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

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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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Curtin at the mic: Looking ahead to San Jose

For being atop the Eastern Conference standings, it’s a relatively sedate week around Talen Energy Stadium, with just a few odds and ends to wrap up from manager Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference Wednesday.

First, let Curtin take you down memory lane with his recollections of Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski from their days in the defunct MLS Reserve League.



With Fabinho suspended this week,
Union manager Jim Curtin will likely turn to Ray Gaddis
at left back. (AP)
To no one’s surprise, Curtin likely will turn to Ray Gaddis Saturday against San Jose (4 p.m., 6ABC) to replace Fabinho, who is suspended for yellow-card accumulation. I spoke to Gaddis Tuesday, and much of what he said was echoed by his manager a day later:
“I thought it was good for Ray to get the 45 minutes. I thought he did very well in that. He’s a guy who’s a great professional. He’s been itching to go. A little injury went against him early in the season and Keegan (Rosenberry) was in good form, so as challenging as that is for a pro, I’m very happy with how Ray’s handled it. He has his opportunity now. He’s not a guy that I get too nervous about because I know how good of a competitor he is, how good of a player he is and he’ll be up of the challenge to slot in this week.”
The other injury is Ken Tribbett, who trained fully Wednesday as he recovers from an ankle knock. Curtin has options regardless of Tribbett’s fitness, thanks to the strong play of Josh Yaro:
“Both are playing very well. Ken is, in his own words, not 100 percent yet, but at the same time, he looks pretty darn good in training. Josh is playing good as well. I’ll let Dom (Kinnear) have to think at least what we’re going to do.”
Curtin delved into the decision to lift Fabinho at halftime of last Saturday’s 2-0 win over New York City FC. The Brazilian drew a yellow card in the first half, and twice this season, early yellows have turned red in the first 10 minutes of the second half, putting the Union in a lurch.

Curtin’s staff convinced him of that danger:
“It weighed in the decision. It made it a little easier to make the adjustment with Fabinho getting the yellow card, knowing that he’s going to have to sit the next game, the fact that we’ve given up two red cards in the 50th minute, it all weighs into the decision. There is something to Ray getting that full 45 under his belt so it’s not his first action on the weekend against a really good San Jose team. …
“(The 2-0 lead is) another factor that weighs in. To be honest, I give my staff credit for that, because I was against it. I didn’t want to do it. There was enough voices, my assistants – Oka (Nikolov), Mike (Sorber), BJ (Callaghan) – in talking with all those guys, I thanked them after the game, too, because we’re all in this together.”
Saturday was Curtin’s first chance to interact with NYCFC manager and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, who made quite an impression on Curtin:
“I’ve crossed paths with him in the preseason, but the first time I actually met him was before the game, and then after the game as well, we shook hands and had a quick chat. First and foremost, you never know with guys that are literally walking legends of the game, what they’re going to be like. And he was humble, soft-spoken, nice guy. And I did say to him after the game, when I shook his hand, ‘you guys outplayed us today and probably deserved something from the game.’ From that regard, I did see things similar to him.”
Finally, last week we discussed Curtin’s chance to become the Union’s all-time leader in victories in all competitions, which he accomplished Saturday. Any joy over that accolade will wait for another day:
“It doesn’t do anything for me. We’re a team that’s trying to get better. We’re a team that’s trying to get back in the playoffs. I think the regular season is team-based. At the end of the year, we can reflect on individual accolades, whether they be for our staff, for our players when they get rewarded for hopefully some best XI or all-stars or different things like that. But I think the regular season is for team. The postseason, the offseason is for individual recognition or whatever comes along.”

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Curtin on the verge of Union coaching history

Union manager Jim Curtin, seen coaching in Seattle
last week, would move into the club lead for wins
in all competitions with his next victory. (AP)
Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin has often been blunt this season about his only full campaign in charge. ‘We weren’t good last year,’ has been Curtin’s message about 2015, paraphrased though its many uttered variations.

While no one’s lining up to argue that, the manager in his third season is approaching a piece of significant history: With his next win, Curtin will become the Union’s franchise leader in coaching victories. It’s possible that could come at home, with the Union embarking on a season-long, three-game homestand starting with Saturday’s game with New York City FC.

Curtin has managed 67 competitive matches for the Union (MLS and U.S. Open Cup). He carries a record of 25-26-17 in those games, even on wins with his predecessor, John Hackworth.

Hackworth went 25-32-20 in 77 matches. Peter Nowak, who oversaw a franchise-best 81 games, posted a 23-33-25 record and is already in Curtin's rearview mirror. (Updated: I neglected to include Nowak's two playoff games, both losses to Houston, in his record. Anyone else forget those?)

A major driver is Curtin’s record in the U.S. Open Cup. Over the last two seasons, the Union are 5-1-4 in the competition. (Technically, winning by penalty kicks is regarded as a draw, but it we want to get qualitative, Curtin’s team has advanced in eight of 10 matches.)

Curtin’s next MLS win will be his 21st, tying him with Nowak for second-most all-time and putting him two behind Hackworth.

Nowak, signed before the club’s inception, was in charge for two and a half seasons from the inaugural game in 2010 to June 13, 2012. Hackworth took over then and coached for three days shy of two years, when Curtin took over on an interim basis June 10, 2014 and was made full-time in October of that year.

The obvious difference between the coaches becomes obvious on points per game (in MLS play):

Coach GP W L D Pts PPG
Peter Nowak 75 21 30 23 87 1.16
John Hackworth 73 23 30 20 89 1.22
Jim Curtin 57 20 25 13 73 1.28


Curtin is well ahead of either of his forebears in that all-important ppg category. Barring a drop to last season’s 1.0 ppg levels or unforeseen circumstances, Curtin should top his predecessors this summer. And he has the potential to do it in many fewer games.

To add in the Open Cup component for total wins, Peter Nowak went 2-1-1 in the competition (including the qualification bracket in 2010 and 2011), both of his wins coming in the weeks before his dismissal in 2012. Hackworth won one game in 2012 and one in 2013 for a 2-2-0 record.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Change could be a good thing on long trip to Seattle

The trip to Seattle might present a chance for the Union
to rest midfielder Brian Carroll, left, though manager Jim Curtin
has plenty of options to try. (AP)
Game 6 of the Philadelphia Union’s season presents the fourth road trip, so Jim Curtin isn’t a stranger to the demands of the road with this group.

But the confluence of factors in Seattle – a cross-country flight, a 10 p.m. Eastern start time, the turf at CenturyLink Field on which the Union will also train Friday – makes it unique among the Union’s away dates this year. It’s one of only two trips to the Western time zone in 2016 (Portland being the other).

But the circumstances Saturday mean that the Union’s squad depth will be tested in a way it hasn’t this season. Or, put another way, the Union can flex their tactical depth to change things up.

“We actually have options to juggle things and rest,” Curtin said Wednesday, a statement so simple yet so rare in the Union’s history. And two training sessions from Saturday’s game with the Sounders, the Union’s options are plentiful and obvious.

First, there’s the return of Warren Creavalle from last week’s red-card suspension. Creavalle has impressed in training, and with Brian Carroll earning praise from Curtin and Vincent Nogueira as seemingly the first-choice No. 8, Curtin has decisions to make. Add in the choice between Roland Alberg and Tranquillo Barnetta at the No. 10, and the possibility of one shuttling out to the wing, and you have the “good problems” that Curtin often references.

Here’s Curtin on the situation: Read more »

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Danish treat: The inspiration behind the Union’s free kick magic

Under an unfamiliarly euphoric Talen Energy Stadium Friday night, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin let the media peer behind the wall at the club’s free-kick methodology.

Tranquillo Barnetta provided the visual aid, his stunner of a free kick curling around the wall, past a stupefied Joe Bendik, off the underside of the bar and in to give the Union a 2-1 win over Orlando City. But more intriguing was the approach that may have contributed to the beauty.

Here’s the video. Notice the extra line of players set up by the Union two strides behind Orlando City’s wall at 10 yards:



Barnetta didn’t have much to say on the free-kick strategy:
“Actually I don’t know. I wasn’t at the free kicks (design). You saw the keeper, he had no view to the ball and it was a little bit confusing for them because they saw the wall was like offsides, but they stepped two yards forward when I shoot it. I think that’s a really good idea to take the view off the keeper.”

Here’s Curtin:
“Our entire staff works very hard on restarts. (Assistant coach) BJ Callaghan specifically has been the point man. We have a good catalog of things. We’ve spent a lot more time and have been working on them a lot more. The second wall, if you will, the timing of that gives a little bit of a distraction. It’s something we picked up from another team that was successful with it. It provides a little bit of a different look. We checked with the linesman on the first time they did it when Tranquillo hit it way over, just to make sure the wall wasn’t offsides and there wouldn’t have been an issue. And the second time, they executed it well.”
It’s an unusual tactical design, one I’d never seen before. Sometimes you’ll see walls between the ball and the opposing wall, like this sliding-door approach from English club Brentford or AC Milan’s bulrush technique. Lining your players offsides hampers the goalie’s visibility and depth perception (not that Bendik has done particularly well under normal circumstances in the River End) but takes them out of the play for rebounds, unless they check up to be even with the last defender before the ball is struck so as not to be offsides.

So what’s that mystery team that Curtin got his design from? It looks like Danish club Midtjylland, which has used it plenty. You may remember Midtjylland as the former club of Danny Califf, and it’s a regular fixture in Champions League or Europa League, for devotees of those.

They also get creative with free kicks. A few examples. There's two in the first two minutes of this highlight tape:

Read more »

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Union-Orlando City: Lineups and prematch thoughts

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

Orlando City (4-5-1)
Bendik
Ramos-Hines-Collin-Boden
Carrasco
Winter-Ceren-Nocerino-Molino
Kaka
Bench: Edwards, Alston, Mateos, Rivas, Barry, Baptista

- The suspension of Warren Creavalle for a red card last week against Chicago makes the reintegration of Vincent Nogueira relatively easy, the Frenchman slotting into the No. 8 role. Ilsinho also misses out with an undisclosed injury, Sebastien Le Toux inserted on the wing. Tranquillo Barnetta remains on the bench behind Roland Alberg starting, but after debuting last week, the Swiss midfielder could be fit for a longer spell.

- I discussed the Brazilian influences running through both teams this week, though that has been minimized sans Ilsinho. Former Real Madrid, Roma and Arsenal forward Julio Baptista makes the bench and could debut, reportedly in some of the best shape of his life. The thought of Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez defending Kaka and Baptista still seems a touch ridiculous, but that’s the magic of MLS. 

- Brian Carroll today will play in MLS match No. 349 of his lengthy career, sixth in MLS history and two behind Davy Arnaud for fifth. Two of the players ahead of him on the list remain active, including Brad Davis, whom Carroll temporarily passes for third all-time in his 326th start. Kyle Beckerman (382 games) and Steve Ralston (372 starts) are the all-time leaders.

- Orlando City are forced into a raft of changes by injuries (Tommy Redding, Cyle Larin and one to Cristian Higuita late enough that Orlando names a short bench) and Brek Shea’s suspension. Luke Boden and Aurelian Collin step into the defense, providing two areas for the Union to attack with pace, particularly with the overlap of Keegan Rosenberry down Boden’s wing.

- No shock that Kaka starts as the false nine. How the rest of the midfield buzzes about him, with the midfield triangle of Servando Carrasco, Darwin Ceren and Antonio Nocerino, will be interesting to observe.

- Red cards have become anything but unexpected in MLS this season, and these teams seem particularly susceptible. Of the eight games the teams have been involved with, only four have ended without a red card, and last week’s Portland-Orlando game doesn’t really count since Shea was assessed a red retroactively.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The trickery of Ilinsho's Brazilian magic

Readers of this blog are likely among the hundreds of thousands who've viewed Ilsinho's tricky bit of skill in last Saturday's game against the Chicago Fire that has made the rounds of the web. If you haven't, here's the elastico in all its glory:



My colleague and I, Dave Zeitlin of MLS, discussed the move with its author Wednesday, and Dave will have a more in-depth look at it. I'll have more on Ilsinho and the samba influence that the Philadelphia Union's game against Orlando City Friday night will have.

One takeaway from Ilsinho's interview, in addition to his admiration for dribbling pioneer Rivelino, was where the move against the Fire ranked for him all time, and two comparisons came to mind. One was against Santos, he said, in 2006 when he was with Sao Paulo. Through the glory of search engines, here's that highlight:



My Portuguese isn't good, but I'm pretty sure I know what "humilha" translates to. And I suspect part of the reason why this was so memorable was against whom it occurred. That's Ze Roberto, who had just wrapped up a successful decade in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich and was capped 84 times by Brazil, and Kleber, a left back who played primarily in Brazil but made 20 appearances for the Selecao. At the time, Ilsinho was a 20-year-old hot prospect in the Brazilian set up, making waves as an attack-minded right back.

The other video that's worth putting in here was uncovered by a redditor. And I would hope that the name Roberto Carlos, even though he was 37 at the time and winding up his career in 2010, needs no introduction.

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