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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Red Bulls-Union: Lineups and pregame observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Wenger-Maidana-Le Toux
Bench: McCarthy, Lee, McLaughlin, Pfeffer, Sapong, Fred, Ayuk.

New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Reynish, Lade, Jean-Baptiste, Richards, Davis, Obekop, Abang

- Jim Curtin has stated that he’s not a fan of making changes after a win. So after the Union’s win last week against D.C. United, the manager’s changes are limited to necessity. Curtin will again go with Brian Sylvestre, who didn’t make a save in earning the shutout over D.C. as well as sticking with Brian Carroll and Conor Casey, the veteran fulcrum that helped spearhead a victory that ended a four-game losing streak.

- The changes are enforced at the back, where Maurice Edu (yellow-card accumulation) and Ray Gaddis (ankle) are absent in addition to the ongoing injury to Steven Vitoria (groin/knee). That forces Richie Marquez into the fray for his second MLS start and third appearance to pair with Ethan White, while Fabinho is on the left and Sheanon Williams flips back to the right.

- That backline will have a ton of pressure to withstand against the midfield trio of Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam and Mike Grella. Combined with Dax McCarty’s ability to break up attacks and Bradley Wright-Phillips’ tendency to punish mistakes, the Union have to be clinical in burying chances when they arise, which falls particularly on Casey and the struggling wingers.

- The flipside is that the Union have holes they can exploit in the New York defense. Roy Miller pairs centrally with Karl Ouimette, with both Damien Perrinelle and Ronald Zubar out and Matt Maizga on international duty. That’s a defense that the Union should be able to score against.

- The key player for the Union today could be Vincent Nogueira. He’s surrounded by players not particularly skilled in keeping possession or completing passes. That puts a huge onus on the Frenchman to do that and make sure the Union can both push for goals and restrict New York possessions. 

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Friday, May 8, 2015

The Union and slows starts: A dire history

Union manager Jim Curtin has joined some undistinguished
Union coaching company with the slow start to 2015.
(Times Staff/Rick Kauffman)
The Philadelphia Union are struggling. That isn’t in much question, certainly not after last Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Toronto FC, which sealed the Union’s worst 10-game start to a season in terms of points.

Some of this alarming trend has already been explained by my colleague Kevin Kinkead in a recent post, but it’s worth digging a little bit deeper to put numbers to the overarching measure of the Union’s futility, which includes just two wins in the last 17 matches.

First off, the Union are 1-6-3 through the first 10 games. How does that compare to previous years? Not well:

2015: 1-6-3, 6 points
2014: 1-4-5, 8 points
2013: 4-3-3, 15 points
2012: 2-6-2, 8 points
2011: 5-3-2, 17 points
2010: 2-7-1, 7 points

The Union aren’t generally quick starters, but this is sluggish even by their standards. There’s a clear delineation between the season in which they made the playoffs (2011), the season in which they contended for the playoffs into the fall (2013) and the rest of the disastrous campaigns.

But the numbers are even grimmer than that. Not only is this the Union’s worst 10-game start to a season; it ties the worst 10-game stretch in franchise history. It joins the run from the April 5, 2014 draw with Chicago to the May 25 loss to L.A. Galaxy as the lowest points total over 10 matches. (That was also a 1-6-3 stretch.) The consideration of 10-game streaks includes ones that bridge the gap between multiple seasons.

Perhaps most alarming for manager Jim Curtin is this: Each of the last two managers of the Union was axed after a slow start. Then again, “slow” is a relative term:

Peter Nowak, 2012: Fired after 11 games, 2-7-2 record, 8 points, 0.72 points per game
John Hackworth, 2014: Fired after 15 games, 3-6-6, 15 points, 0.94 ppg 
Curtin, 2015: Through 10 games, 1-6-3, 6 points, 0.60 ppg

It’s important to stress that each of these situations is vastly, vastly different, and the numbers are no guarantee.

But as they stack up, Curtin needs some wins quickly to catch up to the pace of his predecessors. He needs a win against Vancouver Saturday to better Nowak’s ill-fated past, and it’ll take pretty close to a result in every game (over a very tough schedule) in the next three to improve on Hackworth’s record.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Union-TFC: Lineups and observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Blake, Marquez, Fabinho, Fred, McLaughlin, Casey, Le Toux

Toronto FC (4-4-2)
Bench: Roberts, Creavalle, Zavaleta, Lovitz, Warner, Moore, Osorio

- Whatever Jim Curtin’s plan was this week was likely scrapped Friday with news that CJ Sapong would be suspended indefinitely after a DUI arrest that requires entering MLS’ Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) program. Curtin had tipped him to be an option on the win, but instead, the struggling Andrew Wenger will have to struggle through their issues on the field instead of on the bench.

- One absence was expected, the other a later fitness test. But the Union will be without two components of the team’s spine in Vincent Nogueira (ankle) and Steven Vitoria (groin). That leaves Ethan White to return to central defense while Zach Pfeffer pairs Michael Lahoud in midfield. Against Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, that’s a tall, tall task for the Union.

- As anticipated, Chris Konopka gets the nod in the goal for TFC, his first appearance since 2012 … with the Union … against TFC. More on that here. The Union, meanwhile, go with John McCarthy for a fifth straight game. He’s given up eight goals in his first four starts.

- On the bright side, the Union are 6-2-4 all-time vs. Toronto, their last loss coming in May 2012, that game Konopka started. On the downside, they are beat up and in desperate need of a result, and desperation rarely breeds success in PPL Park.

- In addition to Toronto’s Big 3, Greg Vanney goes attacking with Robbie Findley as a winger in the 4-4-2. Union got torn up on the wings last week in Columbus, and even with Sheanon Williams back in the side, Vanney sees an exploitable battle.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Sapong suspended indefinitely after DUI/reckless driving arrest

The Philadelphia Union will be without forward CJ Sapong indefinitely after he was arrested early Friday morning and charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence, requiring that he be assessed by MLS’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH), per a club release.

Per the rules of that program, Sapong must be cleared by doctors and a league investigation before playing in any games with the club.

“We were alerted to the situation this morning and have been in contact with the league office, law enforcement and C.J.’s family,” Union technical director Chris Albright said in a team statement. “Moving forward, we will continue to work together with the League in following the appropriate procedures. We will have further comment once more information is available.”

The SABH is a long-held program within MLS, though one that’s seldom invoked. It was used in the case of Edson Buddle in 2005 in Columbus, Shalrie Joseph in New England in 2010, Josh Williams in Columbus in 2011 and Philly-area natives Jeff Parke and Jon Conway in New York in 2009.

Parke, Conway and Williams were suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. In those cases, the penalties were set at 10 games and a 10 percent docking of salary at the announcement of entering the program. Sapong’s appears to be more in line with Joseph’s and Buddle’s given the open-ended nature of the announcement.

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An unlikely reunion: Konopka in line to start at PPL Park Saturday

There is goalkeeping news surrounding the Philadelphia Union’s meeting with Toronto FC, and for once, it’s not involving the Union.

While there’s a little intrigue in Philly – Jim Curtin said Wednesday that he’s leaning toward John McCarthy as the starter for a fifth straight game as Andre Blake continues his recovery from knee surgery – it’s the visitors to PPL Park that will have a goalie change, which involves a familiar face.

Toronto manager Greg Vanney said this week that if starter Joe Bendik, who is suffering from a plantar fascia strain in his foot, can’t go, Chris Konopka would be the starter.

Well, Bendik is listed as out on MLS’ injury report, and while a post on TFC’s site has him officially questionable, the team’s probable lineup features Konopka in goal.

If Konopka gets the nod, it’ll be his second MLS appearance in his sixth MLS season. The 2007 SuperDraft pick and native of Toms River, N.J., spent three seasons playing for Irish clubs Bohemians, Sporting Fingal and Waterford United.

Konopka’s last MLS appearance came with the Union May 26, 2012, the final MLS match in Peter Nowak’s reign, against … you guessed it, Toronto. That game, a 1-0 loss at BMO Field, was the first win for Toronto after nine straight losses to start a season that featured just five wins, one of the worst in MLS history. The goal was provided by ill-fated designated player Danny Koevermans, who called time on his career after a litany of injuries. It’s worth taking a look at the lineups, which included the unforgettable left-flank pairing of midfielder Kai Herdling and back Gabe Farfan. Who would’ve imagined Nowak was losing the plot?
Read more »

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