraft

The Union are certainly putting a major emphasis on this year’s MLS SuperDraft (Thursday, Noon), and not just because it’ll be hosted by the city of Philadelphia.

Brek Shea, a No. 2 pick of the
not-too-distant past. (AP)
So let’s look at some historical perspective. The connection between the No. 1 pick and the most successful career in a draft is tenuous at best. Only once has the No. 1 pick been MLS rookie of the year – it’s a name Union fans have a piqued interest in, Maurice Edu in 2007. On only one occasion has the No. 2 pick turned into the rookie of the year (Jay Heaps in 1999), and never has the No. 6 pick been crowned MLS’s top rookie. That doesn’t mean there’s hasn’t been quality available at both spots, especially for attack-minded players at No. 2.

The Union have never held the No. 2 pick; the only time they’ve ever picked sixth was in 2010, when they got Amobi Okugo.

Here’s a look at some notable recent picks at each position: 
Recent No. 2s 
2013: Carlos Alvarez, M, Chivas USA
2012: Darren Mattocks, F, Vancouver
2011: Darlington Nagbe, F, Portland
2010: Tony Tchani, M, New York
2009: Sam Cronin, M, Toronto
2008: Brek Shea, M, Dallas
2007: Bakary Soumare, D, Chicago
2006: Mehdi Ballouchy, M, Real Salt Lake
2005: Brad Guzan, M, Chivas USA
2004: Chad Marshall, D, Columbus
2003: Ricardo Clark, M, NY/NJ

Recent No. 6s
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