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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Union-Red Bulls: Open Cup lineups

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Le Toux 
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Tribbett, Carroll, Missimo, Fernandes, Restrepo

Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Robles, Bilyeu, Duvall, Felipe, Veron, Allen, Muyl

 - Fabian Herbers misses out with an undisclosed injury, so an already thin frontline looks even thinner. (CJ Sapong is still out with an ankle injury.) Sebastien Le Toux is drafted in to start, and there are no options behind him on the bench. Chris Pontius could conceivably start up there, but that’s not a great option.

- Besides that, changes are minimal. Warren Creavalle is in for Brian Carroll. Josh Yaro holds his spot in central defense. And red-hot Roland Alberg is still there looking to add on to his seven games in four games.

- The Red Bulls name a pretty solid team, save for Luis Robles getting a night off. Bradley Wright-Phillips is up top, and the bench still looks strong with Gonzalo Veron and Felipe on the bench. Mike Grella and Sasha Kljestan are in the center of midfield to create chances.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

A numbers game: Measuring the loss of Vincent Nogueira

The Union are certainly different with Roland Alberg, right,
in midfield as opposed to Vincent Nogueira. Whether that's for the better
remains to be seen. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
Let me start this with a slight mea culpa: Sunday morning, I tweeted out some stats about the Union’s defense that were slightly inaccurate. The point being illustrated remains the same, but my math needs a little refining. So here goes.

Since Vincent Nogueira played his last minute with the Philadelphia Union June 15 against Harrisburg City, the Philadelphia Union have surrendered 11 goals in three-plus games (i.e., 287 minutes, since Nogueira was subbed off in the 73rd). That’s an average of 3.45 goals per 90 minutes.

In the 757 minutes that Nogueira played in all competitions this season, the Union surrendered just 10 goals. That’s an alarmingly lower rate of 1.19 G/90.

That should set the record straight, but it got me wondering (with an assist from some questions on Twitter): If we look at these numbers as a barometer of Nogueira’s impact on the Union, what else can we glean from it?

Here are three things the numbers tell us:

- The Union’s struggles aren’t all about Nogueira. When Nogueira wasn’t in the lineup this season (he missed two games with an ankle injury, then three with an oblique strain), the Union allowed 17 goals in 863 minutes. That’s 1.77 G/90. Since his departure two weeks ago, the Union’s concession rate has nearly doubled. That indicates that something (likely somethings) else is in play.

- It’s not Roland Alberg’s fault. Well, not entirely. If we run the same analysis looking at the Dutch midfielder who has more or less replaced Nogueira, the correlation isn’t clear. The Union are worse defensively with Alberg, that’s for sure. They’ve allowed 14 goals in 602 minutes with him, a g/90 of 2.09. Without Alberg, the Union have allowed just 13 goals in 1,018 minutes, nearly halving the rate to 1.15.

- It’s not all that uneven. In the minutes Nogueira played this season, the Union are plus-2 on goal differential (12 scored, 10 allowed). With Alberg, the Union are plus-2 (16 scored, 14 allowed). The Union scored less but conceded less with Nogueira; with Alberg, they score more goals but also allow more goals. On each player’s account, neither is necessarily better or worse. But it is a matter of working with what the team has to be most successful.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Union-Fire: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Fabinho- Marquez-Tribbett-Rosenberry
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Yaro, Creavalle, Fernandes, Le Toux, Restrepo

Chicago (3-5-2) 
Bench: Lampson, Rodrigo, Conner, Goosens, LaBrocca, Meira, Morrell 

- Against a team that hasn’t won on the road since 2014, what better time to try some new things? That’s why Ilsinho gets his first start in MLS since April 2 (against Chicago) and why Roland Alberg gets the nod for the first time since April. It’s the long-awaited first start for the threesome of Alberg, Ilsinho and Tranquillo Barnetta.
- Jim Curtin swaps in his home fullback (Fabinho) for the road fullback (Ray Gaddis). Sebastien Le Toux heads to the bench, a wise choice given that he’s the reserve forward for Fabian Herbers with CJ Sapong still out.

- The Fire miss Matt Polster tonight with a concussion. Former Union man Vlejko Paunovic goes back to the 3-5-2, with rookie Brandon Vincent the danger man in on the wing. If the Fire are going to be dangerous, it’s through the action of Kennedy Igboananike and David Acccam, likely going it alone with the rest bunkering in. This is a team that remains dangerous on the counter.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Home for the summer: Why the next seven games could be the Union's most important of the season

Jim Curtin doesn't have to look too far down the road to understand
how vital a series of upcoming home games are to his team. (AP)
The MLS schedule is a bizarre thing to study, for its unusual topology and inexplicable oddities. In careful dosages, though, it’s useful to examine.

Jim Curtin introduced the schedule dynamics to the conversation Monday at his weekly press conference ahead of Wednesday’s visit from the Chicago Fire. The Union embark on a stretch of five out of six games at home, including the fifth-round U.S. Open Cup clash. Between now and the end of July, the Union leave Talen Energy Stadium twice (three times if they advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals).

In addition to Chicago, the Union welcome in Vancouver Saturday, D.C. United July 9, New York Red Bulls July 17 and Real Salt Lake July 31.

That’s five home games in six weeks. After that, the Union have just five home games the rest of the season, through August, September and October.

It may seem early to look ahead, but with the Union near the halfway point of a long season, it’s prime time for the team to start preparing tough stretches ahead.

If you parse the season into smaller segments as the coaching staff does, the eight-game run that started with Saturday’s loss to New York City FC is a logical subdivision. Their other road tests in there are a winnable trip to sweltering Houston July 2 and to Montreal July 23.

It appears to be a stretch of the season where the Union can really assert themselves as a top team in the East and go a long way toward accumulating the points needed to achieve their primary goal, ending a four-year playoff drought. But juxtaposing this run against the challenges that follow imbues it with even more importance.

August provides a stretch of four road games at Eastern opposition in six games – at DC Aug. 6, New England Aug. 13, Columbus Aug. 24 and Chicago Sept. 3. Their two home dates are Toronto Aug. 20 and Sporting KC Aug. 27, sandwiched around the Columbus trip.

The final six-game run starts with Montreal in Chester Sept. 10, and it ends with home dates against Orlando City and Red Bulls in the final two weeks. But there’s a stretch of 36 days where the Union don’t play at home, voyaging to Portland, Toronto and Red Bull Arena, with the international break in the middle.

That schedule means the Union won’t be in a position to make up ground late in the season. With a 5-0-2 mark at home and a solid track record of getting results in their building, the Union need to bank points now, especially against five teams with a combined seven road wins this season.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Au revoir: How the Union move on from Vincent Nogueira

The Union bid farewell to Vincent Nogueira, right, Thursday.
How do they compensate for his departure?
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
Shock was the order of the day at Talen Energy Stadium Thursday with the stunning news that Vincent Nogueira and the Philadelphia Union parted ways by mutual consent. The move leaves more questions than answers, many of which will likely remain mysteries with the Frenchman returning to his native country immediately.

First and foremost, the primary concern in this matter should be Nogueira and his personal health issue. Nogueira was a fan favorite in Philadelphia since his arrival in January 2014 and a serially underrated player. To have a situation that is so dire as to require you to put your vocation on hold at the age of 28 and seek a remedy is an awful predicament, and anyone who interacted with Nogueira in his time with the Union should be unanimous in passing on their well wishes.

But soccer life, in its diminished importance, goes on, just as the Union must without Nogueira when they line up against New York City FC this week. So, how do they go about it?

First, let’s look at the numbers. The Union have been a better team with Nogueira. He’s played 64 of 82 games in the last two-plus seasons. With him, the Union are 21-24-19, a points per game average of 1.28. Without Nogueira, the club is 5-8-5, 1.11 ppg. There’s so much noise in the club’s bumpy path over the last three seasons that it can skew those numbers as the Union ran hot and cold, but the point of Nogueira’s value persists nonetheless.

Tactically, there’s no doubting how important Nogueira is. He’s a vital link between offense and defense, a conduit for turning turnovers into quick offense. He’s can hit diagonal balls like no one else on the Union, and he mixes tackling ability with passing vision like few in MLS. He added a goalscoring touch in recent months, growing more adept at picking out the final run in the box.

And yeah, he can do this.

That leaves the question of how the Union replace him, and there’s really no easy answer. But there are some half-measures that could compensate.

- Nogueira was the only pure No. 8 on the roster. Warren Creavalle provides some of that of movement, but the six is more natural for him. Tranquillo Barnetta or Roland Alberg could conceivably slide back, but they lack the defensive instincts that are second-nature to Nogueira. Maybe it’s time to look at a formation change, and here’s one that’s suggested:

- The Union just began a stretch of six games in 17 days. The effectiveness of a Brian Carroll and Creavalle double pivot would seem to be negatively impacted when they have to play every game, instead of enjoying the previous platoon that offered plenty of rest.

- Maurice Edu’s path back to the field just became more intensive. The Union are avowing caution with Edu, who isn’t back to full contact yet. It was declared March 9 that he would miss three to four months. He’s on the far end of that timetable, and while the club hasn’t declared any setbacks, they’re also taking it slow enough to avoid setbacks. Before Nogueira’s departure, you wondered how Edu would fit in this system. Sans Nogueira, it’s very clear the void that awaits.

- It’s time to look at the Union’s strengths. As Wednesday night indicated, they have a glut at one particular position: The wing. Ilsinho, Chris Pontius, Sebastien Le Toux, Leo Fernandes and Walter Restrepo are all pushing for minutes. And let’s not forget that Eric Ayuk played 28 games last season and scored some notable goals. One of those wingers will have to help Fabian Herbers spell CJ Sapong for however long his ankle injury is (Le Toux, likely). But if pushing Ilsinho centrally, for instance, helps relieve the pressure there, the Union have the depth out wide to do it.

- The Union are in good financial shape. Thursday was a sad day for many people who’d grown attached to Nogueira, and the nature of his departure only raised the concern. But the Union are in a rare position to adapt, and this isn’t a death knell for their progress early this season. They have just 25 guys on the roster, 17 senior roster players. Dropping Nogueira’s salary offers cap space. The transfer of Michael Lahoud, if the amount is to be believed, plus $50k from Chicago for Michael De Leeuw, gives them money to spend. They have new openings on their discovery list, which is minus de Leeuw, John Terry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (provided his deal to Manchester United continues as reported). The only central midfielder on that list was Guatemalan Jorge Aparicio, a name that might bear watching. There are options within MLS – the Union previously had interest in Kwadwo Poku, who is being pushed further to the periphery at NYC, and my colleague Jonathan Tannenwald made an intriguing suggestion with out-of-favor Montreal midfielder Eric Alexander – though those will have to wait until the window opens July 4. (FWIW, Alexander has the added bonus of not being cup tied in the Open Cup.)

Dispiriting as losing a key cog like Nogueira is, at a juncture where the Union are playing so well and die-hard fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop, the loss isn’t insurmountable. I’d highly doubt Earnie Stewart would build a team where any player was quite so indispensable, and while it may take some time for the Union to find their feet in the post-Nogueira era (no, they won’t go undefeated in the next eight games), it’s not the end of the line for the Union’s aspirations this season.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Union, Vincent Nogueira part ways

Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference Thursday afternoon was slated to include a significant team announcement. Instead, a perturbed looking Curtin had nothing to provide.
Later in the day, the complication in the matter became clear.

The Union have terminated the contract of midfielder Vincent Nogueira by mutual consent, Union sporting director Earnie Stewart confirmed.

The cause for the parting of ways was disclosed as personal health issues, which Stewart didn’t disclose. Nogueira will return to his native France.

“We want to thank Vincent for his contributions to the club over the last two years and we wish him the best, both personally and professionally,” Earnie Stewart said in a club statement. “At this time, it was our desire to enable him to be with his family at home in France.”

“I want to thank Philadelphia Union for their understanding of my situation and wish my teammates well going forward,” Nogueira said.

The 28-year-old midfielder played 64 games with the Union, scoring nine goals and three assists. He played 73 minutes Wednesday night in the Union’s U.S. Open Cup win over Harrisburg City Islanders. His health issues are believed to be non-soccer related.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Copa comes to Philly: Who to watch in Copa America

Copa America Centenario, that thing that MLS writers have been filling your Twitter timeline with lately, is coming to Philadelphia starting this week. Three matches will be held at Lincoln Financial Field over the next week. Uruguay takes on Venezuela this Thursday. Trophy holders Chile take on CONCACAF foe Panama June 14. And sandwiched in between is the marquee date, USA vs. Paraguay, Saturday night.

The Stars and Stripes coming to Philly needs little extra billing, even if it’s just to give Jurgen Klinsmann an old-fashioned Philadelphia welcome. You’ll recall that Team USA was here last summer, playing in the wrong game at the conclusion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a dismal loss to Panama in the third-place game at PPL Park.

This tournament has been billed, by Philly-area spokesman Kobe Bryant and others, as the biggest tournament the U.S. has hosted since the 1994 World Cup. So why should you care about what’s happening in Philly? Here are five stars to keep an eye out for at the Linc.

Philadelphia-area fans will hope Luis Suarez, right,
leaves the bench Thursday in Uruguay's game at the Linc. (AP)
Uruguay: Luis Suarez. You’ve got so many choices on a team full of stars. There are a half-dozen holdovers from that run to the World Cup semifinals in 2010 and their victory in this tournament in 2011 (their record 15th capturing of the crown and fourth since rebranding as Copa America in 1975). Followers of European soccer will recognize Edinson Cavani from Italy and France, the goalkeeping of Fernando Muslera and Atletico Madrid stalwart Diego Godin at center back. But Suarez, the Barcelona and former Liverpool man, is the headliner, as much for what he does with the ball as his incorrigible antics without it. Suarez was injured in the Copa del Rey final two weeks ago, which kept him out of Uruguay’s opener with Mexico, a 3-1 loss Sunday. With Uruguay facing a must-win against one of South America’s least illustrious clubs, coach Oscar Tabarez could really use Suarez’s attacking edge.

Venezuela: Christian Santos. There aren’t a lot of household names on Venezuela, beyond West Brom center forward Salomon Rondon and the Italian-based duo of Josef Martinez and Tomas Rincon. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, who plays for French club Nantes, is a teammate of former Union striker and countryman Fernando Aristeguieta (who isn’t on the squad) and former Union target and American midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, if you’re looking for local ties. But the timelier one is Santos, who was revealed to be on the Union’s discovery list a few weeks back. The 28-year-old wing forward, who didn’t play in the opening win over Jamaica, was raised in Germany and scored prolifically for Dutch club NEC, which Union technical director Earnie Stewart will be familiar with. He’s an intriguing case who is reputedly out of contract after his option year with NEC expired, and he fits the rough profile of the kind of player who can flourish in MLS if the price is rightRead more »

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