Blogs > Union Tally

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Two's company, 26 is a roster ... or so it appears for Union

The Philadelphia Union have added three players in the last two days, Tuesday inking deals with Ken Tribbett and Cole Missimo and Wednesday finalizing the long-anticipated capture of Ilsinho.

And with that, I present the 2016 Philadelphia Union…

OK, maybe there’s no need for that level of drama. But in practice, this roster is essentially finished for the winter window, it would seem. The Union avowed in the offseason not to make hefty changes to the roster. Sporting Director Earnie Stewart has made it clear that the aim is not to fill every spot just to fill them. Jim Curtin has said – and other MLS clubs operating “II” USL franchises have illustrated – that a spot or two of roster flexibility is preferable to accommodate high achievers in the minors (which the Union have preemptively done with Tribbett).

This is not to say that the Union will absolutely, 100 percent enter the FC Dallas game March with this exact roster. The conclusion of camps often brings a flurry of trades and transactions as positional battles are settled, players are deemed expendable, strengths and weaknesses are weighed and injury subtractions are compensated for. If a low-cost, MLS-experienced, American forward were to become available, then maybe the Union could be enticed into an addition. (Please, no Amobi Okugo questions here.)

But barring that possibility, the Union’s roster stands at a healthy, albeit midfield-heavy, 26 players:

Goalies (3): Andre Blake, Matt Jones, John McCarthy

Defenders (8): Fabinho, Anderson, Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez, Keegan Rosenberry, Ken Tribbett, Taylor Washington, Joshua Yaro

Midfielders (13): Roland Alberg, Eric Ayuk, Tranquillo Barnetta, Brian Carroll, Warren Creavalle, Maurice Edu, Leo Fernandes, Ilsinho, Sebastien Le Toux, Cole Missimo, Vincent Nogueira, Chris Pontius, Walter Restrepo

Forwards (2): Fabian Herbers, CJ Sapong

On the face of it, there’s a fair amount of balance. The goalkeeping situation has been ironed out. The eight-strong defensive contingent involves four center backs, two right backs and two left backs, with Ray Gaddis and Anderson Conceicao adding left-back flexibility, plus Warren Creavalle. The search to be two-deep at every position is taken literally for the center-forward pairing.

In the midfield, there are four players that can play at either the No. 6, No. 8 or No. 10 positions. One area of redundancy is the wings of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or whatever we’re calling it. Normally, that would be fertile grounds for a swap for a forward. But considering that the Union 1) just added Chris Pontius, Walter Restrepo and Ilsinho; 2) wrangled for the return of Leo Fernandes; 3) rightly see Sebastien Le Toux as the backup center forward; and 4) view Eric Ayuk's age and talent as an asset for the future on the field and for his sell-on value, a trade for a short-term forward stopgap seems unlikely.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Playing with Fire: What to look for in preseason game No. 2 (w/ video)

The second real installment of the Philadelphia Union’s preseason comes Thursday when they meet the Chicago Fire at 4 p.m. in Clearwater, Fla. (Livestream below and available on Union’s YouTube channel.)

As manager Jim Curtin mentioned in a conference call Wednesday, the preseason opener in the rain against Jacksonville Armada last Saturday, a 1-0 loss, turned out to be a glorified training exercise. With trialists new to camp and Roland Alberg having just touched down in the States, the performance was understandably disjointed, not helped by 30-minute shifts of players that prevented anyone getting much of a rhythm.

With a thinner roster this time around, the Union should deploy more cohesive units. So what to look for? Here are five things:

- What does midfield look like sans Alberg? Curtin confirmed that Alberg is unavailable, having returned to the Netherlands to sort out paperwork. Against the Armada, he started in central midfield next to Tranquillo Barnetta in front of Vincent Nogueira. What will that look like today? Does Nogueira slide up with Warren Creavalle or Brian Carroll holding? Or does Leo Fernandes get a chance?

- Another dose of Ilsinho. Even in limited time, the Brazilian proved he can do special things with a soccer ball. An extended runout with the first team or something closer to regulars should bolster the amount of info the club can collect to arrive at a decision.

- In the defense. Curtin Wednesday declared that the battle involves four guys. Having either Anderson Conceicao or Josh Yaro take steps toward developing a rapport with Richie Marquez would be beneficial, but seeing either play alongside Ken Tribbett isn’t damning.

- Separation on the wings. Curtin spoke highly of Chris Pontius Wednesday. We all know what Sebastien Le Toux can do, and then there’s sorting out the contributions of Walter Restrepo and Eric Ayuk before determining if Alberg or Fernandes would be required on the wing.

- A goal against grown-ups. A 5-0 training win over the United States Under-17s was nice this week (and symbolic for spanking the team coached by John Hackwor…I should stop there). But a goal against adults would be nice, and that focuses not just on CJ Sapong but the other attackers. Presuming Curtin rotates in 45-minute shifts (as he progressed in last year’s preseason), the onus is on whomever starts as a forward in the second half, probably Fabian Herbers, unless another trialist emerges.

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

So it begins: Five things to watch in the preseason opener vs. Jacksonville (w/ livestream)

The first game of preseason may mean little in the grand scheme of a lengthy soccer season. But the Philadelphia Union’s inauspicious exhibition start last year ushered in an equally underwhelming campaign.

There’s no causality between the 3-1 loss to Jacksonville Armada 364 days ago and the sluggish start to the MLS season or the disappointing exclusion from the postseason for a fifth time in six seasons. But that doesn’t completely strip Saturday’s return voyage to Jacksonville of meaning. (Livestream is available on the Union's website, and embedded below.)

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Last year’s meeting was more pertinent for the hosts, playing the first competitive match in franchise history and jumping out to an early lead before 13,000 spectators. It also featured an Andrew Wenger goal, a rare sight that wouldn’t manifest itself in a meaningful game for another five months. Seven of the starters in last year’s game are no longer with the Union (though one never was, to be fair).

So what’s in store this time around? Here are five things to watch for:

Formation. Jim Curtin and his staff have played it coy on committing to a formation. We’re left to speculate that it’ll be a 4-3-3, which seems to fit the personnel, but what will that look like in practice? How will (presumably) Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira space themselves in central midfield? What balances will be struck by wingers like Sebastien Le Toux and Chris Pontius cutting inside? Will the professed desire for fullbacks to get higher up the pitch result in concrete changes? Where does Roland Alberg fit?

Changes in concepts. Earnie Stewart wants the Union to change the way they play in some fundamental ways. Even accounting for lack of sharpness, fitness and familiarity with each other, glimmers of that should shine through. We can get certain indications about certain precepts – ideas like short passing, playing out of the back, schemes for pressuring the ball – are sinking in.

The defensive hierarchy. The draft process likely leaves Joshua Yaro a little more fit than Anderson Conceicao, so no grand declarations if he gets the nod to start the game at center back. But seeing both of those guys play alongside Richie Marquez could give indications as to Curtin’s thinking on pairings.

Trialists? The Union have been uncharacteristically mum about who’s in camp. Last year, their openness on that matter still resulted in the brief dawn and eclipse of the Pape Gassama era. If the Union repeat last season’s tack of utilizing three waves of outfield players in 30-minute shifts, we’ll be exposed to plenty of the candidates.

A little patience. The Union are playing six preseason matches, the other five against MLS opposition. The hefty workload differs from previous years’ sketches, which certainly stems from Stewart’s influence. Last year’s Armada loss was followed by winning the Suncoast Invitational, which led to the disastrous start to the season. Those are the perils of ascribing too much meaning to any result before the games that matter start.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Doing the math: How close is the Union to a full roster?

A move like Thursday’s capture of Dutch midfielder Roland Alberg has been long anticipated, and one could argue that it’s the biggest non-draft acquisition of the Philadelphia Union’s offseason. (Or at least that’s the hope provided by Alberg’s potential contributions.)

The Union stand on the eve of their first preseason game with a roster occupying both ends of the spectrum. On the one side, it stands at 21 players, theoretically nowhere near the MLS-permitted maximum of 28 players. On the other, Sporting Director Earnie Stewart has made it no secret that the objective “(is) not to fill every spot,” but rather to build a stable and sturdy lineup according to the Union’s perceptions, not external expectations.

The guiding mythos of that search seems to be Stewart’s declaration of being two-deep at every position. By that lens, how far are the Union from a completed squad? In basic math, they’re at least one player shy, plus the unavoidable need for a third goalkeeper.

But otherwise, the offseason rebuild may not be far from completion. Consider these two formations, in the assumption of a 4-3-3 (left to right):

Ayuk-Herbers-Le Toux
Extra: Restrepo
Listed above are 22 players, all but one of whom (Taylor Washington) has a deal for the 2016 season. There’s only one bona fide question mark among the first two teams, that being a fourth center back on the depth charter. They drafted Mitch Lurie in the third round of the draft, and he’s one candidate for a cheap, American fix. That player, Lurie or not, would presumably by player No. 23 on the roster.

The second XI indicates a weakness in the lack of a reserve No. 8. Theoretically, Tranquillo Barnetta could play there with Alberg or Leo Fernandes as a No. 10. The defensive responsibilities of that position are probably a little beyond Fernandes. That’s an area to look at for player No. 24.

Another forward option could be player No. 25, as I can’t imagine the idea of entering the season with Fabian Herbers as the only reserve center forward being the ideal situation. And a third goalie, obviously beyond those first two XIs, would seem to be the priority for slot No. 26.

Limiting the roster there would allow the Union the flexibility it desires to bring up players from Bethlehem Steel if they prove worthy. It also provides room for summer dealings if Stewart’s observations of his assets in game action fall short of predictions and he opts for replacements.

For this window, then, the Union’s dealings could be near an end.

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