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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What they said: Highlights from Union media day

At his first Union media day, Sporting Director Earnie Stewart
had plenty to say. (Times File)
As far as I can recall, Thursday marked the first Philadelphia Union media day (at least in the three-plus seasons I’ve been covering the team), which gave reporters an opportunity to sit down with players and get some info ahead of the season.

Among the headlines were Maurice Edu’s position and national team prospects, plus a lot of the usual status talk from Jim Curtin and Earnie Stewart. All that and more will produce hours of sound, video and reading for the coming days (keep an eye out for some rookie profiles and more next week).

But the couple of hours’ worth of conversations yielded a few gem quotes, so let’s throw a few of the best out there.

Let’s start with Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, who had a couple of provocative responses. The first, about off days which I thought was worthy of tweeting, may be a little splashy in the message that can be distilled from it, but it’s a thoughtful response that warrants some real consideration and discussion. This came from a question of roadblocks that Stewart has encountered in MLS that maybe surprised him. It also, for what it’s worth, echoes many of the criticisms of college soccer and its efficacy as a player development tool:
There’s rules that you have to abide by that I’m not used to, when it comes to days off in a week that are mandatory from a players’ union perspective or mandatory vacation days that there are. I’m not used to that. It’s a short period of time. I feel in the United States, we’re working very hard to create players that are world class players. And on the other hand, we have a lot of days off, and the combination of those two, I don’t get. So those are things that I have to get used to, and hopefully towards the future, we can tweak those because I think for every sport, no matter if it’s soccer or if you look at swimmers or what they do every single day getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and then practicing in the afternoon. If they want to be Olympians and they want to get a gold medal, they have to work hard. And vacation will come someday. But not when you’re in the prime of your life. So those are things that you have to get used to, but they are what they are.
Stewart also had an interesting response (at least to me) to Kevin Kinkead’s question about the difference between American soccer media and its European counterpart:
There’s not too much. They ask questions, you guys ask questions, it’s all about soccer. I’d say if there’s a difference, it’s the questions asked. I do have to say that in the last two years, and you see that a lot in Europe, it’s usually about the negative things in what’s happening and hardly every reflect on the positive things. And now in my experience with your guys has been that you get both sides of it. When it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s simple as that. But when it’s good, it’s also good. Maybe there’s a small difference there, but nothing major.
Read more »

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Monday, January 25, 2016

In the Bubble: Highlights from Day 1 of Union training camp

There wasn't a whole lot going on at the first day
of Union training camp at the Bubble at Penn Monday.
As first days go for the Philadelphia Union, Monday’s practice at Dunning-Cohen Field on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania was stunningly uneventful. To the media throng (ahem) in attendance, there was little of the drama of past years. No established star was told they didn’t have a place on the team, no one walked out, and there wasn’t much in the way of mystery trialists.

Instead, the Union’s lively session consisted mostly of new, unfamiliar faces. With many veteran mainstays cleaned out by the offseason roster cull, there were frankly a bunch of guys no one recognized and whose identities may not be very important unless you’re a devoted follower of USL. Here are a few observations:

- Two important takeaways: Much of the field was populated by current or prospective Bethlehem Steel players. That includes all six signed players signed – Boluwatife Akinyode, Michael Daly (pretty sure on this one, but not 100 percent), Gabe Gissie, Ryan Richter, Derrick Jones and goalkeeper Samir Badr. Many of the other players in attendance are likely vying for USL deals more so than realistically threatening for MLS positions. (Former Harrisburg and Rochester defender Ken Tribbett is an example.) There were also several Academy players training – Andrew Verdi in goal, I believe Auston Trusty was there before he departs for the U.S. U-19 camp later this week. Remember, when the Union are in Florida, there are dozens of players doing the camp-to-camp hop, so trialists are more abundant.

- The second interesting observation: Everyone, save for Maurice Edu, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, was a full go. The Union rotated three teams of nine players in the 40 minutes we watched. Two played full-field games, while the other ran. Veterans like Vincent Nogueira, Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux and Chris Pontius all hit the ground running. The days of Conor Casey sitting on a training table or working the bike for an hour are gone, literally and symbolically. Here’s Jim Curtin on the matter:

“We wanted to set the tone that there’s no pro days or off days for the older guys. We didn’t ease them into it. They were up to the task and were pushed hard. We’re going to be a team that is going to be at the top fitness-wise. We want to be a team that outruns the competition.”

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Pondering the legacy of Zach Pfeffer

The Union bid farewell to Homegrown player Zach Pfeffer
after five seasons Friday in a deal with Colorado. (Times File)
An era ended Friday for the Philadelphia Union.

It wasn’t directly related to coaches or management or anything like that.

What ended Friday was the age of affixing outsized significance to the on-field actions of Zach Pfeffer on his narrow shoulders.

A bunch of other switches flipped with the trade of the 21-year-old midfielder to Colorado as the player to be named in the deal that landed the Union the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s SuperDraft and defender Joshua Yaro.

Pfeffer’s departure marks a clear end of what we can call the Nowak/Hackworth era of Homegrown signings, Pfeffer joining fellow honorees Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez in the hallowed ranks of former Union members in a campaign that has been an unabashed failure. Pfeffer’s trade kicks out the crutch that often buckled under the weight of the Nick Sakiewicz regime that trumpeted commitment to Homegrown players out of one side of its mouth and whose only recourse was to point to Pfeffer in a desperate act of HG tokenism. (“See, we’re committed to Homegrowns. Look how Zach Pfeffer almost played last week.”)
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Union make moves, grab Yaro, Rosenberry, Herbers at SuperDraft

BALTIMORE >> MLS Commissioner Don Garber wasn’t even done with his opening address before the Philadelphia Union made a splash.

The Union acquired the No. 2 overall pick from Colorado for general allocation money and a player to be named, then brought in a haul of young players with picks in the top six, starting with two Georgetown players.

At No. 2, they selected the player most expected to go No. 1, Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro. The Ghanaian is a member of Generation Adidas. There’s some question as to where the 5-11, 163-pounder will play in the pros after three years at Georgetown as a center back, but he’s a good fit on the right as well.

With their natural selection, third overall, the Union surprised some by taking former academy product Keegan Rosenberry. The Union have a Homegrown claim denied on the right back, but took the senior anyway at No. 3.

Wake Forest’s Jack Harrison went first overall.

With the sixth pick, the Union selected German-born midfielder Fabian Herbers of Creighton. The 6-0, 170-pound scored 15 goals and dished 17 assists for the Blue Jays as a junior. He's a Generation Adidas signing. The Union had acquired the sixth pick from Houston in the Andrew Wenger-Cristian Maidana trade in December.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Union sign Brazilian deender Conceicao

The Philadelphia Union’s first international acquisition of January was sealed Wednesday.

The club acquired 26-year-old Brazilian defender Anderson Conceicao on loan from Brazilian third-division club Tombense FC for the 2016 season.

Conceicao is a left-footer who can play left back and center back with good size at 6-foot-2. The native of Caravelas has spent most of his career in Brazil, primarily in the second division, Campeonato Brasileiro Serie B. He also spent a season on loan with Spanish club Mallorca, appearing 16 times in La Liga and 19 times in all competitions in a season where Los Bermellones were relegated.

Last season, Conceicao helped America Mineiro achieve promotion to Serie A, playing 30 matches for the club as it finished fourth in Serie B. Looks like he also played for 2014 champions Joinville.

“Anderson’s natural athletic ability and winning pedigree was really something we zeroed in on during our offseason assessment,” Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart said in a team statement. “He’s the type of defender who really addresses some of our technical needs and we strongly believe we’re getting someone who is committed to helping build the next chapter of our club.”

Conceicao is only the fourth defender under contract for the Union in 2015, joining Maurice Edu, Ray Gaddis and Richie Marquez. He’s the 16th player on the Union roster overall, joining Tuesday’s acquisition, winger Walter Restrepo.
Below are a few videos of his highlights. First from Mallorca:

The others are older. He spent 2012 at Figueirense:

And then 2011-12 at Criciuma:

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Union release 2016 schedule

MLS finally revealed its much delayed schedule Thursday, and the prospects for national exposure are fairly glum for the Union. They have just three national TV dates, two in UniMas Friday night affairs with Orlando City April 8 and D.C. United May 20. They are slated to be on FS1 July 17 vs. New York Red Bulls. They aren’t listed for any ESPN dates. By contrasted, the Union were scheduled for eight national TV dates last year.

Other dates of interest:

- Check the backlog in May that features six games in 22 days. There’s also three straight road trips to Portland, Toronto and Red Bulls in September and October, plus an October bye week that hampers the Union’s hopes of playing catchup late in the season. They also play Red Bulls twice in the last three games.

- This year’s western road trips include Seattle, Union East (Houston), MLS Cup holders Portland, Colorado and FC Dallas in the opener.

- Sporting KC returns to Talen Energy Park for the first time since the U.S. Open Cup final Aug. 27.

Full list is below.Here's the link to the schedule on MLS' site.

March 6: at FC Dallas, 3
March 12: at Columbus, TBD
March 20: New England, 2
April 2: at Chicago, 5
April 8: Orlando City, 7 (UniMas)
April 16: at Seattle, 10
April 23: NYCFC, TBD
April 30: San Jose, TBD
May 11: L.A. Galaxy, TBD
May 14: at Montreal, TBD
May 20: D.C. United, 7 (UniMas)
May 25: at Orlando City, 7:30
May 28: at Colorado, 9
June 1: Columbus, TBD
June 18: at NYCFC, TBD
June 22: Chicago, TBD
June 25: Vancouver, TBD
July 2: at Houston, TBD
July 9: D.C. United, TBD
July 17: Red Bulls, 7 (FS1)
July 23: at Montreal, TBD
July 31: Real Salt Lake, TBD
Aug. 6: at D.C. United, 7
Aug. 13: at New England, 7:30
Aug. 20: Toronto, TBD
Aug. 24: at Columbus, 7:30
Aug. 27: Sporting KC, TBD
Sept. 3: at Chicago, 8:30
Sept. 10: Montreal, TBD
Sept. 17: at Portland, 6
Sept. 24: at Toronto, TBD
Oct. 1: at Red Bulls, 7
Oct. 16: Orlando City, 5
Oct. 23: Red Bulls, 4

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The 'killer' problem revealed by Nowak and the Union

Court documents revealed this week show the depth of dysfunction
behind the scenes during Peter Nowak's tenure with the Union.
(Times File)
For those residing in the peculiar Venn diagram overlap of “people who follow the Philadelphia Union” and “people with a high tolerance for digging through legalese,” this last day has been a whirlwind. Jonathan Tannenwald at Tuesday night obtained many of the relevant documents relating to the long-standing lawsuit between Peter Nowak and related entities for wrongful termination from the Philadelphia Union, and more documents were made public Wednesday. You can find a tidy listing of the highlights divulged by Tannenwald’s tweets here at the Brotherly Game, and it's worth picking through his timeline for gems.

All the documents are available at Philly Soccer Page, and I’d expect plenty more reaction there in the coming days. If nothing else, Steve Holroyd’s guide behind the curtain of arbitration proceedings such as these is extremely helpful.

In the over 700 pages of disclosures, there is plenty of new information, lurid details and downright concerning glances at the inner workings of the early Union franchise. Among the very important documentation is Nowak’s contract, liked at PSP as Exhibit A. (All of these links will be pdfs, so browsers beware). The most pertinent are the two parts of Exhibit C, which is the Union’s post-hearing brief. Tab 1 is more detailed; Tab 2 is more condensed. Nowak’s post-hearing brief is available in Exhibit D.

Exhibit G is arbitrator Margaret Brogan’s interim decision, followed by her final award in Exhibit L, which finds decisively in the Union’s favor and orders Nowak to pay nearly a half-million dollars in legal fees.

There are many points of granular interest. But I want to pinpoint something else that is inherent in the text and that still has real ramifications for the Union. To be sure, Nowak’s influence has waned. The number of players exposed to his brand of management number in the single digits, and the hiring of a real sporting director in Earnie Stewart is further hope for the maturation of the Union as an organization in the club’s second half-decade. Beyond the headline-catching salacious details – and yes, it’s taken me this long to type the word “spanking” – the ramifications of the disclosures echo much farther down the line, which imbues the past with greater significance.

First, the files The crux of the determination for Nowak’s dismissal and the subsequent reason why Brogan found that not to have constituted wrongful termination lies in the opening months of 2012. Nowak was fired June 13, 2012, and the timeline of events leading up to that are a bender of disconcerting behavior.

Here’s the rough timeline, as alleged in Exhibit C , Tab 2, from the Union’s perspective, many of the details of which Nowak was only made aware of after his firing:
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