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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Union-Impact: Lineups and pregame obersvations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Blake, White, Williams, Fred, Wenger, Casey, Hoppenot

Montreal Impact (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Kronberg, Reo-Coker, Donadel, Soumare, Tissot, Lefevre, McInerney

- As I alluded to in the preview, a lot of the focus on this sloppy day will be on the wings. Two of the most consistent performers for Montreal are Ambroise Oyongo and Donny Toia. They’ll be on the right and left, respectively, pitted against Ray Gaddis and Fabinho. Getting to the byline in the wet conditions will be vital. It’s also an area in which the Union, thanks to the rotation of Sheanon Williams, Fabinho and Gaddis, have some of their freshest legs.

- Montreal makes five changes from midweek, including former Union man Bakary Soumare headed to the bench for Victor Cabrera. Dily Duka is one to watch back from injury, while Patrice Bernier and Callum Mallace mean the Impact make wholesale changes in central midfield.

- Much of the attention will be trained up top for both teams. Dominic Oduro starts up top for the Union, but Jack McInerney will likely feature at some point, returning to PPL Park to play against the club that drafted him and for which he is the second-leading scorer all-time. The Union’s danger man is CJ Sapong, who is tied with McInerney for the franchise record of most consecutive games with a goal scored with four. He has six goals this season. Both sides of the McInerney-Andrew Wenger trade start on the bench tonight.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Winging it: Parsing the mystery that has been Andrew Wenger

There’s one significant conundrum on the Union that seems particularly relevant this week.

Actually, it’s a two-part quandary.
Andrew Wenger, seen against Rochester Rhinos in the U.S. Open Cup
last week, is still looking for his first goal of the season.
(Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

The first is just what has happened to the prolific Andrew Wenger that bedeviled opposing defenses last season as the Union surged from MLS basement to U.S. Open Cup final. The second installment is just how Wenger has managed to hold down a regular spot in the starting XI for a Union side in obvious need of an offensive boost not named CJ Sapong. The second part of the question is easier to answer: Wenger, while struggling offensively, has been a near-automatic selection for lack of other options, largely due to a bevy of injuries. Eric Ayuk’s defense remains suspect, as is Cristian Maidana’s when deployed on the wing (or centrally, to be fair).

It’s added up to Wenger, who’s somehow magically avoided the Union’s rampant injury bug, being second on the team in minutes played with 1,287, trailing only Maurice Edu (1,530). Wenger has played in all 18 games, the only Union player with that distinction, starting all but one. He hasn’t gone 90 minutes, though, since April 16. He logged 61 in Wednesday’s win over Seattle, drawing a penalty by catching Dylan Remick’s boot in the face.

It’s possible that some of that could change this weekend when the Union take on Wenger’s former team, Montreal. But again, that decision for manager Jim Curtin isn’t so cut and dry.

First and foremost, Curtin understands both sides of the equation as to why Wenger should see his minutes cut and why they haven’t been. Wenger has provided value defensively with his work rate, willingness to track back and his aerial prowess on clearing set pieces. But that’s not enough, not when one of the main facets of an attack not exactly boasting an explosive arsenal can endure half a season without a goal and just two assists (tally in a friendly against Reading not withstanding), especially given that his opposite winger, Sebastien Le Toux, is usually the one lauded for defensive cognizance.

Read more »

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Union meet a familiar Open Cup foe, plus a Palacios update

Could a move for Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios, left,
be in the cards for the Union? (AP)
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup got the fumbling-executive treatment by U.S. Soccer for its fifth round draw Thursday, which landed the Philadelphia Union another date with D.C. United.

The Union will host that match June 30 at PPL Park at 7:30. It’s the fourth time in six seasons that the teams are drawn together, with D.C. advancing in two of the previous three meetings (including in 2011 for what was technically a “play-in round.”) The Union beat D.C. United, 1-0, at PPL Park May 17 before dropping a controversial 2-1 decision at RFK Stadium May 30.

The winner of that game will travel to the winner of the New York Derby between the Cosmos, the last NASL squad left standing, and Red Bulls. The Round of 16 clash will occur July 21-22.

Whichever team prevails from the “East Region” in this year’s newly-instituted fixed bracket will host the semifinal against the survivor of the “South Region” from the quartet of Chicago, Orlando City, Columbus and the last remaining USL side, the Charlotte Independence. Semis will be held Aug. 11-12.

The draw for the host of the final will be performed prior to the semifinals, with the final date set at Sept. 29 or 30.

The Union advanced to the final of last year’s competition, losing the final at PPL Park to Seattle, 3-1 after extra time. The Union hosted four games in the tournament, only having to travel to FC Dallas for the semifinal.


One other bit of news: Manager Jim Curtin confirmed that Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios’ trial has ended. He didn’t rule out a deal for the 30-year-old defensive midfielder, but indications are that the Union would have to clear space under MLS guidelines – likely in terms of international spots, money under the cap and/or roster spots – to make a deal for a player like Palacios work.

“We’ll evaluate things a little further,” Curtin said. “We’ll have talks with ownership and see what makes the most sense for the club and for his agent as well and make a decision that’s best for the team.”

Palacios was released by English Premier League club Stoke City after four injury-plagued seasons in May. He’s been in England since 2007, playing in the Premier League for Birmingham City, Wigan and Tottenham. He’s been capped 97 times for his country, representing them at the last two World Cups.

The MLS transfer window opens July 8, and Palacios would be ineligible to play before then.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Union 1-0 Reading: Observations from Exeter

I took the drive up to scenic Exeter High School Tuesday evening primarily to work on something from the Reading United side, a feature on former Union U-18 product and Haverford School grad Brett Campbell, a junior at Georgetown who has had a torrid start to the summer.

There was more to see than just the handful of Reading standouts, though, in the Union’s 1-0 friendly win at Don Thomas Stadium. A few observations from the game:

- We have an Andrew Wenger goal sighting. It took Reading’s third goalie of the night crashing into a defender as he tried to collect a header by Steven Vitoria off a free kick, but hey, Wenger kicked a ball into the back of the net and then the ref blew the whistle and the scoreboard changed. That should be a win for Wenger considering how his season has gone, plus there’s the added bonus of doing it against his former team. It goes without saying how badly the Union need him to get going.

- The Union started the same lineup as Saturday (with the exception of John McCarthy in for Bryan Sylvestre), which was essentially the same lineup as last Wednesday (minus CJ Sapong for Fernando Aristeguieta), which was the same lineup as the previous Saturday. For nine outfield players, that’s four starts in 11 days. Granted, most only played for 30 minutes or a half in a glorified practice session, plus it’s a bit of a reward for the 1,200 Reading fans that showed up, one of the biggest crowds for a friendly in the teams’ partnership that created a really great atmosphere.

- Only two players went 90 minutes Tuesday: Richie Marquez and McCarthy. Remember that McCarthy must be the Union’s goalie in next Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match with Rochester since Sylvestre is Cup-tied.

- Tuesday was the first match in a Union kit for rookie Eric Bird, who started the season injured. More on that in Thursday’s paper. Read more »

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Putting numbers to the Union's injury nightmare

The Union's lineup vs. D.C. United Saturday and Columbus Wednesday,
a rare repeat XI for Jim Curtin. (
Jim Curtin hasn’t been one to make excuses this season. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have an ample supply at the ready.

We know that injuries have persistently befallen the Union this season. But the number of absences has really been remarkable.

And Saturday, that total will eclipse the amount of injuries from all of last season even before hitting the halfway mark of 2015.

First, consider the lineup changes. The Union have played 15 MLS matches. They’ve fielded 14 unique lineups. Not until the 3-0 win over Columbus Wednesday did Curtin pencil in the same starting IX for a second time this season (and it withstood all of 37 minutes). That’s what happens when you use three goalies, five center back pairings and flip briefly between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations.

The root cause of that upheaval has been the bevy of injuries sustained.

Note: Though MLS’s rules on injury reporting have improved significantly, they’re by no means standardized (and still voluntarily self-reported, which makes this database essentially nonviable), and the line between injured and unfit and eligible-but-overlooked is blurry. Antoine Hoppenot’s current hamstring issue, for which he’s still listed as questionable after being out then making the bench May 17 against D.C. United, is an example of one where the demarcations between fit and not selected aren’t clear. (As such, I don’t include injuries to Pedro Ribeiro and Richie Marquez to start last season and Eric Bird at the beginning of this season since they were likely to be absent even if healthy.) The numbers also don’t include the proportion of missed starts due to injury, like when Vincent Nogueira’s ankle knock allowed him to travel to Sporting Kansas City with very little real threat of playing. That means that numbers below are educated estimates, but the conclusion they illustrate even through the fuzziness is vivid.

By the best estimates last season, the Union lost 53 man games to injuries suffered by 14 players. They also suffered six one-game suspensions.

This season, through a mere 15 matches, the Union have lost 51 man games with injuries, affecting 14 players. With Conor Casey, Steven Vitoria, Andre Blake and Michael Lahoud not yet back to full fitness, they’ll certainly exceed last year's benchmark in Saturday’s visit from New York City FC. The 51 games through 15 matches puts them on pace for 115 man games lost over a 34-game campaign. That's in addition to nine game lost to suspensions, another figure that exceeds last season's.

Making things worse is how many different players have been bitten by the injury bug. It’s not as though one or two players have missed the entire season, skewing the number to the high side. Of the 11 players Curtin named in the starting lineup Wednesday, five had missed time this season, and the doesn't include the "play without training" plan that many, including Fernando Aristeguieta and Nogueira, were placed on of necessity at various points.

Here’s the grim reading of injuries:

2014 man games lost: Austin Berry 7, Danny Cruz 6, Sheanon Williams 5, Cristian Maidana 5, Conor Casey 5, Vincent Nogueira 4, Sebastien Le Toux 4, Ethan White 4, Zach Pfeffer 4, Brian Carroll 3, Fabinho 2, Michael Lahoud 2, Maurice Edu 1, Fred 1. Total: 53.

2015 man games lost: Andre Blake 10,* Steven Vitoria 6,* Michael Lahoud 5,* Conor Casey 5,* Antoine Hoppenot 5, Vincent Nogueira 3, Cristian Maidana 3, CJ Sapong 3, Raymond Lee 3, Sheanon Williams 2, Fabinho 2, Fernando Aristeguieta 2, John McCarthy 1, Ray Gaddis 1. Total: 51.

* absence ongoing

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Red Bulls-Union: Lineups and pregame observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Wenger-Maidana-Le Toux
Bench: McCarthy, Lee, McLaughlin, Pfeffer, Sapong, Fred, Ayuk.

New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Reynish, Lade, Jean-Baptiste, Richards, Davis, Obekop, Abang

- Jim Curtin has stated that he’s not a fan of making changes after a win. So after the Union’s win last week against D.C. United, the manager’s changes are limited to necessity. Curtin will again go with Brian Sylvestre, who didn’t make a save in earning the shutout over D.C. as well as sticking with Brian Carroll and Conor Casey, the veteran fulcrum that helped spearhead a victory that ended a four-game losing streak.

- The changes are enforced at the back, where Maurice Edu (yellow-card accumulation) and Ray Gaddis (ankle) are absent in addition to the ongoing injury to Steven Vitoria (groin/knee). That forces Richie Marquez into the fray for his second MLS start and third appearance to pair with Ethan White, while Fabinho is on the left and Sheanon Williams flips back to the right.

- That backline will have a ton of pressure to withstand against the midfield trio of Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam and Mike Grella. Combined with Dax McCarty’s ability to break up attacks and Bradley Wright-Phillips’ tendency to punish mistakes, the Union have to be clinical in burying chances when they arise, which falls particularly on Casey and the struggling wingers.

- The flipside is that the Union have holes they can exploit in the New York defense. Roy Miller pairs centrally with Karl Ouimette, with both Damien Perrinelle and Ronald Zubar out and Matt Maizga on international duty. That’s a defense that the Union should be able to score against.

- The key player for the Union today could be Vincent Nogueira. He’s surrounded by players not particularly skilled in keeping possession or completing passes. That puts a huge onus on the Frenchman to do that and make sure the Union can both push for goals and restrict New York possessions. 

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Friday, May 8, 2015

The Union and slows starts: A dire history

Union manager Jim Curtin has joined some undistinguished
Union coaching company with the slow start to 2015.
(Times Staff/Rick Kauffman)
The Philadelphia Union are struggling. That isn’t in much question, certainly not after last Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Toronto FC, which sealed the Union’s worst 10-game start to a season in terms of points.

Some of this alarming trend has already been explained by my colleague Kevin Kinkead in a recent post, but it’s worth digging a little bit deeper to put numbers to the overarching measure of the Union’s futility, which includes just two wins in the last 17 matches.

First off, the Union are 1-6-3 through the first 10 games. How does that compare to previous years? Not well:

2015: 1-6-3, 6 points
2014: 1-4-5, 8 points
2013: 4-3-3, 15 points
2012: 2-6-2, 8 points
2011: 5-3-2, 17 points
2010: 2-7-1, 7 points

The Union aren’t generally quick starters, but this is sluggish even by their standards. There’s a clear delineation between the season in which they made the playoffs (2011), the season in which they contended for the playoffs into the fall (2013) and the rest of the disastrous campaigns.

But the numbers are even grimmer than that. Not only is this the Union’s worst 10-game start to a season; it ties the worst 10-game stretch in franchise history. It joins the run from the April 5, 2014 draw with Chicago to the May 25 loss to L.A. Galaxy as the lowest points total over 10 matches. (That was also a 1-6-3 stretch.) The consideration of 10-game streaks includes ones that bridge the gap between multiple seasons.

Perhaps most alarming for manager Jim Curtin is this: Each of the last two managers of the Union was axed after a slow start. Then again, “slow” is a relative term:

Peter Nowak, 2012: Fired after 11 games, 2-7-2 record, 8 points, 0.72 points per game
John Hackworth, 2014: Fired after 15 games, 3-6-6, 15 points, 0.94 ppg 
Curtin, 2015: Through 10 games, 1-6-3, 6 points, 0.60 ppg

It’s important to stress that each of these situations is vastly, vastly different, and the numbers are no guarantee.

But as they stack up, Curtin needs some wins quickly to catch up to the pace of his predecessors. He needs a win against Vancouver Saturday to better Nowak’s ill-fated past, and it’ll take pretty close to a result in every game (over a very tough schedule) in the next three to improve on Hackworth’s record.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Union-TFC: Lineups and observations

UNION (4-2-3-1)
Bench: Blake, Marquez, Fabinho, Fred, McLaughlin, Casey, Le Toux

Toronto FC (4-4-2)
Bench: Roberts, Creavalle, Zavaleta, Lovitz, Warner, Moore, Osorio

- Whatever Jim Curtin’s plan was this week was likely scrapped Friday with news that CJ Sapong would be suspended indefinitely after a DUI arrest that requires entering MLS’ Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) program. Curtin had tipped him to be an option on the win, but instead, the struggling Andrew Wenger will have to struggle through their issues on the field instead of on the bench.

- One absence was expected, the other a later fitness test. But the Union will be without two components of the team’s spine in Vincent Nogueira (ankle) and Steven Vitoria (groin). That leaves Ethan White to return to central defense while Zach Pfeffer pairs Michael Lahoud in midfield. Against Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, that’s a tall, tall task for the Union.

- As anticipated, Chris Konopka gets the nod in the goal for TFC, his first appearance since 2012 … with the Union … against TFC. More on that here. The Union, meanwhile, go with John McCarthy for a fifth straight game. He’s given up eight goals in his first four starts.

- On the bright side, the Union are 6-2-4 all-time vs. Toronto, their last loss coming in May 2012, that game Konopka started. On the downside, they are beat up and in desperate need of a result, and desperation rarely breeds success in PPL Park.

- In addition to Toronto’s Big 3, Greg Vanney goes attacking with Robbie Findley as a winger in the 4-4-2. Union got torn up on the wings last week in Columbus, and even with Sheanon Williams back in the side, Vanney sees an exploitable battle.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Sapong suspended indefinitely after DUI/reckless driving arrest

The Philadelphia Union will be without forward CJ Sapong indefinitely after he was arrested early Friday morning and charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence, requiring that he be assessed by MLS’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH), per a club release.

Per the rules of that program, Sapong must be cleared by doctors and a league investigation before playing in any games with the club.

“We were alerted to the situation this morning and have been in contact with the league office, law enforcement and C.J.’s family,” Union technical director Chris Albright said in a team statement. “Moving forward, we will continue to work together with the League in following the appropriate procedures. We will have further comment once more information is available.”

The SABH is a long-held program within MLS, though one that’s seldom invoked. It was used in the case of Edson Buddle in 2005 in Columbus, Shalrie Joseph in New England in 2010, Josh Williams in Columbus in 2011 and Philly-area natives Jeff Parke and Jon Conway in New York in 2009.

Parke, Conway and Williams were suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. In those cases, the penalties were set at 10 games and a 10 percent docking of salary at the announcement of entering the program. Sapong’s appears to be more in line with Joseph’s and Buddle’s given the open-ended nature of the announcement.

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An unlikely reunion: Konopka in line to start at PPL Park Saturday

There is goalkeeping news surrounding the Philadelphia Union’s meeting with Toronto FC, and for once, it’s not involving the Union.

While there’s a little intrigue in Philly – Jim Curtin said Wednesday that he’s leaning toward John McCarthy as the starter for a fifth straight game as Andre Blake continues his recovery from knee surgery – it’s the visitors to PPL Park that will have a goalie change, which involves a familiar face.

Toronto manager Greg Vanney said this week that if starter Joe Bendik, who is suffering from a plantar fascia strain in his foot, can’t go, Chris Konopka would be the starter.

Well, Bendik is listed as out on MLS’ injury report, and while a post on TFC’s site has him officially questionable, the team’s probable lineup features Konopka in goal.

If Konopka gets the nod, it’ll be his second MLS appearance in his sixth MLS season. The 2007 SuperDraft pick and native of Toms River, N.J., spent three seasons playing for Irish clubs Bohemians, Sporting Fingal and Waterford United.

Konopka’s last MLS appearance came with the Union May 26, 2012, the final MLS match in Peter Nowak’s reign, against … you guessed it, Toronto. That game, a 1-0 loss at BMO Field, was the first win for Toronto after nine straight losses to start a season that featured just five wins, one of the worst in MLS history. The goal was provided by ill-fated designated player Danny Koevermans, who called time on his career after a litany of injuries. It’s worth taking a look at the lineups, which included the unforgettable left-flank pairing of midfielder Kai Herdling and back Gabe Farfan. Who would’ve imagined Nowak was losing the plot?
Read more »

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Union-Crew postgame: Quotes from Curtin, Carroll on 4-1 loss

Jim Curtin isn't one to mince words. The Union delivered a performance in Saturday's 4-1 loss that earned them no right to sugarcoating. And that's what they got in Curtin's postmatch assessment. Some quotes from Curtin in Columbus:

Jim Curtin

On the match:

I actually thought the first 15 minutes, our guys came out and played very well. From that point on, we got embarrassed for the rest of the first half. We came in at halftime, talked about guys showing more commitment, showing me who wants to be on the field and be with the group. I thought we actually pushed the game a little bit and had a decent second half. But credit to Columbus. They’re a great team. They’re in good form right now, they’re confident and I think they’re a top team in our league.

On what to take from the game:
We’ll look at the tape. We’ll probably have some changes to our XI, that’s for sure. Any time you give up four goals, there’s some issues in the whole group. So we’ll look at it from the forwards all the way back to the goalkeeper and we’ll evaluate everything in between and put the best group on the field to get a result against Toronto.

On how the team will react:
They’re professionals, so they’re embarrassed. We got our asses kicked tonight. It’s unacceptable. We have to get up off the mat, though. We want guys that are going to stick with this thing. I learned a lot about a lot of players tonight, and the guys that stuck with it and pushed and the guys who bailed out. You want to be able to look yourself in the mirror after the game and say that you gave everything. That’s what we talked about before the game, and I think we got a lot of answers especially in the second half, and guys stuck with it.

Brian Carroll
On the match:
I thought the guys kept fighting even though we didn’t start off well and we had to claw ourselves back. Everyone stuck together and kept on working for one another. Shows me we’re still together and we’re ready to pick ourselves up and do better going forward.

On preparing for Toronto:
Really, we’re just looking for a win any way we can get it. Whether that’s making our own luck, whether that’s luck that happens, we’ll take it. We just want to stick together, work hard and do what needs to be done to get a win.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'Here, that's not a foul': Aristeguieta on adjusting to MLS's physicality

Fernando Aristeguieta is voicing his opinion
on what it takes to get a foul called in MLS.
The consensus among new arrivals to MLS is that the league’s physicality is among the most difficult aspects of the league to get acclimated to.

Fernando Aristeguieta is not exempt from that adjustment, a process which has forced the Venezuelan forward to recalibrate his definition of a foul.

It’s been fairly obvious to those watching Aristeguieta this season that he’s taken a beating. But he’s still getting used to what constitutes a foul and what the requisite level of punishment is to get a foul called in his favor.

Aristeguieta, near MLS’s lead in more auspicious categories like shots (fourth with 25) and shots on goal (third with 12), is tied for 20th in fouls suffered (15). He’s second on the Union in that category, trailing only the 17 fouls incurred by Maurice Edu. Five of those fouls came in the opener against foul-happy Colorado, including two punished by yellow cards.

It doesn’t help that the on-loan forward has suffered a pair of non-contact/accidental injuries, partially tearing a quad and getting stepped on by Sporting Kansas City’s Ike Opara to fracture his ring finger.

Aristeguieta’s ability to take those injuries in stride shows that he’s a gamer. But stomaching the inconsistencies of MLS refereeing is a more difficult feat.
Read more »

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