Blogs > Union Tally

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Center of at-ten-tion: The past and future of the Union's creative problems

What does the future hold for Ilsinho and his fellow No. 10 Roland Alberg?
A decisive offseason beckons. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
It’s been about, /looks at watch/, eight minutes since a query about the Union’s 10 position has been voiced. Feels like a good time to rehash it.

Plainly, this was the Union’s deficiency this season. The Union’s 4-2-3-1 system, that manager Jim Curtin scarcely deviated from (and when he did change, insisted he hadn’t changed), is predicated on a link between central midfield strength to the lone forward via that No. 10 in the center of the midfield triumvirate. That player is responsible for so much chance creation.

With that need , the Union failed to adequately arm themselves. They entered the season with only Roland Alberg at the position, and he showed up to training camp playing fitness catch-up. The No. 10 shortcomings forced Alejandro Bedoya to be shoe-horned into the job, leading to tension and an eight-game winless streak to start the season. The club failed to reinforce the weakness in the summer window despite vetting several candidates. The story of the Union’s 2017 failures is the story of its No. 10 position.

The bright side is that this deficiency is known. Curtin has repeatedly said that the Union need to add difference-makers, and it’s not hard to read between those lines. The two primary occupants of the role, Ilsinho and Alberg, are on the final year of two-year contracts with team options. So let’s state the chases, looking back and forward.

Dressed to ‘impress’

Curtin turned heads with this haughty statement after last Sunday’s 6-1 slapping of Orlando City, which featured two goals and an assist by Ilsinho:
“The one thing that was talked about a lot this year was the number 10 spot and I guarantee if you take Ilsinho and Roland’s production in that spot, in hindsight now when you look back on it, it's going to be pretty darn impressive in terms of the numbers they put up, goals and assists. Having to remember now, probably six to seven games (Bedoya) played at the 10 as well, there was an Adam Najem game at the 10, so if you just separate all that and you look at those two on their production, it's a lot better than I think we all gave them credit for.”
So how “darn impressive” is it? Well, sort of, I suppose.

Bedoya played the first five games, then Sept. 23 and Sept. 27 as the 10, the latter two in a modified 4-1-4-1, notching one assist. Alberg played exclusively at the 10 this season, scoring seven goals and one assist. Ilsinho scored two goals in a run from May 13 to July 6, then a goal and two assists in a stretch of five starts in seven games from early August to mid-September. Ilsinho played the final three games of the season at the No. 10, tallying two goals and two assists. (You’ll note that for the purposes of this discussion, I’m omitting Ilsinho’s scoring from the wing.) Adam Najem started once, played five times, recorded no stats.

The grand total from the 10 spot: 12 goals and six assists, 18 total goals influenced.

Around the league

First thing’s first: There is almost no team in MLS with as strict an adherence to the 4-2-3-1 as the Union. The only exception may be Atlanta United, and if I was a coach with Miguel Almiron playing between Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba, you’d bet I’d keep going back to that high-scoring well.

Atlanta is the easiest comparison, thanks in large part to Almiron being out there almost unflinchingly until his recent hamstring injury. He posted nine goals and 14 assists, while his deputy, Julian Gressel, compiled two and two in his absence in September and October. That’s 11 goals and 16 assists, 27 total goals influenced.
Read more »

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Pay no attention to the numbers behind the Curtin, a league-wide assessment

Since there’s so much to discuss on the Union’s 2017 season, I decided to outsource my brainstorming for the postseason wrap-ups. Most of the ideas I have are just ones that’ve rattled around my head for months to the point of familiarity where I can’t tell good or bad.

So after my column Monday, I got this response from Andy B on Twitter that I thought warranted more than 140 characters:

First, we have to establish Jim Curtin’s record. He’s been in charge for 120 MLS games since taking over in June 2014 when John Hackworth was fired. That’s the 25th-longest streak with a single club in MLS history for a manager and seventh-longest active streak.

Compared to his peers, Jim Curtin's yield of points
has been underwhelming in recent years. (DFM file)
In those games, Curtin has a 39-50-31 record. His teams have collected 148 points, an average of 1.23 per game, and made the playoffs once.

In all competitions, Curtin is 47-52-37, factoring in four Open Cups (remember, shootout results count as draws whether teams advance or not) and one playoff game.

Good news: Curtin’s 1.23 PPG is the highest in franchise history, ahead of Hackworth (1.22) and Peter Nowak (1.16) in short tenures.

Bad news: There isn’t a long-term comp league wide with a PPG so low. Coaches with that low of a points-per-game average tend to be shown the door sooner.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On the outside: Assessing the Union's 2017 fullback performance

The fullback contingent, including left back Giliano Wijnaldum,
presented a mixed bag for the Union this season. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
The Philadelphia Union’s deployment of fullbacks this season was consistent, in that only four players manned the role, hewing to the two-deep philosophy. The results they yielded, as befits the larger narrative, was decidedly mixed.

Let’s not bury the whopper of a stat that involves the one person everyone wants to discuss from this quartet. Here’s the Union record broken down by the starter at right back:

Ray Gaddis, 23 starts, 10-9-4
Keegan Rosenberry, 11 starts, 1-5-5

We can take that further, since Rosenberry played every minute of the 2016 season, which means he was intimately familiar with the late-season collapse that resulted in eight winless games to end the season, including a 90-minute playoff cameo. That means the Union have won just one of Rosenberry’s last 19 starts, a record of 1-11-7.

There’s some bad fortune that factors in to Rosenberry’s predicament – 16 of those 19 starts occurred when the Union as a team were sliding into the abyss. But the coincidence is pretty startling. And oddly, it doesn’t bear out in the left back comparison this season.

Fabinho, 21 starts, 6-10-5
Giliano Wijnaldum, 13 starts, 5-4-4

Again, neither’s record is gleaming. But both went up and down with the Union’s fortunes this season, while Rosenberry’s descent seemed to be one-way.

Going to goal

Consistency in the lineup was one thing; production was an entirely different proposition, and one didn’t translate to the other. All the rhetoric about fullbacks jumping into the attack and the shorthand scouting reports of “watch those fullbacks getting forward” is bunk, according to the numbers.

Union fullbacks contributed a grand total of five assists and no goals. Fabinho led the way with two helpers, one a secondary in the finale. The other three added one each.
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Monday, October 23, 2017

A rough road: 2017 by the numbers

(DFM/Mikey Reeves)
A lot is going to be made in the coming weeks about the future of the Philadelphia Union and where the club goes from a disappointing 2017. But first it’s worth taking a step back and getting a broad and dispassionate view of what transpired.

We have a 34-game sample on which to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses, something the Union will do in the weeks and months leading up to December’s offseason frenzy. I’ll be looking more in depth into certain personnel groupings in the coming weeks. But for now, let’s get the overview and work from there.

The Individuals

- Sunday’s 6-1 pantsing of Orlando City provided the perspective for the individual accolades. CJ Sapong scored twice, his third multi-goal game of the season, to take his total to 16 and supplant Sebastien Le Toux for the single-season franchise record. Haris Medunjanin’s assist was No. 12, tied for second-most in a Union campaign. Those two numbers indicate the kind of top-line players the Union have found in too short of supply.

- Thirteen Union players scored MLS goals this season. That’s the same number as each of the last two seasons. Five more picked up assists without scoring.

- We can break that down by positional grouping. The forwards accounted for 17 goals and five assists (all but one goal via Sapong). The midfield was the nexus of creativity, contributing 29 goals and 35 assists. The backline had a hand in just nine goals (three goals, six assists). The Union benefitted from one own goal.

- The Union’s lack of activity in the summer was widely (and rightly) panned, but the winter signings have paid off (Jay Simpson notwithstanding). Fafa Picault was second on the team with seven goals and three assists. Medunjanin scored twice to go with the aforementioned 12 assists. In all, new arrivals accounted for 14 goals and 18 assists.

- Let’s talk draft picks: Marcus Epps and Jack Elliott played 3,300 minutes this season. That’s the second most for a Union SuperDraft class, trailing only the 2016 cohort of three first-rounders. It’s more minutes than the 2010 class of three first-rounders.

- Can we quantify luck? The Union conceded six penalties, one of which was saved by Andre Blake. The Union drew seven penalties, converting five. The Union had four opponents sent off (two in the same game). The Union were shown two red cards on the year – Derrick Jones against the Red Bulls and Josh Yaro against Atlanta. The three instances of VAR use in Union games benefitted the Union, wiping out goals against Atlanta and Dallas and nullifying a red card and penalty against Minnesota.

The Team
Read more »

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Union-Orlando City: And so it ends...

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Blake Gaddis-Elliott-Marquez-Fabinho Medunjanin-Bedoya
Bench: McCarthy, Onyewu, Wijnaldum, Carroll, Simpson, Alberg, Pontius 

Orlando City (4-3-3) 
Bench: Fenlason, Toia, Redding, Barry, Carrasco, Nocerino, DaSilva 

- It’s the same thing over and over again with slight variation. This week’s wrinkle is Marcus Epps on the wing. Same backline, same central midfield pairing.

- Here’s a nuance: Brian Carroll is on the bench. He’ll be retiring today after 15 years.

- The interest level in this game from Orlando City is minimal at best. Kaka, who isn’t retiring from soccer but just from the three-year mess that is the lions, said his goodbyes. Cyle Larin, who appears to have one foot in Europe, isn’t traveling either. Even Joe Bendik, who has played all 33 games this season, is sitting thanks to a concussion in favor of Earl Edwards. So yeah, same mess of ill-fitting pieces. is interesting, maybe.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Tweets, contracts and Steel: Rounding up the Union's last weekly press conference

No more "No Mo" questions. (DFM file)
A lot of things happened at Union training Thursday, a lot more than you’d expect before a finale between eliminated teams that carries little meaning. Brian Carroll’s retirement after 15 seasons deserves a share of the headlines, as does stunning news of Keegan Rosenberry’s tweet-inspired suspension for Sunday’s game against Orlando City.

That’s all to say that many of the lesser items won’t see the light of day in Friday’s Delco Times. So let’s round them up.

- First place for brevity goes to Jim Curtin. Two weeks ago, a report surfaced from Metro NY’s Kristian Dyer that Ilsinho’s contract included a vesting option triggered when the Brazilian hit the 75 percent threshold for appearances (which he has). Curtin’s response: “It doesn’t exist. … False.” Previous reporting indicated that Ilsinho is out of contract at the end of the season but a club option exists.

- Big day for tweets: Curtin had little to say about a tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus earlier this week, in light of the reports about Columbus Crew shipping to Austin, about changes in USL for next year that could include the shuttering of Bethlehem Steel. The club released a vague statement via Twitter this week. Curtin added nothing to that: “The statement that was released is as much as I know.”

- Oh yeah, soccer. That Union are playing some Sunday. Carroll will be on the field, Curtin said. But more time Thursday was devoted to who won’t be. That includes long-term injury problems to Fabian Herbers (spots hernia) and Maurice Edu (leg/quad). “No one will be coming back in that I hoped,” Curtin said. “Herbers has been much longer that I anticipated. … Warren Creavalle is a possibility. … Maurice, obviously out.”
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Brian Carroll retires after 15 seasons

Brian Carroll’s career has become synonymous with longevity in MLS. Thursday, the Union legend called time on that career.

The 36-year-old midfield announced his retirement Thursday, after 15 pro seasons that saw the slight but cerebral midfielder assemble a resume surpassed by few in MLS history.

Carroll has been with the Union since 2011, the longest tenured member of the club. He ranks second in club history in games played (165) and first in both starts (156) and minutes (13,819). Carroll hasn’t played this season, the first time he’s been limited to fewer than 21 games in a season since his rookie campaign, when he didn’t see the field with D.C. United.

In 15 seasons with the Union, D.C. and Columbus, Carroll is tied for fourth in games played in MLS history among field players at 370 (he can be passed by Seattle’s Chad Marshall Sunday). Carroll is sixth among field players in starts with 345, one behind Toronto’s Drew Moor. Add in goalies, and Carroll is tied for sixth in games and eighth in starts.

He’s also sixth among MLS players in all-time minutes played at 30,776. Staggeringly, Carroll has never been red carded in his MLS career despite playing so frequently in a combative position in the center of the park. He holds the honor of the most career minutes in MLS without a red card. (Second is Landon Donovan at 28,898, but the long-time Galaxy forward has 119 yellow cards to Carroll’s comparatively paltry 57.)

Carroll has nine MLS goals to his name to go with 17 assists. In seven Union seasons, Carroll scored five times (including a career-high two goals in 2013) to go with three assists.

Carroll made the playoffs nine straight seasons from 2003-2011, the latter with the Union, then contributed 23 starts to the Union’s 2016 playoff berth. Carroll started 20 career MLS playoff games, winning MLS Cup in 2004 with D.C. (and assisting on Alecko Eskandarian’s opening goal in the final) and in 2008 with the Crew. Carroll lifted the Supporters’ Shield four straight years from 2006-09.

Carroll, a second-round draft pick (11th overall) of D.C. in the 2003 SuperDraft out of Wake Forest, was capped eight times by the U.S. national team from 2005-10.

Carroll and two of his brothers – Jeff and Pat – played in MLS, the only set of three brothers to play in MLS, per the league’s Facts and Record Book. Brian and Jeff were teammates for two seasons in D.C.

Carroll was capped eight times by the U.S. from 2005-10. He won MLS Cup in 2004 with D.C. United and 2008 with Columbus and was a four-time winner of the Supporters Shield from 2006-09.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

And so it ends: The elimination of the consistently mediocre Union

Most of the Philadelphia Union players were scattered across the country on a weekend off or away on international duty overseas when the club’s playoff hopes officially died Saturday.

That occurred 100 miles to the north, as the New York Red Bulls topped Vancouver, 3-0, to seal the sixth and final playoff berth in MLS’s Eastern Conference with two weeks of the season left. The Red Bulls, on 46 points, are untouchably ahead of the Union and three other teams stuck on 39, which consigns the Union (10-13-9) to a sixth playoff-free season in eight years.

Consolations are few and far between in a season that, after last year’s (probably ahead-of-schedule) playoff berth, can only be read as a disappointment. The Union cannot set the franchise record for losses in a season, which was once a question; more bizarrely, wins in consecutive games – at playoff-bound Chicago, then at home in the finale to Orlando – can tie the franchise mark for most wins in a season.

Regardless of what transpires, the Union for the seventh straight season will finish with between 10 and 12 wins over a 34-game schedule, a mind-numbing level of mediocrity.

With a win and a draw in the next two games, the Union would actually finish with their third-most productive season ever, even surpassing last year’s playoff season. Or to be more realistic, should the Union lose at Chicago and win at home against a similarly eliminated Orlando City side, they would match their record from last season to the game – 11-14-9 for 42 points.

Here’s where perception counts, both descriptive and prescriptive. The 2016 campaign – which featured that rarity of rarities, a first-place Union side, for multiple weeks and had the Union in playoff position nearly wire-to-wire – felt like a playoff campaign, even if it was dimmed by the slide to the finish line. This season, in which the Union never occupied a playoff position, feels like much more of a failure. Separate eight- and six-game winless streak exacerbate that feeling. At the end, though, they look exactly the same in the standings, a damnation by low standards.

The gulf in perception from 2016 to 2017 hits at a key debate that many anticipated. The Union – with the additions of Giliano Wijnaldum, Haris Medunjanin, Jay Simpson, Fafa Picault and a full preseason for Alejandro Bedoya – improved over last year in absolute terms, with more talent from one to 18 on the bench and one to 29 on the roster. The evidence is in the point total: Against a better and deeper East, the Union could yield the same number of points as last year.

But the question entering the season wasn’t, did the Union improve? It was, did the Union grow sufficiently to keep pace with a more competitive Eastern Conference? Did the club take a big enough step forward from scraping into the sixth and final spot last year to lay a convincing claim to a playoff berth this year?

The answer to that is a resounding no, echoed with two weeks still left to play. The lack of recognition of soccer’s version of the proficiency-vs.-growth debate is yet another example of MLS 1.0 thinking (or whatever version the consensus says is outdated) on the Union’s part. And looking ahead, if the Union end up with an identical record as last season, the club’s higher-ups can’t be entombed by the same old lines of thinking, that this result somehow reflects satisfactory improvement.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

A developing problem? What the latest 24 Under 24 indicates for the Union

The Union's Jack Elliott was likely the highest rated of the club's candidates
for MLS' 24 Under 24 series. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
MLS last week released its “24 Under 24”, a ranking of the top players in the league under the age of 24, graded on a rubric of ability and upside by members of the media and MLS staff. In short, it’s the kind of list that a team trumpeting youth development should have a presence on.

And the Union are … absent, for the second time in three years. Their representative last year, Keegan Rosenberry at No. 6, didn’t make the shortlist despite being eligible; only Jack Elliott and Derrick Jones were in consideration but didn’t make the cut (rightly, in my opinion).

The Union traditionally have had a presence on the list, topping out with four players chosen in 2011. As you can see, that has rarely been a guarantor of anything.

2010: Danny Mwanga 5, Jack McInerney 22, Roger Torres 23
2011: Freddy Adu 6, Danny Mwanga 9, Roger Torres 22, Jack McInerney 23
2012: Sheanon Williams 18, Freddy Adu 19
2013: Jack McInerney 4, Amobi Okugo 8
2014: Amobi Okugo 13
2015: NONE
2016: Keegan Rosenberry 6
2017: NONE

Let’s put aside for a moment the evaluation of why players across multiple Union epochs haven’t sustained their developmental trajectories. That’s been written about before. And let’s also acknowledge that the list isn’t a perfect science, inasmuch as predicting the vicissitudes of 18-to-23-year-olds (or in this case, players young as 15), is a perilous endeavor. There’s certainly a bias toward recent performances over the short-term coloring long-term outlooks – see Rosenberry last year, or Kellyn Acosta this year. But I digress.

We could break it down by club, as is popular. That will find three inclusions each for Atlanta United, FC Dallas, New York City FC and Real Salt Lake – two teams that would be labeled as “big market”. Only one of those clubs (Dallas) landed multiple Homegrown players on the team and can rightly be said to have “developed” more than one player on the list.

It’s more purposeful to break the list down based on acquisition method:

Homegrowns (9): K.Acosta, Davies, Morris, Adams, Palmer-Brown, Glad, Tabla, Gonzalez, Fagundez
Designated Players (7): Almiron, Arriola, Villalba, Elis, Gruezo, Rusnak, Savarino
SuperDraft picks (4): Harrison, Larin, Roldan, Manneh
Other (4): Herrera, Asad, L.Acosta, Matarrita
Read more »

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Union-Sounders: Lineups and prematch notes

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Onyewu, Wijnaldum, D.Jones, Simpson, Alberg

Sounders (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Miller, Fisher, Wingo, Shipp, Kovar, Neagle, Dempsey 

- UPDATE: Chris Pontius misses out with an abdominal injury after originally introduced in the starting lineup. Marcus Epps is in on the win. Union go with 17 in the lineup.

- Two changes for the Union enforced by injury. Out go Warren Creavalle and Keegan Rosenberry; in come Ray Gaddis and Ilsinho, the latter playing the 10. That makes it closer to the customary 4-2-3-1 formation that the Union so often favor.

- Derrick Jones is back on the bench. It’s just his second time in the 18 since July 6.

- No Clint Dempsey for the Sounders from the start today, which puts the more bruising Will Bruin up top to battle with the Union defense. Watch for the interchange between Nicholas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan: Roldan nominally starts centrally, but he and Lodeiro should move positions plenty, making a lot of work for the backline and Haris Medunjanin to track.

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