A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
The bad news in the Union's playoff chase
After Saturday’s surprising (and surprisingly efficient) 1-0 win at Montreal, I decided to wait a few days to levy the less uplifting news that the MLS standings had to offer for the buoyant spirits of Philadelphia Union fans. Certainly after the emancipation of the Union from the specter of Rais M’Bolhi’s continued presence Monday, no one wanted a dousing of cold, logical water.
But the truth remains fairly bleak for the Union. For weeks, the Union haven’t sustained enough success to consider it important where other teams stood. But now that they have the chance of parlaying their Montreal win into a mini-streak when New England comes to town this weekend, it’s worth getting the standings to fess up their secrets.
First, the good news: After weeks of stagnation, the Union have created daylight between themselves and Chicago in the basement of the Eastern Conference. The Union’s 27 points are just one behind a crowd of three teams – Montreal, New York City and Orlando City. NYCFC is going nowhere quickly with its aged and perpetually strained midfield, and Orlando is in freefall with one win and 24 goals allowed in its last eight games, usurping the Union’s long-secure place as MLS’ leakiest team.
So, all that good news is mitigated by one single nugget of negativity: The Impact, which occupy the sixth and final playoff berth, have four games in hand on the Union. If we even out their games-played total, the Impact’s points-per-game average yields 33 points, six ahead of the Union. Read more »
Four's company: Union on the brink of goalkeeping history
Could John McCarthy be headed to the bench for Andre Blake? Jim Curtin didn't rule it out Thursday. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
It should shock no one to state that the Philadelphia Union have an ignominious goalkeeping history. So it’s not surprising that the Union are on the verge of another inglorious distinction between the posts, potentially this weekend.
Jim Curtin strongly hinted Thursday at his weekly press conference that Andre Blake could be in line for his season debut Saturday against Montreal. The timing would seem to be right: Blake is recovered from surgeries on both knees in January, then May. He’ll leave for international duty with Jamaica for a two-leg tie with Nicaragua in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Sept. 4 and 8.
Here’s what Curtin had to say:
“We’re thinking about it. We’ll make a decision. Andre’s been called in to Jamaica three weeks from now, so there’s a possibility that it makes sense to give him a game or two.”
If Curtin plays the same loyalty card he did last year with Zac MacMath, it may be that he’s deemed John McCarthy as having earned the start in the Sept. 30 Open Cup final. That would position McCarthy to play a couple of games in late September to stay sharp.
In the meantime, Brian Sylvestre is on the shelf until his oft-reaggravated hand injury is fully healed. When the subject was broached two weeks ago, Curtin declared McCarthy the starter in Orlando. There was no such openness this week. Curtin also failed to conceal his disappointment with McCarthy in Sunday’s 3-3 draw with Chicago.
“Well, the game, not happy with how we executed at that 2-1, we had a lot of chances to get the third goal,” was how Curtin started his postgame press address. “Sean Johnson obviously had a very good night. He had a lot of key saves, a lot of big saves to keep them in it. I think we gave up four shots on goal and three goals. So, again, you know, you work so hard, you finally break through and get a goal.” Read more »
Of all the parties and portions of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, Allentown – named Wednesday in Bethlehem, one was noticeably prevalent in declaration but physically absent.
The elephant under the tent for the Union’s launch of a Lehigh Valley USL side in 2016 was the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union’s (soon-to-be former) developmental partner.
For about as long as the Philadelphia Union have played soccer, they’ve been affiliated with Harrisburg. That arrangement has offered countless Union player the chance for rehab or maintenance matches in USL through the years. Per Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, the Union’s link to Harrisburg “was a lot of the impetus for the two leagues aligning,” prior to the 2013 season to allow greater player movement and enhance USL’s utility as a reserve league.
Whether or not the Union had any pull in the original connection between America’s first and third divisions, that paradigm is on the way out the door, chased by what began in 2014 with L.A. Galaxy starting the “Galaxy II” side as a reservoir for young talent, offering them regular games and providing relief from the senior roster as the minor-league side did the dirty work of blood-letting.
The Union are the ninth team – behind L.A., Portland, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and New York Red Bulls – to field its own USL squad. Per USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis, the majority of MLS clubs could operate full affiliates by next year.
“We have at present eight MLS teams,” he said during the press conference. “Today will be nine. We expect two more to join us for the 2016 season.”
Union unveil new USL franchise at Lehigh University
USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis, left, presents a Lehigh Valley 16 jersey to Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz Wednesday at Lehigh University.
The Philadelphia Union announced Wednesday what has long been rumored: A USL franchise operating out of the Lehigh Valley region.
The club, which will be named at a later date via fan vote through the month of September, will play its games at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium, a 16,000-seat stadium that also hosts the university’s football games, and begin operation in 2016.
The club will be the 27th club in USL’s rapid phase of expansion. The Union are the ninth MLS franchise to directly operate a USL franchise. USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis said he expects to more to join that number before the start of next season. Orlando City has been rumored to be one of those clubs.
- It’s a 50/50 split on the injury front. Maurice Edu shakes off his groin injury to earn a place in the starting XI, relegating Steven Vitoria to the stands (he’s not even in the 18, thanks to the limit of five international players in the lineup). Vincent Nogueira, however, fails his fitness test. That means the Union field the same front six as Saturday’s draw with Orlando City, with Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud a rather conservative central midfield pairing.
- The glaring work-in-progress for the Union is in the midfield triumvirate. How much interchange is there between Cristian Maidana, ostensibly in the No. 10 role, and Tranquillo Barnetta on the left wing? How much less effective is that group without a credible threat from an attack-minded No. 8 (presumably Lahoud in this case)? And if that arrangement doesn’t work or doesn’t push the action as manager Jim Curtin desires at home against a Fire team winless in its last 19 games outside of Illinois, how quickly does he dial up a change, perhaps Zach Pfeffer in midfield or Fernando Aristeguieta up top with CJ Sapong moved to the wing?
- The Fire, MLS’s only winless team on the road this season, have all of their firepower back, and they have no shortage of attacking options, albeit ones with limited experience playing together. David Accam and Shaun Maloney are ready to go from the start, and Gilberto makes his debut with Maloney playing off his shoulder. Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Kennedy Igboananike are late-game options aplenty off the bench. There will be plenty of interchanging to challenge Carroll and Lahoud: Harry Shipp spiriting in from the left wing, Maloney hovering behind Gilberto, Accam running toward the byline from wherever he pleases. The Fire are last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored by a wide margin, but they don’t have the injury excuse to factor in Wednesday.
- This is the Union’s ninth Open Cup match since the start of 2014. None of the previous eight have finished in 90 minutes. Six have gone to extra time, three have required resolution through penalty kicks and two were delayed by weather. The weather at PPL Park looks clear, so bet on extra time.
Backed into a corner: The Union's set-piece struggles
There are plenty of areas in which the Philadelphia Union have proven substandard this season. But perhaps the most glaring, most thoroughly deficient area of their game is their execution on corner kicks, where the only substantial outcome for the Union this season is, well, generating this:
Alexi Lalas schtick aside, here are the pertinent figures: Since the start of the 2014 season, the Union rank second in MLS, having earned 348 corner kicks in 58 games, an average of exactly six per game. They led the league in 2014 with 211 corners and sit fourth this year with 137. (First since the start of 2014 is New England with 353.) Add in the bevy of Open Cup games – I account for all but the Rochester game, since those stats appear to exist only on the hand-written stat sheet provided postgame – and the total elevates to 411 – 265 last year, 146 this year.
In that time, the Union’s total number of goals produced off those corners is a whopping nine. Just 9.
Despite the addition of CJ Sapong's aerial threat this season, the Union remain woeful on converting corner kicks. (AP)
If you can’t remember any offhand, that’s not a surprise, so let’s break them down.
In 2014, the Union scored three goals directly off corners (which I define as a ball played in from the corner and scored before the opposing team can clear it from the 18-yard box). Jack McInerney scored in the opener against Portland, Maurice Edu equalized late against Real Salt Lake and Sheanon Williams made this great run against Colorado. Twice, the Union scored on second balls (i.e., a corner cleared, then put immediately back in), with like Edu in the Open Cup against Harrisburg City and Andrew Wenger from a pinball off a couple of heads against Toronto. In addition, Edu drew a penalty kick on a corner against the Red Bulls in July.
This season, the return is even sparser. The Union have twice scored off corner kicks: The Jacob Peterson own goal in the April 5 shootout in Kansas City that gave rise to #SetPieceOrgy and courtesy of CJ SapongJune 6 against NYCFC. In addition, we can add one indirect goal, though it’s a stretch, with Edu jumping on the rebound of a Fabinho shot from outside the box after he corralled a corner clearance by Montreal June 27.
- All eyes are on one name on the bench: Tranquillo Barnetta. The Swiss player – maybe the Union’s biggest ever acquisition who was unveiled Friday – makes the bench as anticipated. He required a week of intercontinental transit to seal his move to Philadelphia, so he’s not 90-minutes fit, but he could play some role in this contest.
- Brian Sylvestre’s hand laceration wasn’t the subject of much discussion this week, and it didn’t preclude him from training. But he’s out of the 18 today, with John McCarthy getting the nod in goal. McCarthy was stellar last week against the Red Bulls.
- Among the starting XI, emphasis will be placed on the Union’s central midfield pivot that will be withoutVincent Nogueira for the majority of August. It’s Zach Pfeffer’s time to shine: He was hit-or-miss last week against D.C. United, with some good moments and some bad, and with as outstanding as Nogueira has been, especially going forward, the onus is on Pfeffer to step up big time.
- For the Red Bulls, no shocks in the starting lineup. Kemar Lawrence has the week off to recover from the Gold Cup. Shaun Wright-Phillips makes the matchday 18 after being signed midweek. One oddity is that Dax McCarty, like Pfeffer, had a midweek flight to Colorado for All-Star festivities (Pfeffer in the Homegrown Game).