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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The new math: What the Union need to make the playoffs

Plans have changed for the Philadelphia Union over the last few weeks. With so many moving parts in the playoff race, it’s no surprise that the projections are a bit of a moving target. Some of the previous estimates, well, they’ve proven not to hold up too well, thanks to a variety of factors.

With three weeks left in the regular season, the equation comes down to six teams vying for three spots in the playoffs (with New York already having clinched a spot and assuming Kansas City is essentially safe). Here’s what it would take for each team to reach postseason paydirt.

(Listed are all the relevant stats, including the top three tiebreakers, in order, of wins, goals scored and goal differential.)

Let’s start with the Union:

Union (12-10-9, 45 points); 38 goals scored, even
Remaining schedule: at D.C. United, at Montreal, vs. Sporting KC
The line for playoff qualification could be drawn by the Union. If they could somehow get two wins, then there’s really no way I see a team with 51 points missing out on the top five. They’ve managed results against each of the three teams they have left, twice beating D.C. (we’ll throw out the lackadaisical performance in the U.S. Open Cup), drawing at home with Montreal and beating SKC at home two weeks ago. If they could even get five points, they might be good, though two draws on the road and needing a win at home in the season finale against KC is quite the predicament. Could three points get them there? Conceivably. But two wins in the next three would all but guarantee it.

Houston (13-10-8, 47 points); 39 goals scored, plus-2
vs. Sporting KC, vs. Red Bulls, at D.C. United
Every MLS team’s worst nightmare is the Dynamo going into the playoffs with a head of steam. The Union, though not in a position to be picky, probably wouldn’t want to see a team that they’ve lost to twice this season and that eliminated them from their only playoff appearance in 2011. The Dynamo are 3-0-1 in their last four, but they don’t have a win against either of their next two opponents this season (0-3-1). Kansas City has a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week with a win, but New York is already in, so we’ll see how hard they push in a trip to BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston could run the table, but realistically two wins and a draw put them out of the reach of the teams behind them.
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Handicapping the Union's drive for a playoff berth

Ten games remain in the Philadelphia Union’s quest for a playoff berth. That’s just under a third of the season. While the Union have put themselves in a solid position to make just their second playoff appearance in franchise history and first since 2011, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

“A lot can happen,” was how Union manager John Hackworth put it Wednesday. “I personally, once I start looking at that in depth, it drives me crazy.”

The standings only say so much; it’s not a small coincidence that the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, the Union included, have played 24 games while the rest of the conference lags behind. The four teams in the hottest pursuit of the Union all have not one, but two games in hand. What the Union can say at the moment is that if each of those teams won out from their games in hand (a statistical unlikelihood given the number of six-point games involved), they’d still be in the playoffs, level on points with Chicago and ahead of them on head-to-head.

So with the deviation in games played, it’s best to look at points per game, which paints a fairly solid picture for the Union.

Kansas City24391.62555/25
New York24381.58333353.83333
New England22301.36363646.36364

Should the pace continue, only Montreal would overtake them in the standings (that’s the same Montreal team that has one win in its last eight games and has seen its points per game average plummet precipitously in that time). The race is so close, so wide open, that there’s also this stat to consider: If you take the points per game averages and extend them out over a 34-game schedule, the five teams with the highest points totals would be separated by just over four points. The Union’s projection of 52.4 points this season is closer to the team at the summit (Kansas City with 55.3) than to the sixth-place team (Chicago at 47.9).

One other thing to look at, like in the case of the NCAA Tournament, is the performance in the last 10 matches. That also looks favorable for the Union. Of their last 30 available points in MLS, they've collected 18, albeit mostly against Western Conference foes. That's 1.8 points per game. The only team with more has been Chicago (20 from their last 30 available). The Union's take has doubled that of the Impact and Crew (nine each). It's even ahead of Sporting Kansas City (17) and well ahead of the Red Bulls (14), Dynamo (13) and suddenly cooling Revolution (11). 
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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Eastern accordion: The standings change again for the Union

It seems that every week, the perception of MLS’ Eastern Conference changes. One week, Kansas City is up and Houston is down. The next week, the Impact are left scrambling, the Red Bulls are flying high and the Revolution’s upward trajectory is slowed. The Union know it well: From title contenders by beating Vancouver in Canada to falling behind thanks to a visit from Chicago.

The collision of Kei Kamara, left, and
Sporting Kansas City with Roy Miller's Red Bulls
Saturday provided more confusion than clarity
in a crowded Eastern Conference. (Associated Press)

Nothing stays stable in the conference, and this week seemed pretty tumultuous, just another disorienting flex of the Eastern Conference accordion, where teams seem to come together and separate at random.

Take the matchup of the top two teams, New York and Kansas City. The Red Bulls, who I’m still not fully convinced are as good as their point total indicates, get a rare contribution from Lloyd Sam to take it to SKC, 3-2. That puts the Red Bulls at the summit with 38 points, two points ahead of KC.
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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wheeler's Union debut inches away from perfection

The margin between great and perfect for Aaron Wheeler is about a foot.

When the 6-4 striker made his MLS debut Wednesday night in the 90th minute of the Philadelphia Union’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew, it was a dream come true. The dream, though, almost got better when Wheeler found space down the left flank and found himself on a 2-v-1 with the league’s leading goalscorer, Jack McInerney.

After galloping into the free acreage before him, Wheeler squared a pass to McInerney, and McInerney’s right-footed drive beat Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum but missed the far post by about a foot. The shot, which Union manager John Hackworth admitted afterward that McInerney should’ve finished, would’ve been the 20-year-old’s 11th goal of the season ... and the first assist of Wheeler’s career.

“I haven't, but all the guys have been giving him a little slack for it,” a beaming Wheeler joked afterward from teh locker room of PPL Park. “They joked after that he said ‘I hate you Wheeler,’ before he shot it. He’s the leading goalscorer in the league; the guy finishes those nine times out of ten. It’s just unlikely that I happened to be the guy to pass to him that one time.”
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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Union-Crew: Lineups and pre-game thoughts

Philadelphia Union (5-5-4, 19 points) 
Cruz-Carroll-Daniel-Le Toux
Bench: Konopka, Albright, Torres, Fernandes, Wheeler, Hoppenot , Farfan 
Columbus Crew (4-4-5, 16 points) 
Bench: Lampson, George, Warzycha, O’Rourke, Añor, Finlay, Schoenfeld

- It’s no surprise that Kleberson is unavailable due to a hamstring strain. He’s replaced in the middle by Keon Daniel, who’ll pair with Brian Carroll.
- Without Kleberson in the lineup, Union manager John Hackworth is back to his flirtation with a 4-3-3-type formation, although it’s likely he’ll use Sebastien Le Toux in the midfield, likely wide right. The position, which the Frenchman has said over and over again that is not his preference, will mean the formation is mostly a 4-4-2. There will be a fair amount of interchange between the two wingers, but the matchup that is likely preferred is Danny Cruz running down the left to attack Chad Barson rather than the stalwart Tyson Wahl. I’d even expect to see some of Jack McInerney tracking into the midfield into that space behind the two forwards, with Le Toux generally more adept at running the forward line than creating from the midfield.

- Columbus’ attack will be all about how they cope with departures. Eddie Gaven is out for the year with a knee injury while Jairo Arrieta is on international duty. Justin Meram has deputized well on the wing, and Ben Speas has also played well in that role. They’ll be vital to opening space between dual forwards Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain, who should interchange a lot into midfield.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Union 1-1 Columbus: Postgame quotes

From the good people in the Columbus PR department, some select quotes from the Union and Crew after their 1-1 draw today.

Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven, left, and Union forward Jack McInerney
fight for the ball in the second half of a 1-1 draw Saturday. (AP)

Union manager John Hackworth 

On the result tonight’s result:

"It was one of those crazy games. I thought we were the much better team in the first half and should have had multiple goals, but we just kept on missing opportunities. Then, in the second half, they [the Columbus Crew] were really good and the tide turned a little bit on us. It was frustrating to give one up and I thought we were going to steal one ourselves. We had a couple really good looks, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Columbus is a really good team. Obviously I’ve seen a lot of their games and they are one of the best teams in the league. To come into a good stadium where we have never got any points, we have to walk away and say to ourselves, 'that was a good result.'"

On first-half tactics:

"What we felt we could do against them, we were able to do it. We got in behind them a couple of times and that was key. What was unfortunate was that we did not take advantage of those opportunities because they were all really good looks."
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Union 0-4 Columbus: Initial Impressions

Somehow, thoroughly uninspiring just doesn’t quite say it all. Let’s put it this way: The Union were lucky that Columbus didn’t put up a football score – American football, mind you – Wednesday, such was the disparity between the two sides in the Crew’s 4-0 win at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.

Some observations:

- OK, no one go for the lifeboats just yet. Manager John Hackworth had reason to field a young side (essentially the third team on the depth chart) in the first of three games in four days. But the Crew also didn’t play their first-teamers, and the result was still unduly lopsided. For guys fighting for possible MLS contracts, it was a disappointing, unspirited performance.

- Let’s get the positives out of the way quickly. Leo Fernandes was lively in the midfield, though he needs to work on hitting the target with greater regularity. Don Anding sent in a few dangerous crosses in the second half that no one seemed to get on the end of. And Roger Torres again sparked strong play when introduced in the second half. Yeah, that’s it.

- Now for reality. Another defensive unit, another poor showing. Eric Schoenle and Greg Jordan were burnt twice before Damani Richards came on to pair with Schoenle … and get burnt twice. They were completely overmatched. Eddie Gaven must have been salivating like a dog in a butcher shop when he entered at halftime, and he helped create two goals inside of eight minutes. Schoenle and a nothing-to-write-home-about Chase Harrison were beaten on the first goal by Ryan Finley, and the fourth goal was scored by Aaron Schoenfeld, left in acres of space at the far post on a cross. Poor. Read more »

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Columbus Crew preview: Back at it

When the Union clash with the Columbus Crew Wednesday afternoon (kickoff at 1 p.m. available online at, they should see plenty of similarities in the yellow-clad team on the other side of the pitch.

After all, both are hard at work incorporating a bevy of new players into their scheme this offseason. The Crew, though, have had a little more practice at it.

Wednesday represents Columbus’ fifth preseason game, including a 1-0 win in their Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic over Toronto FC. But there are red flags for the team that finished sixth in the Eastern Conference standings last year to be wary of.

For one, they’ve scored only four goals in four games; only two have come from open play, including a perfectly executed corner kick from the foot of playmaker Federico Higuain to the head of new Brazilian defender Glauber against Toronto.

The Crew get an added edge with the return of Costa Rican international Jairo Arrieta from a national team camp with his county and venerable MLS stalwart Eddie Gaven from the birth of his second child.
Read more »

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


They've scored once in 351 regulation minutes. They've gone six matches without a win. They've been shut out nine times, a franchise record.

So ... what's the next step for the Union and their beleaguered offense?

If you ask John Hackworth, he thinks it's a goals-by-committee fix.

It's worse than that. The Union, with their scoreless draw in New England last weekend, have been blanked on nine occasions this season. That's worse than the eight they incurred in their inaugural season.

The likely move, per Hackworth, is to trust what you've got. That means playing third-year guy Jack McInerney (above), seasoned veteran Freddy Adu and rookies Antoine Hoppenot and Chandler Hoffman to your heart's content. That means trusting your gut with that quartet, in the hopes that those guys can find the net in a way they haven't in games gone by.

The real fix, however, is farming out the job. The Union must find goal scorer elsewhere. Their offseason add projects, in the form of Lio Pajoy and Josue Martinez, were failures. Pajoy wasn't anywhere near the goal scoring force the Union expected, or that ex-boss Peter Nowak had predicted. And Martinez, well, he can't even find his way into consistent starts.

Dating to 2011, they transferred one of MLS' most-successful goal scorers to Mexico (Carlos Ruiz), traded the franchise's best scorer for allocation money (Sebastien Le Toux) and traded another scoring threat (Danny Mwanga) for a guy marketed as a scoring threat (Jorge Perlaza), who turned out to be nothing more than a ghost in the lineup.

That's a ton of goals out the door. The remedy for the Union in the interim will come from that aforementioned foursome of young legs. The long-term fix will arrive in the offseason transfer window.

Look what Columbus did. The Crew rose from midseason irrelevance to postseason capable with the additions of Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain. They realized their flaws and went outside the franchise to correct it. The Union might have to do the same in hopes of achieving a more successful campaign in 2013.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Here's all that you need to know from the Union's 2-1 loss to Columbus Wednesday night at PPL Park:

Carlos Valdes, who left the match after tweaking his left hamstring, ended the Union's 200-minute scoring drought. More importantly, the Union have the uncanny ability to permit goals in the closing minutes of each half. (Keep reading for a ridiculous stat below.)

Valdes scored in the 29th and the Crew added tallies in the 41st and 94th, which prompted Union manager John Hackworth to declare his club's chances at making the postseason "over."

“I’m the eternal optimist, but I will say I’m not stupid, either,” Hackworth said. “Unless we go on some amazing run, tonight was a game we had to get three points in ... so I don’t think it’s a possibility anymore. I think we should stop talking about it. 

“We should concentrate on playing good soccer the rest of the way, see how many points we get and the position we put ourselves in and building toward the future.”

Valdes offered this nugget of hope.

“You have to keep working, you know?" the captain said. "We have some chances to be in the playoff. We know that is going to be hard, but we have to keep working." (By the way, Hackworth said Valdes' status is up in the air for Saturday at New England. Something to follow.)

And finally, Danny Cruz -- while shaking his head, seated at his locker -- had this to say.

“No excuses,” he said. “I feel awful for the fans and awful for the organization.”

Not the kind of words you'd like to hear from the guys in the locker room. But can you blame them?

Allow me to put into perspective the Union's inability to close out a half: The Union have allowed 30 goals this season, 17 of which have been in the final 15 minutes of a half. Even worse, 9 of them have come inside the final five minutes of a half ... and two of those were tonight.

Not exactly playoff-caliber soccer, is it?

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Here's a look at John Hackworth's starting lineup for tonight's match against visiting Columbus:

GK ... MacMath
DF ... Valdes, Williams, Okugo, G Farfan
MF ... Gomez, M Farfan, Carroll, Cruz, Lahoud
FW ... McInerney
Bench ... Martinez, Hoffman, Harrison, Adu, Gaddis, Daniel, Hoppenot

A few observations:
No Adu ... again. For the second straight match, Freddy Adu will come off the bench, if he's to get any minutes at all. Doesn't seem like Adu's role, which used to call for starts and considerable minutes, has any sort of definition.
Same backline. If there's one thing that's worked this season, it's been the Union's backline. Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan will be on the wings, with Amobi Okugo and Carlos Valdes anchoring the middle.
Lone striker? Jack McInerney will start in a one-striker formation. McInerney has told me he prefers a three-striker look, sharing looks up top with guys like Michael Farfan, Danny Cruz and Adu. Let's see how this works...or doesn't.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012


The Philadelphia Union issued the following statement Sunday from team manager John Hackworth, regarding the passing of Columbus Crew rookie Kirk Urso.  Hackworth coached Urso at U-17 Residency and in the 2007 U-17 World Cup.

Urso, 22, died Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch reports that police were called to a bar in the city around 12:50 a.m., and Urso was pronounced dead an hour later. Urso played collegiate soccer at North Carolina from 2008 to 2011, where he was a teammate of the Union's Michael Farfan, who played with the Tar Heels in 2008-09.

Here's Hackworth's statement regarding Urso:

“Kirk was one of the best kids that I have ever had the pleasure of working with (and I am not only talking about his soccer skills). He was just a great person. I truly respected the way Kirk went about his life. I was so proud of what he accomplished after he left Residency. He will be deeply missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

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