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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

From Portland to Toronto: Union training notes

Union manager Jim Curtin lauded new signing Kevin Kratz, center,
for his intelligence and versatility in midfield. (AP)
Sandwiched between a loss in Portland and a daunting trip to Toronto, Jim Curtin addressed plenty of odds and ends Wednesday in his weekly press conference. Here are some highlights:

- Two injury absences from training: Tranquillo Barnetta has some swelling after a knee-to-knee collision with Fanendo Adi last week. He’s getting a scan and sat out the Wednesday morning session, but Curtin said, “I don’t expect him to miss the weekend.” Josh Yaro is underdoing concussion protocols after sustaining a head injury in Portland. With Yaro suspended after “wrongly getting sent off” in Portland, there’s less immediacy to him passing that battery of tests.

- CJ Sapong, as has been written, hasn’t supplied many goals or shots in recent weeks, which seems too narrow a scope on which to criticize for Curtin. Despite Sapong’s lack of tangible statistical contributions, Curtin remains high on the things Sapong does to make those around him better, and it doesn’t sound like rest or a chance for Charlie Davies to start is in the offing. Curtin on Sapong:
“He brings a lot of things to our team. Again, it’s a little deceptive, one shot on target. I guess if you take that as a snapshot and you don’t really look any deeper, he still has created chances. … The margins in our league are very small. He’s still a forward that I very much believe in, a guy that brings a lot of intangibles to every game. He’s a big part of our success and one that we know will get going and get goals. Even if he doesn’t get goals, he’s going contribute and make everyone else’s job easier around him. Still very much a believer in CJ and what he’s about.”
- Given the choice of sitting Sapong or morphing the formation to a 4-4-2 to accommodate minutes for Davies, Curtin seems to favor neither. “We don’t want to get too drastic now,” he said. “We’ve gone through 30 games with one system. We don’t want all of a sudden to completely change. Is it something that you could see if we’re down a goal and chasing a game? I think you could see a second striker in there. … We’re still a 4-2-3-1 team.”

- At field level, the Talen Energy surface is being resodded after last week’s concert. Only the final third in the River End, where the main stage for the Rock Allegiance concert, appears to be getting the facelift.

Read more »

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Making sense of the Kevin Kratz signing

Kevin Kratz, left, from his days with Eintracht Braunschweig
playing against Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga in 2013,
seems an odd fit for the Union. (AP)
Usually when the Philadelphia Union make a personnel move, this space is reserved for figuring out how he’ll fit in the team. Today, the objective is simpler: Make sense of what in the world Kevin Kratz is.

The Union signed Kratz Thursday, hours ahead of the MLS roster freeze. Already with 28 players on the roster, they’ve loaned Cole Missimo to Bethlehem Steel for the rest of the season to accommodate Kratz. Where they are on internationals, who knows? It’s a moving target.

Anyway, back to Kratz, who’s played in 277 matches in Germany. The plurality of those came in the 2.Bundesliga (108), most recently with SV Sandhausen. He has 14 games and one Bundesliga goal in Eintracht Braunschweig’s one top-division season in 2013-14. In short, he’s got a CV similar to what Walter Restrepo’s could look like in a few years. Or, honestly, a slightly improved Kai Herdling. 

Kevin Kratz 2015-16 Sandhausen (Bundesliga 2) from Justin Stone on Vimeo.

All that would be fine if not for:

1.) The glut of midfielders the Union have;

2.) The fact that Maurice Edu’s presumed return would put both Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle on a bench that would also feature either Tranquillo Barnetta or Roland Alberg and now Kratz (Also, judging by this exhaustingly curated marketing video that for some reason brought this to mind, he’s also played out wide a fair bit, another area of Union strength);

3.) Its connection to the news that Barnetta could be returning to Switzerland after the season.
Read more »

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bedoya's impact more than a passing fad

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, left, defending Montreal's Donny Toia
last Saturday, has improved the Philadelphia Union since arriving
in August. But how to quantify his impact? (AP)
At the risk of attributing any credit to Eric Wynalda, the question has been raised in recent weeks if how to evaluate Alejandro Bedoya’s impact, for the national team and for his new club. For as stable a presence as Bedoya is over the last month for the Philadelphia Union, his impact can be enigmatic. It seems tough to avoid confirmation bias in projecting your expectations on Bedoya’s actual utility on the field.

(Aside/disclaimer: I thought Bedoya was solid if unspectacular for the U.S. in recent World Cup qualifiers, a calming presence that contributed more to consecutive shutouts over overwhelmed opposition than to the attacking avalanche that swarmed it under.)

The very nature of Bedoya’s position with the Union is difficult to assess for its all-encompassing nature. He’s not a pure attacking player, subject to those metrics. He’s not called upon for exclusively defensive roles, thus not fully summarized by those figures.

Union manager Jim Curtin has always doled out his expectations of Bedoya in minute doses. Here’s an important one, Aug. 17 in appraising Bedoya’s debut in the win over New England:
“I thought Alejandro brought a real calming presence to the group in possession, did a lot of the little things that maybe don’t show up on the stat sheet just to get us out of some tight spots, connect us from front to back. His fitness is gaining, is growing, so that’s a positive. But, we talked in the locker room before the game about everybody winning their individual battles and I thought, on the day, every guy, including the three reserves that came in, impacted the game and won their individual duels on the night.”
Qualitatively, Bedoya can be credited with plenty of positives from the team success that he has, in some proportion, inspired. The Union are 3-1-1 in his five games. That’s 2.0 ppg with him, as opposed to 1.29 without (31 points in 24 games). They have scored 10 goals with him and allowed five, keeping two clean sheets.

Individually, he’s made those around him better, unspecific as that praise is. Warren Creavalle has stitched together his best performances of the season as the No. 6 to Bedoya’s No. 8. Curtin has lavished praise on Tranquillo Barnetta as one of MLS’s best No. 10s, accentuated by his linkup with Bedoya.

But what about the numbers? Here’s a look, via Opta Stats, at Bedoya’s passing numbers, the most readily available yardstick of his impact.

Game Result Passes comp. Passes att. Passing % Successful passes
own half
Successful passes
opp. half
Successful passes
final third
Passing %  opp. half
at NE W 4-0 44 50 88.0 22 22 12 84.6
Toronto L 3-1 58 65 89.2 23 35 13 92.1
at Clb W 2-1 48 53 87.8 20 28 7 87.5
SKC W 2-0 50 54 92.6 11 39 16 95.1
Montreal D 1-1 50 55 90.9 26 24 14 85.7

Bedoya’s passing stats are impressive. He’s completing passes at an 89.3 percent clip, and he’s regularly near the team lead for touches in games. When you consider that the Union aren’t even 18 months removed from this passing nadir against Sporting Kansas City last April, it’s all the more impressive a transformation.
Read more »

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Union-Impact: Lineups and pre-match observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Tribbett, Carroll, Ilsinho, Davies, Alberg 

Impact (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Crepeau, Cabrera, Bekker, Mallace, Shipp, Oduro, Drogba 

- Jim Curtin is restrained in the changes he makes after last week’s dour 3-0 loss in Chicago. Two of the three are obvious with the return of Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake from international duty. Fabian Herbers and Warren Creavalle retain their places despite pressure from healthy-again alternatives.

- With Josh Yaro back from bereavement leave, the rookie replaces Ken Tribbett. You’ll recall that Yaro struggled mightily last time these teams played, the 5-1 Montreal win at Stade Saputo, that landed Yaro in a four-game exile to the bench in favor of Tribbett, until Tribbett was raked over the coals by Toronto and withdrawn after a disastrous first half. With Didier Drogba on the bench (more on that in a moment), Yaro’s speed seems the better call.

- Montreal makes six changes from Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at home to Orlando City. The first in enforced, with Evan Bush suspended for a red card, serial backup Eric Kronberg in for a rare start. Drogba gets a rest at an opportune time for the Union, though Matteo Mancosu has been threatening in his opportunities. Patrice Bernier also plays higher up the pitch than usual in a defense posture for the visitors.

- The big matchup to watch is on Montreal’s attacking left side. Ignacio Piatti will be running at the Union’s right-side defense of Keegan Rosenberry and Yaro. Rosenberry has built his MLS reputation with his composed man-on-man defense of players like Piatti in open space, and the selection of Yaro has something to do with countering the fleet-of-foot Piatti (and in eliminating Tribbett’s tardy/occasionally ill-advised steps up into midfield).

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Assessing Andre: Praise for Blake as he nears a season of MLS games

The Union's Andre Blake, center, has played in major international tournaments
and an MLS All-Star Game. And he's just reaching a full season's worth
of games in MLS. (AP)
It’s been almost three years since Andre Blake strode across the stage at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the first name called in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the host team, the Philadelphia Union.

In the intervening years, Blake has established himself as the No. 1 for Jamaica and garnered speculation of whether Europe lies in his future.

But while it feels like he’s been with the Union forever (at least long enough to see five Union teammates play goal in MLS), he’s nearing a significant milestone: Blake is one game shy of a season-long, 34-game sample on which to judge his talents.

Here are Blake’s career stats in MLS play:

33 games
114 saves/50 goals allowed
1.51 goals-against average
69.5 save percentage
8 clean sheets
12-13-8 record

The stats have to be taken with a sizeable grain of salt. Blake has played 26 of the Union’s 27 games this season, which means around a quarter of his career was logged with behind losing soccer, dragging the stats down. Yet Union manager Jim Curtin is upbeat about Blake’s individual contributions, particularly as he’s sustained them over a long stretch to validate the talent that so many saw in the Jamaican.

“He’s been excellent,” Curtin said Wednesday. “He’s a guy that you never know until you get your first full season, right? Still seven games left, but his body of work this year has been strong.”

Among MLS goalies with 12 or more games played this season, Blake ranks 15th in goals-against average (1.50) and 17th in save percentage (66.9). That’s not exactly jump-off-the-page stuff, even if his GAA is better than either Brian Sylvestre (1.58) or John McCarthy (1.64) last season. And in the perception-vs.-reality debate, recall that Blake was comfortably elected to the All-Star Game via the fan vote, meaning that the Union staff isn't the only one that sees something special in his approach to the game.
Read more »

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Union-Sporting Kansas City: Lineups and prematch thoughts

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Tribbett, Fernandes, Alberg, Restrepo, Davies 

Sporting KC (4-3-3) 
Bench: Kempin, Alvarado, Hallisey, Appiah, Nagamura, Davis, Rubio 

- In naming an unchanged side from Wednesday’s win in Columbus, Union manager Jim Curtin again tries to strike the balance between consistency and squad rotation. His team is 3-0-2 in midweek MLS games this season, but 0-4-2 in weekend games immediately following those midweek affairs. If something changes, it’ll have to come from within this group, which includes a second straight start for Fabian Herbers. - It’s the third time this season that the Union’s set of three rookies all start, with Josh Yaro preferred to Ken Tribbett in central defense.

- No surprise that Ilsinho (foot) and Brian Carroll (foot) remain out. Curtin said Friday they’re on pace for a return next weekend in Chicago.

- SKC gets a little relief from its defensive injury backlog with Ike Opara back in central defense. That allows Graham Zusi to move back into midfield to cover for Brad Davis, who misses out. The front six is first-choice for SKC, but they are very thin on the bench and have an exploitable backline that the Union have to attack from the start.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Blake ready to go for do-or-die Jamaica qualifiers

Union goalie Andre Blake faces a tall task in Jamaica's two
World Cup qualifiers next week. (AP)
The mandate for Jamaica and Andre Blake leaves no room for error. If the Reggae Boyz can’t return from Panama City Sept. 2 with some kind of result, their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup will be dashed with two barren years to go.

That’s the understanding Blake carries as he departs next week for the final two fixtures of the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying.

“It’s big games,” Blake said Friday after Philadelphia Union training. “I think the guys have been in this situation before. I don’t know what the result’s going to be, but I know for sure when it comes down to these situations, the guys go out and give their best. So hopefully their best will be good enough.”

Jamaica is up against it. It sits third in four-team Group B with four points from four games. It finishes the six-game round robin Sept. 6 with a winnable game at home against bottom-dwellers Haiti. But that could be academic if it can’t eke out at least a draw against second place Panama (2-1-1, 7 points) in the opener.

Only the top two in each of the three groups advance to the fifth round of qualifying, the Hexagonal. Costa Rica leads Group B with 10 points. Read more »

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Oh, say can you see the Union's new approach

Something unusual will happen Saturday evening when the Philadelphia Union host Toronto FC at Talen Energy Stadium: Of the 22 players chosen to start the game, nearly half will have experience playing for the U.S. National Team. And for once, the Union will actually contribute significantly to that tally.

The Union’s summer dealings can be characterized by many lenses. But one is the acquisition of players in Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies, who’ve represented the U.S. internationally.

And so Saturday, using the Union and Toronto rosters, you can cobble together a fairly cogent starting XI of fully capped American internationals.

There’s some fudging position-wise. Chris Pontius is included, and while he has never appeared for the U.S., he’s twice been invited to camps and traveled internationally without getting in a game, and it’s reasonable to assume that had he not experienced such bad injury luck, he’d have that cap by now. (Consider this the start of the campaign for Pontius to play the role Ethan Finlay did at January camp and beyond last year.) There’s also no capped goalie, but Alex Bono, the former Reading United player, has played for the U.S. Under-18 team, so he’ll do.

The spine of the team is formidable. It features, when healthy, the U.S.’s top striker for the next World Cup cycle (Jozy Altidore), its captain (Michael Bradley) and arguably one of the first two or three names coach Jurgen Klinsmann pencils into the lineup in Bedoya.

That isn’t a bad team, if you could swap a forward for a truer fullback. It’s certainly a darn good one from a marketing standpoint, and it reveals a point about the Union’s direction.
Read more »

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Monday, August 15, 2016

The silver lining in the Union's recent struggles

Back in 2012, a youthful Brian Carroll helped the Union navigate
a late-summer rough patch akin to the one they've just endured.
The sky was never quite falling in on the Philadelphia Union in the last month or so, even as they won one MLS game in seven and slid from jockeying for first place in the Eastern Conference to fifth. But it was a certified rough patch as the club came to terms with its early success and was forced to adjust, no longer able to take teams by surprise.

The causes for that tumble are myriad and not entirely cured by Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of New England, though that road result goes a long way in augmenting players’ intangible confidence category.

Using history as a guide, though, there wasn’t much reason to panic, and Saturday’s result more affirms that the Union can turn things around rather than providing the outright proof.

The Union’s past is limited; instances where they have been in playoff position as they are now are even scarcer. Time and again this season, I’ve returned to the 2011 season as the blueprint of a playoff campaign, the only time the Union have qualified for the postseason. And while the seasons are vastly different in construction and approach, the ebb and flow of a playoff chase in a marathon season remains applicable. And through that lens, the Union from late June on have merely been ticking off another box on the 2011 replication checklist.

Travel back to that summer, and you may recall the dreadful stretch the Union endured, an eight-game winless run (0-3-5) from late July to mid-September that threatened to derail their playoff hopes. Read more »

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

The million-dollar question of Alejandro Bedoya's position with the Union

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, right, defending Colombia's Juan Cuadrado
for the U.S. during this summer's Copa America, can play multiple positions.
But where will he fit with the Union? (AP)
The press conference at Talen Energy Stadium Wednesday took an interesting turn midway though, pivoting on a simple premise. The Philadelphia Union, a team in desperate need of a No. 8, signed a midfielder who isn’t known for playing as a No. 8.

In itself, the signing of Alejandro Bedoya to be an integral part of the Union’s multi-year rebuild is an excellent move. We can quibble over the rumored cost paid or the cost at which Bedoya’s services come. But as the Union have proven all season – and proved again Thursday with the signing of Charlie Davies – Bedoya falls in line with the prevailing trend of acquiring players of a higher caliber than ever before.

Within the framework of a team struggling in MLS and coping to fill a gaping void in central midfield, Bedoya’s acquisition is more quizzical. In the grand scheme, 12 games only mean so much (though I’d argue the Union’s playoff fate over the last dozen games is instrumental to several figures’ futures).

This is where an unusual degree of friction (you can watch the video and read the transcript here) was introduced Wednesday, as manager Jim Curtin was pressed on how Bedoya would fit into midfield. And Curtin said everything but what is likely to be the truth, that Bedoya will be slid back into the No. 8 midfield role.

Now a dose of pessimism: The Union last year spent considerable funds to acquire a career winger in Europe with better credentials from a better league at a lower cost, then moved him centrally and eventually into an ill-fitting No. 8 role. As with Tranquillo Barnetta for the last two months, it’s easy to see Bedoya as not quite a square peg for a round hole, but at least one that requires some sanding.

Here’s what the Union could look like at this time next month, provided that Bedoya’s former Rangers teammate Maurice Edu returns to health:

Read more »

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Training notes: In with the new, out with the old

The chemistry between Chris Pontius, left, and Charlie Davies, center,
goes back to their days with D.C. United in 2011. The hope is that it carries
over to the Union. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union were among the most active teams in the last day of the summer transfer window and beyond, with Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies coming in and Sebastien Le Toux heading out, with all manner of MLS financial devices switching hands.

What did all that mean at Union training Thursday? Some reaction from Chester:

- Davies, acquired from New England Thursday morning some eight hours after the close of the transfer window, will arrive late Thursday. He played last week for New England after three months out for what was revealed to be cancer treatment for a disease now in remission and will likely be available for selection Saturday at D.C. United.

- Bedoya, coming in from French club Nantes, will meet the team in D.C. He’s ramping up his fitness from the European preseason, and manager Jim Curtin said Bedoya played 60 minutes in a friendly this week. But the travel calendar makes it unlikely he’ll debut Saturday.

- The Union, Curtin said, are not done in the summer window. Though the MLS secondary window is closed, teams can still add out-of-contract players in the coming weeks ahead of a mid-September roster deadline that is hard and fast. Curtin said, “there are a few trialists that will be coming in for the next few weeks,” primarily on defense. Expect a long-term solution at left back to be one of the top priorities. The Union have one roster spot to play with.

- Both of the Union’s moves were attacking in nature, for a team that has struggled mightily in giving up goals. Here was Curtin’s reaction when that apparent conflict was posed:
“It does need to be said that as you do improve with the ball, the other team can’t score. So we need to improve that part of things. Getting Alejandro, while he is a great attacking player, he will do the defensive running that strengthens our team in that regard. Our breakdowns right now, we are still looking. … We don’t neglect what our weaknesses are. I think we have a good idea what our weaknesses are and what we need to improve.”
Read more »

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Union cap summer spree with Davies trade

Charlie Davies, left, playing for New England against Orlando City last week,
is the newest member of the Union after a trade completed Thursday morning.
The final move in a hectic final day of the MLS transfer window needed an extra eight hours to clear. But when the dust settled Thursday morning, the Philadelphia Union had achieved clarity on its aim this summer.

The Union capped a flurry of deals by acquiring forward Charlie Davies from New England along with a 2018 third-round SuperDraft pick in exchange for a 2018 first-round SuperDraft pick, general allocation money and targeted allocation money.

Capped with the transfer of designated player Alejandro Bedoya and the departure of Sebastien Le Toux to Colorado, the Union don’t exactly overhaul the roster but put on some important finishing touches for what they hope is a playoff run.

All told, the Union acquired Bedoya, Davies, the third-rounder and GAM from Colorado. They spent GAM, TAM (both to New England and Chicago for the top spot in the allocation order to get Bedoya), a discovery rights swap with Chicago and first-round SuperDraft picks in 2017 and 2018 while also bidding farewell to franchise all-time leading scorer Le Toux.

In Davies, the Union get a workhorse depth forward who brings as much off the field as on, though at a third of the cost of Le Toux and two years younger. Davies, 30, has been limited to just nine games this season as he battled cancer that was recently declared in remission.

He had a breakthrough 2015 season, scoring 10 goals and four assists in 33 games, but he was marginalized in New England with the arrival of Kei Kamara.

Davies, like Bedoya a Boston College grad, spent much of his career in Europe. Like Bedoya, he played in Sweden with Hammarby and France with Sochaux, where he was a teammate of former Union player Vincent Nogueira. He also used a successful loan stint with D.C. United to earn a season-plus in Denmark with Randers.

Davies, who becomes the fifth member of the Union with U.S. National Team caps, has played 17 times for the U.S. from 2007 to 2009, when his career trajectory was infamously altered by a car accident that cost him over a year on the field.

Davies’s cap hit is a shade under $107,000 this year, compared to Le Toux’s $300,000. More important than his role as a reserve forward could be his veteran presence with a young squad, and the wise-beyond-his-years Davies certainly provides a benefit there.

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