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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Union on Union: Players salaries for September

Thanks to the MLS Players Union, we can say for sure that Alejandro Bedoya
is the best compensated player in franchise history. (AP)
Do you feel that little nip in the air on a Friday in September? That’s the MLS Players Union letting you know that it’s newest batch of salary information is out. The final numbers for the 2016 season were released Friday, reflective of each teams’ final salary commitments after the roster freeze enacted in mid-September.

The summer’s action has been more intensive than usual for the Philadelphia Union, with the arrival of Alejandro Bedoya, the exit of Vincent Nogueira and Sebastien Le Toux and a couple of other moves. So here’s the Union’s current salary picture (grouped in fives for ease of reading; figures are “base salary/guaranteed compensation”):

Senior roster (20 spots)
Roland Alberg $328,000/$377,250
Fabinho $142,000/$150,008
Eric Ayuk $62,500/$62,500
Tranquillo Barnetta $650,000/$709,100
Alejandro Bedoya $1,100,004/$1,166,254

Brian Carroll $120,000/$128,000
Anderson $150,000/$174,166
Warren Creavalle $118,000/$125,666
Charlie Davies $108,937/$113,315
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
Kevin Kratz $62,508/$76,758

Richie Marquez $63,000/$63,000
John McCarthy $79,000/$88,250
Chris Pontius $380,000/$411,000
Walter Restrepo $125,000/$139,500
CJ Sapong $225,000/$225,000

Supplemental Roster (8 spots)
Andre Blake $100,000/$138,000
Fabian Herbers $100,000/$125,500
Josh Yaro $130,000/$194,000
Derrick Jones $51,504/$57,404
Auston Trusty $51,500/$80,604

Ken Tribbett $51,500/$51,500
Taylor Washington $51,500/$51,500
Keegan Rosenberry $62,500/$68,312

Cole Missimo $51,500/$51,500*
* Season-long loan to Bethlehem Steel.

Total salary budget (1-20): $5,156,949/$5,527,975
Total budget (1-28): $5,755,453/$6,294,791
Total expenditure (w/ off-budget): $5,806,953/$6,346,291

Some highlights:
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Swiss miss: Replacing Tranquillo Barnetta

At season's end, Tranquillo Barnetta will be headed back to Switzerland.
How might the Union replace his sizeable contributions? (AP)

The Philadelphia Union, in a surprisingly and laudably proactive announcement Tuesday morning, revealed that Tranquillo Barnetta will be leaving at the end of the 2016 season to rejoin the club of his youth, FC St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The possibility was long mooted, with Barnetta’s contract purposefully drawn up at 18 months from last summer to offer both club and player the flexibility to escape and the acquisition of Alejandro Bedoya, a player capable of playing the No. 10 role.

Barnetta will be missed, as he’s been an exemplary player over 37 games (plus whatever’s left this regular/postseason) and ambassador for the club. The “why” of the timing is fairly clear, with Barnetta having achieved his objective of an American experience and wanting to have something left in the tank for St. Gallen, but I’ll leave Barnetta to speak for himself if he’s available after training Wednesday.

I’ll stand by the declaration last summer that he’s the most decorated player the Union have ever acquired, and even with Bedoya, Charlie Davies and Ilsinho since joining, Barnetta retains that title with his wealth of Bundesliga, European Champions League and three World Cups worth of experience.

The conversation shifts as to how to replace Barnetta, a discussion we can have now and then shift to the backburner as the Union’s late-season run plays out. When Bedoya was acquired in August, I posited a Barnetta-less future that would seamlessly integrate Bedoya into the No. 10 role instead of the No. 8 that he’s a less obvious fit for. From the blog:
That’s not to say the Union would move on from Barnetta. But if they can't resign him or wanted to divest themselves of a potentially redundant asset, Barnetta could make sense. Or Bedoya could be the starter with some combination of Alberg and Barnetta as reserves or on the wing. And it allows (Derrick) Jones, hailed as the No. 8 of the future, a chance to grow into the job. What better way for him to do that than sandwiched between Edu and Bedoya?
Let’s alter the thinking somewhat. I’ll follow the lead of my colleague, Kevin Kinkead, in this. If you’re replacing Barnetta and have the $700k or so of salary cap flexibility, what could the Union get?
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Monday, September 26, 2016

The daunting dozen: The Union's harrowing late-season history

This late season stumble by Andre Blake and the Union
at the hands of Montreal's Matteo Mancosu has become the norm
for the club in recent years. (AP)
There’s an exclusive club that the Philadelphia Union belong to, one they’d love to graduate from, one whose membership dues are being paid again this fall in accordance with a familiar and dispiriting pattern.

In MLS history, two clubs have never won more than 12 games in a season. One is Orlando City, which won 12 games in its inaugural season of 2015 and guaranteed in Saturday night’s drubbing by D.C. United that it will miss the mark for another year, sitting at seven wins with four matches to play.

The other is the Union, and the odds of the club escaping that miasma even in this resurgent season are getting slimmer with every passing non-win, even if Saturday's 1-1 draw in Toronto is objectively a positive result.

The Union’s season-best for wins ominously endures at 12, set not in the playoff season of 2011 but in 2013, when the Union accumulated 46 points yet finished seventh in the East (they could end up fourth this year and in the playoffs with fewer points, but that’s another story).

Looking at wins historically in MLS is fraught, given past practices like the shootout and vacillating schedule lengths. But if we narrow the scope to the parity-riddled expansion era of 34-game schedules since 2011, the Union’s lack of wins still resonates. Minus Orlando City and the Union, the other 18 extant MLS teams have not only won at least 13 games in a season at least once; they’ve all done so within the last four seasons. The longest such drought, beyond the Union, is Chicago and Colorado, each of whom won 14 games in 2013 and have struggled since.

That means 16 clubs have authored a better season in the last three years – including this in-progress campaign – than the Union ever have. (And by the way, MLS’s three extinct franchises – Miami, Tampa Bay and Chivas – all have at least one season of 13 wins or more.)

That may seem like piling on an undistinguished Union resume that needs no tarnishing. Edmund Burke never wrote about soccer, but the pertinence of this look back isn’t just trivial measurements. It’s the troubling trend it illustrates: The Union, as we’re seeing now, are atrocious at finishing seasons.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

From Portland to Toronto: Union training notes

Union manager Jim Curtin lauded new signing Kevin Kratz, center,
for his intelligence and versatility in midfield. (AP)
Sandwiched between a loss in Portland and a daunting trip to Toronto, Jim Curtin addressed plenty of odds and ends Wednesday in his weekly press conference. Here are some highlights:

- Two injury absences from training: Tranquillo Barnetta has some swelling after a knee-to-knee collision with Fanendo Adi last week. He’s getting a scan and sat out the Wednesday morning session, but Curtin said, “I don’t expect him to miss the weekend.” Josh Yaro is underdoing concussion protocols after sustaining a head injury in Portland. With Yaro suspended after “wrongly getting sent off” in Portland, there’s less immediacy to him passing that battery of tests.

- CJ Sapong, as has been written, hasn’t supplied many goals or shots in recent weeks, which seems too narrow a scope on which to criticize for Curtin. Despite Sapong’s lack of tangible statistical contributions, Curtin remains high on the things Sapong does to make those around him better, and it doesn’t sound like rest or a chance for Charlie Davies to start is in the offing. Curtin on Sapong:
“He brings a lot of things to our team. Again, it’s a little deceptive, one shot on target. I guess if you take that as a snapshot and you don’t really look any deeper, he still has created chances. … The margins in our league are very small. He’s still a forward that I very much believe in, a guy that brings a lot of intangibles to every game. He’s a big part of our success and one that we know will get going and get goals. Even if he doesn’t get goals, he’s going contribute and make everyone else’s job easier around him. Still very much a believer in CJ and what he’s about.”
- Given the choice of sitting Sapong or morphing the formation to a 4-4-2 to accommodate minutes for Davies, Curtin seems to favor neither. “We don’t want to get too drastic now,” he said. “We’ve gone through 30 games with one system. We don’t want all of a sudden to completely change. Is it something that you could see if we’re down a goal and chasing a game? I think you could see a second striker in there. … We’re still a 4-2-3-1 team.”

- At field level, the Talen Energy surface is being resodded after last week’s concert. Only the final third in the River End, where the main stage for the Rock Allegiance concert, appears to be getting the facelift.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Making sense of the Kevin Kratz signing

Kevin Kratz, left, from his days with Eintracht Braunschweig
playing against Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga in 2013,
seems an odd fit for the Union. (AP)
Usually when the Philadelphia Union make a personnel move, this space is reserved for figuring out how he’ll fit in the team. Today, the objective is simpler: Make sense of what in the world Kevin Kratz is.

The Union signed Kratz Thursday, hours ahead of the MLS roster freeze. Already with 28 players on the roster, they’ve loaned Cole Missimo to Bethlehem Steel for the rest of the season to accommodate Kratz. Where they are on internationals, who knows? It’s a moving target.

Anyway, back to Kratz, who’s played in 277 matches in Germany. The plurality of those came in the 2.Bundesliga (108), most recently with SV Sandhausen. He has 14 games and one Bundesliga goal in Eintracht Braunschweig’s one top-division season in 2013-14. In short, he’s got a CV similar to what Walter Restrepo’s could look like in a few years. Or, honestly, a slightly improved Kai Herdling. 

Kevin Kratz 2015-16 Sandhausen (Bundesliga 2) from Justin Stone on Vimeo.

All that would be fine if not for:

1.) The glut of midfielders the Union have;

2.) The fact that Maurice Edu’s presumed return would put both Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle on a bench that would also feature either Tranquillo Barnetta or Roland Alberg and now Kratz (Also, judging by this exhaustingly curated marketing video that for some reason brought this to mind, he’s also played out wide a fair bit, another area of Union strength);

3.) Its connection to the news that Barnetta could be returning to Switzerland after the season.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bedoya's impact more than a passing fad

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, left, defending Montreal's Donny Toia
last Saturday, has improved the Philadelphia Union since arriving
in August. But how to quantify his impact? (AP)
At the risk of attributing any credit to Eric Wynalda, the question has been raised in recent weeks if how to evaluate Alejandro Bedoya’s impact, for the national team and for his new club. For as stable a presence as Bedoya is over the last month for the Philadelphia Union, his impact can be enigmatic. It seems tough to avoid confirmation bias in projecting your expectations on Bedoya’s actual utility on the field.

(Aside/disclaimer: I thought Bedoya was solid if unspectacular for the U.S. in recent World Cup qualifiers, a calming presence that contributed more to consecutive shutouts over overwhelmed opposition than to the attacking avalanche that swarmed it under.)

The very nature of Bedoya’s position with the Union is difficult to assess for its all-encompassing nature. He’s not a pure attacking player, subject to those metrics. He’s not called upon for exclusively defensive roles, thus not fully summarized by those figures.

Union manager Jim Curtin has always doled out his expectations of Bedoya in minute doses. Here’s an important one, Aug. 17 in appraising Bedoya’s debut in the win over New England:
“I thought Alejandro brought a real calming presence to the group in possession, did a lot of the little things that maybe don’t show up on the stat sheet just to get us out of some tight spots, connect us from front to back. His fitness is gaining, is growing, so that’s a positive. But, we talked in the locker room before the game about everybody winning their individual battles and I thought, on the day, every guy, including the three reserves that came in, impacted the game and won their individual duels on the night.”
Qualitatively, Bedoya can be credited with plenty of positives from the team success that he has, in some proportion, inspired. The Union are 3-1-1 in his five games. That’s 2.0 ppg with him, as opposed to 1.29 without (31 points in 24 games). They have scored 10 goals with him and allowed five, keeping two clean sheets.

Individually, he’s made those around him better, unspecific as that praise is. Warren Creavalle has stitched together his best performances of the season as the No. 6 to Bedoya’s No. 8. Curtin has lavished praise on Tranquillo Barnetta as one of MLS’s best No. 10s, accentuated by his linkup with Bedoya.

But what about the numbers? Here’s a look, via Opta Stats, at Bedoya’s passing numbers, the most readily available yardstick of his impact.

Game Result Passes comp. Passes att. Passing % Successful passes
own half
Successful passes
opp. half
Successful passes
final third
Passing %  opp. half
at NE W 4-0 44 50 88.0 22 22 12 84.6
Toronto L 3-1 58 65 89.2 23 35 13 92.1
at Clb W 2-1 48 53 87.8 20 28 7 87.5
SKC W 2-0 50 54 92.6 11 39 16 95.1
Montreal D 1-1 50 55 90.9 26 24 14 85.7

Bedoya’s passing stats are impressive. He’s completing passes at an 89.3 percent clip, and he’s regularly near the team lead for touches in games. When you consider that the Union aren’t even 18 months removed from this passing nadir against Sporting Kansas City last April, it’s all the more impressive a transformation.
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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Union-Impact: Lineups and pre-match observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Tribbett, Carroll, Ilsinho, Davies, Alberg 

Impact (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Crepeau, Cabrera, Bekker, Mallace, Shipp, Oduro, Drogba 

- Jim Curtin is restrained in the changes he makes after last week’s dour 3-0 loss in Chicago. Two of the three are obvious with the return of Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake from international duty. Fabian Herbers and Warren Creavalle retain their places despite pressure from healthy-again alternatives.

- With Josh Yaro back from bereavement leave, the rookie replaces Ken Tribbett. You’ll recall that Yaro struggled mightily last time these teams played, the 5-1 Montreal win at Stade Saputo, that landed Yaro in a four-game exile to the bench in favor of Tribbett, until Tribbett was raked over the coals by Toronto and withdrawn after a disastrous first half. With Didier Drogba on the bench (more on that in a moment), Yaro’s speed seems the better call.

- Montreal makes six changes from Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at home to Orlando City. The first in enforced, with Evan Bush suspended for a red card, serial backup Eric Kronberg in for a rare start. Drogba gets a rest at an opportune time for the Union, though Matteo Mancosu has been threatening in his opportunities. Patrice Bernier also plays higher up the pitch than usual in a defense posture for the visitors.

- The big matchup to watch is on Montreal’s attacking left side. Ignacio Piatti will be running at the Union’s right-side defense of Keegan Rosenberry and Yaro. Rosenberry has built his MLS reputation with his composed man-on-man defense of players like Piatti in open space, and the selection of Yaro has something to do with countering the fleet-of-foot Piatti (and in eliminating Tribbett’s tardy/occasionally ill-advised steps up into midfield).

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Assessing Andre: Praise for Blake as he nears a season of MLS games

The Union's Andre Blake, center, has played in major international tournaments
and an MLS All-Star Game. And he's just reaching a full season's worth
of games in MLS. (AP)
It’s been almost three years since Andre Blake strode across the stage at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the first name called in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the host team, the Philadelphia Union.

In the intervening years, Blake has established himself as the No. 1 for Jamaica and garnered speculation of whether Europe lies in his future.

But while it feels like he’s been with the Union forever (at least long enough to see five Union teammates play goal in MLS), he’s nearing a significant milestone: Blake is one game shy of a season-long, 34-game sample on which to judge his talents.

Here are Blake’s career stats in MLS play:

33 games
114 saves/50 goals allowed
1.51 goals-against average
69.5 save percentage
8 clean sheets
12-13-8 record

The stats have to be taken with a sizeable grain of salt. Blake has played 26 of the Union’s 27 games this season, which means around a quarter of his career was logged with behind losing soccer, dragging the stats down. Yet Union manager Jim Curtin is upbeat about Blake’s individual contributions, particularly as he’s sustained them over a long stretch to validate the talent that so many saw in the Jamaican.

“He’s been excellent,” Curtin said Wednesday. “He’s a guy that you never know until you get your first full season, right? Still seven games left, but his body of work this year has been strong.”

Among MLS goalies with 12 or more games played this season, Blake ranks 15th in goals-against average (1.50) and 17th in save percentage (66.9). That’s not exactly jump-off-the-page stuff, even if his GAA is better than either Brian Sylvestre (1.58) or John McCarthy (1.64) last season. And in the perception-vs.-reality debate, recall that Blake was comfortably elected to the All-Star Game via the fan vote, meaning that the Union staff isn't the only one that sees something special in his approach to the game.
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