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

Friday, June 30, 2017

After the Cup: Union training notes, June 30

In his first 'real game' with the Union, rookie Adam Najem impressed Wednesday.
(For Digital First Media/Mikey Reeves)
The Union are facing the last two installments of six games in 21 days, and the more granular stretch is a Wednesday-Sunday-Thursday span around the Fourth of July in an quirky schedule. The big news from training Friday was the return to full work for Maurice Edu, who’s approaching two years since his last Union game. You can read his reaction to this step in his recovery here.

A few other notes to send you into your holiday weekend:

- Let’s start on a positive note, shall we? Jim Curtin on Roland Alberg in Wednesday’s PK loss to the New York Red Bulls in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup: “I thought Roland Alberg had his best performance in a Philadelphia Union jersey. He was excellent.” Alberg scored in the 86th minute to send the game to extra time.

- Injury updates bring good news that extends beyond Edu. Andre Blake’s rib injury isn’t a concern, and he’s ready to go Sunday against New England, a team he’s demonized in the past. He got through training without issue Friday.

- Fabian Herbers cleared what Curtin called “the last hurdle,” shooting at full strength with his adductor strain that his cost him four MLS games. Sunday will be the fifth, as Herbers will join Bethlehem Steel for a home game with Richmond Saturday.

- Warren Creavalle is “ahead of schedule,” Curtin said, on his hamstring strain. But Sunday appears to be a bit too quick for the midfielder.

- Derrick Jones, who left Wednesday’s game with a knee knock, trained fully Friday, as did Ilsinho, who missed the RBA trip after a kick to his calf that led to bruising and swelling, which has dissipated.

- CJ Sapong left the Red Bulls game in extra time after a scary looking fall. Though he wasn’t out on the field for the entire session Friday, Curtin said he’s fine. Though the forward is sporting knocks to his shoulder and leg (“a little bit of a dead leg feeling that goes up into his back,” Curtin said without apparent concern), he should be fine for Sunday, though you wonder if Jay Simpson might be in line for the start to save Sapong for his return to Kansas City Thursday.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Union-Red Bulls: Magic of the Open Cup video and lineups

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McGuire, Gaddis, Onyewu, Tribbett, Najem, Pontius, Epps 

New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Robles, Allen, Metzger, Etienne, Lade, Royer, Veron 

- Once again, the U.S. Open Cup allows Jim Curtin to use two forwards without abandoning the one-striker formation (shrug emoji). Jay Simpson starts up top, with CJ Sapong on the wing. The ability to spell either of them, with Chris Pontius and Marcus Epps, presents itself on the bench.

- Ilsinho isn’t in the side, which means that Roland Alberg has the No. 10 role all to himself. He’ll have chances to create offense with forwards all around.

- The backline roulette lands on Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho on the outside. Josh Yaro is in for Oguchi Onyewu. On the whole, no surprises, though a rib injury apparently rules out Andre Blake (or the Union want to get John McCarthy some time since he’ll be the goalie of choice against Sporting Kansas City when Blake is away for the Gold Cup).

- Red Bulls’ lineup is a mishmash, featuring three natural center backs and four natural center mids. I’d opine that Sean Davis becomes a winger opposite the defensive-minded Sal Zizzo and Aaron Long pulls out to the left back role. But we’ll see it in practice.

- These teams have played so often that there are few tactical unknowns. So let’s focus on the psychological ones. How miffed are the Red Bulls at the pointed commentary Haris Medunjanin had for Felipe after last week’s waving away of a red card? How does Derrick Jones rebound for that red 10 days ago? Where is the mind of Sapong after his Gold Cup snub? How are the Red Bulls feeling after the rivalry trouncing by New York City FC last week, motivated or defeated? That’s plenty of subtext.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

D.C. United-Union: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Gaddis- Elliott-Onyewu-Wijnaldum 
Bench: McCarthy, Rosenberry, Yaro, Tribbett, Alberg, Simpson, Epps 

D.C. United (4-2-3-1) 
Le Toux-Acosta-Neagle 
Bench: Worra, Robinson, Korb, Sarvas, Buscher, Nyarko, Brown 

- Three straight losses lead to a change at the back, and it’s not the one you maybe expect: Giliano Wijnaldum makes his second start of the season for Fabinho. Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu retain their places in the center.

- So thin is the central midfield corps that Ken Tribbett makes the bench as the reserve sans Derrick Jones (suspension) and Warren Creavalle (hamstring). At least Alejandro Bedoya is back in the starting lineup. Otherwise it’s as you were in the attacking half, with Ilsinho getting another look at the No. 10.

- The big name for D.C. United is the return of Sebastien Le Toux. This is Le Toux’s third game at Talen Energy Stadium in a non-Union shirt – March 31, 2012 with Vancouver, then in the season finale in 2012 with New York Red Bulls. Expect a big ovation for the Union stalwart.

- Deshorn Brown starts on the bench for D.C., giving Jose Guillermo Ortiz another go up top. D.C., which played midweek, makes a few changes – in comes Lamar Neagle for Patrick Nyarko, who scored in a win over Atlanta; in comes Jared Jeffrey for Marcelo Sarvas.

- Looking for a matchup to exploit: Chris Odoi-Atsem makes just his second career start at right back. The onus is on Wijnaldum and Fafa Picault to get up the field and put the rookie under pressure early and often.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Red Bulls-Union: Lineups and prematch observations

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

New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Meara,
Bench: Meara, Zizzo, Davis, Lawrence, Metzger, Veron, Etienne

- The Union were strategic in resting veterans in the midweek Open Cup game, which allows some strategic reintroductions. Ray Gaddis regains his place at right back, Fabinho in at the opposite side and Oguchi Onyewu centrally. Chris Pontius and CJ Sapong, who divvied up 90 minutes on the wing against Harrisburg City, are restored to their regular positions, while Fafa Picault is back as the starter on the other wing and Ilsinho is in at the No. 10. It’s perhaps interesting that none of the reserves that performed well Wednesday impressed sufficiently to win starting jobs back (though Marcus Epps is again on the bench).

- When it comes to the holdovers, the central corridor is full of players who logged 90 minutes Wednesday. Jack Elliott (by manager Jim Curtin’s preference) and the central midfield pairing of Derrick Jones and Haris Medunjanin (with no other options) each went the distance against Harrisburg. We’ll see if that workload in the center of park has consequences.

- The Union get a big boost with Warren Creavalle healthy on the bench. Alejandro Bedoya's hamstring injury wasn’t pushed.

- Interesting that Richie Marquez is the odd man out today, not even in the 18. With Josh Yaro having done so much running mid-week, it’ll be interesting to divine what this means for Curtin’s center back pecking order with four healthy options.

- The Red Bulls have tinkered with the idea of deviating from the 4-2-3-1, but they keep returning to the familiar structure. Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips both went 89 minutes against New York City FC midweek, and Felipe, Aurelien Collin and Alex Muyl went the full 90 (and apparently Aaron Long as an outside back). That could translate into a lot of tired legs, with the heat and high pressure today.

- So much attention was paid to the job that Tyler Adams and Jones did at the U.S. Under-20s. They’ll be going head-to-head today in the engine room of midfield. That’ll be one to watch.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Keeping it 100: Jim Curtin on the century-mark in games managed

Hitting 100 regular-season games managed in MLS
isn't the biggest thrill in the world for Jim Curtin. (AP)
Jim Curtin’s initial reaction Thursday to news of his 100th MLS game in charge of the Union was a joking “who cares?” muttered under his breath. So monumental was the achievement attained Saturday at New York City FC that Curtin didn’t hear much about it until questioned by the media five days later.

To put it lightly, milestones aren’t what drives Curtin to work every day. They also illustrate something important about his aptitude for the job: For all his early-season pugnacity and occasional prickliness in the face of criticism, he was more than willing to stand in the line of fire and take criticism for his team’s struggles. When it comes to accepting plaudits for his team's accomplishments, he’s far more deferential.

Which brings us back to the answer Thursday:
“It means I’ve been here for 100 games, which is something I guess. At the same time, I believe in the work that we’re doing. I think we are moving things in the right direction and it’s a milestone, but at the same time, the individual stuff isn’t anything I get too excited about, for sure. Wish we could’ve gotten a result on the road against New York City FC for our fans.”
With respect to Curtin’s position, from a historical perspective, it is significant. Jim Curtin is the 31st manager in MLS history to helm 100 MLS regular-season games with a club in one continuous stint. His next game will send him past Ron Newman, who coached exactly 100 contests with Kansas City from 1996-99. (Curtin is also the longest tenured manager in Union history, a less distinguished benchmark.)

An intriguing pattern within the numbers is the proportion of 100-game managers that are active. Of the 31, nine are active managers. The 32nd member of that list will be inaugurated in August when Greg Vanney (93 matches) hits the mark. The full list of active coaches with 100 or more regular-season games managed (through June 4, 2017):
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