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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Forecasting the Crystal Palace plan

There’s always a debate around this time of year as to how to handle midseason friendlies within the grind of an MLS season. Add competition on another front for the Philadelphia Union in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and it’s even more complex.

That’s the conundrum Jim Curtin faces this week as his team prepares to take on English Premier League side Crystal Palace Friday night at PPL. There are so many factors – the tactical, between the physical need to rest regulars and the mental need to get those on the fringes of the squad some action, plus the pride aspect of wanting to put on a decent show for the fans while not rolling over to opposition from a superior league – for Curtin to manage.

“I always think anytime you’re representing your league, you should put your best effort out there,” Curtin said Wednesday at PPL Park. “Too many times you see in these games, whether it’s against a club from Mexico or England, they won’t get our best punch so to speak because we’re in the heat of the season. It’s tough. There’s is the business side where they do make a lot of money off the games, so I get that part of it. … Say you’re juggling an Open Cup game with a league match and then they also throw in a friendly, it becomes this, ‘how much do you want to kill your team for a result against a team that’s in the preseason and doesn’t really have their legs?’ It’s a tough one to answer because you’re torn either way.”

Curtin said Tuesday that there would essentially be two shifts of players logging 45 minutes each, which makes sense to give the entire roster a nice run out. Curtin also hinted that a couple of guys might get around the 90-minute mark.

So here’s my two cents on what the Union should (not necessarily will) do, gleaning a little from what Curtin said Wednesday and the team’s current needs:

First half
Wenger-Nogueira-Le Toux
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Union-Red Bulls: Lineups and pregame observations

Wednesday's edition of the Daily Times, featuring Danny Cruz.
Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Gaddis -Edu-White-Williams 
Wenger-Maidana-Le Toux 
Bench: Blake, Fabinho, Berry, Fred, Wheeler, Brown, Cruz

New York Red Bulls (4-4-2) 
Bench: Meara, Kimura, Sekagya, Lade, Akpan, Convey, Bover.

- Jim Curtin is forced to bring in fresh legs thanks to the red cards to Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud in the draw with Colorado Saturday. That means that he gets to delay for a week the question of how Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana coexist in midfield, with Nogueira taking deep-lying role alongside Brian Carroll. It’s Nogueira’s first league appearance since June 7, John Hackworth’s last game in charge.

- There’s a shuffle in the backline, too, with Maurice Edu back from suspension and Ethan White having done enough in a good showing against Colorado to earn a second start. (That means Austin Berry is still looking for his first minutes since the New England loss May 17.) The last time the teams played, a 2-1 win for the Red Bulls in Harrison, right back Ray Gaddis had one of his most difficult games of the season thanks to Peguy Luyindula and Eric Alexander. This time, Fabinho appears to be the weak link, headed to the bench so Gaddis (at the left) and Sheanon Williams can man the flanks. It’s the first time Fabinho hasn’t started since May 3 in Seattle.

- For the Red Bulls, who enter on a five-game unbeaten streak, Dax McCarty makes his return to the starting lineup, pairing with Tim Cahill in the center. That battle for central midfield supremacy is one where the Red Bulls have the edge on paper and Carroll and Nogueira will have to work hard to overturn. Up top, you know what you’re getting with MLS goals leader Bradley Wright-Phillips and assists leader Thierry Henry.
- Apparently the effects of the Shane O’Neill tackle are lingering with Danny Cruz, who is on the bench as Andrew Wenger starts for the first time since May 17. Brian Brown is on the bench yet again looking for his debut.

- The Union get a little bit of a break with Luyindula’s cryptic absence. Philly native Bobby Convey is among those on the bench, which runs pretty thin for the Red Bulls.  

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Union's Pfeffer stars with goal, assist for U-20s

While the American soccer world ponders the fate of Team USA as it embarks on the next World Cup cycle, a member of the Philadelphia Union took one of the first concrete steps toward U.S. Soccer’s march into the future.

Zach Pfeffer scored a goal and added an assist in a tidy, productive 28 minutes as a substitute, leading the U-20s to a 2-1 win over Chile Monday night in the NTC Invitational in Carson, Calif. (Writeups by Top Drawer, Yanks Abroad and SoccerAmerica.)

The four-team tournament this week isn’t exactly the headliner for the program this summer, but it’s a good chance for Pfeffer to get some matches and prove his worth outside of the club setting.

The Union forward and Dresher native set up the first goal just three minutes after entering (video above) by delivering an inch-perfect free kick to the head of fellow sub Andrija Novakovich, who plays for Reading in England.

In the 73rd minute, Pfeffer provided the winner by turning in a pass from Paul Arriola, sealing a win for the U.S. in the first game of three.

“I always tell the guys that if you get the opportunity to play two minutes or five or 90, you have to try to make an impact,” U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos said in a video by U.S. Soccer. “And I think those guys did a good job. They took advantage of their opportunities and lifted the team to a win. I’m very happy for them, and happy for the team.”

“Anytime you come off the bench, especially when you’re representing your country, you just want to come in and make as big of an impact as possible,” Pfeffer said. “In the game, we were down 1-0 against Chile, about 25-30 minutes left, and I just had to come on and help the team in the best way possible and try to make a difference.”

The NTC Invitational holds implications in both the micro and macro sense. For Pfeffer, his performance is one that his club manager certainly noticed.

“He was very good,” Jim Curtin said Tuesday. “The Chilean teams are always very, very strong at the young ages. They have very technical players. The game set up nicely for Zach. He’s a guy I’ve had since he was 16 years old, so we know what kind of quality he has.”

Pfeffer, the Union’s first ever Homegrown Player signee in 2010 and the fourth-youngest player to sign an MLS contract, has played in four games (one start) this season for a grand total of 81 minutes. That’s an improvement over the lone appearance he received over the previous two seasons after three in 2011.

Curtin made clear why Pfeffer’s playing time is low: The 19-year-old is a talented, technical player, but consistency is an issue. That’s a conversation player and coach have had, and they are in accord as to what must improve. But when you consider the player that Curtin likens Pfeffer to, it’s apparent that he’s held in high regard.

Zach Pfeffer, here training with the Union during preseason,
had a goal and an assist with the United States U-20 team Monday.
(Times Herald/GENE WALSH)
“I see a kid like Diego Fagundez, and I see Zach in the same light as him. They’re similar players,” Curtin said, referencing the New England Revolution forward who is a month younger than Pfeffer, signed a Homegrown contract a month earlier and has made 74 MLS appearances, scoring 21 goals and 13 assists. (Fagundez, who was born in Uruguay and has appeared for their U-20 team, is open to playing for the U.S. once his citizenship becomes finalized in a couple of years.)

“Has Diego gotten more of a chance and gotten thrown out there? Absolutely. Zach is a guy, he even says, ‘yeah I agree. That’s the type of player I should be. I should be scoring goals in MLS from that wide spot and being dangerous.’”

Tournaments like the NTC Invitational are important in the long view of the U.S.’s competitive future ($). The youth ranks have fallen on hard times of late, with the U-20 team bowing out of the 2013 World Cup in the group stage after failing to qualify for the 2011 tournament with a team featuring the Union’s Zac MacMath and Amobi Okugo. (The U-17 team also failed to qualify for the 2013 World Cup.)

In dissecting Germany’s World Cup triumph Sunday, we see the effect of youth development in stocking the ludicrous stables of talent accrued by the Germans, a process aided by U.S. and former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s focus on youth teams and player development. He’ll be the architect of all levels of U.S. Soccer for the next four years, a chance to put his fingerprints on the American establishment.

With qualification for the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand looming in January via the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, Pfeffer figures to play a key role. Before the addition of San Jose’s Tommy Thompson Tuesday, a veteran of one MLS minute, Pfeffer was the lone member of the 20-man roster with MLS experience. Pfeffer may not be the foremost candidate as a young dark horse to figure into the national team’s march toward Russia in four years (though he’s getting some hype), but he's managed to be a fixture at various levels through the years and could very easily end up taking the next step.

Plus, he’s catching the eye of his current boss, even from afar.

“People forget how young he is,” Curtin said. “The fact that he’s still with the U20 national team makes me smile, because it feels like he’s been on the Union for 10 years. Great performance last night, and I’m proud of him.”

Pfeffer will be in action again Wednesday when the U.S. takes on Bermuda at 4 p.m., then Friday night against Australia at 7. Both games are slated to be live streamed on

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From the training pitch: Tuesday's notes

Given the quick turnaround for the Union this week ahead of Wednesday’s visit from New York, there’s was a bit more going on at training Tuesday that can fit in print. So let’s summarize a few of the odds and ends from the day.

- On the injury front, both Vincent Nogueira and Austin Berry trained fully. The last half hour of training was small-field seven-on-seven, which featured Berry along with most of the guys who won’t play Wednesday (the suspended Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud, plus squad guys like Andre Blake, Fred, Antoine Hoppenot, etc.) Nogueira didn’t take part, off with the regulars doing some light passing drills. There’s nothing to read into that, as the difference is likely down to the reasons for their absences: Berry, recovering from an illness, needs to get his legs under him, while Nogueira doesn’t want to put extra strain on his groin. Both said after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with the Rapids that they were fit to play some part, though not for the 90 minutes.

- Though he’s sporting a slightly-mangled leg and a bit of a limp, Danny Cruz seems to be fine after picking up a knock Saturday courtesy of Shane O’Neill’s bruising (dirty?) tackle. Cruz has battled all manner of lower-body injuries this year (ankle, foot, heel, shin, you name it), so that’s nothing new, and manager Jim Curtin didn’t list him among the Union’s injuries.

- One injury Curtin didn’t list was Leo Fernandes, who didn’t take part in the last half hour of training. He was walking around in an ankle sleeve with what he termed “a minor” injury.

- Among the only non-Union faces on the training pitch were Michael Farfan and a few academy fill-ins. No one else of note.

- There’s nothing new on the Carlos Valdes situation from the club’s perspective. Curtin remains “cautiously optimistic” of a return to MLS for the Colombian. Valdes spent time in Colombia celebrating the national team's success and apparently hasn't reported back to Argentine club San Lorenzo yet. Reports from South America verify that there’s an issue over money with San Lorenzo, though it seems the club want him included as they try to finish a Cinderella run through Copa Libertadores, with the semifinals looming next week. We’ll see where this goes.

- Amobi Okugo’s red card will stand, as the club decided against an appeal after consulting with head of the Professional Referee Organization, Peter Walton. Given the fact that it was after the final whistle, there would be no audio or video to verify or challenge what was or wasn’t said. Turning into a case of hearsay, an appeal was unlikely to do anything other than waste time and money tilting at windmills.

- Some stray quotes from interviews. Ray Gaddis on getting his first assist in two years and his first primary assist in MLS play: “It’s a good feeling. I’d rather have a clean sheet, but anytime you can help produce a goal for the team, it means you’re up and there’s a possibly you can win. So it was a great feeling to contribute.”

- Andrew Wenger on the club’s recent surge in offensive confidence: “Guys just feel good about it. Plays are coming off, things are working out. Sometimes when they’re not, we’re getting lucky bounces. I got a lucky bounce the other night – Amobi makes a great play, but it just kind of trickles through. It’s happened for a lot of guys. Things are just coming off at the moment, and you don’t really want to talk about it so to speak, you just want to keep going through what you’re doing and making the plays.”

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Union-Rapids: Lineups and pre-match observations

Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux-Maidana-Cruz
Bench: Blake, Carroll, Berry, Nogueira, Wheeler, Wenger, Brown.

Colorado Rapids (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Berner, Klute, Hairston, Torres, Piermayr, Alvarez, Mwanga

- At long last, the Union have something to show in return for the trade for Jeff Parke: Ethan White gets his debut with Maurice Edu (red card) suspended and Austin Berry healthy enough only for the bench.. After a handful of injuries early in the season, White has a chance to prove his worth, and it’s a stiff test against Deshorn Brown. I suspect that White’s ability to contend with Brown’s speed (along with Jim Curtin’s preference not to move Amobi Okugo back to defense and disrupt the midfield’s burgeoning chemistry) is what makes him the choice here.

- Speaking of the midfield, Vincent Nogueira is healthy enough to make the bench, but the club has expressed a desire this week to be cautious with a groin injury that is the first of that type for Nogueira. As a result, he’s been deemed fit for the last several weeks … without actually playing. And given the job Cristian Maidana is doing in that central attacking role, there’s no need to push him.

- The loan capture of Brian Brown was confirmed around 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon. By 7, he’s on the bench in the Union 18. Seems like another body for Antoine Hoppenot, who’s 0-for-3 in making Curtin’s MLS squads, to climb over. Let’s see what the 21-year-old has got.

- The Rapids are losing two of their leading creative forces in midfielder Jose Mari (ankle) and forward Vicente Sanchez (suspended). That accentuates their dependence on the creativity of Brown up top. With the defensive abilities of Nick LaBrocca and the solidity of this backline, expect the Rapids to sit in plenty and absorb pressure, then try to launch counter attacks with Dillon Powers and long balls played into Brown. And then there's former Union No. 1 overall draft pick Danny Mwanga sitting on the bench. Interesting to see what reaction he would get.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

'Checking the stats': Sebastien Le Toux and the real U.S. Open Cup scoring record (with video)

It could easily have been dismissed as Sebastien Le Toux being folksy Tuesday night.

After the Philadelphia Union forward scored as part of the club’s 2-0 win over the New England Revolution in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Le Toux was reminded in the locker room that the goal, his 14th in the competition, made him the all-time leading scorer in the modern era of the Cup.

The Frenchman’s response? “I even thought before that I scored more than the number that was said,” he offered. “I think I scored more, so I think you should check your stats, guys.”
Well, after a little discussion with colleague Dave Zietlin of and some (non-deadline) time to dig, we can say that Le Toux is certainly correct.

In his feature on Le Toux’s record-setting performance Tuesday, Dave correctly identified an outlier goal scored by Le Toux in 2010 for the Union in a 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls. That goal, however, doesn’t count toward the U.S. Open Cup record because of a pedantic (I’d prefer the term “asinine”) distinction between Open Cup and Open Cup qualifying.

From 2009 to 2011, MLS clubs had to qualify among themselves for the tournament, a way to presumably give teams lower in the American soccer pyramid a chance to get further in the tournament. As a result, only eight MLS teams actually participated in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Cups; the others only played in qualifying. Technically speaking, the Union didn’t qualify for the U.S. Open Cup until 2012, losing play-in matches in 2010 and 2011. Not only was it a silly system, in retrospect, but it’s even more nonsensical to not count personal accolades in those games toward Open Cup totals. That inane distinction will be ignored for the rest of this evaluation.

Editorializing aside, therein lies the discrepancy in Le Toux's situation. So instead of his 14th goal in the competition Tuesday, Le Toux has to his name, for all intents and purposes, 17 goals. That includes the goal in 2010 against the Red Bulls, plus two goals (and two assists) in a 2009 qualifier in which Seattle beat Real Salt Lake, 4-1. Those tallies would put him well ahead of Jaime Moreno, David Bulow and Johnny Menyongar, the three players with whom he had supposedly been tied entering last night.

Le Toux’s total in the U.S. Open Cup, participating from 2007-09 with Seattle and 2010-11 and 2013-14 for the Union stands at 17 goals and nine assists, a remarkable total. (You could add to that a pair of goals scored during his Vancouver Whitecaps days in the 2012 Amway Canadian Championships, if you want to continue the domestic cup domination trend.)

Since information on the recent history of the U.S. Open Cup is hard to come by – the Sounders media guide, for instance, only covers the MLS era that started in 2009 (jump to page numbered "136," or 88 in the actual pdf page), making Wikipedia (begrudgingly) the most reliable compendium of links on the topic – here’s a handy reference as Le Toux tries to distance himself from the pack as the competition’s modern leader.

(Cumulative totals in parenthesis)
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

They call him 'Rambo': Meet Union loan target Brian Brown

News "broke" last night – via a post on the website of Jamaican club Harbour View FC – that it had agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Union on a loan agreement for 21-year-old forward Brian Brown. While the Union have yet to make the loan capture official, a club source confirmed that they are in the latter stages of negotiations with the player and a deal could be finalized at some point this week.

That source also confirmed a separate release from Harbour View that Brown had been on trial with the club. (And if further proof is needed, Brown’s Facebook page, as referred by Harbour View’s official feed, features a header image of the Union’s locker room.)

The connections to the Union are numerous. First, goalkeeper Andre Blake, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, came through the youth setup at Harbour View. Blake is part of an uptick in Jamaican influence in MLS in recent years, with three of the first eight picks in the 2014 SuperDraft (including No. 7 Andre Lewis and No. 8 Damion Lowe) hailing from the island nation along with the top scorer from the 2013 draft, Colorado’s Deshorn Brown.

Brown’s agent, per the Harbour View release, is Damani Ralph, who spent two seasons as a high-scoring forward in MLS with the Chicago Fire … where he was a teammate of Union manager Jim Curtin. (Coincidentally, Ralph also followed the same Harbour-View-to-University-of-Connecticut path as Blake.)

And here’s one more coincidence: Brown was on trial in 2012 with Aston Villa in England … at the same time that a young Union forward named Danny Mwanga was also being vetted by then manager Alex McLeish. Neither signed, the reasoning behind Brown’s refusal probably having something to do with the looming issue of getting a UK work permit given the fact that he’d yet to appear for Jamaica.
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Monday, July 7, 2014

The streak ends: Le Toux reacts to his first yellow card

The Union’s loss to Dallas Friday featured something so simultaneously commonplace and extraordinary that it almost escaped notice.

In the 68th minute of the Union’s 2-1 loss in Texas, referee Edvin Jurisevic brandished a yellow card in the direction of Union forward Sebastien Le Toux. The reasoning, supposedly for repeated protests, made it hardly exceptional in a league where refereeing is improving but remains perplexing at times. The decision also wasn’t a shock within the context of Jurisevic’s struggles to keep up with the pace and tone of physicality in the game.

Sebastien Le Toux picked up his first MLS
yellow card Friday ... in his 170th match.
(Times File)
What made this otherwise mundane decision so remarkable wasn’t the ref but the player: The yellow card was Le Toux’s first in MLS play. That’s his first card of any color in his MLS career.

Just a few numbers to illustrate how astounding that point is: Le Toux’s MLS career started in 2009 with Seattle, in a 15-team league; 21 teams will start the next MLS season. Le Toux’s card came in his 170th MLS game, a career spent with four clubs. Le Toux’s streak of good behavior stretched back to a time when the Union didn’t yet exist.

He had played over 12,700 card-less minutes in his career. (For comparison’s sake, Fabinho this season has averaged a yellow card every 197 minutes, while Corben Bone is averaging a shade under seven reds and seven yellows per game this season.)

It’s a run that Le Toux admitted Monday to keeping tabs on and one he was a bit surprised to see end.

“I knew I had never gotten a card in MLS, but I was not expecting to get one the last game,” he said. “I was surprised he gave me one because I didn’t do anything. I think maybe (Jurisevic) wanted to put that on his résumé that he was the first one to give me a yellow card in the league, but I don’t know.”
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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Show him the money, Carlos Valdes edition

In recent weeks, the Philadelphia Union have not been shy about professing their admiration for Carlos Valdes, a player who has been an all-star in their ranks and who for a time wore the captain’s armband. As Valdes and his Colombia teammates prepares for a historic quarterfinal tie with Brazil Friday, the subject of Valdes’ potential return to the club which owns his rights is a hot topic in Philadelphia.
The possibility of a return to Philadelphia for defender Carlos Valdes,
here tussling with Japan Keisuke Honda in a World Cup Group C match
June 24, has been a popular conversation for the club in recent days. (AP)

Interim manager Jim Curtin weighed in on the matter Wednesday, detailing a number of the obstacles that stand between the Union and a reunion with Valdes, from within MLS and outside it.

Among the highlights from Curtin is the declaration that the Union, “would like to make him one of the top-paid center backs in the league,” while the skipper later allowed that the designated player avenue could be open to Valdes to come back in the league. (You’ll recall that the Union have two designated players under contract this season – Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and definitely not Vincent Nogueira – giving them the flexibility to add a third.)

Let’s provide some context to that by looking at how Valdes’ compensation measures up league-wide.

First, the Union are on the hook for $295,000 for Valdes in the 2014 season, per the MLS Players Union, an amount deferred from the salary cap with the defender on a season-long loan. How much of that is actually paid to the player by the Union or what fraction is divvied up through San Lorenzo, the Argentine club he is on loan to, falls within the murky dealings of MLS. The last time Valdes suited up for the Union was in 2012, when his guaranteed compensation was $268,000.

So if the Union are determined to, as Curtin indicated, make Valdes an offer that significantly ups that amount to secure his services, what would that entail?

Well, it may be surprising that defenders are not terribly well compensated in relative terms in MLS. Based on April 2014 salary figures from the MLS Players Union, only one defender (No. 11 Omar Gonzalez at $1.25 million) ranks among the top 19 salaries. The only defender joining Gonzalez in the top 25 salaries is New England’s Jose Goncalves at $479,000, the 20th-highest-paid player. Gonzalez is the only defender with a (non-young) Designated Player contract, though Goncalves is the highest earner in the league not to be denoted as a DP. (Portland’s recent signing of English defender Liam Ridgewell adds a second DP, though his salary won’t be made available until August.)
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

What he said: Jim Curtin's first press conference

Jim Curtin, alongside Nick Sakiewicz, took the podium for the first time as the Union manager Thursday morning and patiently addressed a number of topics for the better part of an hour. This is hardly the whole thing, but allowed me to post a few of the highlights. (Note: There are plenty of less-than-relevant asides in here that, for the sake of brevity and sanity, I didn't transcribe. I've tried to preserve the context here as best possible.

Opening statement (yes, it's this long):
First, I’d like to thank Jay Sugarman and Nick Sakiewicz for giving me this opportunity. It’s one I’m very excited about, one I’ll take with great pride, being from this city, it means a lot to me. I’d also like to thank John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian. Those are two guys that were able to give me my chance in the game with this club. Those are two guys that put in a lot of years here and left the club better than when they started. …
To the team, I’d say to put it simply, we’ve had a bunch of very good players have poor first halves of the season. We have 18 games left; that’s the good news. We have 18 games to get this ship right. We have the U.S. Open Cup, which we’re going to take very seriously. This club needs a trophy. There’s only two that you can lift, and that’s one of them, so we’re going to take that very seriously.
The big thing with me, the results haven’t been there this year. We all know that. We only have three wins in 16 games, so the results haven’t been here. But the resources are here to win. I’m confident in my staff that’s being formed right now, it’s getting pieced together, it’s a very strong one, it’s one that I trust. As an assistant coach, I have Mike Sorber, a guy who I respect a great deal, I’ve connected with very quickly, I’ve known from the past, times in Chicago. He’s a guy in a lot of ways who is more qualified as an assistant than anyone in MLS right now. He’s a guy that has World Cup experience. He’s a guy that’s played in a World Cup, so again a guy I’m going to lean on heavily. I also have a bright young technical director who’s very progressive in Chris Albright, a guy that I have a great relationship with. Again, has done everything that you can do in this game, an all-Star, he’s played in a World Cup, He is a guy that I’m going to lean on heavily to make decisions personnel wise, along with Nick….
On to the players, right up the middle, you talk about a Conor Casey who right now is in very good form, scoring four goals in his past two games. He’s a guy that just needed a run of games, and now he’s got that and he’s going to get that with me. He’s a guy I trust. We have a Vincent Nogueira right up the middle again, a guy that every coach in this league wants on his team. He’s special. We have Maurice Edu, who in my mind should be in Brazil right now, but he’s not. Has it been tough for him mentally? Yes it has, but we’re going to get him going the way we know he can be, and he’s a special player, one of the top players in this country and one of the top players in this league. When we talk about the things behind the scenes that are going on with this club, we talk about the resources that we had, the little things that you might not see – again I said the results might not be here, but the resources are. ...
We have the most passionate fans in the league, I believe. I’m a Philly fan as well. ... I know the passion that the fans have, I know the emotions that they have, and I know that the thing that they want is winning. That’s what this is about. We need to win. And we’re going to do it with accountability, accountability from the players on and off the field. That sounds like a simple message. I could sit up here and talk tactics and formations and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, what matters in this town is winning, that’s what I believe.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nick Sakiewicz press conference, June 10

Apologies for being a little delayed in posting this, but I wanted to make sure I went over it a couple of times to iron out a few slightly confusing details. You'll also find a bit of redundancy, which I can't really control. Here you go.

On the decision to fire John Hackworth:
Yeah, it’s tough. It’s always tough when you have a lot of respect for a person. John’s a great guy, first-class, been with us a long time. But I just felt at this point in the season, halfway through, we needed to make a change. We needed to make a change because first and foremost, I don’t know if any of you were at the game on Saturday, but it was an amazing environment, our biggest crowd of the season and we just had the best fans. And our fans deserve better results on the field. Unfortunately for John, he knows that it’s about results and this is a tough, tough business and you’ve got to make tough decisions. But really we have to go out and we’ve got to find a top, top-class manager that’s going to be able to deliver the results that our fans deserved.

On how long the search will take:
I don’t know. I know that the resumes are flooding in from all over the world. There’s a lot of people that love big markets and love to coach in Major League Soccer, so we’re going to be very careful and deliberate. Very strategic. And the most important thing is to find the right guy who can take this group of players, which frankly I still think is pretty good. I mean this is a team that a few games ago beat the defending champion in their home park. So let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a pretty good group of players here that need some direction and need some motivation to win a bunch of games in the remaining part of the year. But beyond that, we need a coach that is going to be able to take this team to an MLS championship.

On the timing during the World Cup break:
Well it certainly gives Jim Curtin a little breathing room and a little time to assess the situation and make whatever adjustments he needs to make. Jim’s been with the organization a long time. He knows our culture. He knows what we’re trying to do. He knows our fanbase. He’s a Philly guy. And he’s got sharp teeth. So I imagine he’s going to put together a plan and this time gives him that opportunity to do that.

On an audition for Curtin:
Pretty much every coach is an interim coach, isn’t he? If you really think about it in any sport. Jim knows what he’s getting into. He’s got an advantage over the many résumés that we’re going to look at, the many people we’re going to talk to, and Jim will have a solid kick at the can for this job.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Moving on: A look at John Hackworth's potential replacements

For the second time in the club’s history, the Philadelphia Union have announced a coaching change Tuesday, heading in a different direction from John Hackworth’s so-so two years, punctuated by a disastrous first half of the 2014 season. In steps Jim Curtin, who is regarded as having the knowhow for the job even at a young age (34). Given the fact that Hackworth was hired from within two years ago, it’s no surprise that Curtin will get a definite shot at the job and be vetted appropriately. A “serious global search,” in the words of CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, is currently underway for a long-term replacement.
Former Union player Veljko Paunovic, seen here in 2011,
has become a successful coach in the Serbian youth ranks. (AP)

Who that could be is an open question, and there’s no obvious name that jumps off the page. With the downward trajectory of Hackworth’s last four months, the window has long been open for speculation, and some of that preliminary work has been done by my colleagues over at PSP. But let’s float a few names out there.

Jesse Marsch: Like Hackworth, the 40-year-old did a stint as a U.S. national team assistant before a less-than-stellar turn with the Montreal Impact in 2012 in which he went 12-17-7 in the team’s first MLS season. What should’ve been sufficient for a second season in charge led to an ostensibly amicable split with the club that was likely less than amiable. A veteran of over 300 MLS games, Marsch is the solid, MLS-savvy option.

Veljko Paunovic: There was a fair amount of questions when the well-traveled Serbian midfielder ended a three-year retirement to play for the Union in 2011. However that term is regarded, Paunovic has parlayed it into a successful coaching career, piloting the Serbian youth teams since 2012. Having played nearly 300 games in Spain as well as other top European leagues, Paunovic presents a more international option, and he’s about the closest thing to hiring from within beyond Curtin.

Martin Rennie: The options for recycled, recently-fired MLS managers are slim. I would assume Robert Warzycha’s similarities to Peter Nowak (fairly or otherwise) would lessen his chances. Former New England coach Steve Nicol doesn’t seem quite right for the role (plus he’s well entrenched with ESPN), nor does Montreal’s hotheaded Swiss ex-manager Marco Schallibaum. Richie Williams, given his ties to New York during Sakiewicz’s days there, is intriguing and a name that was floated after Nowak’s axing. Rennie is a young manager who was dismissed by Vancouver last year against the popular wishes of the fanbase, and the Scot could invigorate a youthful Union squad.

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