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You Always Remember Your First…

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Union fans were swept away in the fallout of the bombshell dropped when news of Sebastien Le Toux’s exodus to England was announced on Wednesday, January 18.  It had been a seemingly routine day of roster activity, with four young reserve players not having contract options picked up to make way for new players signed and drafted during this off-season.  The day has been coined “Black Wednesday” (also due to the later-announced retirement of Veljko Paunovic), however because Union have lost their first real star.

Fan outrage has been abundant and vocal, to the same magnatude that they show support for the side.  Union’s Front Office has been besieged with questions of “Why?” and “How could you do this to us?” and the like.  The transfer alone would have been devastating enough for the fan base that has grown to love the Frenchman, but the abruptness with which the news was revealed made the impact all the more shocking.  Many vow that this pain will linger into the season, especially if those assigned to fill those (purple, pink, or yellow) shoes do not produce to a satisfactory level.

However, this is the reality of professional soccer in these United States.  MLS, in the world of football, is a minor league.  Teams in more prestigious leagues will come calling for MLS players that show great ability.  And, those players will go, because playing in a top-5-in-the-world league, such as the English Premier League in this instance, is a footballer’s dream-come-true.  Those of us who appreciate all that Seba has done for this team do not begrudge him one bit for wanting to go.  But, here is what the fan base must realize to move on from this:  It’s just like breaking up with your first girlfriend/boyfriend.

This was a great relationship.  We were always happy to see him, as he was the best part of our (game)day.  The adoration was mutual, and things seemed to be going great.  Together, the relationship was progressing from nothing, to a playoff berth in just 2 seasons.  But, for now, he’s gone, and our world seems crashing down.  I almost expect Punchy the Bear to start claiming that the sky is falling (though he might do that anyway when he’s drunk and I wouldn’t know the difference).  The fan base wonders how the team is going to function at all without their beloved Sebastien.  But, like dating, we must all realize that there are plenty of fish (NO!  NOT CARLOS RUIZ!!!) in the sea, and a new relationship will come into our lives and help us get over this one.  We’ll both move on, because in the world of football, there is no such thing as marriage.  No player stays forever, so we’re in a constant cycle of “dating.”

But this one hurts, because you always remember your first.  And Sebastien Le Toux is the first ever star of the Philadelphia Union.

P.S.-Bolton plays Liverpool at 12:30 this Saturday, so I will be watching the pre-match show with bated breath hoping to see Seba on the pitch.  But even if it’s not this week, I hope to see him perform in an EPL match at some point very soon.  Good luck, Seba!

Bye-Bye Justin Mapp

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Today, in the MLS Expansion Draft, the Montreal Impact selected Union midfielder Justin Mapp with 1 of their 10 selections from MLS rosters. Analyzing the list of players Union left unprotected, the most likely people to be selected were Mapp or Kyle Nakazawa. Naka and his ukelele get to stay rocking Manayunk for the time being, but we bid adieu to the most one-footed player Union have ever employed.

The statistics for Mapp are available on websites elsewhere, so I won’t bother you with them in this space. My take on Justin is that his drifting into the center of the pitch from the wing created congestion and not much else. He wore out a path in that direction that will only be equalled by the Villanova-Delaware football game to be played @ PPL Park. He will be easily replaced, and has been relegated to “butt-end of the joke” status. Peace out, Baldy.

Categories: General Soccer, HA HA HA

2011 Season Eulogy

November 18, 2011 1 comment

It’s been just over 2 weeks since Union’s 2011 season came to an end at Robertson Stadium in Houston, TX.  That doesn’t mean that I’m any less bitter about the confusing tactics by Peter Nowak that I believe are most responsible for Houston Dynamo advancing.  It’s also the reason that it’s taken so long for me to write my final post of the season.  Technically, it IS still the MLS season, as Houston plays LA Galaxy in the Home Depot Center for MLS (RBNY-Will-Never-Win-This) Cup.  So, before the season expires officially, I figure it was time that I come to grips with Union’s season.

It started with the nromal pre-season mix of question marks and anxiety, mixed with anticipation, that accompanies each sport’s season.  It’s a popular baseball saying that “hope springs eternal” as a play-on-words because their sport begins in the spring, as does soccer in the United States.  In similar fashion, it felt like hope was springing eternally for this Union side.  We saw their potential coming through the end of year 1, and felt like the additional time spent in training was going to make them a decidedly improved team.

But first place?  Not even I saw that coming.  Not that I’m the most kool-aid-drinking Union fan out there, but I felt really good about the team.  I just didn’t see them taking the league by storm out of the gate, winning in a Tim-Tebow-esque manner (not looking competent, but winning nonetheless).  They took advantage of teams making the same mistakes Union had the previous season.  It was extremely enjoyable being able to chant things like “We’re top of the table” to opposing fans on two levels.  1)  It’s a positive chant that doesn’t involve profanity so it’s great when you can be PG-rated and still make the oppositions’ fans angry, and 2) The utter shock they must have all felt that they were hearing it from fans of a 2nd year franchise that finished 3rd-to-last place in year 1.

They did come back down to earth, though.  Le Toux took forever to score the way we knew he could.  Nowak constantly confused us with his lineups.  The rest of the league got better as the season went on.  Sporting KC got to actually play home matches.  All of these things contributed to Union dropping in the standings, even to the point that they were outside of playoff position.  Those are the times that test the resolve of the fanbase.  No one knew how this mostly young team would respond to this period of adversity, what with the defense being exposed and the offense not rounding into the form we’d hoped for.  Then the captain broke a finger making a save.

The resurgence was nothing short of amazing.  I didn’t give Zac MacMath a lot of credit to start out with because of our checkered history with University of Maryland goalkeepers (yes, I mean Chris Seitz).  And then the first half of the New England match happened.  The only silver lining I could find for Zac was that he didn’t give up any more goals after he put them in a seemingly no-win situation.  Little did I know at the time that that second half would become a momentum-generating event in getting this team back into winning.  They scored 3 second-half goals, and kept New England out of the net all while playing a very stretched attacking style that left massive counter attacking opportunities all over.  The team grew in offensive confidence, and in confidence in their deputy ‘keeper.  The defense seemed to regain their early-season form as a response to not having Faryd Mondragon’s commanding voice behind them.  It was a period that righted the ship and steered it towards the postseason.

Zac Mac’s time in goal was short-lived in 2011, but the fire was lit.  The Union finished strongly enough to qualify for the #3 spot in the Eastern Conference.  That is a remarkable achievement for a 2nd-year franchise built on youth.  A lot of the players we’ve leaned on are not used to playing this many games in a season against full-grown men; veteran professionals.  They had a couple of chances to gain a better playoff position, but the draw in the home finale against Toronto FC and the loss to RBNY didn’t dampen the euphoria of making the playoffs.

They were matched with Houston Dynamo, a team that Union had not lost to in their brief history (2 wins, 2 draws).  So, it SEEMED like the ideal matchup to allow Union to play loose.  However, it lead to questionable starting lineups and two 1-goal losses in the 2-leg playoff round, which sent Union home for the season.  I may never understand why Nowak put two starting lineups out that he had not used at any point of the regular season.  I understand that you can’t use the same guys every single game, but the playoffs are not a time for a 4-4-2 team to put out a 5-3-2 and a 4-2-4.  I don’t even want to type any more about it because I want to remember the Union season as being a successful one.  They improved from 31 points in 2010, to 48 points in 2011.  Sebastien Le Toux proved that he wasn’t a 1-season wonder.  Danny Califf showed that he’s a great leader even without the Captain’s armband.  And, most importantly, this group has developed a hard-working, physically-defensive style that will hopefully keep them in the playoffs for years to come.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)

Just an Observation

November 8, 2011 3 comments

I will get to my eulogy of the Union’s 2011 season some time this week.  It may wait until after I participate in the season-ending YSA Report podcast (shameless plug).

I was trolling through the US Soccer site to see the full roster for the Men’s U-23 team that is going through Olympic qualifying.  The news came out that Union players Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, and Sheanon Williams were joining the squad following Union’s loss to Houston Dynamo.  I was curious to see who the Union trio’s peers would be.  The page is a standard roster listing, with information such as height, weight, date of birth, and club team affiliation.  It’s that category that got my attention when I got to the bottom of the page and observed that Sheanon is listed as “unattached.”  That doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Union need to fix that immediately, if not sooner.  He needs to be a staple of this team, up until the point that a bigger club recognizes his abilities and snatches him.  Get it done, Union, get it done.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)

Match Preview: Union vs Houston Dynamo: Conference Semi-Final Leg 2

November 3, 2011 2 comments

Tonight, 8:30 pm from Robertson Stadium in Houston, TX or on ESPN2 for those of us who aren’t flying to the match.

There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about this.  The teams have played 3 times this season.  They know how each other is going to play.  It comes down to execution.  In the first match, we were wary of Brad Davis’ free kick ability, and that produced the match’s first goal.  They knew that Sebastien Le Toux was a constant threat purely by his work ethic, and that produced the second goal.  We know playing Stefani Miglioranzi is a tactic that confuses even his own defensive teammates, and that confusion produced the  third and final goal of the match.  Union figure to deploy a lineup that more closely resembles the team that finished the match Sunday.  The only possible addition to the lineup I can see is if Veljko Paunovic is fully healthy, then Nowak will go with him.  Either way, I expect an ambush from the opening whistle.  I really feel like Nowak’s message to the team will be to tie the aggregate up in the first half and end the half that way, and worry about the 2nd goal in the 2nd half so they don’t burn themselves out and concede a goal after working hard to tie it.

Fans of the team would like to see Union play this first half the same way that they played the 2nd half in their 2nd match against New England (3 goals scored).  I figure I’m going to be a nervous wreck watching Union fight and scratch and claw their way through this match, but I’m fairly certain this will be a fantastic match to watch for neutral observers.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

First One Leg, Then the Other

November 2, 2011 1 comment

Thankfully, for Union fans, this round is 2-legged.  My overall feeling about Sunday’s first leg against Houston Dynamo is that they were doomed from the announcement of their starting lineup, yet put up a great effort, worthy of leaving PPL Park with a zero goal deficit.  The inclusion of Stefani Miglioranzi in the starting XI was borderline criminal, and responsible for their minus-one differential.  He is an injury or suspension fill-in, at best.  There are no logical tactics that should include him in a starting role.  He’s not a 90-minute player, he’s not fast, and he’s not even above-average for an MLS player.  Inevitably, Nowak would have to sub for him, which isn’t a tactical sub because it’s necessary.  I would rather see Juan Diego Gonzalez in Thursday’s match than Miglioranzi, and JDG hasn’t played a single minute in MLS play this season.  The difference is I KNOW Miglioranzi hurts this team (Adam Hainault agrees with me).

The positive outlook is that Union were able to threaten Houston’s defense, which had conceded just 3 goals in their previous 5 matches.  There was luck involved in Sebastien Le Toux’s goal, as the pass deflected off of the back of the head of a helpless Houston defender.  But there was also luck involved in Houston’s first goal (well, their luck was that Nowak started Migs.  Oh wait, I’m supposed to be positive in this paragraph).  The substitutions were all positive.  They created several opportunities for goals, but their inexperience showed.  Jack McInerney, for all of his willingness to get forward on well-timed runs, needs to realize that sometimes he needs to be on the ball-side of his defender because he’s not going to win headers too often.  Roger Torres, for all of his willingness to play the nicely-weighted through-ball to a surging teammate, needs to realize that his teammates don’t always see the game the way he does (although they friggin should).  Freddy Adu, for all of his experience internationally, needs to realize that he is still the new guy on the team and he has much to learn about how his teammates play.  McInerney was certainly hurt by his lack of playing time (damn you, Fat Chooch!), and it showed in the waning moments of the match.  A little more sophistication in his game probably finds him in a better position to attack the ball and put more threatening shots on goal.  Roger finally learned to drop deeper in the midfield to be the conduit from defense to offense.  Playing in that manner with Adu also on the field should lead to a more consistent and potent offense (all in due time.  I hope this happens Thursday night, but I’m not counting on it).

The best thing to come out of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat is that we have learned Michael Farfan and Seba can step up to the big moment and perform in the playoffs.  Their play combining for the response in the 7th minute shows that Seba is not a fluke, and Marfan has cemented himself in the starting XI for the foreseeable future.  Speaking of Farfans and positives, Union are very lucky that Gabe was not issued a red card for his wreckless challenge on Danny Cruz.  I think the yellow card was the correct decision, especially given that it’s a playoff game and the teams get more levity to play and compete hard.  I have no refereeing experience, but if Garfan had been issued a straight red card, I would not have argued it.  I would have been really upset at Garfan for the challenge, instead.  It was an aerial cross to a stationary winger.  Cruz was not making a run behind Garfan, therefore there was no urgent need to win THAT particular pass.  If anything, by playing proper body position, Garfan could have easily dispossessed Cruz after Cruz’ first touch on that pass.  Worst-case, Houston has the ball on the wing at the foot of someone not named Brad Davis, therefore, it’s not Houston’s most-threatening position.  All of that being said, Garfan also did well to compete hard and not pick up a second yellow, so Union’s comeback attempts did not have to come a man down.  And he is eligible for Thursday’s match.  Which is a positive because….

….it’s one less possibility that Stefani Miglioranzi starts… you knew I was coming back to that, didn’t you.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

It Would Help If We Knew Who the Starters Were…

October 27, 2011 2 comments

…Which is the obvious lead-in to the analysis of the midfield matchup.  From my previous posts, and ANY playoff preview you may have read over the past few days, you’ve seen the name Brad Davis.  He is the left wing midfielder for Houston Dynamo.  He lead the league this season in assists.  He’s pretty damn good.  The rest of the Houston midfielders, meh, I think they’re just on the pitch to transition the ball from defense-to-Davis.

The Union midfield, I think, will be Justin Mapp, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, and…….  I don’t know.  Should be Roger Torres.  Could be Freddy Adu.  I still think Nowak wants to suit up.  However, I will hate Coach if he starts a second defensive midfielder.  The home game, I’m hoping, will be the game Nowak sees as his better opportunity to score goals and come out with a more attack-minded lineup.  If they win this first game by 2 or more goals, only then will I not hate Nowak for going with a defensive lineup in the second leg.  I know it’s great to have defensively responsible players on the pitch, but the best way to keep the ball out of your net is to keep it nearer to your opponent’s net.  Besides, Roger Torres has become much better at winning the ball back in the midfield after turnovers.  His skilled feet and field vision will be tremendous assets with Marfan and Mapp on the wings.  From this blog to Nowak’s ears….

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)

Where Will the Goals Come From?

October 26, 2011 1 comment

If that seems like a redundant question about Union, it’s because it is.  Sebastien Le Toux has been in stellar form the last third of the season.  However, he is the only Union player in attack that can make that claim.  The addition of Freddy Adu has done little to make this a more dangerous team.  So, if Houston only has Le Toux to worry about, and focus their defense on him, how the hell are Union going to score? (insert @FakePeterNowak witticism here)

Veljko Paunovic has been the most frequently-used second striker, until his hamstring issues forced him out of the lineup.  He looks to be back in good health, so I’d expect him to be there.  However, he tallied just three goals on the season.  Danny Mwanga has also recovered from an injury, his being to his right hip.  Injuries, and Nowak’s insistence on playing Carlos Ruiz, limited Danny to just 5 goals in his sophomore season.  He is a talented and dangerous player when he’s on his game, but I’m unsure that he’ll find his match fitness before the weekend.  Jack McInerney netted his only goal of the season early in Union’s 2nd match against Houston.

The point is, while Union’s striker corps is getting healthy, they haven’t shown much, other than Le Toux almost notching a second season of a double-double.  They have received contributions from the midfield, but those goals are also scattered among them all, and we never know for certain who is going to start in the midfield (we’ll talk about them tomorrow).  For Union to advance out of this round of playoffs, they’re going to have to find the combination that will produce up top.  Kinda like Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant surgery.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)

More Playoff Stuff

October 25, 2011 1 comment

The biggest threat Houston Dynamo poses to Union is Brad Davis.  He is the league leader in assists, with 16.  He is a left-footed left wing midfielder, which means the responsibility of locking him down will fall primarily on Sheanon Williams.  This will be the one matchup that I will be completely intrigued with for the duration of the match, both legs of it.  Davis is a player who has not been able to prove himself on the international level, and Sheanon is someone we have been campaigning for to get a shot with the USMNT (if Michael Orozco Fiscal got a shot, why the hell not?!?!?).  My prediction is that a stellar defensive showing, coupled with intelligent play going forward, will earn “The Sheanomenon” enough credibility to get him a look.  The playoffs will bring more intensity than Union have played with all season, or in their history, for that matter.  The hightened stage will provide a better indicator to the people who run USA Soccer as to whether or not Sheanon deserves consideration.  It also helps his cause that Timmy Chandler was moved from right back to left back and seems slated to stay there in the future (wiiiiiiiiiide open door for ya, Sheanon).  Davis provides the perfect foil because of the quantity AND quality of his service (for MLS purposes only).  He will be prominently featured in Houston’s offense, and his crosses into the center of the pitch are usually threatening.  He is the “head of the snake,” so to speak.  Cut off the head, and the body will follow.  Hopefully, Sheanon is sharp enough to make the cut (ending with terrible pun, athankya).

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union  (@UnholyUnionNDY)

The 2nd Season

October 24, 2011 1 comment

The title of this post is a bit of a double meaning.  Yes, this is the 2nd season in the existence of the Philadelphia Union.  But the point is to begin analyzing Union’s matchup in the MLS playoffs, which is the “2nd season.”  Houston Dynamo is the opponent, as they finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference when LA Galaxy laid down and handed them 3 points.  That sham of a result pushed Union down to 3rd, because Chicago beat Columbus Saturday.  It doesn’t matter how Union reached the matchup that they have, the important part is that they are in the MLS Playoffs in just their 2nd year as a franchise.

The playoffs are an interesting season unto themselves.  There are four rounds, and three of them are  single-game matches hosted by the higher-seeded team.  The lone round that is two-leg aggregate is the second round, which Union get a bye into by virtue of finishing in their conference’s top 3 spots.  This system works out well for Union, being that they are a young team, and even their veteran players are new to this league.  Even though I referred to the Galaxy’s last match as a “play dead” kind of effort, the bright side is that Union get to now play their first playoff game at the comfort of PPL Park.

This is important for two reasons:  1) There are inevitably going to be nerves for a lot of the players playing in their first playoff game, as it promises to be their most intense yet, and 2) Nowak doesn’t deploy the offensively-challenged two-central-defensive-midfielder formation that he does on the road.  I’m sure that the player’s apprehensions will be allayed when they hear their home crowd singing and cheering for them.  My hope is that that feeling will allow the team to play more loosely and confidently in attack.  Houston, also, is a team that Union have, historically, had success against.  The details of the matchup will be broken down in a later post, but there are ways that Union have found to take advantage of Dynamo.  This, also, should help build confidence.  Nowak’s tactics, as logic-defying as they can be, usually include starting a more offensive lineup in home matches.  Since there is no “away goal” tie-breaker in MLS, Union would do well to win their home half of this series by more than 1 goal.  That will force Houston to play under more pressure in the 2nd leg, which is the better position to be in.

It’s great for Union to be in this position, and we’ll spend the rest of the week posting break-downs of several key matchups and aspects of this mini-series as we approach Sunday.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union.  (follow me on Twitter, @UnholyUnionNDY)

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