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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Union-NYCFC: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Le Toux
Bench: Blake, Marquez, White, Maidana, Carroll, Casey, Sapong

New York City FC (4-4-2)
Velazquez-Jacobson-Diskerud- Grabavoy
Bench: Meara, Watson-Siriboe, Poku, Ballouchy, Calle, Mullins, Shelton

- The big name missing for the Union is Fernando Aristeguieta, who recovered from a broken finger but suffered a quad injury late in the week. That means the only Union player to score this season won’t take part. That leaves Sebastien Le Toux to lead the line, though with Conor Casey and CJ Sapong waiting on the bench, there are options if the Union can’t get the attack going that they want. This is a game where Jim Curtin has game-changing options (Cristian Maidana, Casey, Sapong) on the bench, and he can't be shy about pulling the trigger.

- Zach Pfeffer’s return to the lineup allows the Union to utilize the 4-2-3-1 again. Vincent Nogueira passes fit, and Michael Lahoud is preferred to Brian Carroll in the holding role, while Eric Ayuk gets another start.

- Sheanon Williams is back from two games out with a hamstring issue, which is good timing since both Fabinho and Raymond Lee are out, leaving Ethan White as the presumed fullback cover. The bigger ripple effect might be that Ray Gaddis and Andrew Wenger get a chance to reestablish chemistry on that left flank. Not having to cover for Fabinho might allow Wenger to get forward more often.

- The focal point for NYCFC is David Villa, and the Spaniard is back after missing time with an adductor injury. He and Adam Nemec give NYCFC a variety of options up top. They can counterattack effectively if the Union pour numbers forward, and Mix Diskerud will be running at the central midfielders when NYCFC is in possession.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Union's slow start in three simple stats

There’s no two ways around it: The Philadelphia Union are off to a poor start to the 2015 season, the latest installment of which is a dour 1-0 loss in Chicago. The macro components of the Union’s malaise are easy to pinpoint – things like three games without goals, lax set-piece defending, two straight games with red cards, etc.
Sebastien Le Toux and his fellow Union attackers
are just not hitting the target with shots.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

Those larger-picture issues are important, but it doesn’t say what the Union can do better to fix them, necessarily. So using the bevy of data available through MLS’ partnership with OPTA Stats, let’s dig a little deeper into what constitutes the slow start. Here are three figures that capture it pretty well:

4 – Saves by Rais M’Bolhi on shots inside the box

The Algerian goalkeeper played in a little tournament you may have heard of last year in Brazil, leading the Fennec Foxes out of the group stage in a historic performance. And while that’s all wonderful, the numbers in MLS are less favorable. He’s 1-3-4 in eight matches with the Union (still too small of a sample size to make a firm determination) having allowed 10 goals on 25 shots on target. This season, M’Bolhi has made four saves on shots inside the box. Two were against Fabian Castillo in the FC Dallas game (while Castillo's best chance hit the crossbar). One was against Jordan Allen and RSL, and one was on Kennedy Igboananike with a smart kick save against Chicago.

For comparison, Houston’s Tyler Deric has made seven saves on shots inside the box this season. Clint Irwin, who hasn’t given up a goal yet for Colorado, has six, including four against the Union on opening night alone. And they make a heck of a lot less than M’Bolhi does. To bring it back to M’Bolhi, he stopped five shots by Germany from inside the box in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 loss alone.

M’Bolhi isn’t playing poorly and certainly isn’t the biggest issue on this team. But it's about the larger picture. Instead of getting a veteran center back or a competent left back or defensive cover that had played in MLS before, the Union spent that money on M’Bolhi under the assumption that he could steal games for them in situations like, oh I don’t know, being down a man for a half. (Ahem, Irwin.) The spent all that money on him so that he could help the team take the next step in a way Zac MacMath couldn't for three seasons. So far, he's fallen far, far short of expectations.

28.9 – Percentage of Union shots on target
Read more »

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Snow postpones Dallas game

A few inches of spring snow was apparently too much for the Philadelphia Union to handle Friday.

The Union announced Friday afternoon that that evening’s game with FC Dallas would be postponed a day due to the ongoing winter weather advisory in Chester.

The game will be rescheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. It will be broadcast on Univision Deportes Network and streamed online. The Friday match had been scheduled for national UniMas coverage. No local broadcast will be available.

A club release cited “dangerous traffic conditions” as a primary concern with 2-4 inches of frozen precipitation expected. The Union had weathered eight inches of snow two days before the opener at PPL Park two weeks ago.

“We had every intention to play our match as originally scheduled, but the current weather conditions will challenge the safety of our fans, players, and staff, and they always will be our first priority,” Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz said in a club statement. “With a sunny day in the high 50’s forecasted for tomorrow, we look forward to welcoming everyone to a magnificent setting at PPL Park.”

It’s the second time in Union history that a game has been moved due to snow. Their trip to Colorado in March 2013 was moved back a day due to over a foot of snow in the Rockies.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Union-Rapids: Lineups and pregame thoughts for the opener

UNION (4-4-2)
Wenger-Edu-Nogueira-Le Toux
Bench: McCarthy, Fabinho, Marquez, Lahoud, Pfeffer, Maidana, Casey

Colorado Rapids (4-2-3-1) 
Sarvas- Pittinari
Sanchez-Serna- Torres
Bench: Berner, Burch, O’Neill, Alvarez, Cronin, Brown

Rest assured, PPL Park has shed its frosted look since Thursday.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

- The lingering tactical debate for Jim Curtin this season is whether he’d opt for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2. For the debut, it’s nominally a 4-4-2, with the potential to morph into a 4-2-4. Cristian Maidana starts on the bench with CJ Sapong operating as a second striker behind Fernando Aristeguieta.

- Out with injury is Danny Cruz (hamstring), meaning we won’t get a repeat of this ugly tackle from Shane O’Neill this season.
Read more »

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Making dollars and sense of Union roster

New Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta, left,
is one of two designated players on the Union's
2015 roster to start the season. (AP file)
Despite a lot of disagreement at the bargaining table, MLS’s 2015 season will begin in a matter of hours Friday. While details of the new collective bargaining agreement have leaked out, there hasn’t been much concrete info on the topography of the new CBA’s budgetary structure, with only figures and dollar amounts trickling out thus far.

In the absence of major alterations, it’s likely that the new arrangement will look a lot like the old one, which is what many MLS clubs were forecasting in the days and weeks before Wednesday’s pact was finalized. Union technical director Chris Albright offered Tuesday that, “Everybody’s got their guesses” about the roster ramifications that will emanate from the new CBA.

Regardless, the Union have a more-or-less finalized roster. In addition to their acquisitions in February, the Union this week announced the signing of Dzenan Catic (though that was actually old news) and came to agreements with trialists Eric Ayuk Mbu and fourth-round SuperDraft pick Raymond Lee. 

Those moves indicate that clubs likely have been given a good idea of how to prepare for the new season. As a guide, let’s utilize last season’s roster rules, which is likely what most clubs have done.

As a reminder, here’s what MLS’s Roster Rules and Regulations say about the composition of a roster:
Read more »

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Union react to new CBA

MLS and the MLS Players Union avoided a strike Thursday night by striking a new collective bargaining agreement. The basic facets of the deal provide for a limited form a free agency and increases in both minimum salary and the salary cap, while MLS has confirmed the pact to be a five-year deal. There's much more to be disclosed about the deal, and there are early signs of discord among the players.

Thursday night, the Union released the following statements on the deal:
CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz: “We are very happy for our great fans and had confidence in the strength of the relationship between MLS players and our ownership that a positive outcome in the CBA negotiations would occur and it has. We applaud the leadership of both Commissioner (Don) Garber and the Labor Committee members as well as the MLSPU for coming to a timely resolution in a professional and respectful manner. Well done and now its game on!”

Head coach Jim Curtin: “All of our preparation and focus this offseason has been to get three points on March 7 and we’re all excited to know there’s an agreement for the season to go on as scheduled. We’re counting it down just like all of our great fans and we can’t wait to see everyone at PPL Park on Saturday.”

Union Player Representative Brian Carroll: “Danny (Cruz) and I are proud of the work that was accomplished today by the Major League Soccer Players Union. We are extremely thankful for the fans continued support throughout this entire process. We look forward to a successful season and the growth of soccer in this country.”

Here's what MLS commissioner Don Garber had to say:

“We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players. We now enter our 20th season with enormous momentum with our new television partnerships, dynamic star players from the US, Canada and abroad, and two new expansion teams in New York City and Orlando that will debut in front of more than 60,000 fans on Sunday in the Citrus Bowl. This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world.”

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Quick hits: Union practice, March 3

The Philadelphia Union’s season is slated to start in four days. The team running through its drills for the better part of two hours at the Bubble, the University of Penn’s Dunning-Cohen Champions’ Field, Tuesday morning didn’t seem like it was preparing for anything else. There’s uncertainty league wide, with the pall of CBA negotiations hanging over the start of the season. But on the field, there were a few notable points to the Union’s first training session in the Philadelphia in a month.

- First, the absences. Fernando Aristeguieta was in Venezuela tending to visa issues (something Union fans recall all too vividly from last summer.) Technical director Chris Albright said that the club expects Aristeguieta back Thursday at the latest. Also absent was the injured Andre Blake and Eric Bird, who remains with the team. It’s a groin injury on Bird, a problem that dogged him in college. Both of the Union’s MLS Players Union reps, Danny Cruz and Brian Carroll, remained in Washington for CBA negotiations.

- Among those present were trialists Eric Ayuk and draft pick Raymond Lee. It sounds as though the Cameroonian winger and the fullback from Saint Louis may hang around for a while.

- Conor Casey didn’t take part in half-field 7-on-7 drills getting his legs attended to. The striker did start in the final preseason game against

- On the field, Zach Pfeffer continued to look impressive, looking a bit more physical and sporting a beard. Sebastien Le Toux scored several goals on 7-on-7, while Union practice was plenty loud thanks to how vocal new signing Steven Vitoria is, complementing well with Ethan White and Rais M’Bolhi. Manager Jim Curtin was impressed by his team's sharpness after a couple of days off. It was likely one of the more intense practices of the week, with snow threatening Thursday's session.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Super second act: Union's options in final two SuperDraft rounds

The consensus from several sources was that the Philadelphia Union did well in the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft held last week, plucking two assets in Dzenan Catic and Eric Bird that flew under the radar and that the club was fortunate to see remaining on the board at picks 31 and 41.

But the draft isn’t over yet, with rounds three and four of the SuperDraft – or rounds 1 and 2 of the Supplemental Draft, depending on MLS’ nomenclature preference du jour – coming Tuesday afternoon.

Thanks to the topsy-turvy first two rounds that featured plenty of surprises, there are a number of known commodities still out there, including two of the 15 players who already signed with MLS (and the presence of forward Andy Craven and defender Ramon Martin Del Campo could help buy time for the Union to allow a player they want to slip). That means that the Union could expect to net quality selections at Nos. 51 and 71, their natural selections in both rounds, maybe even someone with sticking power beyond the postseason.

A few options to ponder:

Andrew Wolverton. The local tie to the Penn State goalkeeper is there. The physicality (kid is 6-6) is there. Some outlets projected him as high as a first-rounder. The Union clearly need a goalkeeper, and while Wolverton may not be ready to serve as a backup immediately if the club’s intention is to loan out Andre Blake to get games, he’s an intriguing piece to stash on a roster that has flexibility to add minimum players. If Wolverton isn’t there, it’s possible that Washington’s Spencer Richey, is another GK option.
Read more »

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Union release 2015 schedule

Below are the dates for the Union's 2015 matches, the first two of which we already know. Included are eight national television dates, including three by the middle of April. I'll break down the schedule more in depth later.

March 7: Colorado, 4
March 14: at Real Salt Lake, 9:30
March 20: Dallas, 7
March 29: at Chicago, 5 (ESPN2)
April 5: at Sporting KC, 7 (FS1)
April 11: New York City FC, TBD
April 16: at New York City FC, TBD
April 19: New England, 5 (ESPN2)
April 25: at Columbus, 7:30
May 2: Toronto, 7
May 9: at Vancouver, TBD
May 17: D.C. United, 7 (FS1)
May 24: at New York Red Bulls, 5 (FS1)
May 30: at D.C. United, 7
June 3: Columbus, 7
June 6: New York City FC, 7
June 20: at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30
June 24: Seattle, 7
June 27: Montreal, 7
July 11: Portland, 7
July 18: at Toronto, TBD
July 26: at D.C. United, 5 (ESPN2)
Aug. 1: New York Red Bulls, 7
Aug. 8: at Orlando City, 7:30
Aug. 16: Chicago, 7 (FS1)
Aug. 22: at Montreal, TBD
Aug. 29: New England, 7
Sept. 5: at San Jose, 10:30
Sept. 12: Columbus, 7
Sept. 20: Houston, 7 (FS1)
Sept. 26: at New England, 7:30
Oct. 3: at Toronto, TBD
Oct. 18: at New York Red Bulls, TBD
Oct. 25: Orlando City, TBD

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Preparing for Re-Entry: Sizing up the Union's possible targets

The theme of the Union’s offseason thus far has been departures – via trade and via the expansion draft. Thursday, the club has its chance to add players via the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft.

This mechanism, which allows players meeting certain criteria who haven’t had their options exercised or are out of contract to be selected by other clubs, is the closest thing that MLS 2.0 (or 1.0 or whatever.0) has to adding via free agency.

Last year, the Union were silent in this phase of the draft – after plucking Corben Bone in the first stage – despite the increased flexibility picking clubs have in negotiating new deals. The Re-Entry Draft, as proven by Eastern Conference champs D.C. United last season, could be the way toward competing in MLS if you find the right pieces.
Colorado's Marvell Wynne could be an option
for the Union in Thursday's Re-Entry Draft. (AP)

First, the Union have 23 players currently on their roster. Of those, 22 (excluding Maurice Edu and the possible renewal of his loan deal) are under contract for next season. Of the 20 on-budget spots, by my reckoning, 17 are spoken for. (That’s assuming that new options for Homegrown Players Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer that Sporting Director Chris Albright hinted at last week move them on-budget, if they weren’t already.) That, coupled with the fact that they possess one second round SuperDraft pick and no first-rounders, gives them some flexibility.

So, let’s throw out some possibilities:

Hendry Thomas. The Union need another holding midfielder, a position where the only two definites for next season are Vincent Nogueira and Michael Lahoud, despite some reported interest in players overseas and Edu. Thomas has international experience with Honduras, will be 30 when the season starts and provides plenty of steel in the midfield, which would free up Nogueira to do more distributing. He’s an injury question mark after ACL surgery in July, but with the performance of 22-year-old Victor Ulloa, I’m not sure he has a job waiting for him in Dallas.
Read more »

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Projecting the protecting: Who the Union should shield from the Expansion Draft

For the better part of three months, the most notable date on the Philadelphia Union calendar has been the MLS Expansion Draft, the point at which the Union see if they lose anyone to the incoming MLS franchises, NYCFC and Orlando City. Full protection lists are due later today after the close of an eventful trade window, but here’s a look at who the Union should protect.

First, the Union have 24 rostered players to consider after Monday’s declining of options on five players, the announcement that Brian Carroll’s contract is up and the trade for C.J. Sapong and of Amobi Okugo. Exclude the two remaining Homegrown players (Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer) and Andre Blake, who is a member of Generation Adidas, and that leaves 10 players to be potentially unprotected.

Here are the players the Union likely will end up protecting, in no particular order:

1. Rais M’Bolhi
2. Sheanon Williams
3. Ethan White
4. Carlos Valdes
5. Ray Gaddis
6. Cristian Maidana
7. Vincent Nogueira
8. Sebastien Le Toux
9. Andrew Wenger
10. C.J. Sapong
11. Zac MacMath
The keepers: Read more »

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Union decline options on five players

Conor Casey's day with the Union may be done
after the team declined his option Monday. (AP)
At long last, the Philadelphia Union have announced some action this offseason, declining options on five players.

Those not returning are midfielders Corben Bone and Fred, and forwards Conor Casey, Brian Brown and Cristhian Hernandez, while the Union also announced that Brian Carroll is out of contract.

Bone, who spent four largely indifferent seasons with Chicago, was drafted by the Union in Stage One of the 2013 Re-Entry Draft. He made just two MLS appearances totaling 13 minutes, capped by a red card after just one minute May 14 against Kansas City. The 26-year-old spent the end of the season on loan with USL Pro side Wilmington Hammerheads.

The 35-year-old Fred was signed via a Waiver Draft in late March after training with the club through most of the preseason. Fred appeared in 11 matches in his second stint with the Union, scoring the game-winning goal against New York July 16.

Hernandez was signed as a Homegrown Player before the 2012 season. He played in two matches, totaling 26 minutes in 2012, then spent most of the last two seasons with Harrisburg City. This year with the Islanders, he was limited to just 15 minutes while floating around several positions.

Brown spent the last four months of the regular season on loan from Jamaican club Harbour View FC. He played in eight games (one start) and scored twice, notching the game-winning goal against Kansas City Aug. 1, then scoring against SKC in a 2-1 win Oct. 18.

Casey, acquired via Stage Two of the 2012 Re-Entry Draft, scoring 18 goals and seven assists in 56 matches with the Union. Casey scored six of his eight MLS goals this season in a six-match stretch from May 31-July 16.

The Union’s roster stands at 24 players ahead of this week’s Expansion Draft (Wednesday) and the two phases of the Re-Entry Draft (Friday, then next Thursday).

Declining options doesn’t close the door to returns for any of the players, though it would be on renegotiated deals. Casey made $192,000 last year. Carroll raked in $185k, while Fred made $65k and Hernandez made $74k.

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