Blogs > Union Tally

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The silver lining of the Union's trip to Houston

Lost in the hysteria of Tuesday night’s thrilling win over FC Dallas in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup – a win that earns the Union a chance to play for their first trophy in club history on home soil in September – was the crucial realization of what it means to compete on two fronts.

Less than 70 hours after the celebrations died down at Toyota Park, the Union will have to figure out a way to field a team to take on Houston in a meeting of playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.

That’s for the third game in seven days, barely three days removed from 120 grueling minutes in the Texas summer heat, to turn around another effort in the sweltering conditions of Houston.

It’s a task that will test the newfound depth that Union manager Jim Curtin boasted about this week, for sure. But there’s a twofold installment of good news for the Union.

1) All things considered, they’ve got some fresh legs;
2) Whoever gets named, it won’t be worse than the last squad to represent the Union in Houston.

Let’s address the latter point first: Here’s what the team that faced Houston last July 6 looked like.

The predicament for the Union was so dire that John Hackworth actually opened the door to the doghouse to let Roger Torres out for 19 minutes, trying to bring some shape to what might have been a 4-2-4. He was joined among the illustrious subs by a 30-minute runout for Don Anding, his only MLS appearance, and a late cameo by Matt Kassel. The unused subs? Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez (whose name MLS spells wrong) and Chris Albright. Yet despite all that, the team still almost scratched out a result, only separated from a draw by a soft goal by Ricardo Clark on a defensive breakdown.

That game was on the back end of a two-game Western swing, the Union having snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Real Salt Lake July 3. They were missing Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz due to injuries picked up vs. RSL, Michael Lahoud and Kleberson were on long-term injury absences, and Keon Daniel and Jack McInerney were away at the Gold Cup.

This trip Friday is hardly that desperate. In addition to Curtin divulging Tuesday that “we had planned on calling some guys back from Philly anyway”, he has some fresh legs at his disposal.
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The original Union: A sit down with Amobi Okugo

(Design by Leslie Small)

It isn't often I use this medium for the purpose of promoting links, but I did want to put the back page that we colleagues fashioned today out there. That art was connected to this feature on Amobi Okugo, the last connection to the original Union squad, and a player who has been one of the club's most integral over the last few seasons.

I had an in-depth conversation with Okugo, discussing how close he was to leaving the Union, what it's taken to survive when so many of his colleagues have gone elsewhere and what he sees next for him, with his contract up at the end of the year. The fact that he's pictured scoring against Dallas last year, then scored Tuesday night against Dallas in the Union's penalty-kick advancement from the U.S. Open Cup semifinals ... well that's a coincidence.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Union-Montreal lineups and prematch thoughts: Jack Mac's back

Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Nogueira-Cruz
Bench: Blake, Fabinho, Okugo, Lahoud, Fred, Brown, Wenger.

Montreal Impact (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Bush, Ouimette, Jackson-Hammel, Duka, Tissot, Nakajima-Farran, Mallace.

 - The Union waste no time inserting Carlos Valdes back into the lineup after inking him to a new deal Monday. The Colombian’s return to fitness was relatively simple, as he mentioned Monday that he’d been training for 10 days after a two-week post-World Cup hiatus. Who he’d be paired with seemed the bigger mystery as the week progressed, but Ethan White gets the nod with Austin Berry not making the 18. He's pretty far down the depth chart.

One of the other big decisions was whether Maurice Edu, after 45 minutes in Wednesday’s All-Star Game followed by a cross country flight, would get the nod. Perhaps that's why he's in a more attacking position, with Brian Carroll to do the dirty work of holding. I suspect Carroll is preferred to Michael Lahoud given the latter's lengthy international ordeal this week.

- Interestingly, the odd-man out, even with Cristian Maidana still nursing a hamstring injury that rules him out completely, is Amobi Okugo. The last time Okugo didn't start an MLS game when not suspended, Peter Nowak was the Union's manager.

- The debut of Rais M’Bolhi will have to wait another week as he’s not in the 18. Chalk up another start for Zac MacMath as he nears 100 league games.

- Expect Brian Brown to play a role in this one. Danny Cruz has been less than convincing than late, and if the Union are up after 60 minutes, Jim Curtin may want to get a break for Conor Casey with the Dallas U.S. Open Cup semi looming just 72 hours away.

- Frank Klopas has vacillated between using one striker or two in his preferred formation. This week, he’s settled on one away from home, making the decision between fired-up former Union player Jack McInerney and Union killer Marco Di Vaio. Di Vaio got the nod in the midweek CONCCAF Champions League game going 90, so McInerney gets his homecoming start. While the McInerney nod isn’t a shock, no Di Vaio in the 18 is a bit.

- All things considered, that’s a fairly attack-minded midfield from Klopas with Andres Romero, Felipe and Justin Mapp marauding forward.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Open Cup final draw: Union win chance to host final

The plot has thickened in the Philadelphia Union’s search for its first trophy.

A coin flip Monday night in Portland associated with the MLS All-Star Game has handed the hosting duties for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final to the winner of the Union’s semifinal against FC Dallas.

Should the Union beat Dallas Aug. 12 at Toyota Stadium (9 p.m.), the club would play for its first trophy on home turf at PPL Park in the final. They’d face the winner of the other semi between the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders. The date of the final will be either Sept. 30 or Oct. 1.

The coin flip was performed by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati as part of a live stream by of the popular Men in Blazers podcast. Each of the four remaining clubs had a ceremonial representative present, with the Union represented by All-Star Maurice Edu. (The histrionics start around the 51-minute mark of the video.)

The home-field advantage in a potential final could change the dynamic for the Union, who embark on a stretch of three games in seven days around the Open Cup semi. They host Montreal in MLS play Saturday, then venture for a Texas doubleheader with Dallas Tuesday and Houston Friday. They have eight days off after that.

The trip to the semifinals this season matches the Union’s deepest run in the tournament. In 2012, they also made the semifinals with a chance to host the final but lost to Sporting Kansas City at home.

The Union have games scheduled Sept. 27 at D.C. United and Oct. 2 at home against, fittingly enough, Chicago.

The last final held in the Philadelphia area came in 1994 when Greek American A.C. beat Bavarian Leinenkugel, 3-0, at UGH Field in Oakford. The Philadelphia area has a long history with the competition, dating from the first of an all-time high five titles for Bethlehem Steel, the first of which came in 1915.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Drafting the past: The Union's SuperDraft miscalculations

The Union’s big midseason move has been sprung, with Rais M’Bolhi joining arguably the only unit on the team that didn’t require reinforcement. In any event, the Union are getting a clear upgrade at the moment over Zac MacMath, and possibly a shot-stopper who has already surpassed anything MacMath will become, though I’d deem the jury still out on that assertion.
Algeria's Rais M’Bolhi, making a save against Russia's Alexander Samedov
during the World Cup, became the Union's latest goalkeeper of the future
with his signing Wednesday. (AP)

It’ll be a couple of weeks before the MLS Players Association releases its summer salary numbers. We know that the Union regard him as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, and we’ll have to wait to verify if he’s compensated that way. The Union have already expressed a willingness to buck conventional wisdom to splurge for Carlos Valdes, so you’d expect the same for M’Bolhi.

In my column Thursday, I opined on the conundrum at the heart of this move: That the Union upgraded a position that needed no upgrading, leaving them to find a way to get value out of their goalkeeping glut.

There’s two key parts to that valuation: What the Union are shelling out to M’Bolhi (which we don't know for a while), and what they’ve already used on MacMath and Andre Blake. I’ll ponder the second half of that question first.

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: The Union haven’t the slightest clue how to judge goalkeeping value in the SuperDraft. In the time the Union have been in MLS, they’ve been the only club to draft a goalkeeper in the first round. They’ve done so twice. They have no intention of playing either beyond this weekend.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Forecasting the Crystal Palace plan

There’s always a debate around this time of year as to how to handle midseason friendlies within the grind of an MLS season. Add competition on another front for the Philadelphia Union in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and it’s even more complex.

That’s the conundrum Jim Curtin faces this week as his team prepares to take on English Premier League side Crystal Palace Friday night at PPL. There are so many factors – the tactical, between the physical need to rest regulars and the mental need to get those on the fringes of the squad some action, plus the pride aspect of wanting to put on a decent show for the fans while not rolling over to opposition from a superior league – for Curtin to manage.

“I always think anytime you’re representing your league, you should put your best effort out there,” Curtin said Wednesday at PPL Park. “Too many times you see in these games, whether it’s against a club from Mexico or England, they won’t get our best punch so to speak because we’re in the heat of the season. It’s tough. There’s is the business side where they do make a lot of money off the games, so I get that part of it. … Say you’re juggling an Open Cup game with a league match and then they also throw in a friendly, it becomes this, ‘how much do you want to kill your team for a result against a team that’s in the preseason and doesn’t really have their legs?’ It’s a tough one to answer because you’re torn either way.”

Curtin said Tuesday that there would essentially be two shifts of players logging 45 minutes each, which makes sense to give the entire roster a nice run out. Curtin also hinted that a couple of guys might get around the 90-minute mark.

So here’s my two cents on what the Union should (not necessarily will) do, gleaning a little from what Curtin said Wednesday and the team’s current needs:

First half
Wenger-Nogueira-Le Toux
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Union-Red Bulls: Lineups and pregame observations

Wednesday's edition of the Daily Times, featuring Danny Cruz.
Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Gaddis -Edu-White-Williams 
Wenger-Maidana-Le Toux 
Bench: Blake, Fabinho, Berry, Fred, Wheeler, Brown, Cruz

New York Red Bulls (4-4-2) 
Bench: Meara, Kimura, Sekagya, Lade, Akpan, Convey, Bover.

- Jim Curtin is forced to bring in fresh legs thanks to the red cards to Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud in the draw with Colorado Saturday. That means that he gets to delay for a week the question of how Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana coexist in midfield, with Nogueira taking deep-lying role alongside Brian Carroll. It’s Nogueira’s first league appearance since June 7, John Hackworth’s last game in charge.

- There’s a shuffle in the backline, too, with Maurice Edu back from suspension and Ethan White having done enough in a good showing against Colorado to earn a second start. (That means Austin Berry is still looking for his first minutes since the New England loss May 17.) The last time the teams played, a 2-1 win for the Red Bulls in Harrison, right back Ray Gaddis had one of his most difficult games of the season thanks to Peguy Luyindula and Eric Alexander. This time, Fabinho appears to be the weak link, headed to the bench so Gaddis (at the left) and Sheanon Williams can man the flanks. It’s the first time Fabinho hasn’t started since May 3 in Seattle.

- For the Red Bulls, who enter on a five-game unbeaten streak, Dax McCarty makes his return to the starting lineup, pairing with Tim Cahill in the center. That battle for central midfield supremacy is one where the Red Bulls have the edge on paper and Carroll and Nogueira will have to work hard to overturn. Up top, you know what you’re getting with MLS goals leader Bradley Wright-Phillips and assists leader Thierry Henry.
- Apparently the effects of the Shane O’Neill tackle are lingering with Danny Cruz, who is on the bench as Andrew Wenger starts for the first time since May 17. Brian Brown is on the bench yet again looking for his debut.

- The Union get a little bit of a break with Luyindula’s cryptic absence. Philly native Bobby Convey is among those on the bench, which runs pretty thin for the Red Bulls.  

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Union's Pfeffer stars with goal, assist for U-20s

While the American soccer world ponders the fate of Team USA as it embarks on the next World Cup cycle, a member of the Philadelphia Union took one of the first concrete steps toward U.S. Soccer’s march into the future.

Zach Pfeffer scored a goal and added an assist in a tidy, productive 28 minutes as a substitute, leading the U-20s to a 2-1 win over Chile Monday night in the NTC Invitational in Carson, Calif. (Writeups by Top Drawer, Yanks Abroad and SoccerAmerica.)

The four-team tournament this week isn’t exactly the headliner for the program this summer, but it’s a good chance for Pfeffer to get some matches and prove his worth outside of the club setting.

The Union forward and Dresher native set up the first goal just three minutes after entering (video above) by delivering an inch-perfect free kick to the head of fellow sub Andrija Novakovich, who plays for Reading in England.

In the 73rd minute, Pfeffer provided the winner by turning in a pass from Paul Arriola, sealing a win for the U.S. in the first game of three.

“I always tell the guys that if you get the opportunity to play two minutes or five or 90, you have to try to make an impact,” U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos said in a video by U.S. Soccer. “And I think those guys did a good job. They took advantage of their opportunities and lifted the team to a win. I’m very happy for them, and happy for the team.”
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From the training pitch: Tuesday's notes

Given the quick turnaround for the Union this week ahead of Wednesday’s visit from New York, there’s was a bit more going on at training Tuesday that can fit in print. So let’s summarize a few of the odds and ends from the day.

- On the injury front, both Vincent Nogueira and Austin Berry trained fully. The last half hour of training was small-field seven-on-seven, which featured Berry along with most of the guys who won’t play Wednesday (the suspended Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud, plus squad guys like Andre Blake, Fred, Antoine Hoppenot, etc.) Nogueira didn’t take part, off with the regulars doing some light passing drills. There’s nothing to read into that, as the difference is likely down to the reasons for their absences: Berry, recovering from an illness, needs to get his legs under him, while Nogueira doesn’t want to put extra strain on his groin. Both said after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with the Rapids that they were fit to play some part, though not for the 90 minutes.

- Though he’s sporting a slightly-mangled leg and a bit of a limp, Danny Cruz seems to be fine after picking up a knock Saturday courtesy of Shane O’Neill’s bruising (dirty?) tackle. Cruz has battled all manner of lower-body injuries this year (ankle, foot, heel, shin, you name it), so that’s nothing new, and manager Jim Curtin didn’t list him among the Union’s injuries.

- One injury Curtin didn’t list was Leo Fernandes, who didn’t take part in the last half hour of training. He was walking around in an ankle sleeve with what he termed “a minor” injury.

- Among the only non-Union faces on the training pitch were Michael Farfan and a few academy fill-ins. No one else of note.
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Union-Rapids: Lineups and pre-match observations

Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Maidana-Cruz
Bench: Blake, Carroll, Berry, Nogueira, Wheeler, Wenger, Brown.

Colorado Rapids (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Berner, Klute, Hairston, Torres, Piermayr, Alvarez, Mwanga

- At long last, the Union have something to show in return for the trade for Jeff Parke: Ethan White gets his debut with Maurice Edu (red card) suspended and Austin Berry healthy enough only for the bench.. After a handful of injuries early in the season, White has a chance to prove his worth, and it’s a stiff test against Deshorn Brown. I suspect that White’s ability to contend with Brown’s speed (along with Jim Curtin’s preference not to move Amobi Okugo back to defense and disrupt the midfield’s burgeoning chemistry) is what makes him the choice here.

- Speaking of the midfield, Vincent Nogueira is healthy enough to make the bench, but the club has expressed a desire this week to be cautious with a groin injury that is the first of that type for Nogueira. As a result, he’s been deemed fit for the last several weeks … without actually playing. And given the job Cristian Maidana is doing in that central attacking role, there’s no need to push him.

- The loan capture of Brian Brown was confirmed around 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon. By 7, he’s on the bench in the Union 18. Seems like another body for Antoine Hoppenot, who’s 0-for-3 in making Curtin’s MLS squads, to climb over. Let’s see what the 21-year-old has got.

- The Rapids are losing two of their leading creative forces in midfielder Jose Mari (ankle) and forward Vicente Sanchez (suspended). That accentuates their dependence on the creativity of Brown up top. With the defensive abilities of Nick LaBrocca and the solidity of this backline, expect the Rapids to sit in plenty and absorb pressure, then try to launch counter attacks with Dillon Powers and long balls played into Brown. And then there's former Union No. 1 overall draft pick Danny Mwanga sitting on the bench. Interesting to see what reaction he would get.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

'Checking the stats': Sebastien Le Toux and the real U.S. Open Cup scoring record (with video)

It could easily have been dismissed as Sebastien Le Toux being folksy Tuesday night.

After the Philadelphia Union forward scored as part of the club’s 2-0 win over the New England Revolution in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Le Toux was reminded in the locker room that the goal, his 14th in the competition, made him the all-time leading scorer in the modern era of the Cup.

The Frenchman’s response? “I even thought before that I scored more than the number that was said,” he offered. “I think I scored more, so I think you should check your stats, guys.”
Well, after a little discussion with colleague Dave Zietlin of and some (non-deadline) time to dig, we can say that Le Toux is certainly correct.

In his feature on Le Toux’s record-setting performance Tuesday, Dave correctly identified an outlier goal scored by Le Toux in 2010 for the Union in a 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls. That goal, however, doesn’t count toward the U.S. Open Cup record because of a pedantic (I’d prefer the term “asinine”) distinction between Open Cup and Open Cup qualifying.

From 2009 to 2011, MLS clubs had to qualify among themselves for the tournament, a way to presumably give teams lower in the American soccer pyramid a chance to get further in the tournament. As a result, only eight MLS teams actually participated in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Cups; the others only played in qualifying. Technically speaking, the Union didn’t qualify for the U.S. Open Cup until 2012, losing play-in matches in 2010 and 2011. Not only was it a silly system, in retrospect, but it’s even more nonsensical to not count personal accolades in those games toward Open Cup totals. That inane distinction will be ignored for the rest of this evaluation.

Editorializing aside, therein lies the discrepancy in Le Toux's situation. So instead of his 14th goal in the competition Tuesday, Le Toux has to his name, for all intents and purposes, 17 goals. That includes the goal in 2010 against the Red Bulls, plus two goals (and two assists) in a 2009 qualifier in which Seattle beat Real Salt Lake, 4-1. Those tallies would put him well ahead of Jaime Moreno, David Bulow and Johnny Menyongar, the three players with whom he had supposedly been tied entering last night.

Le Toux’s total in the U.S. Open Cup, participating from 2007-09 with Seattle and 2010-11 and 2013-14 for the Union stands at 17 goals and nine assists, a remarkable total. (You could add to that a pair of goals scored during his Vancouver Whitecaps days in the 2012 Amway Canadian Championships, if you want to continue the domestic cup domination trend.)

Since information on the recent history of the U.S. Open Cup is hard to come by – the Sounders media guide, for instance, only covers the MLS era that started in 2009 (jump to page numbered "136," or 88 in the actual pdf page), making Wikipedia (begrudgingly) the most reliable compendium of links on the topic – here’s a handy reference as Le Toux tries to distance himself from the pack as the competition’s modern leader.

(Cumulative totals in parenthesis)
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

They call him 'Rambo': Meet Union loan target Brian Brown

News "broke" last night – via a post on the website of Jamaican club Harbour View FC – that it had agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Union on a loan agreement for 21-year-old forward Brian Brown. While the Union have yet to make the loan capture official, a club source confirmed that they are in the latter stages of negotiations with the player and a deal could be finalized at some point this week.

That source also confirmed a separate release from Harbour View that Brown had been on trial with the club. (And if further proof is needed, Brown’s Facebook page, as referred by Harbour View’s official feed, features a header image of the Union’s locker room.)

The connections to the Union are numerous. First, goalkeeper Andre Blake, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, came through the youth setup at Harbour View. Blake is part of an uptick in Jamaican influence in MLS in recent years, with three of the first eight picks in the 2014 SuperDraft (including No. 7 Andre Lewis and No. 8 Damion Lowe) hailing from the island nation along with the top scorer from the 2013 draft, Colorado’s Deshorn Brown.

Brown’s agent, per the Harbour View release, is Damani Ralph, who spent two seasons as a high-scoring forward in MLS with the Chicago Fire … where he was a teammate of Union manager Jim Curtin. (Coincidentally, Ralph also followed the same Harbour-View-to-University-of-Connecticut path as Blake.)

And here’s one more coincidence: Brown was on trial in 2012 with Aston Villa in England … at the same time that a young Union forward named Danny Mwanga was also being vetted by then manager Alex McLeish. Neither signed, the reasoning behind Brown’s refusal probably having something to do with the looming issue of getting a UK work permit given the fact that he’d yet to appear for Jamaica.
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