Blogs > Union Tally

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Roster math makes for a boring February for the Union

Bosnian midfielder Haris Medunjanin is the latest
in a flurry of Union moves that comes close to completing
their roster. (AP)
MLS doesn’t adhere to the Deadline Day hysteria gripping the rest of the soccer world (or at least England, the only jurisdiction that really matters) every Jan. 31, but Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart has given the impression that it’s a significant milepost.

By Feb. 2 or so, depending on some paperwork, the Union’s roster could be close to complete at 28 players and solidly structured for a season of MLS rigors. Stewart’s motivation certainly isn’t an artificial deadline, though he subscribes to the idea that the sooner you get guys in, the better. Hence the flurry of recent moves that have brought in Haris Medunjanin, Oguchi Onyewu and others.

On that account, the Union are making deals more quickly than in the past. Steven Vitoria, you’ll recall, didn’t join until the second week of February two years ago. Roland Alberg was Feb. 4 last year. Ilsinho was in camp but not signed until late February. The sooner guys like Medunjanin and Fafa Picault start training, the better.

The Union have 26 players under contract. The 27th is reserved for a third goalie. The 28th appears to be the only open one, pending an outflow (either by transfer or loan). That means diminished possibilities for the five rookies in camp, among others.

(Something to remember: Bethlehem Steel works like a traditional hockey or baseball farm team only in one direction; anyone playing for the Union would have to be among the 28. Essentially, if there’s any chance of a player getting into MLS games, they’ll be signed to the Union roster and loaned down, not the other way around.)
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 30, 2017

Onyewu shows how the Union are keeping it red, white and blue

Oguchi Onyewu has the second-most caps among Americans
never to play in MLS. The Union looked to end that Monday
by signing the defender. (AP)
A thought occurred at Philadelphia Union training today that inspired a little digging on my part. The club announced the signing of Oguchi Onyewu, whose illustrious career includes stints in France, Belgium, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. His CV includes 69 national team caps from 2004-14 and inclusion in the U.S. roster for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

The glaring omission on Onyewu’s resume is having never played in MLS. His pathway to Europe – growing up in Olney, Maryland; residency at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.; two years at Clemson – is fairly conventional for an American, even if the 34-year-old center back took it to exceptional levels.

In chatting with my colleague, Jonathan Tannenwald of, while watching the Union train at Penn Park Tuesday, I wondered where Onyewu ranked among Americans abroad. Did the Union quietly sign the most distinguished American international never to play in MLS?

The answer is, not quite. But the Union got pretty close, and they’ve done this before.

Among American internationals of the modern era, only one player has more caps than Onyewu without playing in MLS. That would be Steve Cherundolo, who earned 87 caps with the U.S. and spent his entire 15-year playing career with German club Hannover 96 (where Cherundolo is now an assistant manager).

Onyewu, though, is second on that list for most caps in the absence of an MLS game, which will be rectified soon, presumably.

Next on that list, at least as of last summer, was Alejandro Bedoya, who secured 53 national team caps before his first MLS game with the Union following his million-dollar transfer from FC Nantes. Bedoya followed a similar trajectory as Onyewu, signing with Swedish club Orebro SK after his career at Boston College.
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Under the bubble: Union training notes

Oguchi Onyewu has gone from just training
to signed by the Union in one week.
The Philadelphia Union ship out to Florida Tuesday for some long-awaited preseason work in the sun, but before that, the club squeezed out one more chilly training session at Penn’s bubble at Dunning-Cohen Field.

The group was thinner today, with Bethlehem Steel’s preseason starting, so not much to see in training. But a few highlights from post-practice availability:

- The big news was the signing of Oguchi Onyewu to a one-year deal, the 34-year-old American central defender finally landing with an MLS club. He’s been out of contract since the end of the 2014-15 season with Charlton Athletic in England, and he impressed sufficiently in a week of training (not even a trial) to warrant a deal. Here’s manager Jim Curtin’s thoughts:
“It started as just an idea to keep him going in terms of seeing where he was at training wise and almost as just to keep his fitness and maintain it, and it kind of evolved into seeing very fast that he still has a lot more to give to the game. Still a decent age for a center back, 34, ton of experience, a guy who has done it at the highest level in Europe, with our national team. He can sprinkle down some wisdom to our young corps of center backs. The message was, yes that’s part of why he’s being brought here, to help and mentor and coach on the field, but also we want him to push to be a starter. Sat down with him with Earnie (Stewart) a couple of times now and it kind of started and has kind of evolved into us not wanting to let him continue on anywhere else. We locked him up pretty quickly, happy with where it is and now he’ll join the group down in Florida.”
Onyewu was back in D.C. today and not training with the club, but he will meet them in Florida. More reaction in the paper Tuesday.

- Also absent Monday were the Union’s other two big offseason signings, but with positive caveats. Jay Simpson’s visa has been cleared, and the English striker will meet the Union in Florida. Giliano Wijnaldum is with the club but remained in Chester to undergo a physical. The Union had hoped to have him train Monday (had the session been at the Power Training Complex, he might have).

- Back at training was Keegan Rosenberry, who spent two-plus weeks with the U.S. National Team camp but was released last Friday, not making the gameday roster for Sunday’s friendly with Serbia. Rosenberry admitted disappointment at that but also saw the positives of his training stint. “It was a good experience,” the right back said. “I was happy to be out there. Very honored to get the call and to be a part of it. Obviously disappointed not to be involved in the friendlies, but I think they’re in an interesting situation going into March with the friendlies. I just use it as motivation going forward.”

- Curtin said that both of the Union players to play against Serbia, Alejandro Bedoya and Chris Pontius, turned in solid shifts. Bedoya started and was replaced in the second half by Pontius, who came inches from firing in the game-winner in his international debut.

Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 27, 2017

Day 4: Union training notes from Friday's open session

A hundred or so people turned out for Union open training Friday.
The Philadelphia Union held their annual open practice Friday morning, in blustery conditions that were far less hospitable than what YSC has offered in the past. Nonetheless, about 100 fans turned out to see the team practice for an hour and a half.

A few observations from the session:

- Still waiting on the arrival of Jay Simpson and Giliano Wijnaldum, neither of whom practiced Friday.

- Also absent from training: Fafa Picault. Though he’s not with the club at the moment, I’m told his trial isn’t over. (The Union are usually pretty upfront about when trials end, so his absence may be a precursor to a move.)

- One other new face in: Former Clemson central midfielder Alex Happi. Born in Cameroon and raised in France, Happi was eligible for the 2017 MLS SuperDraft but wasn’t selected. Sounds like a guy just there to stay fit alongside former college teammate Aaron Jones (Oguchi Onyewu is also a Clemson guy who remains with the Union), and it’s likely he’s being looked at more for Bethlehem Steel than the Union, if at all.

- It's not from Union training per se, but there's this from Keegan Rosenberry at U.S. National Team Camp:

- The last hour or so of training involved the Union in full-field 11-v-11. Here are the field players for each of the three teams (with some positional shuffling):

Blue Team

Pink Team

No Pinnie Team 

- You’ll notice five Bethlehem Steel players in there – Matt Real, defender Hugh Roberts, winger Amoy Brown, forward Cory Burke and of course James Chambers. Burke scored a couple of nice goals in interchange play with Brown. Burke will join Andre Blake with the Jamaican national team next week. Steel has alternated platoons of five guys training with the Union and five training together with Steel this week (Bolu Akinyode and Seku Conneh were among those present Tuesday).
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It begins: Observations from Day 1 of Union training camp

There’s nothing quite like the first day of an MLS training camp. Enthusiasm, unbridled and often unfounded, abounds. There’s always a surprise in store in catching up on eight weeks of inaction, an eternity for a season that lasts as long as MLS can possibly stretch it.

The Philadelphia Union have never lacked for opening-day hijinks, from Freddy Adu to Carlos Valdes. Tuesday’s version to open the 2017 season was much more benign. Let’s hit the highlights:

- The big and surprising name in attendance was of course Oguchi Onyewu:

(Full disclosure: It took us about 45 minutes of training action to pick out Onyewu. Then you couldn’t miss him. He’s still massive.) Anyway, Onyewu is just with the Union for training. That doesn’t put the Union in select company – he’s been with New England, Glasgow Rangers, New York Cosmos, and NYCFC since what apparently was his last full-time gig with Charlton Athletic in 2014-15. The 34-year-old, who has 69 U.S. caps, is staying fit, and the Union saw the benefit of allowing such a veteran to join the ranks. That doesn’t mean, even though the club is in the market for a veteran center back, that Onyewu is the guy.

“Gooch is here just training right now,” manager Jim Curtin said. “If it evolves into something more than just a training stint ... he’s in the D.C. area. Recently he was in with the Cosmos just keeping his fitness up. He was sharp today, looked good on the ball, organized things well. But at this moment, it’s just a training stint.”

Said Earnie Stewart: “First and foremost, he’s here as a player who wants to keep up his level of fitness and make sure to be ready for any moment that somebody steps in. He has a great history when it comes to soccer, so you have to oblige him. It’s really simple. I think it’s great for the young players around him to see his experience, and for us, it’s great to see Goochi here. … I wouldn’t want to go that far right now (on if it could be a trial). Never say never, but that’s really clear because that’s the way soccer is. Obviously we are looking for an experienced center back and it’s pretty easy that he fits that mold, but it needs to be possible and it needs to fit.”

- With Onyewu in the fold, the Union have what my colleague Kevin Kinkead estimated to be 31 players Tuesday morning. That’s 27 field players and four goalies. By rough estimates, here were the squads of field players taking part in 9-v-9 drills:

Orange: Bolu Akinyode, Marcus Epps, Richie Marquez, Fabian Herbers, James Chambers, Jack Elliott, Adam Najem, Santi Moar, Ray Gaddis

Green: Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Fafa Picault, CJ Sapong, Ken Tribbett, Ilsinho, Sekou Kanneh, Aaron Jones, Cory Burke

White: Josh Yaro, Oguchi Onyewu, Warren Creavlle, Fabinho, Roland Alberg, Eric Ayuk, Anthony Fontana, Chris Nanco, Charlie Davies
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 23, 2017

Out camping: Five positional battles to watch in the Union preseason

The question of Roland Alberg's fitness for the Union's full-time No. 10 job
will be tested this preseason. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union’s first full practice of the 2017 season will take place Tuesday morning at the Power Training Complex. And it will ensure an almost unfathomable level of consistency from the last time the Union assembled in the shadow of Talen Energy Stadium.

Of the 18 players in the squad last October for the Union’s first playoff game in five years against Toronto FC, 17 remain with the club. Ten of 11 starters’ jobs are preserved from last season, Tranquillo Barnetta the lone exception. I don’t even have to check past figures; that’s surely unprecedented for a club where roster churn has been the norm.

As I wrote Monday, the Union have the best of both words. They have the prestige and tangential benefit of three players prepping for the season with the U.S. National Team in its January camp, three who are certainly among the 10 given starters. Fewer regulars means more opportunities to see the contestants for the other slots on the depth chart battling it out.

So let’s look at the five positional battles sure to play out in camp this week and in Florida next month:

Roland Alberg vs. Expectations. Lest you think the Union have everything figured out, consider that one battle dictates several others. (I needn’t remind you how many returning starters Columbus had in place before last season, do I?) Parse the roster and the Dutchman is the only player you’d consider a No. 10, lest Alejandro Bedoya moves up into that spot and somewhat out of position. Doing so leaves the current reserve corps at the No. 8 remarkably thin. So getting Alberg to consistently play the 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system that the Union show little taste for changing is vital. Alberg proved last year he can play excel in spurts; if we allow the benefit of the doubt in his acclimation period to MLS, then the hypothesis to be proven is that he can be for the Union what Barnetta was last year.

Fabinho vs. Gilliano Wijnaldum. To dub this Fabinho’s job to lose would disrespect the work the Brazilian did last season. More apt is that it’s Wijnaldum’s job to win. Earnie Stewart put it bluntly: Wijnaldum didn’t come to MLS to sit the bench. And while Fabinho wasn’t necessarily the weak link in a defense that leaked 56 goals in 35 games last year, his left back spot is as logical a place as any to start searching for reinforcements. Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Drafting conclusions from the Union's five picks

Clemson grad and English defender Aaron Jones, left,
is one of four foreign-born players taken by the Union
in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union Tuesday wrapped up day two of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft with three picks – forward Chris Nanco, defender/midfielder Jack Elliott and forward Santi Moar. The odds of any of the three having an impact on the senior club, this year or next, are fairly remote. But those chances are improved by the minutes afforded by Bethlehem Steel, and if nothing else, the three added Tuesday are intriguing pieces. A few takeaways from the draft in broad strokes:

Foreign flair. Four of the Union’s five draft picks were born outside the United States – Nanco (Canada), Elliott and Aaron Jones (England) and Moar (Spain). Nanco cut his teeth at FC Sigma and the Canadian youth national team. Jones played at Ipswich Town, Elliott at the delightfully named Old Wilsonians Football Club. Not sure about Moar’s upbringing. In the two drafts overseen by Earnie Stewart, six of the Union’s 11 picks have been foreign-born players (Josh Yaro went through Ghana's touted Right to Dream Academy, while Fabian Herbers was at FC Twente and a pair of German clubs before landing at Creighton). Considering that 31 percent of the available players in this year’s SuperDraft were foreign-born (75 of 238), the Union’s preference looks to be a trend.

What you can’t teach. Cliché as “you can’t teach speed” may be, it’s helpful to look at the Union’s picks through a risk-reward lens. There are plenty of solid players available in the SuperDraft with elite club and college upbringings who are what they are at age 23 – that is a five-foot-something center mid or undersized but cerebral center back or a college center mid turned right back because that’s his best chance. Call it the Eric Bird mold. The Union seem to eschew that and look not for a complete player who has met his (middling) potential but one who could have an elite skill around which the Union staff can mold a fully-formed whole. With Marcus Epps and Nanco, that’s speed. With Elliott, it’s his 6-foot-5 frame. (No Aaron Wheeler jokes, please.) Jones has exemplary set-piece ability and work ethic. Moar, I’m guessing by the 19 assists, can provide a final pass. None is a complete player. But it’s easier in the second or third round to find one arrow in the quiver that projects as MLS-caliber and coach the rest of the individual around it, especially since the Union have improved drastically from a development standpoint in the last few years. The chances of any contributing are long, so why play it conservative?

The Real deal. With all due respect to the three draftees enjoying a monumental achievement, the big story is Matthew Real, who should be the Union’s left back of the future in two or three years, signing his first pro contract with Bethlehem Steel. The Drexel Hill native has been in the Union youth pipeline since before there was a coherent vision thereof. He’s a fixture on U.S. Under-16 and U-18 teams. The former Wake Forest commit would’ve played significant minutes for Steel before leaving for school this year. Now they’ve finalized a full pro deal, Real joining the likes of Auston Trusty, Derrick Jones and Yosef Samuel to sign out of the Academy. Of the four, Real could end up being the most impressive. Expect Real to train with the Union regularly this season.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Union schedule features five national TV dates

The Union get five national TV dates this season. They also get three games apiece against Red Bulls, D.C. United and Montreal. More to come, but here’s the schedule.

March 5: at Vancouver
March 11: Toronto
March 18: at Orlando City
April 1: at D.C. United
April 8: Portland
April 14: NYCFC (ESPN)
April 22: Montreal
April 29: at LA Galaxy
May 6: Red Bulls
May 13: at D.C. United
May 17: Houston
May 20: Colorado
May 27: at Real Salt Lake
June 3: at NYCFC
June 18: Red Bulls (ESPN)
June 24: D.C. United
July 2: New England (FS1)
July 6: at Sporting KC
July 19: at Montreal
July 22: at Columbus
July 26: Columbus
July 29: at New England
Aug. 5: FC Dallas
Aug. 12: Montreal
Aug. 19: at San Jose
Aug. 23: at Toronto
Aug. 26: Atlanta United
Sept. 9: at Minnesota
Sept. 17 at Red Bulls (ESPN)
Sept. 23: Chicago
Sept. 27: at Atlanta United
Oct. 1: Seattle (ESPN)
Oct. 15: at Chicago
Oct. 22: Orlando City

Labels: ,

Friday, January 6, 2017

Thanks to Rosenberry, Christmas comes twice for Union fan

Ethan Chambers became an Internet sensation on Christmas morning as he unwrapped gifts.

Two weeks later, the excitement of that present grew to proportions he could’ve never expected.

Video of Chambers, 9, sobbing with joy as he unwrapped sets of tickets to Union games and a signed picture of his favorite player, Keegan Rosenberry, went viral across the MLS world. Friday, Chambers spent the morning with Rosenberry on a personal tour of the Union’s training facility.

The Pottstown resident – along with his parents, Shawn and Tanya, and younger sister, Emery – got the behind-the-scenes Union experience. Chambers shot a game of pool with in the team’s recreation area with Rosenberry and went through the daily routine of a Union players, from the video theater to lunch room to training facilities, all with a personalized journey for the occasion.

“You don’t get to play pool with a famous soccer player all the time,” Chambers said.

Chambers, who plays for the Pottsgrove Force, was hooked last summer when he and his club attended the July date with Vancouver at Talen Energy Stadium. The gameday experience of seeing players he idolizes up close shaped Chambers’ Christmas wish list: Tickets to a Union game, and books.

“I get to actually see what they do and it makes me want to learn more about it so that way I can get better at it and progress,” Chambers said.
Read more »

Labels: , ,