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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Union-Sporting KC: The Open Cup final lineups

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Maidana-Barnetta
Bench: Blake, Vitoria, Carroll, Wenger, Ayuk, Casey, Creavalle

Sporting KC (4-3-3) 
Bench: Kempin, Palmer-Brown, Abdul-Salaam, Quintilla, Peterson, Lopez

- The question on all the Union fans’ minds was, as always, goalkeeping. And the answer is Andre Blake. The Jamaican’s 10-save performance vs. New England on the weekend was enough to sway Jim Curtin away from John McCarthy, who was in goal for the four games that led to the final. It’s just Blake’s fourth match with the Union this season and seventh consecutive match overall.

- The only other shock in the 18 is the exclusion of Fernando Aristeguieta. Curtin opts for extra defensive options, with Steven Vitoria preferred to Aristeguieta as the fifth international. There’s enough offensive cover with Andrew Wenger back to complement Eric Ayuk and Conor Casey.
- The rest of the Union XI is pretty standard for Curtin’s preferences. The attacking triumvirate of Tranquillo Barnetta, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana is intact. Michael Lahoud is preferred to Brian Carroll in the center of midfield.

- No surprises from Sporting KC either. Krisztian Nemeth returns to the lineup as a wing forward after three games out. Roger Espinoza’s injury strips some dynamism from the KC midfield, so it’s Paulo Nagamura out there next to Benny Feilhaber. Depriving Feilhaber space and time on the ball to distribute up top to Dom Dwyer, Nemeth and Graham Zusi will be key, and it largely falls to Lahoud to corral that. The bench, however, is fairly thin for SKC, with Jacob Peterson the biggest threat.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Start a Revolution: The quest for "freshness" in New England

I did learn a lot from the Seattle game last year. I thought we were a fresh team going into it, but we did play a lineup that kind of was repeated and played again in the final. So, I won’t have any regrets this year. I’ll play a fresh team, completely fresh team, in the final.
- Jim Curtin, Sept. 16

We’ll find the right balance of lineup to give guys the proper rest and proper confidence going into a final. I’ll tell you there will be no regrets in terms of whether we are fresh or not in terms of the final. We will be fresh for sure.
- Jim Curtin, Sept. 20

Often without much provocation the last two weeks, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin has been forthcoming with his vision for how the final days of September should play out. With the playoffs falling out of view, all of the squad’s efforts have been geared to one solitary date: The Sept. 30 U.S. Open Cup final against Sporting Kansas City.

Curtin is a manager that you can often take at his word. Judging by the above quotes, he’ll dial up massive changes for Saturday’s trip to New England, a game in which the Union’s hope of a result would be remote, regardless.

Here’s what the Union did last season, playing New York Red Bulls at PPL Park Saturday before entertaining Seattle at home Tuesday in the cup final.

Union lineups vs. New York Red Bulls Sept. 13, 2014 in MLS play (left)
and vs. Seattle in the Open Cup final Sept. 16, 2014 (right). (Via
That’s 6.5/7 changes, depending on how you look at it, with Ray Gaddis and Maurice Edu each changing positions but playing in both games. That’s a fairly fresh team, you’d think. But the result against Seattle, with the Sounders looking far stronger in extra time, may indicate that more rest is required. The term “fresh” is inherently ambiguous, and for some players, getting a half or 90 minutes is preferable to a weekend off in terms of their sharpness, though the three subs limit how many can follow that tack.
Read more »

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A thrifty summer: The Union's September salary figures

Tranquillo Barnetta's salary was revealed Tuesday,
making him the second highest-paid Union player. (AP)
Tuesday brought the biannual release of salary figures by the MLS Players Union (pdf), which provides us with an update on the Philadelphia Union’s wage bill. Here are the numbers for the Union:

(In alphabetical order, base salary listed, guaranteed compensation in parenthesis if different)

1. Fernando Aristeguieta $350,004 (young designated player; cap hit $200,000)
2. Maurice Edu $700,000 ($768,750 – designated player; cap hit $436,250)
3. Tranquillo Barnetta $624,000 ($661,500 – NOT a DP, but max cap hit is $436,250)
4. Fred $60,000
5. Brian Carroll $150,000
6. Conor Casey $180,000
7. Warren Creavalle $108,500 ($119,000)
8. Fabinho $114,000 ($118,500)
9. Ray Gaddis $130,000 ($132,500)
10. Antoine Hoppenot $60,000

11. Michael Lahoud $108,900 ($112,233)
12. Sebastien Le Toux $275,000 ($285,228)
13. Cristian Maidana $203,500 ($217,250)
14. Richie Marquez $60,000
15. Vincent Nogueira $330,000
16. CJ Sapong $125,000 ($142,000)
17. Steven Vitoria $400,000
18. Andrew Wenger $180,000 ($282,000)
19. Ethan White $125,000
20. – vacant –

21. Andre Blake $85,000 ($123,000 – Generation Adidas)
22. Jimmy McLaughlin $60,000 (Homegrown Player)
23. Zach Pfeffer $60,000 (Homegrown Player)
24. Eric Bird $60,000
25. Dzenan Catic $60,000 ($75,000)
26. Eric Ayuk $50,000
27. John McCarthy $60,000 ($66,250)
28. Brian Sylvestre $60,000

Austin Berry $93,519 ($108,519)
Danny Cruz $125,000 ($131,667)
Leo Fernandez $60,000

Off book
Zac MacMath $130,000 (paid by Colorado via intra-league loan)

Totals Union salary cap (Totals for players 1-20): $3,682,400
Union base salaries (Totals for players 1-28): $4,365,150
Union total compensation (including inactive roster): $5,408,401 Read more »

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Monday, September 21, 2015

"It's a good thing": Sebastien Le Toux on his 50-50 club ascension

Sebastien Le Toux, seen against Orlando City Aug. 8,
notched his 50th career MLS assist Sunday. (AP)
Sebastien Le Toux’s longevity in MLS has one bothersome side effect: As he continues to collect accolades, people insist on asking him about them.

To be sure, the Frenchman isn’t concerned about where he stands with regard to history. Those facts and figures don’t impact his daily routines. But they are starting to stack up.

In Sunday’s 2-0 win over Houston, Le Toux added another to the mix: Membership in MLS’ 50 goal-50 assist club.

Le Toux’s reaction was predictable, his customary mix of congeniality and polite dismissiveness.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m proud about it. It’s a great achievement for me personally. Like I said with everything I’m doing in my career, I’ll look at it probably after when I’m done playing and I can say I did this in my time in MLS. It’s great and I’m very happy.

“I know lots of you guys talked about it even before my 50th goal. Now it’s done so we can move on and talk about something else. It’s great. I just hope to continue to get goals and assists.”

Le Toux has bagged plenty of honors, including the distinction as the leading scorer in the modern era of the U.S. Open Cup. This latest addition to the CV is one of the most impressive.

Le Toux is the 16th player in MLS history with 50 goals and 50 assists in league play. He’s one of only two active players in the group, joining Houston’s Brad Davis, who was on the field when Le Toux slipped a pass into Tranquillo Barnetta in the third minute Sunday for the Swiss midfielder to score his first MLS goal.

Here’s the full list:

Ronald Cerritos 71-57
Marc Chung 61-76
Jeff Cunningham 134-70
Brad Davis 54-120
Dwayne De Rosario 104-77
Landon Donovan 144-136
Chris Henderson 51-80
Cobi Jones 70-91
Jason Kreis 108-74
Sebastien Le Toux 50-52
Clint Mathis 61-52
Brian McBride 80-52
Jaime Moreno 133-102
Preki 79-112
Steve Ralston 76-135
Ante Razov 114-66
Read more »

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Union droning on with new practice tool

The Philadelphia Union aren’t often at the forefront of much in MLS. But manager Jim Curtin Wednesday discussed an intriguing technology of which the Union seem to be early adopters: Drones.

That’s not a goalkeeping joke. It’s a factual statement about the Union’s use of drones as an aid to record and analyze practices at the training facility adjacent to PPL Park.

What started as a bit of a novelty has become a low-cost, high-tech way to provide feedback to players and coaches about training techniques and drills. Here’s what Jim Curtin had to say:

“At first, it was just kind of a casual, let’s see what it looks like up high, to view a training session with a drone. And then you get the footage back of it and … first of all the quality is unreal, in terms of HD and you can zoom in and it gives a nice broad picture as well. Obviously the height of it dictates that. We were pretty amazed with the quality and the details it covers. Full-field, transition exercises, you can see all the movements of your back four, you can see the shape of your team, you can see the runs that your attackers are making, what spaces are open. And we’ve started to use it a lot just to break things down in terms of just trying to improve.

You’re looking for every little advantage that you can. We’ve stumbled into it, and it’s become a good little tool, one that, and maybe it’s unique and a little strange to have that thing hovering over you during a practice. But it gives you certainly a view that you can’t replicate with a handheld on the sidelines or even the camera angles from TV. It’s a unique view for sharing and showing what that looks like. It’s pretty impressive though, and it’s something that we’ll bring out there.”

In a sporting context, drones for unmanned aerial recording remain primarily a nuisance, whether they’re sparking soccer riots or disturbing tennis matches and soccer games or spying on paranoid French players. The initial appeal of such affordable, democratized technology would seem to be in an aesthetic, marketing sense, filming from unique viewpoints to package video content to fans as the Union have done.

Read more »

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Andrew Wenger, left back of the future? Not so fast

There may be some debate as to which position best suits Andrew Wenger,
here playing against Colorado in March. But Union manager Jim Curtin
is sure as to where he sees him. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
Versatility has long been a double-edged sword for Andrew Wenger. His talent as a soccer player has never been in question; his position on the field, on the other hand, has inspired more debate than any one player would probably prefer.

Even as Wenger collected six goals and four assists in what was hoped to be a breakout 2014 season, some voices, including some of the most influential of MLS media corps, still wonder if he’s not better suited in another position.

The debate is a consequence of immense talent in a player who changed positions ever year of his high school career at Warwick. It’s the natural byproduct of being honored as the ACC’s defensive and offensive players of the year in successive campaigns at Duke after transitioning from center back to center forward, an utterly unique trajectory.

The chorus of wonder continues to the pro ranks, after stints as a center forward for the Montreal Impact, which picked him No. 1 overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, fizzled and he was reborn as a wing forward for the Union. In the space of two years, his positional flexibility went from a valued trait to a befuddling source of frustration before being swapped for Jack McInerney in April 2014.

In Monday night's friendly with Harrisburg City, Wenger landed at a different spot: Left back, which he said he hadn’t played since his freshman season in high school.

So is this the next stop in Wenger’s seemingly endless game of musical positions? No.

Here’s manager Jim Curtin explaining it:

“A little bit of it is it’s a position where he can have the game in front of him. He’s played on the left side before. It’s a little slower-paced; it’s not as end-to-end for him. He’s been good defensively this season, so you start to put those pieces together. Mainly, it was just for fitness purposes. I didn’t want him to have a ton of minutes as an attacker where he’s just gassed by 45 minutes. We didn’t have a ton of guys available with the unique Monday game having played Saturday. It’s a little bit of that. It’s a little bit of, here’s an opportunity to take a look at a guy in a different position. You could say that he did very well there. He was able to play balls good with his left foot down the line. He cut in on his right and switched the point of attack. It was good, it was positive. But mainly the exercise was to get him 90 minutes, and it’s a little less stress on you at left back and you can kind of slow down. You’re not always under pressure, there’s not always someone up your back, so he gets to kind of survey the field from there. It’s also kind of healthy for him to see what the angles are like when he has someone in front of him, just the different ways that that guy cuts off of him, the job that he’s usually doing, it’s clearer to him, the little ins and outs of the game that he can maybe pick up and grow and improve on him. Mainly a fitness exercise.”

That’s a lot to digest, but the main takeaway should be that Monday’s defensive runout was borne of a twofold necessity: 1) The Union have just two natural fullbacks on the roster, and both Ray Gaddis and Fabinho have logged major minutes lately; and 2) Wenger, who returned from a five-game absence due to a concussion before logging 17 minutes against New England Saturday, needed to gain fitness, and left back was the best chance to accommodate that.
Read more »

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Four seasons to the wind: Perspective to the Union's playoff drought

We’ve reached the juncture in the season where it’s time to deploy this little tidbit about the Philadelphia Union.

I think we all can agree – even Jim Curtin acknowledges the possibility, to a degree – that the MLS Cup Playoffs will likely commence for a fourth consecutive season season without the Union, the final nail of many likely being the 1-0 loss Saturday to New England. Officially, the percentage of the Union making the playoffs is listed as 4.0. (The journalist in me who won't allow me to state assertions as facts is the reason for the hedging, so apologies.)

With seven matches (four on the road) remaining, they sit last in the Eastern Conference with 27 points from 27 games. They’re just two points behind Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot, but there’s also the struggling Montreal Impact in seventh with four games in hand and a crowd of four teams to hop over to get back into contention. The Union also have to travel to four bona fide playoff contenders (New York Red Bulls, Toronto, New England and San Jose) among their four games, so the likelihood of summoning the form to get back into the playoff picture, especially around the Sept. 30 U.S. Open Cup final date, is remote.

If – and it is still, technically, an “if” – the Union miss the playoffs this season, it would be the fourth straight time that they have failed to qualify for the postseason. Where does that rank in the annals of MLS history?

Well, it’s a thorny proposition to put that into the appropriate context in a league where a minimum of two-thirds of teams made the playoff through its first decade. Eight of 10 teams making the playoffs strips the accolade of much of its prestige while hiding plenty of warts on teams that qualified via numerical necessity. It may not be until we see several seasons of a 20-plus team MLS that we can gauge just how devastating a four-season absence is. Or if, you know, something that rhymes with "go/fell" happens.

Even so, if the Union miss the postseason in 2015, they’d join very, very select company:

Toronto 8 (2007-2014)*
Chivas USA 5 (2010-2014)
Union 4 (2012-2015)*
D.C. United 4 (2008-2011)
San Jose 4 (1997-2000)

(Two of those streaks are active and can continue. But, terrifying as this may be to some in Ontario, Toronto is pegged as a virtual statistical certainty to end its playoff torment, while the Union are extremely likely to perpetuate theirs.)

That isn’t the group you want to be in, not least of which for what happened after the droughts ended. Read more »

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The bad news in the Union's playoff chase

After Saturday’s surprising (and surprisingly efficient) 1-0 win at Montreal, I decided to wait a few days to levy the less uplifting news that the MLS standings had to offer for the buoyant spirits of Philadelphia Union fans. Certainly after the emancipation of the Union from the specter of Rais M’Bolhi’s continued presence Monday, no one wanted a dousing of cold, logical water.

But the truth remains fairly bleak for the Union. For weeks, the Union haven’t sustained enough success to consider it important where other teams stood. But now that they have the chance of parlaying their Montreal win into a mini-streak when New England comes to town this weekend, it’s worth getting the standings to fess up their secrets.

First, the good news: After weeks of stagnation, the Union have created daylight between themselves and Chicago in the basement of the Eastern Conference. The Union’s 27 points are just one behind a crowd of three teams – Montreal, New York City and Orlando City. NYCFC is going nowhere quickly with its aged and perpetually strained midfield, and Orlando is in freefall with one win and 24 goals allowed in its last eight games, usurping the Union’s long-secure place as MLS’ leakiest team.

Here’s how the league stands this week:

Source: MLS Soccer.

So, all that good news is mitigated by one single nugget of negativity: The Impact, which occupy the sixth and final playoff berth, have four games in hand on the Union. If we even out their games-played total, the Impact’s points-per-game average yields 33 points, six ahead of the Union.
Read more »

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Four's company: Union on the brink of goalkeeping history

Could John McCarthy be headed to the bench for Andre Blake?
Jim Curtin didn't rule it out Thursday. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
It should shock no one to state that the Philadelphia Union have an ignominious goalkeeping history. So it’s not surprising that the Union are on the verge of another inglorious distinction between the posts, potentially this weekend.

Jim Curtin strongly hinted Thursday at his weekly press conference that Andre Blake could be in line for his season debut Saturday against Montreal. The timing would seem to be right: Blake is recovered from surgeries on both knees in January, then May. He’ll leave for international duty with Jamaica for a two-leg tie with Nicaragua in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Sept. 4 and 8.

Here’s what Curtin had to say:

“We’re thinking about it. We’ll make a decision. Andre’s been called in to Jamaica three weeks from now, so there’s a possibility that it makes sense to give him a game or two.”

If Curtin plays the same loyalty card he did last year with Zac MacMath, it may be that he’s deemed John McCarthy as having earned the start in the Sept. 30 Open Cup final. That would position McCarthy to play a couple of games in late September to stay sharp.

In the meantime, Brian Sylvestre is on the shelf until his oft-reaggravated hand injury is fully healed. When the subject was broached two weeks ago, Curtin declared McCarthy the starter in Orlando. There was no such openness this week. Curtin also failed to conceal his disappointment with McCarthy in Sunday’s 3-3 draw with Chicago.

“Well, the game, not happy with how we executed at that 2-1, we had a lot of chances to get the third goal,” was how Curtin started his postgame press address. “Sean Johnson obviously had a very good night. He had a lot of key saves, a lot of big saves to keep them in it. I think we gave up four shots on goal and three goals. So, again, you know, you work so hard, you finally break through and get a goal.”
Read more »

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Into the valley: What's next for Harrisburg City?

Of all the parties and portions of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, Allentown – named Wednesday in Bethlehem, one was noticeably prevalent in declaration but physically absent.

The elephant under the tent for the Union’s launch of a Lehigh Valley USL side in 2016 was the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union’s (soon-to-be former) developmental partner.

For about as long as the Philadelphia Union have played soccer, they’ve been affiliated with Harrisburg. That arrangement has offered countless Union player the chance for rehab or maintenance matches in USL through the years. Per Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, the Union’s link to Harrisburg “was a lot of the impetus for the two leagues aligning,” prior to the 2013 season to allow greater player movement and enhance USL’s utility as a reserve league.

Whether or not the Union had any pull in the original connection between America’s first and third divisions, that paradigm is on the way out the door, chased by what began in 2014 with L.A. Galaxy starting the “Galaxy II” side as a reservoir for young talent, offering them regular games and providing relief from the senior roster as the minor-league side did the dirty work of blood-letting.

The Union are the ninth team – behind L.A., Portland, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and New York Red Bulls – to field its own USL squad. Per USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis, the majority of MLS clubs could operate full affiliates by next year.

“We have at present eight MLS teams,” he said during the press conference. “Today will be nine. We expect two more to join us for the 2016 season.”

(Papadakis declined to clarify later whether the two new teams are MLS-affiliated or not. Orlando City has announced its intention to form a Central Florida team. Dallas had toyed with the notion of a “two” franchise. Houston’s unveiled Rio Grande Valley FC doesn’t count, more in line with the older, Harrisburg-Union paradigm.) Read more »

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Union unveil new USL franchise at Lehigh University

USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis, left, presents
a Lehigh Valley 16 jersey to Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz
Wednesday at Lehigh University.
The Philadelphia Union announced Wednesday what has long been rumored: A USL franchise operating out of the Lehigh Valley region.

The club, which will be named at a later date via fan vote through the month of September, will play its games at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium, a 16,000-seat stadium that also hosts the university’s football games, and begin operation in 2016.

The club will be the 27th club in USL’s rapid phase of expansion. The Union are the ninth MLS franchise to directly operate a USL franchise. USL CEO and Managing Partner Alec Papadakis said he expects to more to join that number before the start of next season. Orlando City has been rumored to be one of those clubs.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fire-Union: Open Cup semifinal lineups and observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Barnetta-Maidana-Le Toux
Bench: Blake, White, Creavalle, Pfeffer, Fred, Hoppenot, Ayuk, Aristeguieta.

Fire (4-4-2)
Bench: Busch, Stephens, Watson, Nyarko, Igboananike, J.Johnson, Magee

Live Stream:

- It’s a 50/50 split on the injury front. Maurice Edu shakes off his groin injury to earn a place in the starting XI, relegating Steven Vitoria to the stands (he’s not even in the 18, thanks to the limit of five international players in the lineup). Vincent Nogueira, however, fails his fitness test. That means the Union field the same front six as Saturday’s draw with Orlando City, with Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud a rather conservative central midfield pairing.

- The glaring work-in-progress for the Union is in the midfield triumvirate. How much interchange is there between Cristian Maidana, ostensibly in the No. 10 role, and Tranquillo Barnetta on the left wing? How much less effective is that group without a credible threat from an attack-minded No. 8 (presumably Lahoud in this case)? And if that arrangement doesn’t work or doesn’t push the action as manager Jim Curtin desires at home against a Fire team winless in its last 19 games outside of Illinois, how quickly does he dial up a change, perhaps Zach Pfeffer in midfield or Fernando Aristeguieta up top with CJ Sapong moved to the wing?

- The Fire, MLS’s only winless team on the road this season, have all of their firepower back, and they have no shortage of attacking options, albeit ones with limited experience playing together. David Accam and Shaun Maloney are ready to go from the start, and Gilberto makes his debut with Maloney playing off his shoulder. Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Kennedy Igboananike are late-game options aplenty off the bench. There will be plenty of interchanging to challenge Carroll and Lahoud: Harry Shipp spiriting in from the left wing, Maloney hovering behind Gilberto, Accam running toward the byline from wherever he pleases. The Fire are last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored by a wide margin, but they don’t have the injury excuse to factor in Wednesday.

- This is the Union’s ninth Open Cup match since the start of 2014. None of the previous eight have finished in 90 minutes. Six have gone to extra time, three have required resolution through penalty kicks and two were delayed by weather. The weather at PPL Park looks clear, so bet on extra time.

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