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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Curtin at the mic: Looking ahead to San Jose

For being atop the Eastern Conference standings, it’s a relatively sedate week around Talen Energy Stadium, with just a few odds and ends to wrap up from manager Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference Wednesday.

First, let Curtin take you down memory lane with his recollections of Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski from their days in the defunct MLS Reserve League.

With Fabinho suspended this week,
Union manager Jim Curtin will likely turn to Ray Gaddis
at left back. (AP)
To no one’s surprise, Curtin likely will turn to Ray Gaddis Saturday against San Jose (4 p.m., 6ABC) to replace Fabinho, who is suspended for yellow-card accumulation. I spoke to Gaddis Tuesday, and much of what he said was echoed by his manager a day later:
“I thought it was good for Ray to get the 45 minutes. I thought he did very well in that. He’s a guy who’s a great professional. He’s been itching to go. A little injury went against him early in the season and Keegan (Rosenberry) was in good form, so as challenging as that is for a pro, I’m very happy with how Ray’s handled it. He has his opportunity now. He’s not a guy that I get too nervous about because I know how good of a competitor he is, how good of a player he is and he’ll be up of the challenge to slot in this week.”
The other injury is Ken Tribbett, who trained fully Wednesday as he recovers from an ankle knock. Curtin has options regardless of Tribbett’s fitness, thanks to the strong play of Josh Yaro:
“Both are playing very well. Ken is, in his own words, not 100 percent yet, but at the same time, he looks pretty darn good in training. Josh is playing good as well. I’ll let Dom (Kinnear) have to think at least what we’re going to do.”
Curtin delved into the decision to lift Fabinho at halftime of last Saturday’s 2-0 win over New York City FC. The Brazilian drew a yellow card in the first half, and twice this season, early yellows have turned red in the first 10 minutes of the second half, putting the Union in a lurch.

Curtin’s staff convinced him of that danger:
“It weighed in the decision. It made it a little easier to make the adjustment with Fabinho getting the yellow card, knowing that he’s going to have to sit the next game, the fact that we’ve given up two red cards in the 50th minute, it all weighs into the decision. There is something to Ray getting that full 45 under his belt so it’s not his first action on the weekend against a really good San Jose team. …
“(The 2-0 lead is) another factor that weighs in. To be honest, I give my staff credit for that, because I was against it. I didn’t want to do it. There was enough voices, my assistants – Oka (Nikolov), Mike (Sorber), BJ (Callaghan) – in talking with all those guys, I thanked them after the game, too, because we’re all in this together.”
Saturday was Curtin’s first chance to interact with NYCFC manager and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, who made quite an impression on Curtin:
“I’ve crossed paths with him in the preseason, but the first time I actually met him was before the game, and then after the game as well, we shook hands and had a quick chat. First and foremost, you never know with guys that are literally walking legends of the game, what they’re going to be like. And he was humble, soft-spoken, nice guy. And I did say to him after the game, when I shook his hand, ‘you guys outplayed us today and probably deserved something from the game.’ From that regard, I did see things similar to him.”
Finally, last week we discussed Curtin’s chance to become the Union’s all-time leader in victories in all competitions, which he accomplished Saturday. Any joy over that accolade will wait for another day:
“It doesn’t do anything for me. We’re a team that’s trying to get better. We’re a team that’s trying to get back in the playoffs. I think the regular season is team-based. At the end of the year, we can reflect on individual accolades, whether they be for our staff, for our players when they get rewarded for hopefully some best XI or all-stars or different things like that. But I think the regular season is for team. The postseason, the offseason is for individual recognition or whatever comes along.”

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Curtin on the verge of Union coaching history

Union manager Jim Curtin, seen coaching in Seattle
last week, would move into the club lead for wins
in all competitions with his next victory. (AP)
Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin has often been blunt this season about his only full campaign in charge. ‘We weren’t good last year,’ has been Curtin’s message about 2015, paraphrased though its many uttered variations.

While no one’s lining up to argue that, the manager in his third season is approaching a piece of significant history: With his next win, Curtin will become the Union’s franchise leader in coaching victories. It’s possible that could come at home, with the Union embarking on a season-long, three-game homestand starting with Saturday’s game with New York City FC.

Curtin has managed 67 competitive matches for the Union (MLS and U.S. Open Cup). He carries a record of 25-26-17 in those games, even on wins with his predecessor, John Hackworth.

Hackworth went 25-32-20 in 77 matches. Peter Nowak, who oversaw a franchise-best 81 games, posted a 23-33-25 record and is already in Curtin's rearview mirror. (Updated: I neglected to include Nowak's two playoff games, both losses to Houston, in his record. Anyone else forget those?)

A major driver is Curtin’s record in the U.S. Open Cup. Over the last two seasons, the Union are 5-1-4 in the competition. (Technically, winning by penalty kicks is regarded as a draw, but it we want to get qualitative, Curtin’s team has advanced in eight of 10 matches.)

Curtin’s next MLS win will be his 21st, tying him with Nowak for second-most all-time and putting him two behind Hackworth.

Nowak, signed before the club’s inception, was in charge for two and a half seasons from the inaugural game in 2010 to June 13, 2012. Hackworth took over then and coached for three days shy of two years, when Curtin took over on an interim basis June 10, 2014 and was made full-time in October of that year.

The obvious difference between the coaches becomes obvious on points per game (in MLS play):

Coach GP W L D Pts PPG
Peter Nowak 75 21 30 23 87 1.16
John Hackworth 73 23 30 20 89 1.22
Jim Curtin 57 20 25 13 73 1.28

Curtin is well ahead of either of his forebears in that all-important ppg category. Barring a drop to last season’s 1.0 ppg levels or unforeseen circumstances, Curtin should top his predecessors this summer. And he has the potential to do it in many fewer games.

To add in the Open Cup component for total wins, Peter Nowak went 2-1-1 in the competition (including the qualification bracket in 2010 and 2011), both of his wins coming in the weeks before his dismissal in 2012. Hackworth won one game in 2012 and one in 2013 for a 2-2-0 record.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Change could be a good thing on long trip to Seattle

The trip to Seattle might present a chance for the Union
to rest midfielder Brian Carroll, left, though manager Jim Curtin
has plenty of options to try. (AP)
Game 6 of the Philadelphia Union’s season presents the fourth road trip, so Jim Curtin isn’t a stranger to the demands of the road with this group.

But the confluence of factors in Seattle – a cross-country flight, a 10 p.m. Eastern start time, the turf at CenturyLink Field on which the Union will also train Friday – makes it unique among the Union’s away dates this year. It’s one of only two trips to the Western time zone in 2016 (Portland being the other).

But the circumstances Saturday mean that the Union’s squad depth will be tested in a way it hasn’t this season. Or, put another way, the Union can flex their tactical depth to change things up.

“We actually have options to juggle things and rest,” Curtin said Wednesday, a statement so simple yet so rare in the Union’s history. And two training sessions from Saturday’s game with the Sounders, the Union’s options are plentiful and obvious.

First, there’s the return of Warren Creavalle from last week’s red-card suspension. Creavalle has impressed in training, and with Brian Carroll earning praise from Curtin and Vincent Nogueira as seemingly the first-choice No. 8, Curtin has decisions to make. Add in the choice between Roland Alberg and Tranquillo Barnetta at the No. 10, and the possibility of one shuttling out to the wing, and you have the “good problems” that Curtin often references.

Here’s Curtin on the situation: Read more »

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Danish treat: The inspiration behind the Union’s free kick magic

Under an unfamiliarly euphoric Talen Energy Stadium Friday night, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin let the media peer behind the wall at the club’s free-kick methodology.

Tranquillo Barnetta provided the visual aid, his stunner of a free kick curling around the wall, past a stupefied Joe Bendik, off the underside of the bar and in to give the Union a 2-1 win over Orlando City. But more intriguing was the approach that may have contributed to the beauty.

Here’s the video. Notice the extra line of players set up by the Union two strides behind Orlando City’s wall at 10 yards:

Barnetta didn’t have much to say on the free-kick strategy:
“Actually I don’t know. I wasn’t at the free kicks (design). You saw the keeper, he had no view to the ball and it was a little bit confusing for them because they saw the wall was like offsides, but they stepped two yards forward when I shoot it. I think that’s a really good idea to take the view off the keeper.”

Here’s Curtin:
“Our entire staff works very hard on restarts. (Assistant coach) BJ Callaghan specifically has been the point man. We have a good catalog of things. We’ve spent a lot more time and have been working on them a lot more. The second wall, if you will, the timing of that gives a little bit of a distraction. It’s something we picked up from another team that was successful with it. It provides a little bit of a different look. We checked with the linesman on the first time they did it when Tranquillo hit it way over, just to make sure the wall wasn’t offsides and there wouldn’t have been an issue. And the second time, they executed it well.”
It’s an unusual tactical design, one I’d never seen before. Sometimes you’ll see walls between the ball and the opposing wall, like this sliding-door approach from English club Brentford or AC Milan’s bulrush technique. Lining your players offsides hampers the goalie’s visibility and depth perception (not that Bendik has done particularly well under normal circumstances in the River End) but takes them out of the play for rebounds, unless they check up to be even with the last defender before the ball is struck so as not to be offsides.

So what’s that mystery team that Curtin got his design from? It looks like Danish club Midtjylland, which has used it plenty. You may remember Midtjylland as the former club of Danny Califf, and it’s a regular fixture in Champions League or Europa League, for devotees of those.

They also get creative with free kicks. A few examples. There's two in the first two minutes of this highlight tape:

Read more »

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Union-Orlando City: Lineups and prematch thoughts

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Carroll-Nogueira Le Toux-Alberg-Pontius 
Bench: Jones, Anderson, Gaddis, Barnetta, Restrepo, Fernandes, Herbers

Orlando City (4-5-1)
Bench: Edwards, Alston, Mateos, Rivas, Barry, Baptista

- The suspension of Warren Creavalle for a red card last week against Chicago makes the reintegration of Vincent Nogueira relatively easy, the Frenchman slotting into the No. 8 role. Ilsinho also misses out with an undisclosed injury, Sebastien Le Toux inserted on the wing. Tranquillo Barnetta remains on the bench behind Roland Alberg starting, but after debuting last week, the Swiss midfielder could be fit for a longer spell.

- I discussed the Brazilian influences running through both teams this week, though that has been minimized sans Ilsinho. Former Real Madrid, Roma and Arsenal forward Julio Baptista makes the bench and could debut, reportedly in some of the best shape of his life. The thought of Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez defending Kaka and Baptista still seems a touch ridiculous, but that’s the magic of MLS. 

- Brian Carroll today will play in MLS match No. 349 of his lengthy career, sixth in MLS history and two behind Davy Arnaud for fifth. Two of the players ahead of him on the list remain active, including Brad Davis, whom Carroll temporarily passes for third all-time in his 326th start. Kyle Beckerman (382 games) and Steve Ralston (372 starts) are the all-time leaders.

- Orlando City are forced into a raft of changes by injuries (Tommy Redding, Cyle Larin and one to Cristian Higuita late enough that Orlando names a short bench) and Brek Shea’s suspension. Luke Boden and Aurelian Collin step into the defense, providing two areas for the Union to attack with pace, particularly with the overlap of Keegan Rosenberry down Boden’s wing.

- No shock that Kaka starts as the false nine. How the rest of the midfield buzzes about him, with the midfield triangle of Servando Carrasco, Darwin Ceren and Antonio Nocerino, will be interesting to observe.

- Red cards have become anything but unexpected in MLS this season, and these teams seem particularly susceptible. Of the eight games the teams have been involved with, only four have ended without a red card, and last week’s Portland-Orlando game doesn’t really count since Shea was assessed a red retroactively.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The trickery of Ilinsho's Brazilian magic

Readers of this blog are likely among the hundreds of thousands who've viewed Ilsinho's tricky bit of skill in last Saturday's game against the Chicago Fire that has made the rounds of the web. If you haven't, here's the elastico in all its glory:

My colleague and I, Dave Zeitlin of MLS, discussed the move with its author Wednesday, and Dave will have a more in-depth look at it. I'll have more on Ilsinho and the samba influence that the Philadelphia Union's game against Orlando City Friday night will have.

One takeaway from Ilsinho's interview, in addition to his admiration for dribbling pioneer Rivelino, was where the move against the Fire ranked for him all time, and two comparisons came to mind. One was against Santos, he said, in 2006 when he was with Sao Paulo. Through the glory of search engines, here's that highlight:

My Portuguese isn't good, but I'm pretty sure I know what "humilha" translates to. And I suspect part of the reason why this was so memorable was against whom it occurred. That's Ze Roberto, who had just wrapped up a successful decade in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich and was capped 84 times by Brazil, and Kleber, a left back who played primarily in Brazil but made 20 appearances for the Selecao. At the time, Ilsinho was a 20-year-old hot prospect in the Brazilian set up, making waves as an attack-minded right back.

The other video that's worth putting in here was uncovered by a redditor. And I would hope that the name Roberto Carlos, even though he was 37 at the time and winding up his career in 2010, needs no introduction.

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