Blogs > Union Tally

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

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 »

Labels: , , , , ,

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 »

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

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 »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A summer peak: Why the Union's 3-0 win over New England is bad news

Before Roland Alberg, center, and company do too much celebrating,
a big summer win like Sunday's over New England has rarely been apropos
of anything for the Union. (For Digital First Media/Mike Reeves)
The Union are coming off arguably their best performance of the season, a 3-0 drubbing of New England at home Sunday. It was comfortable, it was steady on both ends, with a rock-solid defense and crucial bouts of finishing in the attacking third.

It’s also a harbinger of things to come, right? Not so fast.

Sunday represented what has become a yearly tradition – a June/July hammering of an opponent at home that raises the Union’s hopes of a mid-summer renaissance. Often, that result hasn’t elevated the Union much higher than the three points gleaned on the day. Let’s go year-by-year:

- In 2016, the Union pounded D.C. United, 3-0, on July 9 thanks to – as it was known until just a few weeks ago – Ilsinho’s only two goals. One of those tallies, along with a Roland Alberg marker, came from the penalty spot on a day where the D.C. was reduced to 10 men thanks to a Kofi Opare red. The result came on the heels of two straight losses and was offered as proof that an early-season surge wasn’t regressing to the mean. What followed was just three wins in three months as part of a 3-8-4 finish and a first-round playoff ouster.

- The 2015 Union were a thoroughly forgettable bunch. But out of the Gold Cup break that year on July 11, they thumped Portland, 3-0, when coach Caleb Porter packed only a pair of reserve outside backs for the trip – the legendary duo of Taylor Peay and Jeanderson, both in MLS debuts to forget. That was the alchemy that produced Andrew Wenger’s first (and only) goal of the season in his 20th (and somehow not final) appearance. Vincent Nogueira also scored twice in Brian Sylvestre’s fifth and final shutout with the club. And the momentum translated to … Three straight losses and a five-match winless streak.

- OK, it wasn’t a shutout. But the Union’s 3-1 win over the Red Bulls July 16, 2014 fostered hope that the Jim Curtin new-coach bump might be sustainable. Conor Casey chose wisely in drinking from the right grail to cap a streak of six goals in six games, while Fred (!!!) also checked in with his first and only goal of his 14th of 16 stints with the Union (and counting?). This result actually translated to consistent form for a while – followed by two road draws, the Union went on a five-match unbeaten streak and lost once in an 11-game streak (5-1-5). But the exhaustion of the U.S. Open Cup final run eventually took its toll.
Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Union-New England: Lineups and prematch observations

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

New England (4-3-1-2) 
Bench: Knighton, Tierney, Delamea, Woodberry, Hollinger-Janzen, Herivaux, Wright

- Union manager Jim Curtin admitted to approaching this stretch of games with almost two separate teams. Particularly in the back, changes are wrought from the U.S. Open Cup with three new defenders in: Ray Gaddis, Giliano Wijnaldum and Oguchi Onyewu.
- CJ Sapong left Wednesday’s affair with a knock, a result of being “beat up” in Curtin’s words. Today would seem a great opportunity to rest him, particularly with a trip to former team Sporting Kansas City looming Thursday, but Curtin opts otherwise. Jay Simpson again on the bench.

- Interesting to see the choice with Roland Alberg. He worked for 120 minutes against the Red Bulls midweek, but after scoring a goal and giving what Curtin called “his best game in a Union jersey” (a history that includes a hat trick), the calculus between rewarding and resting him is difficult. But with a recovered Ilsinho waiting in the wings, Alberg gives way with a chance to impact the game off the bench.

- The Revs are depleted. No Diego Fagundez. No Kelyn Rowe. No Xavier Kouassi. No Juan Agudelo. No excuse for the Union to get three points. Granted, Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen are plenty dangerous – Kamara has five goals and four assists in 10 games against the Union – but the lack of depth should make a team prone to conceding goals even more susceptible.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,