Blogs > Union Tally

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

The struggle is real: How the Union's end-of-season winless streak stacks up

The Philadelphia Union are limping into the playoffs, or backing in, or whatever verb-euphemism-in you’d like to deploy. The achievement of the club’s first playoff berth since 2011 is marred by a seven-game winless streak dating to the start of September. Over that stretch, they’ve gone 0-5-2, taking a mere two points from a possible 21. It’s not an ideal finish to the regular season by any stretch of the imagination.

So I wondered, how does it stack up historically? What is the longest winless streak for a playoff team? And how did struggling teams fare in the playoffs?

First off, it’s hardly unprecedented, since the Union aren’t even the only 2016 MLS Cup playoff qualifier with such a streak of futility. The sixth-place team in the West, Real Salt Lake, has endured an 0-4-3 stretch in its last seven, matching the Union’s winless run. None of the other playoff teams, though, have gone more than two games without a win.

Only one other team in the last dozen years has entered the playoffs on a seven-game winless run: The 2013 Seattle Sounders, which stumbled into the playoffs on an 0-4-3 record. That team won a Wild Card playoff game, 2-0 against Colorado, before losing in the Western semifinals to Portland.

In the past, how have similar strugglers fared? For this, I looked at MLS Cup playoffs dating to 2004. I defined the category as any team with a winless streak of five or more games to end the regular season or just one win in their last seven or more games. Eleven teams fit the bill (record to end the regular season in parenthesis):

2013 Montreal Impact (1-6-1)
2013 Seattle Sounders (0-4-3)
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-6-3)
2011 Real Salt Lake (0-4-2)
2010 Columbus Crew (1-3-3)
2009 Chicago Fire (1-2-4)
2008 New England Revolution (0-4-2)
2007 FC Dallas (1-5-2)
2006 D.C. United (1-4-2)
2006 Colorado Rapids (0-2-3)
2004 San Jose Earthquakes (0-3-4)

Of those 11 teams, none lifted MLS Cup. But five of the 11 won playoff ties. Four of those won two-leg ties, while Seattle in 2013 is the only to win a one-game wild card, though that is a newer addition to the playoff scheme. Three of the strugglers have played wild card games; Seattle in 2013 is the only one to win, though they were also the only one to host their game.

Four teams have won two-leg games: RSL in 2011, Chicago in 2009, and D.C. and Colorado (in PKs) in 2006. None of the teams has even made the MLS Cup final, the closest being Chicago in 2009, losing in PKs to RSL.

That sets long but not unreachable odds for the Union to extend their postseason.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Union-Red Bulls: Decision Day lineups

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Fabinho -Marquez-Tribbett-Rosenberry 
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Trusty, Carroll, Pontius, Sapong, Barnetta 

Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Reynish, Zizzo, Zubar, Davis, Damari, Veron, S.Wright-Phillips

- Jim Curtin promised changes, and he delivered, at least up top. Eric Ayuk makes his first start of the season after 28 appearances last year. He hasn’t made the bench yet this year for the Union. Ilsinho starts for the first time since Aug. 20. Roland Alberg starts for just the second time since the end of July. A reminder that the Union need to give up fewer than 12 goals, and they have probably the most defense-averse attacking midfield possible. This could get interesting.

- CJ Sapong makes the bench after a concussion. Charlie Davies is the conspicuous absence from the squad.

- The worst news the Union could possibly have also dropped today: Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula in practice Saturday. Reports had surfaced yesterday that he left the field with a non-contact injury, and a Union source confirmed that today. No timetable was offered. Edu has not played in over a year after a sports hernia and a stress fracture in his leg.

- It’s all about the milestones for New York Red Bulls in a full-strength lineup. Bradley Wright-Phillips is in the race for the golden boot with 23 goals. New York City FC’s David Villa can catch him; he’s got 22 goals and starts for NYC at home against Columbus. He can also solidify his record for the best three-year goal-scoring stretch in MLS history (he has 67 since the start of the 2014 season). Sacha Kljestan can get to 20 assists this season, becoming just the second player ever to do that in league history, joining Carlos Valderrama.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The good, the bad and the thought-provoking for Week 34

The Philadelphia Union’s regular season draws to a rare, meaningful conclusion Sunday. The club’s playoff inclusion is about as assured as it can be without being official, which sets up some puzzling motivations for this weekend’s visit from the New York Red Bulls.

Among the injuries and the usual spate of mid-week updates, three other thoughts occurred to me Wednesday at Jim Curtin’s press conference.

- The good news: About those playoff chances…

I’m not going to dig up the odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League title last year, because no one needs that. But in case there’s any lingering pangs of worry, try this tonic. The only way the Union miss out is if they lose AND New England wins AND the margins of victory/defeat sum to 12 goals. Per MLS's fact book, in 21 seasons, only eight games have ever decided by the six or more goals the Revs need to win by/the Union need to lose by (three seven-goal margins, five six-goal games). Only once (2009) has two such games fallen in the same season, and we’ve already had one monstrous margin, the 7-0 Hudson River Derby, this year. So the Union need a catastrophic set of circumstances to happen to miss the playoffs.

- The bad news: barring that volcano erupting during a hurricane bringing a plague of locusts, the Union’s postseason stay could be brief. Last week’s loss to Orlando City guaranteed the Union won’t host a playoff game, locked into either the fifth or sixth seed.

Road teams in the MLS Cup Playoffs have not traditionally fared well in one-off games. In the five years that MLS has used this formulation, road teams are 2-10.
Read more »

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Union-Orlando City: Lineups from the playoff's doorstep

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

Orlando City (4-4-2) 
Kaka-Higuita-Nocerino-Perez Garcia 
Bench: Edwards, Redding, Alston, Carrasco, Molino, Baptista, Barry 

- A reminder of the playoff scenarios: The Union get in the playoffs officially with win and a loss or draw by New England. If the Union win and the Revs win, the Union go into the final weekend with a three-point edge and a monstrous advantage on goal differential. That means no champagne today, but it’s something.

- If you hearken all the way back to the Union’s last game 15 days ago, Jim Curtin makes few changes. Ken Tribbett keeps his place without Josh Yaro fit to go. Brian Carroll is preferred to Warren Creavalle off international duty.

- Interesting to consider what the Union see with Maurice Edu making the bench. He’s the only guy on the bench who can play center back sans Yaro. You could also see him as a late-game replacement in central midfield to defend a lead (say for Fabian Herbers, Alejandro Bedoya moved out wide).

- For Orlando City, Curtin was right to be wary of formational changes. It’s a 4-4-2 this week, with Kaka nominally out wide. We’ll see how much he drops centrally and if that morphs into the diamond formation. Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas will push the backline deep and create those pockets for Kaka and Matias Perez Garcia to operate.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Between the purse strings: Jay Sugarman on the Alejandro Bedoya transfer

The Union brass gathered Thursday for the unveiling of the Power Training Complex,
an expensive asset that isn't unlike their expenditure on Alejandro Bedoya.
Alejandro Bedoya sat about 20 feet from the man who signs his checks Thursday afternoon, as Jay Sugarman stepped to the clear Plexiglass podium.

The Philadelphia Union Chairman proceeded to discuss the rationale surrounding the building that brought the Union front office, ownership, players and a few hundred others to Chester, extolling the virtues of the Power Home Remodeling Training Complex.

The terms that Sugarman selected so carefully could’ve applied as much to the new multi-million-dollar facility as it did to the newly-minted million-dollar midfielder, the first in club history.

Both were sizeable investments, massive on the scale of the Union’s history and substantial even by an MLS-wide lens. Both present risks. But both only made sense within a framework, the “well-articulated, cogently put together” strategy that new sporting director Earnie Stewart has assembled, to use Sugarman’s words.

After the presentation with Power Home Remodeling execs and members of the Union ownership, Sugarman elaborated on the process that landed Bedoya in Philadelphia, an ordeal that dragged from last summer when it appeared imminent prior to French club FC Nantes wanting to hang on to the midfielder, and was resuscitated successfully this season.

Instrumental to the process is the evolving relationship between Sugarman and Stewart, hired as the point person for soccer matters last December.

“I think with Earnie, we have a great, open relationship,” Sugarman told reporters. “I said, ‘look, are you telling me this is going to lead to a championship? Is this the player you’re going to build around?’ And he said, ‘yes,’ and I said, ‘go do it.’”

The Bedoya transfer saga was protracted over multiple transfer windows. By this summer, at the risk of losing the opportunity a second time, Sugarman pulled the trigger. The increased gravitas of Stewart helped swing the pendulum.

“I think last year, we were at this point and there was seller’s remorse,” Sugarman said. “It just didn’t happen. I think given how clear the plan is this year going forward of what we want and what we need, the pieces just seem to fall into place. It was expensive, there’s no question. We had a lot of conversations about, how do you manage the MLS budget, and I think the conclusion continued to be, is this going to lead us to the place we want to get to? If this is the right player, then go get it done. We stopped quibbling about $50,000, $100,000, $200,000 and said, ‘this is the right player, go get it done.’” Read more »

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Training notes: Good news on Yaro, Bedoya and mentality

The Union's Alejandro Bedoya, center, is recovering well from a rib injury
unrelated to this knock against Montreal Sept. 10. Manager Jim Curtin
expects him to be fine for the Oct. 16 visit from Orlando. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union’s squad was a tad thin Wednesday during the international window, with Andre Blake (Jamaica), Warren Creavalle (Guyana), Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty (U.S. Under-20) away on international duty. But the team put in a lengthy morning session in the first of a double-workout day. I chatted with new signing Kevin Kratz, and I’ll have that story posted soon. A few quick hits:

- Manager Jim Curtin is keeping his team’s mentality as even-keeled as possible in the face of a five-game winless streak and a slide to sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Union control their destiny and require a home-field meltdown to miss the playoffs, so the group remains confident. From the manager:
“Obviously it was a road trip where it didn’t go the way we wanted. Obviously the three games, three difficult places to play, we’re disappointed with the amount of points we took, only taking one in Toronto. So you step back and you’re frustrated in that regard, but you do know you have two home games at the end of the season, which is good. I think we had stretches in all three games – in Portland, in Toronto and in Red Bull (Arena) – of good soccer, but we didn’t put together 90 minutes, and we got punished in some areas of those games. The goal now is, we know that we’ve been a good team at home, that if we play at the level we’re capable of and we get back to just the basics and putting together the complete 90 minutes, we still like our chances at home to get a result.”
As to whether or not the week off helps, Curtin’s not sure, though he’s grateful for the chance to reinforce certain points (cough, set-piece defending, cough) and recuperate. Curtin:
“I don’t have the perfect answer. This does give us a little bit of time to work on some things. Obviously defensively we can tighten things up. Giving three goals up on the road is something where we can look at the film and get some things corrected. I think it’s good to have the extra week. We obviously have a couple of guys that got banged up, so it comes at a good time. … It’s a strange time to have a bye for sure, I think for every team right now. But at the same time, it falls at a good time for us. We can regroup and know exactly what we need to do at home.”
Read more »

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Monday, October 3, 2016

The good news in the Union's recent swoon

I don’t suppose telling Philadelphia Union fans that all is rosy with life will take very well on the heels of a five-game winless streak, the last installment of which was an enthralling yet disappointing 3-2 loss at Red Bull Arena.

But unlike Jim Curtin’s insistence that his team is playing well despite the avalanche of substandard results (which has some nugget of truth to it, but not the right time or place), here’s an even more uplifting message: The table is in the Union’s favor.

We all know that #Tabledoesntlie, and in this case, that’s an OK thing. Here’s what the standings look like:

I’ll spare you the bar-graph projections that for weeks have pegged the Union as hanging on to fourth place on the balance of their schedule and now that they’re in sixth place will tell you that they’re going to hang on to sixth place. Those trends are helpful as long-term probabilities, but they’re useless in determining what will happen when presented with three discreet options (3 points, 1 or 0) on the field.

So here it is: Everyone in the East has two games left, save for Columbus and eliminated Chicago. If the Union beat eliminated Orlando City Oct. 16, they’re in. The Red Bulls game could be useful only for seeding a qualified team.

A win by the Union takes them to 45 points. That eliminates Columbus; even if Columbus wins out in its last three games, starting with Chicago Oct. 13, it can max out at 44 points.

A win by the Union also means that New England is essentially done, even if the Union can’t get a point against Red Bulls the following week. Let’s assume the Union beat Orlando City and lose to Red Bulls, leaving them at 12-13-9 and 45 points.

The Revs can win out (over Chicago and Montreal, the latter of which might actually aid the Union) and reach 45 points. That would make them 12-13-9. That ushers in the tiebreakers, which everyone should get familiar with. First is total wins, which is even.

Second is goal differential: The Union are plus-1 (figure safely, in this scenario, they’ll stay at plus-1 with a one-goal win over Orlando and a one-goal loss to Red Bulls). The Revs are currently minus-12. It would take a monumental shift in fortunes for the Union to give back that differential.

We can also talk about playoff seeds, which don’t help the Union quite as much. D.C. United hosts NYC, MLS’s best road team, before finishing up in Orlando City. You could see D.C. yielding only two points from that run or six based on their recent form. Montreal hosts a Toronto team desperate for a result and angry over Montreal’s last visit to TFC before hitting the road to meet the Revs. Who knows what the Impact, a team at the forefront of puzzling results this season, could get from that pair?

It’s entirely possible you could see three teams even on 46 points on the final day, one of whom gets the fourth spot. But the most important takeaway is that the Union should – if they take care of business – be among that group, which accomplishes the stated goal at the beginning of the season.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Red Bulls-Union: Lineups and prematch observations

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Tribbett, Gaddis, Carroll, Fernandes, Davies, Alberg. 
 Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Reynish, Zizzo, Long, Davis, S.Wright-Phillips, Veron, Damari 

- Tranquillo Barnetta is back in the lineup for the Union, which moves them away from the double pivot in central midfield that worked last week in Toronto. But the better possession side, with Warren Creavalle as the 6, Alejandro Bedoya as the 8 and Barnetta is the better bet against the Red Bulls’ high pressure.

- It’s intriguing that Maurice Edu isn’t in the 18, but that could be out of necessity rather than an injury setback to the midfielder. With Ilsinho not fit, the Union would’ve had only two attacking options on the bench. Instead of a redundant No. 6 in Edu (with Brian Carroll there), Jim Curtin goes with Leo Fernandes, who’s played all of 93 MLS minutes since April 1.

- On defense, Josh Yaro returns, an interesting decision to swap him in for the Ken Tribbett, who played well last week. Fabian Herbers also keeps his spot in the lineup, and deservedly so.

- Speaking of rookies, Keegan Rosenberry can make history today. If he goes 90 minutes, he’ll tie Michael Parkhurst for the most minutes played by an MLS rookie (SuperDraft or Homegrown) since 2001. He’s on pace to be just one of three rookies since 2002 to play every minute for his team as a rookie.

- The Red Bulls started a mostly reserve side Tuesday in Guatemala for a CONCACAF Champions League title with Antigua GFC. But four starters – Aurelien Collin, Luis Robles, Mike Grella and Felipe – turn around for the start today. Felipe, Collin and Robles played in last week’s win over the Impact. Grella is back in for Daniel Royer, and in addition to the Route 1 threat via that midfield nucleus to Sacha Kljestan to Bradley Wright-Phillips, those wingers off a nuanced. Grella is also a reason to get into your seats quickly for the start of the game.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Union on Union: Players salaries for September

Thanks to the MLS Players Union, we can say for sure that Alejandro Bedoya
is the best compensated player in franchise history. (AP)
Do you feel that little nip in the air on a Friday in September? That’s the MLS Players Union letting you know that it’s newest batch of salary information is out. The final numbers for the 2016 season were released Friday, reflective of each teams’ final salary commitments after the roster freeze enacted in mid-September.

The summer’s action has been more intensive than usual for the Philadelphia Union, with the arrival of Alejandro Bedoya, the exit of Vincent Nogueira and Sebastien Le Toux and a couple of other moves. So here’s the Union’s current salary picture (grouped in fives for ease of reading; figures are “base salary/guaranteed compensation”):

Senior roster (20 spots)
Roland Alberg $328,000/$377,250
Fabinho $142,000/$150,008
Eric Ayuk $62,500/$62,500
Tranquillo Barnetta $650,000/$709,100
Alejandro Bedoya $1,100,004/$1,166,254

Brian Carroll $120,000/$128,000
Anderson $150,000/$174,166
Warren Creavalle $118,000/$125,666
Charlie Davies $108,937/$113,315
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
Kevin Kratz $62,508/$76,758

Richie Marquez $63,000/$63,000
John McCarthy $79,000/$88,250
Chris Pontius $380,000/$411,000
Walter Restrepo $125,000/$139,500
CJ Sapong $225,000/$225,000

Supplemental Roster (8 spots)
Andre Blake $100,000/$138,000
Fabian Herbers $100,000/$125,500
Josh Yaro $130,000/$194,000
Derrick Jones $51,504/$57,404
Auston Trusty $51,500/$80,604

Ken Tribbett $51,500/$51,500
Taylor Washington $51,500/$51,500
Keegan Rosenberry $62,500/$68,312

Cole Missimo $51,500/$51,500*
* Season-long loan to Bethlehem Steel.

Total salary budget (1-20): $5,156,949/$5,527,975
Total budget (1-28): $5,755,453/$6,294,791
Total expenditure (w/ off-budget): $5,806,953/$6,346,291

Some highlights:
Read more »

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Swiss miss: Replacing Tranquillo Barnetta

At season's end, Tranquillo Barnetta will be headed back to Switzerland.
How might the Union replace his sizeable contributions? (AP)

The Philadelphia Union, in a surprisingly and laudably proactive announcement Tuesday morning, revealed that Tranquillo Barnetta will be leaving at the end of the 2016 season to rejoin the club of his youth, FC St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The possibility was long mooted, with Barnetta’s contract purposefully drawn up at 18 months from last summer to offer both club and player the flexibility to escape and the acquisition of Alejandro Bedoya, a player capable of playing the No. 10 role.

Barnetta will be missed, as he’s been an exemplary player over 37 games (plus whatever’s left this regular/postseason) and ambassador for the club. The “why” of the timing is fairly clear, with Barnetta having achieved his objective of an American experience and wanting to have something left in the tank for St. Gallen, but I’ll leave Barnetta to speak for himself if he’s available after training Wednesday.

I’ll stand by the declaration last summer that he’s the most decorated player the Union have ever acquired, and even with Bedoya, Charlie Davies and Ilsinho since joining, Barnetta retains that title with his wealth of Bundesliga, European Champions League and three World Cups worth of experience.

The conversation shifts as to how to replace Barnetta, a discussion we can have now and then shift to the backburner as the Union’s late-season run plays out. When Bedoya was acquired in August, I posited a Barnetta-less future that would seamlessly integrate Bedoya into the No. 10 role instead of the No. 8 that he’s a less obvious fit for. From the blog:
That’s not to say the Union would move on from Barnetta. But if they can't resign him or wanted to divest themselves of a potentially redundant asset, Barnetta could make sense. Or Bedoya could be the starter with some combination of Alberg and Barnetta as reserves or on the wing. And it allows (Derrick) Jones, hailed as the No. 8 of the future, a chance to grow into the job. What better way for him to do that than sandwiched between Edu and Bedoya?
Let’s alter the thinking somewhat. I’ll follow the lead of my colleague, Kevin Kinkead, in this. If you’re replacing Barnetta and have the $700k or so of salary cap flexibility, what could the Union get?
Read more »

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Monday, September 26, 2016

The daunting dozen: The Union's harrowing late-season history

This late season stumble by Andre Blake and the Union
at the hands of Montreal's Matteo Mancosu has become the norm
for the club in recent years. (AP)
There’s an exclusive club that the Philadelphia Union belong to, one they’d love to graduate from, one whose membership dues are being paid again this fall in accordance with a familiar and dispiriting pattern.

In MLS history, two clubs have never won more than 12 games in a season. One is Orlando City, which won 12 games in its inaugural season of 2015 and guaranteed in Saturday night’s drubbing by D.C. United that it will miss the mark for another year, sitting at seven wins with four matches to play.

The other is the Union, and the odds of the club escaping that miasma even in this resurgent season are getting slimmer with every passing non-win, even if Saturday's 1-1 draw in Toronto is objectively a positive result.

The Union’s season-best for wins ominously endures at 12, set not in the playoff season of 2011 but in 2013, when the Union accumulated 46 points yet finished seventh in the East (they could end up fourth this year and in the playoffs with fewer points, but that’s another story).

Looking at wins historically in MLS is fraught, given past practices like the shootout and vacillating schedule lengths. But if we narrow the scope to the parity-riddled expansion era of 34-game schedules since 2011, the Union’s lack of wins still resonates. Minus Orlando City and the Union, the other 18 extant MLS teams have not only won at least 13 games in a season at least once; they’ve all done so within the last four seasons. The longest such drought, beyond the Union, is Chicago and Colorado, each of whom won 14 games in 2013 and have struggled since.

That means 16 clubs have authored a better season in the last three years – including this in-progress campaign – than the Union ever have. (And by the way, MLS’s three extinct franchises – Miami, Tampa Bay and Chivas – all have at least one season of 13 wins or more.)

That may seem like piling on an undistinguished Union resume that needs no tarnishing. Edmund Burke never wrote about soccer, but the pertinence of this look back isn’t just trivial measurements. It’s the troubling trend it illustrates: The Union, as we’re seeing now, are atrocious at finishing seasons.
Read more »

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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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