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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Swiss watch: Where Tranquillo Barnetta ranks among Union signings

Tranquillo Barnetta's exploits in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League
with Schalke rank him as one of the most impressive players
the Union have ever landed. (AP)
From the time Tranquillo Barnetta’s name surfaced as a serious transfer target of the Philadelphia Union, there was a debate that cropped up among the select group of Union media. If the Union could land the Swiss winger, as they officially did Wednesday, where exactly would he rank in the annals of Union history?

It’s a superficial way to appraise a player with all of three training sessions at PPL Park under his belt. But in a league where the Union constantly fight (often in vain) to carve out a niche of attention, the public relations splash of any move is a consideration, one that shouldn’t but often does outweigh the tactical implications.

With that in mind, let’s count down where Barnetta ranks among fellow Union acquisitions, in terms of his profile upon arriving at PPL Park and the accomplishments he’s compiled in his pre-Union career.

(Honorable mention goes to Maurice Edu, who’d finish sixth on this list. Old Firm Derby goals have a way of making you legendary in certain corners of the world, though one successful foreign stint does not a career make.)

5. Kleberson

Kleberson’s name was well known in the world of soccer, more for his international than club exploits. He was a fixture in Brazil’s run to the 2002 World Cup title, setting up the second of Ronaldo’s pair of goals in the final, then he made a surprising return to the squad in time for the 2010 run. He remains one of 10 World Cup winners to play in MLS. Less auspiciously, Kleberson is known as perhaps one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest transfer blunders for his poor stint with Manchester United starting in 2003. Though he stabilized his career in Turkey with Besiktas, the midfielder proved his success for club was largely dependent on being in Brazil, and even then, his production trailed off long before he was the makeweight for shipping Freddy Adu out of town in May 2013.

4. Carlos Ruiz
Read more »

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Sea of Tranquillo: Barnetta trains with Union

Tranquillo Barnetta was excited at Schalke last season,
but he's looking to move on. (AP)
After several weeks of whispers on both sides of the pond, the Philadelphia Union got as close as it has been to transfer target Tranquillo Barnetta.

The Swiss winger trained with the club Friday and is weighing up interest from the Union against several reported offers in Europe. He was physically at practice (Video evidence here and here.)

“He’s here seeing if Philadelphia and MLS is a fit,” Union technical director Chris Albright said. “It’s a player whose pedigree I think speaks for itself. You look at his resume playing in the last three World Cups and playing in the Bundesliga. We’re hopeful that we can get it over the line, but right now, it’s a feeling-out process.”

Barnetta, 30, has been capped 75 times by the Swiss National Team, playing in each of the last three World Cups. His career blossomed at age 20 with German club Bayer Leverkusen, and in 2012, he moved to Schalke 04, a move that hasn’t worked out quite as well including a loan stint at Eintract Frankfurt. He brings a bevy of Champions League experience.

“He’s a good player,” Jim Curtin said. “He’s making a big decision right now. You can see his quality in training, obviously, and on the world stage for Switzerland and at Schalke in big games. It doesn’t take a genius when you do a scouting report on him, the first game that pops up is against Real Madrid in the Champions League. He’s a quality player, a guy we’ve obviously very interested in and we hope to wear this badge.”

Barnetta’s age makes him an attractive target. He fills a need as providing wing depth, especially now that the trade of Sheanon Williams to Houston Thursday leaves the Union shorthanded at the fullback spot.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Union-Red Bulls: Open Cup lineup and observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Maidana-Ayuk
Bench: Mitchell, Williams, Fred, Pfeffer, McLaughlin, Hoppenot, Aristegieta 

Red Bulls (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Reynish, Miller, Ouimette, Davis, Sanchez, Grella, Zizzo  

- I’ve written on several occasions about the buffoonery surrounding this tie at 4 on a weekday afternoon. Judging by how dead the environment is, it’s about as bad as I would’ve thought. Solid work, U.S. Soccer.

- Only the Union could keep MLS so engrossed by something so mundane as a backup goalkeeper. After an evening of hints on Twitter, MLS pool goalkeeper Trey Mitchell is on the Union’s bench to backup John McCarthy. He sat on their bench behind Brian Sylvestre in Vancouver two months ago.

- The limit of five internationals in the 18 severely hampers the Union, particularly with three Americans out (CJ Sapong due to suspension, Andrew Wenger and Richie Marquez due to injury). All five start, with Eric Ayuk in for Wenger and Maurice Edu returning from suspension to fill Marquez’s void next to Ethan White. Conor Casey (surprisingly, not Fernando Aristeguieta will fill in in Sapong’s stead.

- Jim Curtin had no qualms about his opposite number Jesse Marsch’s approach to this game, and those are verified by the lineup the Red Bulls coach assembled. The lineup is mostly the same one they used on the weekend, with Bradley Wright-Phillips the danger man up top and all the usual faces (Lloyd Sam, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty) included. The backline is still without Kemar Lawrence and Roy Miller, which leaves some areas to attack.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Feeling Bullish: Odds and ends ahead of NYRB Open Cup tie

A sprained left ankle will likely keep Richie Marquez, right,
out of Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal with the Red Bulls.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
The Philadelphia Union travel to Red Bull Arena Tuesday to tangle with New York in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal that is all kinds of weird. In addition to the heat and 4 p.m. start time, the Union bring plenty of peculiarities to the table as well. Here are a few of the major oddities that manager Jim Curtin discussed prior to training Monday.

- Injury update: Following the injury that forced him to leave Saturday's game with Toronto, Andrew Wenger underwent concussion testing this morning before training and didn’t start the session on the field with his teammates. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he failed the protocols, though. In Curtin’s words, “He’s feeling better, but he has to be symptom-free for us to even have a shot to start talking about him getting back on the field.” All those qualifiers mean he’s doubtful, at best. Richie Marquez’s ankle will likely keep him out Tuesday. Curtin: “His left ankle is pretty swollen right now. He says it feels OK, but I just saw it. It’s not pretty. There’s some swelling and some blood on there, so looks like maybe out for tomorrow and possibly maybe back for D.C.” Curtin labeled Cristian Maidana’s knock against Toronto FC as “just a big bruise” on his foot that shouldn’t affect his status.

- Curtin said that the Union attempted to appeal CJ Sapong’s red card, but the petition got nowhere. “We tried to appeal that but there was no process, really, that goes on in the Open Cup, so they would not listen to any … as bad as the call was, they didn’t want to hear anything,” Curtin said. A reminder of what a borderline call that was.

- The Union remain in search of a backup goalkeeper for the tie. John McCarthy will start, but Brian Sylvestre is Cup-tied to Carolina and Andre Blake is away with Jamaica, where he’s fallen in the depth chart to third. (Dwayne Miller started all three group games, but was injured in the finale against El Salvador, replaced by Ryan Thompson, who started the quarterfinal win over Haiti.) That leaves the Union looking for just about any non-Cup-tied pro to sit the bench. The scenario of a keeper-less bench is in Curtin’s view “the worst-case. (It’s a) possibility obviously, but John will be called upon to play a good game for us. We do want to try to find a solution, but we do need a second goalkeeper.” In case you’re wondering, Rais M’Bolhi is not an option, per Curtin.
Read more »

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Friday, July 17, 2015

By the numbers: Union 2015 salary figures (UPDATED)

Ray Gaddis got paid with a new deal last year.
Friday, we found out just how much.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
The MLS Players Union at long last released its 2015 player salaries Friday, the day after announcing the formal ratification by player vote of the new collective bargaining agreement. The rest of the news week will be filled with highlights of the big numbers, but those emanating from Philadelphia Union land don’t exactly rate inclusion in those roundups.

Below is the full list of Union salaries with some explanatory notes at the end. Spots 1-20 indicate on-budget senior-roster players that count toward the salary cap, while spots 21-28 are the off-budget players, per the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations. This database, constructed by the Orlando Sentinel, is worth perusing as well for a more interactive form of the data.

(In alphabetical order, base salary listed, guaranteed compensations in parenthesis if different UPDATED)

1. Fernando Aristeguieta $350,004 (young designated player)
2. Maurice Edu $700,000 ($768,750 – designated player)
3. Fred $60,000
4. Brian Carroll $150,000
5. Conor Casey $180,000
6. Fabinho $114,000 ($118,500)
7. Ray Gaddis $130,000 ($132,500)
8. Antoine Hoppenot $60,000
9. Michael Lahoud $108,900 ($112,233)
10. Sebastien Le Toux $275,000 ($285,228)
11. Cristian Maidana $203,500 ($217,250)
12. Rais M’Bolhi $350,000
13. Vincent Nogueira $330,000
14. CJ Sapong $125,000 ($142,000)
15. Steven Vitoria $400,000
16. Andrew Wenger $180,000 ($282,000)
17. Ethan White $125,000
18. Sheanon Williams $145,000 ($150,000)
19. Richie Marquez $60,000
20. Dzenan Catic $60,000 ($75,000)

21. Andre Blake $85,000 ($123,000 – Generation Adidas)
22. Jimmy McLaughlin $60,000 (Homegrown Player)
23. Zach Pfeffer $60,000 (Homegrown Player)
24. Eric Bird $60,000
25. Raymond Lee $60,000
26. Eric Ayuk $50,000
27. John McCarthy $50,000 ($56,250)
28. Brian Sylvestre $60,000

Austin Berry $93,519 ($108,519)
Danny Cruz $125,000 ($131,667)
Leo Fernandez $60,000
Carlos Valdes $400,000

Zac MacMath $130,000 (paid by Colorado via intra-league loan mechanism)

Union salary cap (Totals for players 1-20): $3,692,650
Union base salaries (Totals for players 1-28): $4,117,650
Union total compensation (including inactive roster): $5,578,401

- The Union would appear to be slightly over the salary cap of $3.49 million, accounting for Fernando Aristeguieta’s cap hit at the young DP threshold and Maurice Edu at the DP number. I’ll double check my math on that.

- (UPDATE: Thanks to this outstanding work by Paul Tenorio at the Orlando Sentinel, we see that the Union's total player expenditure ranks 10th in MLS, sandwiched between Sporting Kansas City and Portland, though Portland's signing of Lucas Melano Thursday certainly vaults them into the top half. The big split in fortunes is between teams five and six: Seattle at $11.3 million and New England at $6.5 million.)
Read more »

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mo praise: Even when suspended, Edu having an impact on Union

Always a consistent performer, the Union's
Maurice Edu is becoming more and more of a leader.
As training wound down next to PPL Park Thursday morning, the first question from the small group of media gathered was obvious: Was Maurice Edu hurt?

While other players worked on shooting drills or broke into small groups for games that double as first-touch lessons, Edu was off to the side with injured rookie Eric Bird, running timed sprints.

Outwardly, it appeared to be a sign of an injury, a minor tweak perhaps in the first half against AFC Bournemouth Tuesday.

But Edu wasn’t injured. With the defender suspended from Saturday’s game at Toronto, Edu was just putting in extra fitness work, voluntarily.

“I love seeing that,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I didn’t make him do that, but again, that’s a sign of his growth. That’s not something that he’s done in the past. For him to do that, I didn’t tell him to. I didn’t force him to. He did it on his own. It shows me that he has a real ambition even on a week where he’s not going to play.”

Edu has long drawn praise from members of the Union staff, last year in his loan stint from English Premier League club Stoke City and this season in making the switch permanent and essentially being installed as the captain. But the plaudits have intensified lately, especially from Curtin, who sees Edu blossoming into the leader that a young team like the Union requires. Read more »

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Rumor roundup: Curtin weighs in on Zelaya, Dittborn, Barnetta

El Salvador forward Rodolfo Zelaya, front, battling
U.S. defender Clarence Goodson in a quarterfinal match
of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, is on trial with the Union.
It’s the summer, which means that transfer rumors hang as thick as the humidity coming off the Delaware River at PPL Park. Monday afternoon, after chatting about the upcoming friendly with AFC Bournemouth, Philadelphia union manager Jim Curtin shed some light on a handful of players recently linked with the club.

Curtin confirmed that the trial for Chilean midfielder Santiago Dittborn had ended after one week, as anticipated, but that the club’s interest in the 22-year-old remains.

“Santiago came in on a trial and did very well,” Curtin said. “He impressed every day, so again, a lot of times guys come in on trial and have one good day and then fade. He was consistent every day.

“We’re exploring different options with him, but he was impressive. When you get good players in in good form, the idea after a trial is to hope that you can make something work.”

Money, cap space and international spots seem to be at a premium for the Union, and some combination of those factors is likely obstructing a move for Dittborn. Based on Curtin’s appraisal, he sounds like someone the Union want to keep around, but if they can only add one or two players this summer, it would require a high level of certainty to jump at the first guy on the radar.

Curtin was understandably vague about the behind-the-scenes machinations, but here’s what he had to say: “There’s always moving parts. There’s obviously salary cap restrictions and there’s roster number restrictions, so we have to be smart in managing that and doing what’s best for the club moving forward. Yeah, a couple of things will have to fall into place before we can make additions, but we’re working hard behind the scenes to do that.”

It sounds as though roster subtractions, *cough cough* Rais M’Bolhi *cough*, are necessary before significant additions.

Also in camp this week is Rodolfo Zelaya, who wasn’t in camp last week. The 27-year-old Salvadoran has a bit of a checkered past. He’s been linked with MLS on numerous occasions and has scored prolifically with El Salvador, bagging 17 goals in 30 caps. His last club was Alianza in his home country.
Read more »

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Union-Timbers: Lineups and pre-match thoughts

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Gaddis -Edu-Marquez-Fabinho
Le Toux-Maidana-Wenger
Bench: McCarthy, Williams, White, Fred, Pfeffer, Hoppenot, Casey

Portland Timbers (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Gleason, Manning, Thomas, Asprilla, Besler, Fochive, Nanchoff 

- The first walking wounded to return is Sebastien Le Toux, who reenters the lineup after a few weeks out with an MCL strain. That allows Jim Curtin to tab what is close to his first-choice lineup at this point in time. Andrew Wenger gets a shot at the other wing yet again.

- In the fullback shuffle again, with Ray Gaddis and Fabinho in and Sheanon Williams on the bench. That could be the biggest matchup of the day, with Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace attacking on the wings.

- There are some big pieces missing for Portland. There’s no Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe or Adam Kwarasey, all of whom are injured. Alvas Powell is also with Jamaica at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That doesn't lessen the danger presented by Fanendo Adi and Valeri.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

A long, strange trip: The Union's summer transfer history

Hope springs eternal for soccer fans the world over as summer dawns, months of labor bearing the fruit of new signings and new possibilities as the global deck of soccer talent shuffles itself to the hands of the highest bidders. The silly season is the habitat of boundless hope, where even the unlikeliest of dance partners can pair up like gawky teens in the last hazy, desperate moments of a high school dance.

Sheanon Williams is one of only two players
on the Union's active roster acquired during a summer transfer window.
For the Philadelphia Union, though, there should be no delusions of grandeur as to the summer harvest. If history is any indication, the Union’s dealings this summer will trade in equal measures perplexing, unjustifiably optimistic and downright futile. The past missteps, many borne of fits of midsummer pique, have backed the club into a tight logistical corner ahead of this window, the curtain on which officially rose Wednesday. That should temper already low expectations, the chances of appreciably improving a squad in dire need of reinforcements looking modest.

Presented below is the ignominious track record of the Union’s front office in transfer windows gone by. It reads like a carnage of misfits, mysteries and mirages that define the organization’s half-decade struggle to find the playoffs, and more elusively, a consistent direction through the world of MLS.

Hyperbole aside, the most damning indictment of the Union’s blithering transfer ideology resides in a single number. The club enters its sixth summer transfer window, the period of movement that owns primary status in the world’s most affluent leagues but is rendered secondary to the winter window by MLS’ peculiar schedule. But when the club resumed training from its July 4 weekend break, only two players (Fabinho and Sheanon Williams) signed during a summer window were physically present in the group assembled at PPL Park. It’s a staggeringly low number.

(Since transfer window openings vary, this appraisal considers any player movement into the Union from June on. That includes free-agent signings of players new to MLS in September.)


If you look five years down the road, this could be the set of transactions that dooms the Union to prolonged mediocrity. All the rhetoric, in hindsight, seemed too rose-colored, blinded by afterglow of a little tournament in Brazil. To compete in MLS, read the script from which the media was often regaled, the Union required World Cup talent. So they splashed out for Rais M’Bolhi, oblivious of the risk that 120 minutes of glory in Porto Alegre against Germany could be overshadowed by a decade tracing a nomadic path across Europe’s club scene, and fought to return Carlos Valdes from loan, the defender strong-arming his way out of Argentina’s San Lorenzo through a daily soap opera broadcast 140 characters at a time. Fast-forward 12 months, and the Union can’t ship M’Bolhi out of town quickly enough while the combination of Valdes’ worn-down body and outsize salary have the Union presumably hoping that the another suitor will step in where Uruguayan club Nacional has reportedly soured on the Colombian. The odds of either ever returning to supplement their total of 17 combined matches in a Union kit since the latest jersey unveiling is slightly less remote than MLS Cup making an appearance on the banks of the Delaware in the near future, but not by much.

The third, less heralded (read: retrospectively reviled) addition was Brian Brown, on loan from Jamaican club Harbour View FC. It was a little too much, too soon for the 22-year-old, who notched two goals and one assist in eight games (one start). He’s got two goals in 11 matches with NASL side Indy Eleven this season, a level more aligned with his talents. But you have to wonder if the Union would’ve had greater latitude to take a chance on Brown when his loan ended had they not squandered two international spots and undisclosed piles of money in concocting their post-World Cup recipe for disaster.

Read more »

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meet the new trialist: Chilean Santiago Dittborn

The open of the summer transfer window was heralded by a guest to Philadelphia Union training this week: Chilean midfielder Santiago Dittborn.

The 22-year-old spent the last four years on the books at Chilean club Universidad Catolica with two loan stints and has been capped six times by the Chilean national team. He’s on trial for the week with the Union. He seems to have impressed so far.

“He’s a player that came across that we had an interest in. Obviously a guy who has a very good left foot, young player still,” Curtin said around a digression that I’ll get to in a minute. “… Has impressed over the past few days. It’s three days so it’s still early, but he’s been impressive. His ability to make a final pass, and he can strike a ball with his left foot and score a good goal. Again, a young player though. It’s only three days so I won’t get ahead of myself, but he’s done well in the short time that he’s been here.”

Information about Dittborn is fairly limited, although there are a couple of highlight compilations out there worth a look if you can ignore the hideous soundtracks. He’s 22. He measures around 5-8. He’s a midfielder with some versatility – you’ll see him playing on the left wing in a 4-4-2 or centrally in a No. 8 role similar to what Vincent Nogueira would occupy if they Union went 4-4-2. He’s probably not a direct replacement for Cristian Maidana as a No. 10, even in MLS. He’s also extremely left-footed.

Dittborn has been at Universidad Catolica in his hometown of Santiago since he was a kid, ascending through their youth ranks. He rose to the senior team in 2011, which is when he started to get senior national team looks (including making the squad for this game with the U.S. in January 2011). He’s been loaned out twice to teams in the Primera Division in Chile – Cobreloa in 2013 and newly promoted San Marcos de Arica in 2014-15.
Read more »

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Open Cup caper: When will the Union play their quarterfinal match?

The Union are still playing for the U.S. Open Cup.
Somewhere, and eventually.
The Philadelphia Union are into the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

When that game will be played remains a mystery.

Jim Curtin shed some light on the matter Tuesday, saying that the Union are preparing for a July 21 date with the New York Red Bulls at a site and time to be determined.

“It’s changed a lot,” Curtin said after training. “In the past, I’ve had a lot of different emails and calls and correspondence. As of right now, I’m told it’s on the 21st. That’s the info I have. The venue is still to be determined.”

For its part, U.S. Soccer still lists the date on its website at TBD. The federation tweeted five days ago that they would have dates scheduled already, but that seems to have gone by the wayside in regard to the Union/Red Bulls date.

Let’s wade into the convoluted logic holding up something so simple as a game date. U.S. Soccer, which operates the tournament, clearly states that semifinals will be held July 21 or 22. Those blackout dates were established before the tournament began, a guide around which clubs should schedule their other events, such as friendlies.

Despite this, the Red Bulls agreed to take part in the International Challenge Cup, a grandiose sounding yet ultimately meaningless money grab … I mean friendly … against English Premier League champions Chelsea at Red Bull Arena July 22. The arena is also occupied July 21 for an ICC match between French club Paris Saint-Germain and Italy’s Fiorentina. (Hence the added wrinkle of the neutral site.)
Read more »

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