Blogs > Union Tally

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Union's slow start in three simple stats

There’s no two ways around it: The Philadelphia Union are off to a poor start to the 2015 season, the latest installment of which is a dour 1-0 loss in Chicago. The macro components of the Union’s malaise are easy to pinpoint – things like three games without goals, lax set-piece defending, two straight games with red cards, etc.
Sebastien Le Toux and his fellow Union attackers
are just not hitting the target with shots.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

Those larger-picture issues are important, but it doesn’t say what the Union can do better to fix them, necessarily. So using the bevy of data available through MLS’ partnership with OPTA Stats, let’s dig a little deeper into what constitutes the slow start. Here are three figures that capture it pretty well:

4 – Saves by Rais M’Bolhi on shots inside the box

The Algerian goalkeeper played in a little tournament you may have heard of last year in Brazil, leading the Fennec Foxes out of the group stage in a historic performance. And while that’s all wonderful, the numbers in MLS are less favorable. He’s 1-3-4 in eight matches with the Union (still too small of a sample size to make a firm determination) having allowed 10 goals on 25 shots on target. This season, M’Bolhi has made four saves on shots inside the box. Two were against Fabian Castillo in the FC Dallas game (while Castillo's best chance hit the crossbar). One was against Jordan Allen and RSL, and one was on Kennedy Igboananike with a smart kick save against Chicago.

For comparison, Houston’s Tyler Deric has made seven saves on shots inside the box this season. Clint Irwin, who hasn’t given up a goal yet for Colorado, has six, including four against the Union on opening night alone. And they make a heck of a lot less than M’Bolhi does. To bring it back to M’Bolhi, he stopped five shots by Germany from inside the box in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 loss alone.

M’Bolhi isn’t playing poorly and certainly isn’t the biggest issue on this team. But it's about the larger picture. Instead of getting a veteran center back or a competent left back or defensive cover that had played in MLS before, the Union spent that money on M’Bolhi under the assumption that he could steal games for them in situations like, oh I don’t know, being down a man for a half. (Ahem, Irwin.) The spent all that money on him so that he could help the team take the next step in a way Zac MacMath couldn't for three seasons. So far, he's fallen far, far short of expectations.

28.9 – Percentage of Union shots on target
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Friday, March 20, 2015

Snow postpones Dallas game

A few inches of spring snow was apparently too much for the Philadelphia Union to handle Friday.

The Union announced Friday afternoon that that evening’s game with FC Dallas would be postponed a day due to the ongoing winter weather advisory in Chester.

The game will be rescheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. It will be broadcast on Univision Deportes Network and streamed online. The Friday match had been scheduled for national UniMas coverage. No local broadcast will be available.

A club release cited “dangerous traffic conditions” as a primary concern with 2-4 inches of frozen precipitation expected. The Union had weathered eight inches of snow two days before the opener at PPL Park two weeks ago.

“We had every intention to play our match as originally scheduled, but the current weather conditions will challenge the safety of our fans, players, and staff, and they always will be our first priority,” Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz said in a club statement. “With a sunny day in the high 50’s forecasted for tomorrow, we look forward to welcoming everyone to a magnificent setting at PPL Park.”

It’s the second time in Union history that a game has been moved due to snow. Their trip to Colorado in March 2013 was moved back a day due to over a foot of snow in the Rockies.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Union-Rapids: Lineups and pregame thoughts for the opener

UNION (4-4-2)
Wenger-Edu-Nogueira-Le Toux
Bench: McCarthy, Fabinho, Marquez, Lahoud, Pfeffer, Maidana, Casey

Colorado Rapids (4-2-3-1) 
Sarvas- Pittinari
Sanchez-Serna- Torres
Bench: Berner, Burch, O’Neill, Alvarez, Cronin, Brown

Rest assured, PPL Park has shed its frosted look since Thursday.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

- The lingering tactical debate for Jim Curtin this season is whether he’d opt for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2. For the debut, it’s nominally a 4-4-2, with the potential to morph into a 4-2-4. Cristian Maidana starts on the bench with CJ Sapong operating as a second striker behind Fernando Aristeguieta.

- Out with injury is Danny Cruz (hamstring), meaning we won’t get a repeat of this ugly tackle from Shane O’Neill this season.
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Friday, March 6, 2015

Making dollars and sense of Union roster

New Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta, left,
is one of two designated players on the Union's
2015 roster to start the season. (AP file)
Despite a lot of disagreement at the bargaining table, MLS’s 2015 season will begin in a matter of hours Friday. While details of the new collective bargaining agreement have leaked out, there hasn’t been much concrete info on the topography of the new CBA’s budgetary structure, with only figures and dollar amounts trickling out thus far.

In the absence of major alterations, it’s likely that the new arrangement will look a lot like the old one, which is what many MLS clubs were forecasting in the days and weeks before Wednesday’s pact was finalized. Union technical director Chris Albright offered Tuesday that, “Everybody’s got their guesses” about the roster ramifications that will emanate from the new CBA.

Regardless, the Union have a more-or-less finalized roster. In addition to their acquisitions in February, the Union this week announced the signing of Dzenan Catic (though that was actually old news) and came to agreements with trialists Eric Ayuk Mbu and fourth-round SuperDraft pick Raymond Lee. 

Those moves indicate that clubs likely have been given a good idea of how to prepare for the new season. As a guide, let’s utilize last season’s roster rules, which is likely what most clubs have done.

As a reminder, here’s what MLS’s Roster Rules and Regulations say about the composition of a roster:
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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Union react to new CBA

MLS and the MLS Players Union avoided a strike Thursday night by striking a new collective bargaining agreement. The basic facets of the deal provide for a limited form a free agency and increases in both minimum salary and the salary cap, while MLS has confirmed the pact to be a five-year deal. There's much more to be disclosed about the deal, and there are early signs of discord among the players.

Thursday night, the Union released the following statements on the deal:
CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz: “We are very happy for our great fans and had confidence in the strength of the relationship between MLS players and our ownership that a positive outcome in the CBA negotiations would occur and it has. We applaud the leadership of both Commissioner (Don) Garber and the Labor Committee members as well as the MLSPU for coming to a timely resolution in a professional and respectful manner. Well done and now its game on!”

Head coach Jim Curtin: “All of our preparation and focus this offseason has been to get three points on March 7 and we’re all excited to know there’s an agreement for the season to go on as scheduled. We’re counting it down just like all of our great fans and we can’t wait to see everyone at PPL Park on Saturday.”

Union Player Representative Brian Carroll: “Danny (Cruz) and I are proud of the work that was accomplished today by the Major League Soccer Players Union. We are extremely thankful for the fans continued support throughout this entire process. We look forward to a successful season and the growth of soccer in this country.”

Here's what MLS commissioner Don Garber had to say:

“We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players. We now enter our 20th season with enormous momentum with our new television partnerships, dynamic star players from the US, Canada and abroad, and two new expansion teams in New York City and Orlando that will debut in front of more than 60,000 fans on Sunday in the Citrus Bowl. This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world.”

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Quick hits: Union practice, March 3

The Philadelphia Union’s season is slated to start in four days. The team running through its drills for the better part of two hours at the Bubble, the University of Penn’s Dunning-Cohen Champions’ Field, Tuesday morning didn’t seem like it was preparing for anything else. There’s uncertainty league wide, with the pall of CBA negotiations hanging over the start of the season. But on the field, there were a few notable points to the Union’s first training session in the Philadelphia in a month.

- First, the absences. Fernando Aristeguieta was in Venezuela tending to visa issues (something Union fans recall all too vividly from last summer.) Technical director Chris Albright said that the club expects Aristeguieta back Thursday at the latest. Also absent was the injured Andre Blake and Eric Bird, who remains with the team. It’s a groin injury on Bird, a problem that dogged him in college. Both of the Union’s MLS Players Union reps, Danny Cruz and Brian Carroll, remained in Washington for CBA negotiations.

- Among those present were trialists Eric Ayuk and draft pick Raymond Lee. It sounds as though the Cameroonian winger and the fullback from Saint Louis may hang around for a while.

- Conor Casey didn’t take part in half-field 7-on-7 drills getting his legs attended to. The striker did start in the final preseason game against

- On the field, Zach Pfeffer continued to look impressive, looking a bit more physical and sporting a beard. Sebastien Le Toux scored several goals on 7-on-7, while Union practice was plenty loud thanks to how vocal new signing Steven Vitoria is, complementing well with Ethan White and Rais M’Bolhi. Manager Jim Curtin was impressed by his team's sharpness after a couple of days off. It was likely one of the more intense practices of the week, with snow threatening Thursday's session.

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