Blogs > Union Tally

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

After extended bench stint, Rosenberry is finding the positives

Keegan Rosenberry, left, seen against Portland's
Marco Farfan in a game in April, hasn't started
an MLS game in more than four months.
(DFM/Mikey Reeves)
CHESTER >> A season ago, Keegan Rosenberry never saw the bench for the Philadelphia Union, making MLS history in the process.

This season, he’s hardly seen the field, in a case of drastic extremes for the second-year pro.

Rosenberry finally return to action in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, his first MLS minutes since May 17. He hasn’t started in more than four months, dating to April 14.

The departure from how Rosenberry began his career is stark: He started each of his first 41 MLS games (including the Union’s playoff ouster in Toronto last fall), the first rookie to play every minute of a 34-game season. From those lofty heights, he’s logged a scant 72 minutes in four months, all in substitute appearances, the last a 16-minute cameo when left back Giliano Wijnaldum picked up an ankle knock. Rosenberry started two U.S. Open Cup matches in that span.

“It’s been fine,” Rosenberry said Tuesday. “For me, it’s just about trying to continue to train hard and stay focused and try to be motivated and help the team in whatever I can do to push the guys in front of me that are playing day in and day out.”

Rosenberry, who finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting, clearly hit a wall late last season. The logic went that a stint to rest and watch from the bench would be beneficial.

But fate has intervened in the plan for a short-term refresher. The Union were winless in Rosenberry’s last 14 starts, and his benching coincided with an uptick in form that rescued hope for 2017. Along the way, Ray Gaddis provided a valuable veteran presence, not relinquishing his spot.

So the MLS All-Star has watched and waited … and hoped to learn.

“It’s not easy,” said Rosenberry, repeating that phrase on several occasions. “It’s the last place you want to be and trying to learn about the game and trying to get better. At the same time, like I said about the frustration in training and not getting selected, it’s the same way when you’re watching the game: You try to use it to your advantage in any way you can. If that’s watching players on other teams in terms of matchups and what you might see, but at the same time, it’s a different perspective and you try to use that to your best benefit.”

Rosenberry was thrown into a difficult position Saturday and didn’t exactly impress. It was on his side of the field that Josh Yaro felled Shea Salinas in the 90th minute for a PK that denied the Union a badly needed three points.

Rosenberry is one of many players who could’ve done better on the sequence, and manager Jim Curtin acknowledges mitigating factors – like the switch of Gaddis from right to left back and the late addition of Marcus Epps for a tiring Chris Pontius on the wing.

“Keegan went into the game, had some decent moments,” Curtin said. “On the penalty kick, didn’t do great to help with Marcus, but again it was a bit of a chain reaction of events. … We had a breakdown on that side, but it was difficult.”

While he may not be polishing his skills in games, Rosenberry has been forced to burnish his mental approach. Beyond platitudes about being a better practice player, you could imagine the temptation to take selection for granted last year when Rosenberry was an automatic selection.
Read more »

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Monday, August 14, 2017

A silent summer: The Union's transfer inaction in context

For Union fans that forgot, this is what unveiling a new signing looks like,
via Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao, left, and forward Dom Dwyer. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union did precisely nothing in the summer transfer window, if you exclude cashing in an unfilled international spot for the equivalent of bus fare from Columbus, the team that could very well usurp them as this year’s sixth and final playoff qualifier. With Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Montreal at home, the Union would seem to be out of the playoff mix – 10th in the East in points-per-game with six of their final 10 games on the road and eight against teams in playoff position. It would take a near-miraculous reversal of fortune in the next two and a half months to change that.

Earnie Stewart spoke last week about the Union’s adherence to their internal plan for growth. Understandably, he follows an organizational compass divorced of outside influences, which is a sound process.

But I want to look at the Union’s summer (in)action in the relative terms of the Eastern Conference, juxtaposed against the teams with which they must vie for playoff positioning. New York City FC and Toronto stood pat, because y’know, they’re in first and second place in the conference. But every other team had fairly recognizable flaws that they repaired. (Standings placement is as of Aug. 6, prior to close of window):

3. Chicago – Christian Dean, Richard Sanchez
4. New York Red Bulls – Fidel Escobar, Muhamed Keita, Dilly Duka
5. Atlanta – Bobby Boswell
6. Columbus – Pedro Santos (DP), lots of allocation money for Krisztian Nemeth and Ethan Finlay
7. Orlando City – Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun (DP), Dillon Powers
9. Montreal –
Shaun Francis, Deian Boldor, Samuel Piette
10. New England – Claude Dielna (DP), Krisztian Nemeth
11. D.C. United – Deshorn Brown, Bruno Miranda, Zoltan Stieber (paid down with TAM), Russel Canouse, Paul Arriola (young DP)

By my count, that’s four new designated players in the East and eight in MLS, if you count Carlos Vela to Los Angeles FC, this summer.
Read more »

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Union-Impact: Lineups and pre-game notes

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McGuire, Fabinho, Marquez, Creavalle, Alberg, Epps, Simpson 

Montreal (4-3-3) 
Bench: Crepeau, Fisher, Francis, Beland-Goyette, Coinere, Salazar, Jackson-Hamel 

- A 3-1 win over FC Dallas last week alleviates the impulse to change for Jim Curtin, who makes just one change in the side enforced by injury. Oguchi Onyewu’s groin injury flared up, so Josh Yaro steps in. Richie Marquez makes his return to the bench. As expected, John McCarthy starts his seventh straight game in net with Andre Blake out again.

- Besides that, it’s the same team that worked so well in attack. Ilsinho is back in the No. 10 spot, with Roland Alberg ready as the super sub role. No Keegan Rosenberry or Derrick Jones, who might be in line for time with Bethlehem in Sunday’s game.

- Montreal is set to hand a debut to Canadian international Samuel Piette in central midfield after signing him from Spanish minor league team Izarra this summer. He moves Hernan Bernardello and Marco Donadel out of the 18 altogether. It’ll be interesting to see how they change shape around them, with Ignacio Piatti’s tendency to drift in off the win and Blerim Dzemaili nominally farther back in the midfield three than his normal No. 10 role. It could come to look more like a 4-2-1-3, with Piette and Patrice Bernier anchoring a triangle with Dzemaili at the point.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The path to the playoffs that still exists for the Union

Fafa Picault and the Union need to keep their eye
on the ball when it comes to getting results
away from home. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
The complexity of the Philadelphia Union often leads to questions asked at cross purposes. The inquiry of if the Union will make the playoffs is a different query than if they can qualify for the postseason.

For a season that is so drastically divergent between home and away, it seems fitting that its overriding logic should endure such a clean fracture.

Now that the questions have been sorted, let’s attend to the answers?

Can the Union make the playoffs? Yes, Jim Curtin is correct in saying that a path exists. His team has been excellent at home, winning seven of eight and holding serve to maintain a place in a crowded playoff hunt, the latest installment a 3-1 controlling of Western Conference elite FC Dallas. In those eight games, the Union have conceded just four total goals, only two of which have come with 22 players on the field.

That hasn’t translated into road results, for reasons that beguile the Union. And should that trend change – or in the mind of Curtin and others, simply normalize, since the Union are probably more talented than a 1-7-3 away mark indicates – then they could make headway.

Now the next question, will the Union make the playoffs? That’s notably thornier. And it probably would require the Union in the final 12 games of the season nearly matching their win total from the first 22 games (seven). Not impossible, but I wouldn't advise running to Vegas to place bets on it.

But in the first week of August, the path to the playoffs exist, and it’s one in which the Union are endowed with the power to craft their journey.

Curtin mentioned the 12-game mini-season that awaited them starting Saturday. Here goes:

Six home games: Dallas (a win), Montreal, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Orlando City

Six away games: San Jose, Toronto, Minnesota, Red Bull, Atlanta, Chicago

That’s a daunting path, but not an impossible one. Let me explain. Read more »

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Union-FC Dallas: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McGuire, Rosenberry, Yaro, Creavalle, Alberg, Epps, Simpson

FC Dallas (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Gonzalez, Cannon, Zimmerman, Hayes, Acosta, Akindele, Colman 

- Oguchi Onyewu surmounts a hamstring issue this week to get in the starting lineup. Still no changes out wide, with both Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho still out in the cold. Rosenberry has not started an MLS game since April 14, making two substitute appearances since. Fabinho has quietly been on the sidelines in MLS since June 18, making one substitute appearance. With the foot speed of Roland Lamah and Michael Barrios on the wings, the speedier Josh Yaro might have been a better bet against a fleet-of-foot Dallas side, but Onyewu has been strong.

- The return of Fafa Picault from a hamstring strain and Ilsinho for Roland Alberg makes two changes for Jim Curtin from the side drubbed, 3-0, by New England last week.

- FC Dallas’ two big changes from a 4-0 beating at the hands of Vancouver last week are mandated by suspensions. Carlos Gruezo’s red card rules him out, while Atiba Harris is out due to yellow-card accumulation. The former absence is mitigated by dropping Victor Ulloa deeper with Carlos Cermeno. Kellyn Acosta is on the bench.

- Neither of the Gold Cup goalies is in play today. Jesse Gonzalez, who played in the Homegrown Game midweek, is on the bench in favor of former Union player Chris Seitz. Andre Blake is still out with that lacerated hand courtesy of Acosta’s cleat in the Gold Cup final.

- Dallas’ strengths in the attacking third drive straight at the fault lines of the Union’s shortcomings: Set piece and incisive winger runs. Matt Hedges is an extremely dangerous aerial threat on corner kicks whipped in by Mauro Diaz, and Dallas is annually one of the top teams in MLS in terms of set-piece goals. Lamah and Barrios are adept at slicing through the space between fullbacks and center backs. For Giliano Wijnaldum on the left, particularly with his penchant for getting forward and leaving a wide space open between he and the left center back, the Union need to be careful in how they limit their vulnerability.

- VAR is here. Your primer is here.

- Let’s put the stakes out there: The Union need a win today against a team they've never beaten. Lose and they risk falling nine points behind Columbus should the Crew win, in addition to being four games under .500. That’s a largely insurmountable deficit, especially if they don’t make the kinds of changes needed to break the inertia.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Taking the bull by the horns: The Union's Dallas drought, in context

Even six years on, this symbolism of FC Dallas' Marvin Chavez, left,
bounding over the Union's Gabriel Farfan remains salient for a club
that has never lost to the Union. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union have never beaten FC Dallas, which in the eighth year of the organization’s existence remains a statement of increasingly bemusing fact. That 0-5-4 record sounds like a lot of futility – perhaps not for the Union, who are also winless in 10 games against Real Salt Lake (0-7-3), including a 1-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium May 27.

So naturally I wondered, how unusual is that? And in answering that question, I had to naturally turn to the great resource that is the MLS Facts and Record Book. MLS has endured a ton of expansion in the last decade or so, with teams’ staggered entrances allowing all manner of dips and rises in form that would seem to allow opportunities to win. MLS’s enforced parity makes it hard to make blanked statements about organizations always being good or bad. (I realize the opening this leaves for a Union joke, but let’s move on. Or at least save it for later.)

If we exclude the recent bursts of expansion – i.e. New York City and Orlando City in 2015; Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC in 2017 – how many MLS franchises are without a win against another franchise all-time in MLS games?

Well, the Union are exemplary, and not in a good way. There are only three instances of a team having played more than three times without beating an opponent, and the Union own two of them.

The other is Chicago, which is 0-4-4 all-time against Portland since the Timbers’ elevation to MLS in 2011, including a 2-2 draw a month ago.

The only other two winless records in four or more meetings are the Union against FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. A fourth such string between San Jose and Montreal was alleviated in the 2017 opener, when in their sixth meeting the Quakes finally got the better of the Impact.

Even if you include the two 2015 expansion sides, winless spans are tremendously rare. In year three, Orlando City has beaten all but four MLS teams – Dallas, San Jose, Seattle and Vancouver. The Lions have only played Dallas and Vancouver twice, with their 2017 meetings looming this season. Four MLS teams have never beaten Orlando City: Colorado, Portland, Real Salt Lake and San Jose. (No, that overlap isn’t in error; San Jose and Orlando City have drawn all three meetings.)

New York City’s zeroes club is at three apiece – having never beaten Dallas, Kansas City and Real Salt Lake; having never lost to Colorado, Houston and San Jose. Three of those six teams still have to play NYCFC this season.

That leaves only the three bona fide streaks – Union-RSL, Union-Dallas and Chicago-Portland – on the list of protracted winless streaks, one of which can be evicted this weekend.

However, let me offer a modicum of solace to Union fans, something that next week’s opponent Montreal will never gain relief of. Forever and all time, let it be known that Montreal will never have a win against Chivas USA, posting an 0-2-1 record in three all-time meetings across the three seasons the Impact coexisted with the defunct side. At least the Union can, theoretically, improve their goose egg.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

VAR comes to town: Your primer on the new system

Howard Webb reminding you to keep your hands and arms
inside the VAR at all times
Somewhere around minute 10 of MLS’s series of videos on the use of the video assistant referee (or VAR), once the novelty of Howard Webb’s accent and the EPCOT Center ride background music wore off, I figured I’d spare casual fans from having to sort through the vagaries of VAR, which arrives in full force this weekend. The Union’s game with FC Dallas Saturday night is one of the first in the league (and the world) in which the system will be utilized, which may lead to some kinks worked out on the fly. Plenty has been written on the subject, but here are the nuts and bolts.

I should say that MLS’s videos make things pretty easy to understand and Webb has become an important spokesperson for implementing this system, so if you have time to, by all means enjoy. But if you don’t – or you just want to preserve the pristine mental image of a beardless Webb – then allow me to distill the main points.

Two phrases are key. “Attacking phase of play” (APP) is the contiguous possession of the ball by a team that leads to a reviewable instance, which I’ll list shortly. Any of the numerated mistakes that occur during the APP are up for review, either to the benefit or detriment of the offending team.

Another is “clear and obvious mistake.” Video reviews are initiated by the VAR, who is constantly monitoring game actions on the sidelines and can signal to the head referee the suspicion of a “clear and obvious mistake.” The head referee can then decide to take a further look and makes the decision of whether there is conclusive video evidence to change the call.

Four categories of "match-changing" events can be reviewed: Goals, penalty kicks, red cards and mistaken identity. We’ll take them one by one.

- Goals. The most simple goal review is if a ball fully crosses the line. But there’s much more to review, which is where the APP comes into play. The VAR can recommend for review the following events in the APP: handball by the attacking team, offside by the attacking team, foul by the attacking team or whether the ball goes out of play.

- Penalty kicks. This applies to PKs awarded and not awarded. In addition to the basic review of the actual infraction or non-infraction in the box, the VAR can recommend for review other elements of the APP, including handball by the attacking team, offside by the attacking team, foul by the attacking team or whether the ball goes out of play.

- Red cards. Review is applicable only to straight red cards or infractions where a foul or yellow card is awarded but the VAR believes it’s possible a “clear and obvious” red is missed. (Here’s where things can get squirrely.) VAR can, then, recommend a yellow be reviewed to determine if it should’ve been a red, but can’t recommend a yellow, even a second yellow, be reviewed to determine if it wasn’t a yellow. (In this instance, the “clear and obvious mistake” mantra is vital to differentiate the VAR’s conception of a red vs. the head referee’s so as not to bring two judgement calls into conflict.) In this instance, the APP applies to the passage of play before the red card occurs to see if an infraction by the attacking team was missed that would’ve terminated play prior to the red. This is particularly prevalent in the red for the denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, or DOGSO.

- Mistaken identity. This one is self-explanatory and, thankfully, rare. This is applicable for all applications of "disciplinary action," i.e. reds and yellows.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The sophomore slump: On Keegan Rosenberry and a draft class in limbo

It's been nearly four months since Keegan Rosenberry, seen here in
the U.S. Open Cup fifth round at Red Bull Arena, has found his way
into a starting lineup for an MLS game with the Union. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
Of the first 3,690 possible minutes in Keegan Rosenberry’s MLS career, the defender played 3,684.

In the Union’s last 16 MLS games, a span of 1,440 possible minutes, Rosenberry has played 56, all the while healthy as a horse and rotting on the bench.

That stat seems unthinkable for a player who so impressed last year that he became an MLS All-Star, Rookie of the Year runner-up and earned a call to a U.S. national team camp. But a year on, Rosenberry finds himself the subject of an incomprehensible stat: The native of Ronks hasn’t started an MLS game since April 14.

So how exactly did a player that was the apple of manager Jim Curtin’s eye come to such a pass? And when will he pull out of this spiral?

“It’s earned in training each and every day,” Curtin said Wednesday at his weekly press conference when asked what Rosenberry would have to do to play again. “I had a good talk with him today, keeping him posted and improve on in training. Defensively, different ideas of staying right off the outside (shoulder) of your center back. Keegan’s going to be a big part of the future of this club. I know he’s frustrated. He wants to get on the field where he can help the group. And that’s something that he’s working to improve each and every day. But again, it’s earned in training, and it’s earned in the 90 minutes. He’ll have another opportunity at some point. When that point comes, he’ll be called upon to be ready.”

That non-answer treads very close to the John Hackworth era “he has to play to be fit, and has to be fit to play” circularity. And it speaks to a frightening correction for a player who exceeded his anticipated talent ceiling last year and has plummeted through his talent floor this year.

Cracks formed in Rosenberry’s game late last year. An accomplished one-on-one defender early, teams started to figure out how to attack him, isolating him and forcing tough decisions on him by exploiting seams of space left by the positional awareness of what was, to be fair, a 22-year-old rookie. He contributed to and was dragged down by a collective malaise to end last season by conceding 17 goals in a nine-game winless streak, playoff cameo included. His gifts were obvious, but so too were flaws, including a youthful tendency to play out sequences instead of ending them early with a swift kick out of bounds.

So this year, when the Union tumbled and Curtin sought to stanch defensive bleeding, Rosenberry made sense as a temporary change. Ray Gaddis has stepped in and played capably, the defense has stabilized and Curtin hasn’t wanted to mess with a good thing that, for the Union’s lowly table placement, is the fourth stingiest defense in the East. Read more »

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Monday, July 31, 2017

The road leads home: How road wins, home losses shape MLS playoff candidacy

The smiles for Marcus Epps and his Union teammates at home last Wednesday
quickly evaporated in a road loss to New England Saturday. (AP)
Discussion around the Union last week followed a predictable tack. After three straight road contests and no wins, the latest a punchless performance in Columbus, the Union returned home to thoroughly dominate the Crew, then again pulled up stakes for New England only to be routed in similar fashion.

The trends were so obvious as to warrant discussion in Jim Curtin’s two press addresses: That the Union have excelled at home yet failed to translate that form into anything close on the road. The path to the postseason for the Union (7-10-5, 26 points) is quite clearly laid out. With 18 available points in their six remaining home games and 44 points likely insufficient to earn the sixth and final playoff berth, the Union need to be spotless at home the rest of the way and steal a couple of results away from home. That’s a lot of questions about “must-wins” headed the way of Curtin and his players in the next couple of months.

There’s another way to look at that conundrum, beyond the cold standings arithmetic. The Union in 2017 have one away win, a 4-0 stomping of 10-man and last-place D.C. United May 13. The club has three times lost at Talen Energy Stadium – April 8 to Portland and April 14 to New York City FC as part of the eight-game winless streak that stopped the season’s progress before it really started; then June 18 to the Red Bulls thanks in part to Derrick Jones’ red card.

That ratio, of road wins to home losses (let’s call it RW/HL), isn’t much talked about in MLS (or really anywhere). But it’s a potent determinant of playoff fate.

The big advantage

Home-field advantage in MLS is a much talked about concept, one that is more pronounced than in other leagues worldwide. Some of the reasons are obvious. Take the English Premier League, for instance, which draws its teams from a country roughly the size of Alabama (notwithstanding the Welsh clubs, Swansea City and Cardiff City). In any given year, five or six teams hail from Greater London, which means that a London club will have only a dozen or so true “away” games. One cross-country flight in MLS can cover more miles in a weekend than a Premier League club will log all season.
Read more »

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Pontius stays in the moment to relish Gold Cup triumph

Chris Pontius, center standing to left of trophy, was elated over the U.S.'s win
in the Gold Cup final Wednesday, a special moment in his career
no matter what comes next for him in the national team picture.  (AP)
CHESTER >> To many in the media, the biennial CONCACAF Gold Cup is often portrayed as a means to an end – toward individual placement on the squad for the next World Cup, for national entrée to the FIFA Confederations Cup.

But for players, the scope is necessarily more granular, about one practice or game at a time. And when there’s reason to celebrate, it’s about savoring the moment.

That’s how the Union’s Chris Pontius relished in the U.S.’s victory in the tournament, sealed by a dramatic 2-1 finale Wednesday night over Jamaica at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

“It’s pretty special,” Pontius said Friday at Union training, his first full day back with the club. “With the national team, a lot of the guys were talking, even the guys that have been around the national team a long time, there’s not many times you get a chance to win trophies. So you enjoy it. That’s my second (trophy) now, with the 2013 Open Cup (with D.C. United), and I’ve lost in the finals of the Open Cup and been close to getting into the finals in other things.

“It’s special to raise silverware in something and when you’re done, I think that’s what you look back on, those moments, in the locker room after and enjoying it with the guys.”

Pontius appeared in three of the U.S.’s six games, added as an injury replacement for Kenny Saief. He started one group stage game and was a late sub in the quarterfinal win over El Salvador at Lincoln Financial Fried. He played no part in the 2-0 win over Costa Rica in the semifinal and the triumph over Jamaica, sealed by a Jordan Morris bolt into the top corner in the 88th minute.

Pontius is up to five career caps, all earned in 2017.

For many fringe players, particularly those based in MLS, the Gold Cup was a chance to impress Bruce Arena in the absence of many mainstays ramping up in the European preseason. Read more »

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Monday, July 24, 2017

The imperfect 10: Union's struggles lead straight through middle of the pitch

For Roland Alberg and the Union attack, there hasn't been much
to smile about the last three games. (For DFM/Mikey Reeves)
In their last three games, the latest a 1-0 loss to Columbus Saturday night, the Union have all of four shots on target, including a penalty kick. That is suboptimal; with the club amidst a stretch of winnable games against Eastern Conference opposition, it’s one of the worst times this could occur.

Connecting the dots here isn’t difficult. The Union aren’t creating chances why? Because they lack an elite chance creator in their front four. Specifically, they lack anything approaching a standout No. 10 in a system that demands one.

My position on this matter is on record: The Union should sell out this summer, find their starting No. 10 of the future and cut bait on options whose contracts can be escaped at season’s end. But I think that argument requires a little refinement. So allow me three points to burnish that position:

- The 90-minute fallacy. Roland Alberg is playing the best soccer of his Union tenure. Ilsinho can be one of the league’s premier game-changers. These are positions that manager Jim Curtin has advanced about his existing options in the middle of the pitch.

Both are patently false. And even if there are slivers of truth, they are overridden by a singular verity: Neither is a 90-minute performer in MLS.

This is beyond the realm of speculation; it’s verifiably proven. Alberg has logged the full 90 minutes four times in 41 MLS matches, 18 of them starts. (Yes, through a season and a half, Alberg is averaging 12 starts a season.) The adjustment phase has ended; we’re seeing Roland Alberg for what he is.

Ilsinho has gone 90 minutes just twice in 41 MLS matches, 29 starts. He turns 32 in October. His fitness drastically improving is about as likely as me hitting that elusive growth spurt to get on NBA teams’ radars.

Neither is a 90-minute player. As evidence, I submit that neither has ever been a 90-minute player in MLS.

- Not exactly apple pie. The argument I got plenty of on Twitter Saturday night was what I fear will remain in vogue for a while: The season’s lost, let Adam Najem play. Indeed, the Union have two creative midfield options of the future in Najem and newly signed Homegrown Player Anthony Fontana, whose contract goes into effect in Jan. 2018. That’s solid depth, so why not cultivate it?
Read more »

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Pontius gets warm welcome from hometown fans in Philly

His third cap in four Gold Cup games was extra special for Chris Pontius,
right, in Philadelphia Wednesday. (AP)
PHILADELPHIA >> The roar was pronounced as Chris Pontius readied on the sidelines.

The other two U.S. subs Wednesday night in a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinals at Lincoln Financial Field were greeted warmly, for sure. But the passion behind the reception for the Philadelphia Union midfielder was something he noticed right away.

“It was great,” Pontius said. “I had some chants going up for me, too, which was nice as well. It was special for me.”

Wednesday’s appearance was a short cameo, Pontius entering in the 87th minute for Darlington Nagbe, the U.S. well on its way to salting away the win and a berth in the semis. But as Pontius has cemented a spot in the rotation under manager Bruce Arena, this appearance brought something special.

Not that Pontius, who scored 12 goals for the Union last year and is second on the team this season with six assists despite still being in search of his first goal, needed reinforcement that he’s arrived in Philly. He played at an all-star caliber level last year, his first with the Union after seven with D.C. United, the last several blighted by recurrent leg injuries. It helped him return to the U.S. fold after six years in the wilderness.

Wednesday’s rousing welcome reinforced the point.

“That was nice,” he said. “It was definitely special for me. Just to have it here in Philly, it was a great. … I think I settled in pretty well last year. I think you saw that in my play last year. I always said it was credit to the staff and credit to the guys around me because they made me feel at home right away and it was my first time in a professional environment moving teams, so it was tough for me. Philly has welcomed me with open arms.”

Pontius has also settled into a role under Arena. He’s made five appearances this year, two in January friendlies after the offseason camp and now three in four Gold Cup games. He might not yet be at first-choice status for World Cup qualifiers, but he’s an important role player in a tournament like this that requires depth and a certain tactical flexibility.

And he’s got reason to believe his role with the team in the competition isn’t done.

“We did what we needed to do, and still we weren’t as clean as we know we needed to be,” he said. “We just need to improve on all the little things. The name of the game in this is win and move on, and we’ve done that.”

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