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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Union-Fire: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Blake
Fabinho- Marquez-Tribbett-Rosenberry
Carroll-Barnetta
Pontius-Alberg-Ilsinho
Herbers
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Yaro, Creavalle, Fernandes, Le Toux, Restrepo

Chicago (3-5-2) 
Johnson 
Gehrig-Campbell-Kappelhof 
Harrington-Thiam-Cocis-Stephens-Vincent 
Accam-Igboananike 
Bench: Lampson, Rodrigo, Conner, Goosens, LaBrocca, Meira, Morrell 

- Against a team that hasn’t won on the road since 2014, what better time to try some new things? That’s why Ilsinho gets his first start in MLS since April 2 (against Chicago) and why Roland Alberg gets the nod for the first time since April. It’s the long-awaited first start for the threesome of Alberg, Ilsinho and Tranquillo Barnetta.
- Jim Curtin swaps in his home fullback (Fabinho) for the road fullback (Ray Gaddis). Sebastien Le Toux heads to the bench, a wise choice given that he’s the reserve forward for Fabian Herbers with CJ Sapong still out.

- The Fire miss Matt Polster tonight with a concussion. Former Union man Vlejko Paunovic goes back to the 3-5-2, with rookie Brandon Vincent the danger man in on the wing. If the Fire are going to be dangerous, it’s through the action of Kennedy Igboananike and David Acccam, likely going it alone with the rest bunkering in. This is a team that remains dangerous on the counter.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Home for the summer: Why the next seven games could be the Union's most important of the season

Jim Curtin doesn't have to look too far down the road to understand
how vital a series of upcoming home games are to his team. (AP)
The MLS schedule is a bizarre thing to study, for its unusual topology and inexplicable oddities. In careful dosages, though, it’s useful to examine.

Jim Curtin introduced the schedule dynamics to the conversation Monday at his weekly press conference ahead of Wednesday’s visit from the Chicago Fire. The Union embark on a stretch of five out of six games at home, including the fifth-round U.S. Open Cup clash. Between now and the end of July, the Union leave Talen Energy Stadium twice (three times if they advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals).

In addition to Chicago, the Union welcome in Vancouver Saturday, D.C. United July 9, New York Red Bulls July 17 and Real Salt Lake July 31.

That’s five home games in six weeks. After that, the Union have just five home games the rest of the season, through August, September and October.

It may seem early to look ahead, but with the Union near the halfway point of a long season, it’s prime time for the team to start preparing tough stretches ahead.

If you parse the season into smaller segments as the coaching staff does, the eight-game run that started with Saturday’s loss to New York City FC is a logical subdivision. Their other road tests in there are a winnable trip to sweltering Houston July 2 and to Montreal July 23.

It appears to be a stretch of the season where the Union can really assert themselves as a top team in the East and go a long way toward accumulating the points needed to achieve their primary goal, ending a four-year playoff drought. But juxtaposing this run against the challenges that follow imbues it with even more importance.

August provides a stretch of four road games at Eastern opposition in six games – at DC Aug. 6, New England Aug. 13, Columbus Aug. 24 and Chicago Sept. 3. Their two home dates are Toronto Aug. 20 and Sporting KC Aug. 27, sandwiched around the Columbus trip.

The final six-game run starts with Montreal in Chester Sept. 10, and it ends with home dates against Orlando City and Red Bulls in the final two weeks. But there’s a stretch of 36 days where the Union don’t play at home, voyaging to Portland, Toronto and Red Bull Arena, with the international break in the middle.

That schedule means the Union won’t be in a position to make up ground late in the season. With a 5-0-2 mark at home and a solid track record of getting results in their building, the Union need to bank points now, especially against five teams with a combined seven road wins this season.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Au revoir: How the Union move on from Vincent Nogueira

The Union bid farewell to Vincent Nogueira, right, Thursday.
How do they compensate for his departure?
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
Shock was the order of the day at Talen Energy Stadium Thursday with the stunning news that Vincent Nogueira and the Philadelphia Union parted ways by mutual consent. The move leaves more questions than answers, many of which will likely remain mysteries with the Frenchman returning to his native country immediately.

First and foremost, the primary concern in this matter should be Nogueira and his personal health issue. Nogueira was a fan favorite in Philadelphia since his arrival in January 2014 and a serially underrated player. To have a situation that is so dire as to require you to put your vocation on hold at the age of 28 and seek a remedy is an awful predicament, and anyone who interacted with Nogueira in his time with the Union should be unanimous in passing on their well wishes.

But soccer life, in its diminished importance, goes on, just as the Union must without Nogueira when they line up against New York City FC this week. So, how do they go about it?

First, let’s look at the numbers. The Union have been a better team with Nogueira. He’s played 64 of 82 games in the last two-plus seasons. With him, the Union are 21-24-19, a points per game average of 1.28. Without Nogueira, the club is 5-8-5, 1.11 ppg. There’s so much noise in the club’s bumpy path over the last three seasons that it can skew those numbers as the Union ran hot and cold, but the point of Nogueira’s value persists nonetheless.

Tactically, there’s no doubting how important Nogueira is. He’s a vital link between offense and defense, a conduit for turning turnovers into quick offense. He’s can hit diagonal balls like no one else on the Union, and he mixes tackling ability with passing vision like few in MLS. He added a goalscoring touch in recent months, growing more adept at picking out the final run in the box.

And yeah, he can do this.

That leaves the question of how the Union replace him, and there’s really no easy answer. But there are some half-measures that could compensate.

- Nogueira was the only pure No. 8 on the roster. Warren Creavalle provides some of that of movement, but the six is more natural for him. Tranquillo Barnetta or Roland Alberg could conceivably slide back, but they lack the defensive instincts that are second-nature to Nogueira. Maybe it’s time to look at a formation change, and here’s one that’s suggested:




- The Union just began a stretch of six games in 17 days. The effectiveness of a Brian Carroll and Creavalle double pivot would seem to be negatively impacted when they have to play every game, instead of enjoying the previous platoon that offered plenty of rest.

- Maurice Edu’s path back to the field just became more intensive. The Union are avowing caution with Edu, who isn’t back to full contact yet. It was declared March 9 that he would miss three to four months. He’s on the far end of that timetable, and while the club hasn’t declared any setbacks, they’re also taking it slow enough to avoid setbacks. Before Nogueira’s departure, you wondered how Edu would fit in this system. Sans Nogueira, it’s very clear the void that awaits.

- It’s time to look at the Union’s strengths. As Wednesday night indicated, they have a glut at one particular position: The wing. Ilsinho, Chris Pontius, Sebastien Le Toux, Leo Fernandes and Walter Restrepo are all pushing for minutes. And let’s not forget that Eric Ayuk played 28 games last season and scored some notable goals. One of those wingers will have to help Fabian Herbers spell CJ Sapong for however long his ankle injury is (Le Toux, likely). But if pushing Ilsinho centrally, for instance, helps relieve the pressure there, the Union have the depth out wide to do it.

- The Union are in good financial shape. Thursday was a sad day for many people who’d grown attached to Nogueira, and the nature of his departure only raised the concern. But the Union are in a rare position to adapt, and this isn’t a death knell for their progress early this season. They have just 25 guys on the roster, 17 senior roster players. Dropping Nogueira’s salary offers cap space. The transfer of Michael Lahoud, if the amount is to be believed, plus $50k from Chicago for Michael De Leeuw, gives them money to spend. They have new openings on their discovery list, which is minus de Leeuw, John Terry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (provided his deal to Manchester United continues as reported). The only central midfielder on that list was Guatemalan Jorge Aparicio, a name that might bear watching. There are options within MLS – the Union previously had interest in Kwadwo Poku, who is being pushed further to the periphery at NYC, and my colleague Jonathan Tannenwald made an intriguing suggestion with out-of-favor Montreal midfielder Eric Alexander – though those will have to wait until the window opens July 4. (FWIW, Alexander has the added bonus of not being cup tied in the Open Cup.)

Dispiriting as losing a key cog like Nogueira is, at a juncture where the Union are playing so well and die-hard fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop, the loss isn’t insurmountable. I’d highly doubt Earnie Stewart would build a team where any player was quite so indispensable, and while it may take some time for the Union to find their feet in the post-Nogueira era (no, they won’t go undefeated in the next eight games), it’s not the end of the line for the Union’s aspirations this season.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Union, Vincent Nogueira part ways

Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference Thursday afternoon was slated to include a significant team announcement. Instead, a perturbed looking Curtin had nothing to provide.
Later in the day, the complication in the matter became clear.

The Union have terminated the contract of midfielder Vincent Nogueira by mutual consent, Union sporting director Earnie Stewart confirmed.

The cause for the parting of ways was disclosed as personal health issues, which Stewart didn’t disclose. Nogueira will return to his native France.

“We want to thank Vincent for his contributions to the club over the last two years and we wish him the best, both personally and professionally,” Earnie Stewart said in a club statement. “At this time, it was our desire to enable him to be with his family at home in France.”

“I want to thank Philadelphia Union for their understanding of my situation and wish my teammates well going forward,” Nogueira said.

The 28-year-old midfielder played 64 games with the Union, scoring nine goals and three assists. He played 73 minutes Wednesday night in the Union’s U.S. Open Cup win over Harrisburg City Islanders. His health issues are believed to be non-soccer related.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Copa comes to Philly: Who to watch in Copa America

Copa America Centenario, that thing that MLS writers have been filling your Twitter timeline with lately, is coming to Philadelphia starting this week. Three matches will be held at Lincoln Financial Field over the next week. Uruguay takes on Venezuela this Thursday. Trophy holders Chile take on CONCACAF foe Panama June 14. And sandwiched in between is the marquee date, USA vs. Paraguay, Saturday night.

The Stars and Stripes coming to Philly needs little extra billing, even if it’s just to give Jurgen Klinsmann an old-fashioned Philadelphia welcome. You’ll recall that Team USA was here last summer, playing in the wrong game at the conclusion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a dismal loss to Panama in the third-place game at PPL Park.

This tournament has been billed, by Philly-area spokesman Kobe Bryant and others, as the biggest tournament the U.S. has hosted since the 1994 World Cup. So why should you care about what’s happening in Philly? Here are five stars to keep an eye out for at the Linc.

Philadelphia-area fans will hope Luis Suarez, right,
leaves the bench Thursday in Uruguay's game at the Linc. (AP)
Uruguay: Luis Suarez. You’ve got so many choices on a team full of stars. There are a half-dozen holdovers from that run to the World Cup semifinals in 2010 and their victory in this tournament in 2011 (their record 15th capturing of the crown and fourth since rebranding as Copa America in 1975). Followers of European soccer will recognize Edinson Cavani from Italy and France, the goalkeeping of Fernando Muslera and Atletico Madrid stalwart Diego Godin at center back. But Suarez, the Barcelona and former Liverpool man, is the headliner, as much for what he does with the ball as his incorrigible antics without it. Suarez was injured in the Copa del Rey final two weeks ago, which kept him out of Uruguay’s opener with Mexico, a 3-1 loss Sunday. With Uruguay facing a must-win against one of South America’s least illustrious clubs, coach Oscar Tabarez could really use Suarez’s attacking edge.

Venezuela: Christian Santos. There aren’t a lot of household names on Venezuela, beyond West Brom center forward Salomon Rondon and the Italian-based duo of Josef Martinez and Tomas Rincon. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, who plays for French club Nantes, is a teammate of former Union striker and countryman Fernando Aristeguieta (who isn’t on the squad) and former Union target and American midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, if you’re looking for local ties. But the timelier one is Santos, who was revealed to be on the Union’s discovery list a few weeks back. The 28-year-old wing forward, who didn’t play in the opening win over Jamaica, was raised in Germany and scored prolifically for Dutch club NEC, which Union technical director Earnie Stewart will be familiar with. He’s an intriguing case who is reputedly out of contract after his option year with NEC expired, and he fits the rough profile of the kind of player who can flourish in MLS if the price is rightRead more »

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Curtin picks Jones to start vs. Columbus

Matt Jones was selected by Jim Curtin as Andre Blake's replacement
for Wednesday's game against Columbus.
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
The Philadelphia Union goalkeeper beat has been dormant of late. So Tuesday’s decision of a new starter while Andre Blake is away on international duty was dispatched painlessly.

Jim Curtin announced that Matt Jones will make his MLS debut Wednesday against Columbus, with John McCarthy as his backup.

Jones and McCarthy have alternated as Blake’s backup in games, but that is a largely ceremonial role. McCarthy has played eight games this season with USL club Bethlehem Steel, while Jones has played just once.

Nonetheless, the 30-year-old gets the nod. A veteran of nearly 150 games in the top two Portuguese divisions, Jones will be the first Englishman to suit up in Union history.

“I’ll be more than ready,” Jones said after training Tuesday. “I’ve been ready since preseason. Very excited about the potential to play. It’s all positive. If it’s my name on the team sheet tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to play.”

Curtin said he leaned heavily on goalkeeping coach Oka Nikolov’s discretion in making the pick. Jones was with the team last week but had to return to the Philly area for the birth of his first child, son Jackson, May 26.

“It is a roller coaster of emotions,” Curtin said. “To have your first born is a big deal. I tend to see the positives in that. It makes you a little less selfish. You’re playing for a little guy too, now. It’s a little more special. You have to keep things in check.”

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Union-DC United: Lineups and prematch thoughts

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Blake 
Fabinho-Marquez-Yaro-Rosenberry 
Carroll-Creavalle 
Pontius-Barnetta-Le Toux 
Sapong 
Bench: Jones, Gaddis, Tribbett, Restrepo, Alberg, Fernandes, Herbers 

D.C. United (4-4-2) 
Worra 
Kemp-Boswell-Birnbaum-Franklin 
Neagle-DeLeon-Sarvas-Nyarko 
Acosta-Saborio 
Bench: Hall, Opare, Mishu, Vincent, Espindola, Jeffrey, Buscher 


- The big name missing is a late injury to Vincent Nogueira, who suffered a left oblique strain late in the week that rules him out. In his stead steps Warren Creavalle as the No. 8, the American preferred to Roland Alberg apparently. Other than that, the only change is to go attack-minded with the left back with Fabinho in for Ray Gaddis. Ilsinho's absence also continues with some minor injuries to his legs.

- Chris Pontius is obviously out there tonight against his former team. He’s in good form, and you know he’ll be jonesing for some bragging rights after six seasons with D.C.

- D.C. is unchanged from last week’s win against Red Bulls. The attacking duo is Luciano Acosta and Alvaro Saborio, with Fabian Espindola on the bench for reinforcement. The challenge for the Union back four is to mute that front-running pairing, as it’ll often be them on the counterattack trying to hit the Union.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Counting the Union's costs: MLS Players Union reveals May 2016 salaries

Midfielder Roland Alberg will earn $377,250 this season
with the Union, per MLS Players Union filings,
just under the designated player thresshold.
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
The MLS Players Union released its salary figures Thursday morning (pdf), its first such release this season following the closure of MLS’s transfer window last week. It’s the first look we get at the price the Union paid to significantly overhaul the team last season, bringing in essentially half a squad.

Below are the numbers, broken up by on-budget and off-budget, listed alphabetically in groups of five. (A reminder of the guidelines is here, and you can find other league-wide ramifications of the numbers here.)

On-budget

Roland Alberg $328,000/$377,250#
Fabinho $142,000/$142,000
Tranquillo Barnetta $650,000/$687,500#
Brian Carroll $120,000/$120,000
Anderson $150,000/$165,833#

Warren Creavalle $118,000/$125,666
Maurice Edu $725,000/$793,750*
Leo Fernandes $63,000/$63,000
Ray Gaddis $150,000/$152,500
Ilsinho $430,000/$478,333#

Matt Jones $75,000/$80,625
Sebastien Le Toux $300,000/$310,228
Richie Marquez $63,000/$63,000
John McCarthy $79,000/$85,250
Vincent Nogueira $400,000/$400,000

Chris Pontius $380,000/$411,000
Walter Restrepo $125,000/$139,500
CJ Sapong $225,000/$225,000
-- budget space empty --
-- budget space empty --

Off Budget

Andre Blake $100,000/$138,000**
Fabian Herbers $100,000/$125,500**#
Josh Yaro $130,000/$194,000**#
Eric Ayuk $62,500/$62,500#
Cole Missimo $51,500/$51,500

Keegan Rosenberry $62,500/$63,750
Ken Tribbett $51,500/$51,500
Taylor Washington $51,500/$51,500

Exempt

Michael Lahoud $110,00/$115,637 (season-long lone to New York Cosmos)

* designated player; ** Generation Adidas; # international

Totals

Salary Budget (Players 1-20): $4,523,000/$4,820,435
Full Budget (Players 1-28): $5,132,500/$5,674,322
All salary expenses (inc. loans): $5,242,500/$5,674,322

Some observations on the numbers:

- The big numbers we all wanted to see pertained to what the Union paid for their newest players, knowing none of their offseason acquisitions were designated players and leaving Maurice Edu as still the only Union player in that category. Ilsinho is above the designated player threshold ($457,500) in his guaranteed compensation of $478,333, but his base salary budget charge is paid down to under the threshold at $430,000. Roland Alberg is just under the $400k mark. Anderson is making just over $150,000, while Walter Restrepo is under that figure.

- The big dollar figure change compared to last season is CJ Sapong, who signed a new three-year deal in February. His old deal paid him $140,000. He’s up to $225,000 this season. Vincent Nogueira is another big mover, having made $330,000 last year, $70,000 less than this season.

- Chris Pontius made a hair under $400k last season with D.C. This year, he’s up to over $411,000 in compensation, an increase of $15k. That’s a fairly standard increase, echoing the elevators in the deals of Tranquillo Barnetta, Andre Blake, Warren Creavalle and Edu. Ray Gaddis’ salary increased by $20k.

- For the veterans, Sebastien Le Toux penned a new deal that sees his salary increase $25,000 to a $300k base. Fabinho enjoyed a significant increase in his new deal, going from $118,500 in guaranteed compensation to $142,000. Brian Carroll, however, took a paycut from $150,000 to $120,000

- It’s fairly clear the emphasis the Union have put on the midfield. Their top seven earners (Alberg, Barnetta, Edu, Ilsinho, Le Toux, Nogueira, Pontius) are all in the center of the pitch. Barring a change in philosophy that reallocates Edu to central defense when he returns AND an injury to Sapong pushing Le Toux or Pontius up top, it’s difficult to conceive of all those guys being on the field simultaneously.

- By contrast, the defense is a relative area of thriftiness. Anderson has the highest budget charge of the entire backline contingent, all eight of them. Ken Tribbett is a low minimum earner at $51,500, while Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry are high minimums at $63,000. Josh Yaro outearns Rosenberry and Marquez together at $194,000 ($130,000 budget charge), though that’s subsidized through the Generation Adidas program that he, Blake and Fabian Herbers are in.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Prepping for DC: Notes from Curtin's press conference

Jim Curtin said the Union are taking it "game-by-game"
with Andre Blake in determining when he'll be released
to Jamaica for Copa America. (AP)
It’s a truncated week for the Philadelphia Union, with D.C. United coming to town Friday night for a big Eastern Conference clash. Plenty has been made of MLS’s splashy Rivalry Week exercise in synergistic branding, which includes a look at the DC-Union history, and much will be written this week about Chris Pontius facing the team that drafted him for the first time (check Thursday’s paper for that).

Beyond those obvious items, training was fairly quiet Wednesday (nothing that rhymed with "blatan" was brought up). Here are the high points:

- Ilsinho remains in injury limbo with leg issues, including the quad problem that kept him out last week, that don’t qualify as full-fledged injuries. He didn’t train fully Wednesday, but he did exercises with the group. Jim Curtin said he’s “anxious to get him back involved,” but “it’ll be close for selection this weekend.” Curtin sounded the “we have to be smart about it” bell, so if Ilsinho doesn’t pass fit this week, Curtin has three more games in the next two weeks to aim for.

- Roland Alberg has found playing time hard to come by lately, and we’ve speculated what it would take to get the club’s major international offseason signing back on the field. His absence is partially due to how well Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira have played. But Curtin thinks Alberg is doing what’s needed to stay in the conversation. Said Curtin:

“Roland’s been doing excellent in training. He’s been very good. He’s been making my decision every weekend tough to not put him out there. Again, it’s a team thing where we have to get a little more stable, a little stronger as a group defensively and in attack to where we can get more attack-minded guys on the field, and Roland is an attack-minded player. He wants to get forward. He wants to make assists and make goals. And he’s going to contribute.
“I think with every new player that comes into a team, there’s still that adjustment period. Tranquillo went through that last year. So it doesn’t just click instantly with the group. He’s done well with his minutes. He’s pushing for more.”

- Andre Blake will be in goal Friday for D.C.. Beyond that, Curtin and the Union are playing it game-by-game as to when the goalkeeper joins Jamaica for this summer’s Copa America. The Reggae Boyz open the tournament June 5 in Chicago against Venezuela, and it’s likely that a training camp of about a week will imperil Blake’s chances of playing against Columbus June 1 (though that is still being debated). The Union travel to Orlando May 25 and Colorado May 28. “We’re working with Jamaica now,” Curtin said. “Nothing is concrete. We have a good, open dialogue with them right now as to what’s best for Andre and when the release date will come. … Andre has been very important for us. He’s staying sharp, and it’s a matter of communication and open dialogue with Jamaica and doing what’s best for both parties to keep Andre playing at the level that he’s playing at.”

- Eric Ayuk received a call-up Wednesday to Cameroon’s Under-20 team for a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Zimbabwe Sunday, for what could be his international debut. Ayuk departs Friday. The 19-year-old, who played 28 games for the Union last season and set a number of youngest-ever club records, has played consistently with Bethlehem Steel this season, where he leads the team in goals (two) and assists (one). Cameroon starts a two-leg series with Zimbabwe in the second of three rounds of qualification for the tournament to be hosted by Zambia next February.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

How the Union have improved from last season in four stats

On many fronts this season, Keegan Rosenberry, right,
and the Union are markedly better than last year's bunch. (AP)
Believe it or not, the Philadelphia Union are a third of the way through the MLS season. By the time the league breaks for Copa America in just two weeks, we’ll essentially be halfway home on the 34-game season.

As such, the time for talking about starts to the season is near its end. The targets of what teams are and what they aspire to be have a little more time to resolve into one distinct point. But the cost of the weeks spent in that quest for self-discovery are compounding with each turn of the schedule.

It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about most teams, and the league’s playoff structure doesn’t require teams with championship ambitions to perform at their peaks in May. Even for the Union’s bright 10-game salvo, christening Jim Curtin’s team as anything more concrete than encouraging is problematic.

What we can say with absolute certainty is this: The Union of 2015 (and 2014, and 2013…) were afflicted by myriad problems. The 2016 team has made demonstrable progress on many of those fronts. In a number of categories, the Union have been vastly improved from failed seasons past.

Here are four areas in which the Union are proving this season to be different:

‘Keeping things steady

So once or twice in the past, some people on the Internet may have poked a little fun at the Union’s goalkeeping situation. In their defense, it’s only because the Union have consistently produced such ineptitude at the position that it does boggle the mind.

As long as Andre Blake is healthy, though, the goalkeeping ghosts remain silent. Blake has gotten plenty of attention this season, for the quality of his saves and his potential at Copa America with Jamaica. He’s on the path to being an elite goalkeeper, and it won’t be long before a club in Europe comes calling for the 25-year-old.

What’s important for now, according to the Union’s past, is that Blake is providing better goalkeeping than the Union has ever gotten.

For starters, Blake’s 33 saves already constitutes the sixth-best total in a season in Union history. And he’s had only 10 games:

Player, Season GP Saves GAA Sv % CS
Zac MacMath, 2013 34 101 1.29 68.7 12
Zac MacMath, 2012 32 93 1.34 66.9 8
Zac MacMath, 2014 29 77 1.55 61.6 5
Chris Seitz, 2010 23 68 1.86 59.6 0
Faryd Mondragon, 2011 27 49 1.04 62.0 7
Andre Blake, 2016 10 33 1.10 75.0 2


Obviously, Blake requires time to catch his predecessors in most of those categories. But with the exception of Faryd Mondragon in 2011, Blake has the lowest goals-against average. He’s also way above anyone else in save percentage. Some of those metrics are independent of Blake as a goalie (for instance, Blake has little control over how many and how dangerous of shots he faces). But he’s doing a job within the confines of a team structure, and that’s leading to results.

Two’s company
Read more »

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Curtin hints at 'geting aggressive' with Union midfield

The Philadelphia Union are facing the second installment of six games in 22 days Saturday when they venture north to Montreal. The fixture load presents plenty of opportunity to flex the Union’s newfound depth. They also offer the chance to tinker and introduce tactical nuance to the mix.

One such change pertains to the Union’s midfield balance. Jim Curtin has constructed a regimented depth chart that essentially looks like this (and we can quibble about who’s ahead of whom):

Carroll          Nogueira
Creavalle      Creavalle

Pontius              Barnetta            Le Toux
Ilsinho               Alberg            Fernandes

But this structure isn’t rigid. The question was posed to Curtin Thursday as to whether the backlog of games could introduce some deviation to that plan. Could, as I posed for instance, Roland Alberg be considered as a No. 8? Or could Ilsinho be called upon centrally for Tranquillo Barnetta?

Here is Curtin’s response:

“Long term, my goal is to get more attacking guys on the field. I don’t think we’re quite there yet as a group, and that’s the entire group, to be able to execute defensive responsibilities and attacking responsibilities. But ideally, we would like to have two offensive-minded guys playing in the center, whether it’s Alberg and Barnetta, you see last night (Vincent) Nogueira can be offensive as well, so again, we’re looking and working towards playing more aggressive, more attacking style, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet where we can throw two guys who think offense first in the center of the field just quite yet. We are working towards that.”

The veiled message is something many have long suspected: That the prospect of Alberg as a No. 8 represents a new frontier for what the Union can do attacking-wise.

The reason came a question later, about Curtin's desire to push the issue centrally:

“We have our wide guys tuck in, so (Chris) Pontius and (Sebastien) Le Toux will tuck in, Ilsinho when he’s healthy as well, just to create a decision for that outside back. And then the past two games in particular, San Jose and L.A., we were 3-v-2 in the midfield, between Barnetta, Nogueira and (Brian) Carroll last night and Barnetta, Nogueira and (Warren) Creavalle the week before. There’s always one extra guy. And they’ve done a good job of finding that advantage. Was it perfect, and did we get a chance every time? No, but at the same time, being a number up in there and having that second midfielder commit to getting into the box, especially, we’ve found ourselves getting some success.”

The Union missed an opportunity the last two games at home. They weren’t as aggressive as they should’ve been going at Fatai Alashe and Anibal Godoy when the San Jose center mids picked up yellows in the 1-1 draw two weeks ago. And they didn’t overload Steven Gerrard enough in the center of the park in the 2-2 draw with L.A.
Read more »

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Union-Galaxy: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Blake
Fabinho-Marquez-Yaro-Rosenberry 
Carroll-Nogueira 
Pontius-Barnetta-Le Toux 
Sapong 
Bench: McCarthy, Tribbett, Gaddis, Creavalle, Alberg, Ilsinho, Herbers

Galaxy (4-3-3) 
Kennedy 
Rodgers-Leonardo-VanDamme-Cole 
Magee-Husidic-Gerrard 
Dos Santos-Keane-Zardes 
Bench: Rowe, Lletget, DeLaGarza, Larentowicz, Boateng, Romney, Steres 

 - Changes are minimal for the Union this week, as expected. Brian Carroll steps in at central midfield Josh Yaro keeps his spot in the lineup with Ken Tribbett healthy enough for the bench. Fabinho returns to a start after his suspension, Ray Gaddis back on the bench.

- The stars are out for the Galaxy. Robbie Keane started Sunday after six weeks out, and he’s in the lineup again. Steven Gerrard, whom many fans are here to see, came off the bench Sunday and is ready to start this one. Dan Kennedy (or bizarro Antoine Hoppenot) steps in between the posts, while Ashley Cole is in the backline. I think this is pretty close to the full complement of L.A.’s weapons, but let’s see how they jell.

- One matchup to watch for is in central midfield. The Union didn’t do enough against San Jose to press the issue centrally when Fatai Alashe and Anibal Godoy picked up yellow cards 10 days ago. If Gerrard and his 35-year-old legs are marooned in central midfield, then the Union need to attack with Tranquillo Barnetta. And if he can’t do it, they should be quick to introduce Ilsinho for those purposes.

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