Blogs > Union Tally

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The silver lining of the Union's trip to Houston

Lost in the hysteria of Tuesday night’s thrilling win over FC Dallas in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup – a win that earns the Union a chance to play for their first trophy in club history on home soil in September – was the crucial realization of what it means to compete on two fronts.

Less than 70 hours after the celebrations died down at Toyota Park, the Union will have to figure out a way to field a team to take on Houston in a meeting of playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.

That’s for the third game in seven days, barely three days removed from 120 grueling minutes in the Texas summer heat, to turn around another effort in the sweltering conditions of Houston.

It’s a task that will test the newfound depth that Union manager Jim Curtin boasted about this week, for sure. But there’s a twofold installment of good news for the Union.

1) All things considered, they’ve got some fresh legs;
2) Whoever gets named, it won’t be worse than the last squad to represent the Union in Houston.

Let’s address the latter point first: Here’s what the team that faced Houston last July 6 looked like.

The predicament for the Union was so dire that John Hackworth actually opened the door to the doghouse to let Roger Torres out for 19 minutes, trying to bring some shape to what might have been a 4-2-4. He was joined among the illustrious subs by a 30-minute runout for Don Anding, his only MLS appearance, and a late cameo by Matt Kassel. The unused subs? Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez (whose name MLS spells wrong) and Chris Albright. Yet despite all that, the team still almost scratched out a result, only separated from a draw by a soft goal by Ricardo Clark on a defensive breakdown.

That game was on the back end of a two-game Western swing, the Union having snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Real Salt Lake July 3. They were missing Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz due to injuries picked up vs. RSL, Michael Lahoud and Kleberson were on long-term injury absences, and Keon Daniel and Jack McInerney were away at the Gold Cup.

This trip Friday is hardly that desperate. In addition to Curtin divulging Tuesday that “we had planned on calling some guys back from Philly anyway”, he has some fresh legs at his disposal.
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The original Union: A sit down with Amobi Okugo

(Design by Leslie Small)

It isn't often I use this medium for the purpose of promoting links, but I did want to put the back page that we colleagues fashioned today out there. That art was connected to this feature on Amobi Okugo, the last connection to the original Union squad, and a player who has been one of the club's most integral over the last few seasons.

I had an in-depth conversation with Okugo, discussing how close he was to leaving the Union, what it's taken to survive when so many of his colleagues have gone elsewhere and what he sees next for him, with his contract up at the end of the year. The fact that he's pictured scoring against Dallas last year, then scored Tuesday night against Dallas in the Union's penalty-kick advancement from the U.S. Open Cup semifinals ... well that's a coincidence.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Union-Montreal lineups and prematch thoughts: Jack Mac's back

Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Nogueira-Cruz
Bench: Blake, Fabinho, Okugo, Lahoud, Fred, Brown, Wenger.

Montreal Impact (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Bush, Ouimette, Jackson-Hammel, Duka, Tissot, Nakajima-Farran, Mallace.

 - The Union waste no time inserting Carlos Valdes back into the lineup after inking him to a new deal Monday. The Colombian’s return to fitness was relatively simple, as he mentioned Monday that he’d been training for 10 days after a two-week post-World Cup hiatus. Who he’d be paired with seemed the bigger mystery as the week progressed, but Ethan White gets the nod with Austin Berry not making the 18. He's pretty far down the depth chart.

One of the other big decisions was whether Maurice Edu, after 45 minutes in Wednesday’s All-Star Game followed by a cross country flight, would get the nod. Perhaps that's why he's in a more attacking position, with Brian Carroll to do the dirty work of holding. I suspect Carroll is preferred to Michael Lahoud given the latter's lengthy international ordeal this week.

- Interestingly, the odd-man out, even with Cristian Maidana still nursing a hamstring injury that rules him out completely, is Amobi Okugo. The last time Okugo didn't start an MLS game when not suspended, Peter Nowak was the Union's manager.

- The debut of Rais M’Bolhi will have to wait another week as he’s not in the 18. Chalk up another start for Zac MacMath as he nears 100 league games.

- Expect Brian Brown to play a role in this one. Danny Cruz has been less than convincing than late, and if the Union are up after 60 minutes, Jim Curtin may want to get a break for Conor Casey with the Dallas U.S. Open Cup semi looming just 72 hours away.

- Frank Klopas has vacillated between using one striker or two in his preferred formation. This week, he’s settled on one away from home, making the decision between fired-up former Union player Jack McInerney and Union killer Marco Di Vaio. Di Vaio got the nod in the midweek CONCCAF Champions League game going 90, so McInerney gets his homecoming start. While the McInerney nod isn’t a shock, no Di Vaio in the 18 is a bit.

- All things considered, that’s a fairly attack-minded midfield from Klopas with Andres Romero, Felipe and Justin Mapp marauding forward.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Open Cup final draw: Union win chance to host final

The plot has thickened in the Philadelphia Union’s search for its first trophy.

A coin flip Monday night in Portland associated with the MLS All-Star Game has handed the hosting duties for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final to the winner of the Union’s semifinal against FC Dallas.

Should the Union beat Dallas Aug. 12 at Toyota Stadium (9 p.m.), the club would play for its first trophy on home turf at PPL Park in the final. They’d face the winner of the other semi between the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders. The date of the final will be either Sept. 30 or Oct. 1.

The coin flip was performed by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati as part of a live stream by of the popular Men in Blazers podcast. Each of the four remaining clubs had a ceremonial representative present, with the Union represented by All-Star Maurice Edu. (The histrionics start around the 51-minute mark of the video.)

The home-field advantage in a potential final could change the dynamic for the Union, who embark on a stretch of three games in seven days around the Open Cup semi. They host Montreal in MLS play Saturday, then venture for a Texas doubleheader with Dallas Tuesday and Houston Friday. They have eight days off after that.

The trip to the semifinals this season matches the Union’s deepest run in the tournament. In 2012, they also made the semifinals with a chance to host the final but lost to Sporting Kansas City at home.

The Union have games scheduled Sept. 27 at D.C. United and Oct. 2 at home against, fittingly enough, Chicago.

The last final held in the Philadelphia area came in 1994 when Greek American A.C. beat Bavarian Leinenkugel, 3-0, at UGH Field in Oakford. The Philadelphia area has a long history with the competition, dating from the first of an all-time high five titles for Bethlehem Steel, the first of which came in 1915.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Drafting the past: The Union's SuperDraft miscalculations

The Union’s big midseason move has been sprung, with Rais M’Bolhi joining arguably the only unit on the team that didn’t require reinforcement. In any event, the Union are getting a clear upgrade at the moment over Zac MacMath, and possibly a shot-stopper who has already surpassed anything MacMath will become, though I’d deem the jury still out on that assertion.
Algeria's Rais M’Bolhi, making a save against Russia's Alexander Samedov
during the World Cup, became the Union's latest goalkeeper of the future
with his signing Wednesday. (AP)

It’ll be a couple of weeks before the MLS Players Association releases its summer salary numbers. We know that the Union regard him as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, and we’ll have to wait to verify if he’s compensated that way. The Union have already expressed a willingness to buck conventional wisdom to splurge for Carlos Valdes, so you’d expect the same for M’Bolhi.

In my column Thursday, I opined on the conundrum at the heart of this move: That the Union upgraded a position that needed no upgrading, leaving them to find a way to get value out of their goalkeeping glut.

There’s two key parts to that valuation: What the Union are shelling out to M’Bolhi (which we don't know for a while), and what they’ve already used on MacMath and Andre Blake. I’ll ponder the second half of that question first.

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: The Union haven’t the slightest clue how to judge goalkeeping value in the SuperDraft. In the time the Union have been in MLS, they’ve been the only club to draft a goalkeeper in the first round. They’ve done so twice. They have no intention of playing either beyond this weekend.
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