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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Curtin picks Jones to start vs. Columbus

Matt Jones was selected by Jim Curtin as Andre Blake's replacement
for Wednesday's game against Columbus.
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
The Philadelphia Union goalkeeper beat has been dormant of late. So Tuesday’s decision of a new starter while Andre Blake is away on international duty was dispatched painlessly.

Jim Curtin announced that Matt Jones will make his MLS debut Wednesday against Columbus, with John McCarthy as his backup.

Jones and McCarthy have alternated as Blake’s backup in games, but that is a largely ceremonial role. McCarthy has played eight games this season with USL club Bethlehem Steel, while Jones has played just once.

Nonetheless, the 30-year-old gets the nod. A veteran of nearly 150 games in the top two Portuguese divisions, Jones will be the first Englishman to suit up in Union history.

“I’ll be more than ready,” Jones said after training Tuesday. “I’ve been ready since preseason. Very excited about the potential to play. It’s all positive. If it’s my name on the team sheet tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to play.”

Curtin said he leaned heavily on goalkeeping coach Oka Nikolov’s discretion in making the pick. Jones was with the team last week but had to return to the Philly area for the birth of his first child, son Jackson, May 26.

“It is a roller coaster of emotions,” Curtin said. “To have your first born is a big deal. I tend to see the positives in that. It makes you a little less selfish. You’re playing for a little guy too, now. It’s a little more special. You have to keep things in check.”

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Union-DC United: Lineups and prematch thoughts

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

D.C. United (4-4-2) 
Bench: Hall, Opare, Mishu, Vincent, Espindola, Jeffrey, Buscher 

- The big name missing is a late injury to Vincent Nogueira, who suffered a left oblique strain late in the week that rules him out. In his stead steps Warren Creavalle as the No. 8, the American preferred to Roland Alberg apparently. Other than that, the only change is to go attack-minded with the left back with Fabinho in for Ray Gaddis. Ilsinho's absence also continues with some minor injuries to his legs.

- Chris Pontius is obviously out there tonight against his former team. He’s in good form, and you know he’ll be jonesing for some bragging rights after six seasons with D.C.

- D.C. is unchanged from last week’s win against Red Bulls. The attacking duo is Luciano Acosta and Alvaro Saborio, with Fabian Espindola on the bench for reinforcement. The challenge for the Union back four is to mute that front-running pairing, as it’ll often be them on the counterattack trying to hit the Union.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Counting the Union's costs: MLS Players Union reveals May 2016 salaries

Midfielder Roland Alberg will earn $377,250 this season
with the Union, per MLS Players Union filings,
just under the designated player thresshold.
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
The MLS Players Union released its salary figures Thursday morning (pdf), its first such release this season following the closure of MLS’s transfer window last week. It’s the first look we get at the price the Union paid to significantly overhaul the team last season, bringing in essentially half a squad.

Below are the numbers, broken up by on-budget and off-budget, listed alphabetically in groups of five. (A reminder of the guidelines is here, and you can find other league-wide ramifications of the numbers here.)


Roland Alberg $328,000/$377,250#
Fabinho $142,000/$142,000
Tranquillo Barnetta $650,000/$687,500#
Brian Carroll $120,000/$120,000
Anderson $150,000/$165,833#

Warren Creavalle $118,000/$125,666
Maurice Edu $725,000/$793,750*
Leo Fernandes $63,000/$63,000
Ray Gaddis $150,000/$152,500
Ilsinho $430,000/$478,333#

Matt Jones $75,000/$80,625
Sebastien Le Toux $300,000/$310,228
Richie Marquez $63,000/$63,000
John McCarthy $79,000/$85,250
Vincent Nogueira $400,000/$400,000

Chris Pontius $380,000/$411,000
Walter Restrepo $125,000/$139,500
CJ Sapong $225,000/$225,000
-- budget space empty --
-- budget space empty --

Off Budget

Andre Blake $100,000/$138,000**
Fabian Herbers $100,000/$125,500**#
Josh Yaro $130,000/$194,000**#
Eric Ayuk $62,500/$62,500#
Cole Missimo $51,500/$51,500

Keegan Rosenberry $62,500/$63,750
Ken Tribbett $51,500/$51,500
Taylor Washington $51,500/$51,500


Michael Lahoud $110,00/$115,637 (season-long lone to New York Cosmos)

* designated player; ** Generation Adidas; # international


Salary Budget (Players 1-20): $4,523,000/$4,820,435
Full Budget (Players 1-28): $5,132,500/$5,674,322
All salary expenses (inc. loans): $5,242,500/$5,674,322

Some observations on the numbers:

- The big numbers we all wanted to see pertained to what the Union paid for their newest players, knowing none of their offseason acquisitions were designated players and leaving Maurice Edu as still the only Union player in that category. Ilsinho is above the designated player threshold ($457,500) in his guaranteed compensation of $478,333, but his base salary budget charge is paid down to under the threshold at $430,000. Roland Alberg is just under the $400k mark. Anderson is making just over $150,000, while Walter Restrepo is under that figure.

- The big dollar figure change compared to last season is CJ Sapong, who signed a new three-year deal in February. His old deal paid him $140,000. He’s up to $225,000 this season. Vincent Nogueira is another big mover, having made $330,000 last year, $70,000 less than this season.

- Chris Pontius made a hair under $400k last season with D.C. This year, he’s up to over $411,000 in compensation, an increase of $15k. That’s a fairly standard increase, echoing the elevators in the deals of Tranquillo Barnetta, Andre Blake, Warren Creavalle and Edu. Ray Gaddis’ salary increased by $20k.

- For the veterans, Sebastien Le Toux penned a new deal that sees his salary increase $25,000 to a $300k base. Fabinho enjoyed a significant increase in his new deal, going from $118,500 in guaranteed compensation to $142,000. Brian Carroll, however, took a paycut from $150,000 to $120,000

- It’s fairly clear the emphasis the Union have put on the midfield. Their top seven earners (Alberg, Barnetta, Edu, Ilsinho, Le Toux, Nogueira, Pontius) are all in the center of the pitch. Barring a change in philosophy that reallocates Edu to central defense when he returns AND an injury to Sapong pushing Le Toux or Pontius up top, it’s difficult to conceive of all those guys being on the field simultaneously.

- By contrast, the defense is a relative area of thriftiness. Anderson has the highest budget charge of the entire backline contingent, all eight of them. Ken Tribbett is a low minimum earner at $51,500, while Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry are high minimums at $63,000. Josh Yaro outearns Rosenberry and Marquez together at $194,000 ($130,000 budget charge), though that’s subsidized through the Generation Adidas program that he, Blake and Fabian Herbers are in.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Prepping for DC: Notes from Curtin's press conference

Jim Curtin said the Union are taking it "game-by-game"
with Andre Blake in determining when he'll be released
to Jamaica for Copa America. (AP)
It’s a truncated week for the Philadelphia Union, with D.C. United coming to town Friday night for a big Eastern Conference clash. Plenty has been made of MLS’s splashy Rivalry Week exercise in synergistic branding, which includes a look at the DC-Union history, and much will be written this week about Chris Pontius facing the team that drafted him for the first time (check Thursday’s paper for that).

Beyond those obvious items, training was fairly quiet Wednesday (nothing that rhymed with "blatan" was brought up). Here are the high points:

- Ilsinho remains in injury limbo with leg issues, including the quad problem that kept him out last week, that don’t qualify as full-fledged injuries. He didn’t train fully Wednesday, but he did exercises with the group. Jim Curtin said he’s “anxious to get him back involved,” but “it’ll be close for selection this weekend.” Curtin sounded the “we have to be smart about it” bell, so if Ilsinho doesn’t pass fit this week, Curtin has three more games in the next two weeks to aim for.

- Roland Alberg has found playing time hard to come by lately, and we’ve speculated what it would take to get the club’s major international offseason signing back on the field. His absence is partially due to how well Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira have played. But Curtin thinks Alberg is doing what’s needed to stay in the conversation. Said Curtin:

“Roland’s been doing excellent in training. He’s been very good. He’s been making my decision every weekend tough to not put him out there. Again, it’s a team thing where we have to get a little more stable, a little stronger as a group defensively and in attack to where we can get more attack-minded guys on the field, and Roland is an attack-minded player. He wants to get forward. He wants to make assists and make goals. And he’s going to contribute.
“I think with every new player that comes into a team, there’s still that adjustment period. Tranquillo went through that last year. So it doesn’t just click instantly with the group. He’s done well with his minutes. He’s pushing for more.”

- Andre Blake will be in goal Friday for D.C.. Beyond that, Curtin and the Union are playing it game-by-game as to when the goalkeeper joins Jamaica for this summer’s Copa America. The Reggae Boyz open the tournament June 5 in Chicago against Venezuela, and it’s likely that a training camp of about a week will imperil Blake’s chances of playing against Columbus June 1 (though that is still being debated). The Union travel to Orlando May 25 and Colorado May 28. “We’re working with Jamaica now,” Curtin said. “Nothing is concrete. We have a good, open dialogue with them right now as to what’s best for Andre and when the release date will come. … Andre has been very important for us. He’s staying sharp, and it’s a matter of communication and open dialogue with Jamaica and doing what’s best for both parties to keep Andre playing at the level that he’s playing at.”

- Eric Ayuk received a call-up Wednesday to Cameroon’s Under-20 team for a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Zimbabwe Sunday, for what could be his international debut. Ayuk departs Friday. The 19-year-old, who played 28 games for the Union last season and set a number of youngest-ever club records, has played consistently with Bethlehem Steel this season, where he leads the team in goals (two) and assists (one). Cameroon starts a two-leg series with Zimbabwe in the second of three rounds of qualification for the tournament to be hosted by Zambia next February.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

How the Union have improved from last season in four stats

On many fronts this season, Keegan Rosenberry, right,
and the Union are markedly better than last year's bunch. (AP)
Believe it or not, the Philadelphia Union are a third of the way through the MLS season. By the time the league breaks for Copa America in just two weeks, we’ll essentially be halfway home on the 34-game season.

As such, the time for talking about starts to the season is near its end. The targets of what teams are and what they aspire to be have a little more time to resolve into one distinct point. But the cost of the weeks spent in that quest for self-discovery are compounding with each turn of the schedule.

It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about most teams, and the league’s playoff structure doesn’t require teams with championship ambitions to perform at their peaks in May. Even for the Union’s bright 10-game salvo, christening Jim Curtin’s team as anything more concrete than encouraging is problematic.

What we can say with absolute certainty is this: The Union of 2015 (and 2014, and 2013…) were afflicted by myriad problems. The 2016 team has made demonstrable progress on many of those fronts. In a number of categories, the Union have been vastly improved from failed seasons past.

Here are four areas in which the Union are proving this season to be different:

‘Keeping things steady

So once or twice in the past, some people on the Internet may have poked a little fun at the Union’s goalkeeping situation. In their defense, it’s only because the Union have consistently produced such ineptitude at the position that it does boggle the mind.

As long as Andre Blake is healthy, though, the goalkeeping ghosts remain silent. Blake has gotten plenty of attention this season, for the quality of his saves and his potential at Copa America with Jamaica. He’s on the path to being an elite goalkeeper, and it won’t be long before a club in Europe comes calling for the 25-year-old.

What’s important for now, according to the Union’s past, is that Blake is providing better goalkeeping than the Union has ever gotten.

For starters, Blake’s 33 saves already constitutes the sixth-best total in a season in Union history. And he’s had only 10 games:

Player, Season GP Saves GAA Sv % CS
Zac MacMath, 2013 34 101 1.29 68.7 12
Zac MacMath, 2012 32 93 1.34 66.9 8
Zac MacMath, 2014 29 77 1.55 61.6 5
Chris Seitz, 2010 23 68 1.86 59.6 0
Faryd Mondragon, 2011 27 49 1.04 62.0 7
Andre Blake, 2016 10 33 1.10 75.0 2

Obviously, Blake requires time to catch his predecessors in most of those categories. But with the exception of Faryd Mondragon in 2011, Blake has the lowest goals-against average. He’s also way above anyone else in save percentage. Some of those metrics are independent of Blake as a goalie (for instance, Blake has little control over how many and how dangerous of shots he faces). But he’s doing a job within the confines of a team structure, and that’s leading to results.

Two’s company
Read more »

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Curtin hints at 'geting aggressive' with Union midfield

The Philadelphia Union are facing the second installment of six games in 22 days Saturday when they venture north to Montreal. The fixture load presents plenty of opportunity to flex the Union’s newfound depth. They also offer the chance to tinker and introduce tactical nuance to the mix.

One such change pertains to the Union’s midfield balance. Jim Curtin has constructed a regimented depth chart that essentially looks like this (and we can quibble about who’s ahead of whom):

Carroll          Nogueira
Creavalle      Creavalle

Pontius              Barnetta            Le Toux
Ilsinho               Alberg            Fernandes

But this structure isn’t rigid. The question was posed to Curtin Thursday as to whether the backlog of games could introduce some deviation to that plan. Could, as I posed for instance, Roland Alberg be considered as a No. 8? Or could Ilsinho be called upon centrally for Tranquillo Barnetta?

Here is Curtin’s response:

“Long term, my goal is to get more attacking guys on the field. I don’t think we’re quite there yet as a group, and that’s the entire group, to be able to execute defensive responsibilities and attacking responsibilities. But ideally, we would like to have two offensive-minded guys playing in the center, whether it’s Alberg and Barnetta, you see last night (Vincent) Nogueira can be offensive as well, so again, we’re looking and working towards playing more aggressive, more attacking style, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet where we can throw two guys who think offense first in the center of the field just quite yet. We are working towards that.”

The veiled message is something many have long suspected: That the prospect of Alberg as a No. 8 represents a new frontier for what the Union can do attacking-wise.

The reason came a question later, about Curtin's desire to push the issue centrally:

“We have our wide guys tuck in, so (Chris) Pontius and (Sebastien) Le Toux will tuck in, Ilsinho when he’s healthy as well, just to create a decision for that outside back. And then the past two games in particular, San Jose and L.A., we were 3-v-2 in the midfield, between Barnetta, Nogueira and (Brian) Carroll last night and Barnetta, Nogueira and (Warren) Creavalle the week before. There’s always one extra guy. And they’ve done a good job of finding that advantage. Was it perfect, and did we get a chance every time? No, but at the same time, being a number up in there and having that second midfielder commit to getting into the box, especially, we’ve found ourselves getting some success.”

The Union missed an opportunity the last two games at home. They weren’t as aggressive as they should’ve been going at Fatai Alashe and Anibal Godoy when the San Jose center mids picked up yellows in the 1-1 draw two weeks ago. And they didn’t overload Steven Gerrard enough in the center of the park in the 2-2 draw with L.A.
Read more »

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Union-Galaxy: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Pontius-Barnetta-Le Toux 
Bench: McCarthy, Tribbett, Gaddis, Creavalle, Alberg, Ilsinho, Herbers

Galaxy (4-3-3) 
Dos Santos-Keane-Zardes 
Bench: Rowe, Lletget, DeLaGarza, Larentowicz, Boateng, Romney, Steres 

 - Changes are minimal for the Union this week, as expected. Brian Carroll steps in at central midfield Josh Yaro keeps his spot in the lineup with Ken Tribbett healthy enough for the bench. Fabinho returns to a start after his suspension, Ray Gaddis back on the bench.

- The stars are out for the Galaxy. Robbie Keane started Sunday after six weeks out, and he’s in the lineup again. Steven Gerrard, whom many fans are here to see, came off the bench Sunday and is ready to start this one. Dan Kennedy (or bizarro Antoine Hoppenot) steps in between the posts, while Ashley Cole is in the backline. I think this is pretty close to the full complement of L.A.’s weapons, but let’s see how they jell.

- One matchup to watch for is in central midfield. The Union didn’t do enough against San Jose to press the issue centrally when Fatai Alashe and Anibal Godoy picked up yellow cards 10 days ago. If Gerrard and his 35-year-old legs are marooned in central midfield, then the Union need to attack with Tranquillo Barnetta. And if he can’t do it, they should be quick to introduce Ilsinho for those purposes.

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