This is the weekly post were Nick and Dan morph into pathetic excuses for handicappers. Enjoy!
NY: Dan, since you have deferred picks to me this week, I’m going to take advantage and pluck all of the easy home winners. Not drawers. Winners.
DK: Yea, I have a shit ton to do and have to catch a train in 30 minutes. Thanks for picking the obvious ones… GFY (I’ll tell ya what that means later)
NY: Seattle v Houston. Seattle just wins at home. I’m convinced that Drew Carey put some magical contraption inside of the Space Needle and it causes lots of Seattlites to attend, and for opposing teams to not deal well with the field surface. If only Union could plant a similar device somewhere under the Commodore Barry Bridge… Seattle 2, Houston 0.
DK: My first pick for the week is New England vs Portland: I have no faith in New England, but I don’t think Portland is a good travel East team (much like the entire eastern conference is full of terrible travel teams, period). If you’re watching this, I’ll feel sorry for you, it’s probably bound to be a shitty game (although the weather really nice) – I pick a 0-0 tie.
NY: TFC v San Jose. San Jose flat-out stinks (hoping no one returns fire for me being a Union fan…ok…coast is clear). I know TFC is missing Torsten Frings. I hate that guy anyway, as I still haven’t forgiven any German international who was part of that 2002 World Cup team that eliminated the U.S. DAMN YOU OLIVER KAHN!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, wait, yeah, um… TFC holds serve at home 1-0, because, again, San Jose stinks.
DK: Vancouver vs DC: East can’t compete on the west. Vancouver (and Le Toux) will continue success at home with a nice win. 3-1 Vancouver with De Ro notching their only goal, and Le Toux getting a goal and assist.
NY: Columbus v Montreal: Two directions that my opinion of Montreal Impact in MLS can go. They played their home-opener last week in front of over 58,000 people and drew Chicago Fire 1-1. This says that either a) Chicago is very capable of handling greatly adverse conditions therefore Union should be worried about them when they play at home (yikes!!!), or b) Montreal is not ready for MLS league play yet because they couldn’t even get a win in front of all of those screaming, French-Canadian lunatics. I go with b) so Columbus wins at home 2-0.
DK: RBNY vs Colorado: We all hate red bull. Colorado didn’t show much promise against are decent, but mismatched union, but capitalized on our mistakes. Expect mistakes to run rampant on NY side. Colorado 1-0.
NY: Real Salt Lake v Chivas USA: Chivas = HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! RSL ftw 4-1 (And that might be generous. I was nice and gave Chivas a goal)
DK: Gimme pick of the week (year). Chivas loses easily, 3-0 for RSL.
NY: Chicago v Union: As I alluded to in the Columbus/Montreal preview, the fact that Chicago went into Montreal and earned a draw in those conditions leads me to believe that they are playing plenty well enough to handle whatever lineup Nowak decides he will throw out there. However, based on the chances Union created during their match against Colorado, I’m encouraged that they’re finding their good form. However (again), they played a lot of that second half with Colorado’s Jeff Larentowicz red-carded. Lest we forget, Union conceded a goal in that time before they scored one. If you draw a team when you’re playing with one more player than they are, I can’t pick you to win against a full-strength side. Plus, if I remember correctly, Toyota Park is a relatively-narrow pitch, and Union never deal with those very well. Especially if Nowak plans on deploying is 3-5-2 again. On THAT field, those 5 midfielders will be stretched from sideline-to-sideline and almost standing next to each other. And then there’s this mess with Danny Califf…don’t even start…my head’s beginning to hurt… Chicago 1 Union 1.
DK: I give 2 weeks until Califf gets traded due to the bullshit going on. You never speak up against a coach, but you never speak up against a coach with an ego who expects you to already know what he’s thinking. The asshat. Anyway, I say experimentation in this weird lineup finds some success, but won’t overpower Chicago. I go with a tie 2-2. Now I have to catch a train.
NY-Seattle W over Houston, Toronto W over San Jose, Columbus W over Montreal, Real Salt Lake W over Chivas, and Chicago draw Union (1-1)
DK-New England draw Portland, Vancouver W over DC, Colorado W over New York, Real Salt Lake W over Chivas, and Chicago draw Union (2-2)
Bonus prediction!!!!!!!!!!! Dan has to catch a train, my guess is he catches that train, and because it’s SEPTA, catches something from said train. No preditiction on what though. We’re all probably better off not knowing. Enjoy the games!
Match time is 8:30pm, Saturday, March 24, 2012, from Toyota Field in Bridgeview, IL, televised locally on The Comcast Network.
What we know: Union are 0-2-0 on the season, Chicago is 0-0-1, having earned a draw at Montreal during Montreal’s first ever MLS home-opener. Union, against Colorado, created good possession that gave opportunities for chances which didn’t often enough lead to actual chances. They have failed in the area of threatening the goal and making the other team’s goal keeper work. Their defense has not been stellar either, allowing 5 goals in 2 matches, and Sheanon Williams was a late addition to the U.S.A U-23 team that is in Olympic qualifying, so that hurts additionally.
What we don’t know: What the hell is going on with Danny Califf? He earns the title of team captain, then gets benched without being informed prior, contradicts reports of an injury, and now apparently, he didn’t even travel with his team to Chicago. I’m not going to claim that Califf is a stand-out performer anymore, but I definitely have a problem with a guy who is the team captain not being given the courtesy of information about his own status. The transperancy of this Union team has to be called into question, as well. Did Union make the move and backstory with the intention of deceiving Colorado? They seem a bit less tactful this week, but none the less confusing. We also don’t know what this means for the rearguard, as 2 of last season’s 4 starters will not be included (Califf and Williams).
What to watch for: In spite of all of this outside mumbo jumbo that will make our heads hurt to think about too much, Union showed significant improvement in some areas from game one to game two. This team is capable of serving dangerous crosses into the 18-yard box from all over the pitch. Their problem is having one of their teammates direct said cross towards, and hopefully into, the goal mouth. Lionard Pajoy made the play that restored some measure of faith in the side, when he made the perfect run to find a cross with his forehead mid-dive to score his team’s only goal…against a 10-man side…a 10-man side that scored a goal themselves while down a man…*vomits*. The hope for the optimists is that the way they pressured late can be duplicated, because though Colorado had 10 men, they would have bunkered in with a 2-goal lead anyway, with just the two strikers not behind the ball. Union scoring their lone goal against a bunkered defense is a positive sign. For the pessimists, other than the runout that lead to Colorado’s 2nd goal, they didn’t do much to threaten the Union half, therefore, Union should have been able to keep their possession in the attacking half more, and create more solid chances. Also, pessimists will remind us all that Union were possession-dominant in the first half and went into the locker room with nothing to show for it. The hope rests in their attacking midfield play being a trend, which will produce better results in the very near future, so look for Roger Torres to feature longer in this match, and he, Gabe Gomez, and Porfirio Lopez will be sending chances in for Pajoy, Danny Mwanga, and Josue Martinez to put in the net.
What this all means: I see Union improvement, but not enough to get a win on the road. Chicago did well on the road last week, but they were still playing Impact who I don’t have faith in yet. Union are under pressure to get a win, playing on the road… I see this as a draw, likely 1-1, but 2-2 wouldn’t shock me.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@unholyunionNDY)
In seven days, Philadelphia Union have scored 2 goals, conceded 5, and sit with zero points out of a possible six. Over 19,000 attended the home opener, with a far greater number than that wonder just what in the name of everything Holy is Peter Nowak doing with this club?
The match in Portland was almost certainly a loss from the outset. The conditions were horrid for a team that doesn’t play in them often. The Jeld-Wen Field surface is artificial, and the Pacific Northwest is almost a 100% guarantee for rain. All of the roster turnover made for an impossible task for Union to escape Portlandia with any points.
The home opener yesterday, however, was a match that left me with mixed emotions. You can see the week 2 predictions post to see that I, correctly, predicted Union would lose. The game left me with a more confident feeling about the side, that they would be able to create goals once these new pieces get more game time together. Then again, they had a significant spell where they had one more man on the field than did Colorado. So, yes, they created chances in the second half, but they also gave up a goal to a 10-man squad.
My main issue with Union so far in their existence is that they don’t allow us fans to view them in the pre-season, unless we travel to their remote sites. They don’t stream their pre-season matches online, so we are left to settle for team-generated articles chronicling the team’s progress. It’s a nasty system of secrecy set up to keep us in the dark. It’s the same cloud that hovers over yesterday’s benching of Captain Danny Califf. Cap’n Ink says he’s not hurt, despite his coach’s claim that he is. This is the reason I couldn’t write a season preview: I had no idea what to expect from this team.
This is what I see so far: They are struggling with their formation, some of the new players are not acclimating as well as others, and they don’t have a backbone as of now. The team attempted to sell Michael Farfan, coming off of his Rookie of the Year finalist nomination, as the piece that would help us all forget Sebastien Le Toux. He’s been ineffective in both matches so far. His forward passing has not connected, his shots don’t get through defenders often enough, and he seems, at times, lost in where to make his runs to. Granted, it’s just 2 matches into the season, but when the front office turns over the team as much as they have prior to this season, some better results should be expected if they’d like us to believe that they actually know what they’re doing. Secondly, Gabriel Gomez has been very good in his first MLS week. I like his service on set pieces, and he plays a gritty game defensively. I have a lot of confidence so far in both he and Lionard Pajoy. Neither is hard to understand, considering they’ve netted Union’s only goals of the season. The Central American imports Josue Martinez and Porfirio Lopez have not impressed thus far. Lopez was caught napping on the other side of MacMath’s bungle yesterday, and was victimized for at least 2 of the 3 goals Portland scored. Martinez showed some signs of being a dynamic player, so I’ll hold off ripping him until he gets some more playing time. Neither of those two, however, has covered themselves in glory. And, the defense… what happened? They allowed the second-fewest goals in the league last season, only to see 5 put in behind MacMath in 2 matches. The new left back Lopez has not solidified that position, and Califf getting benched added a new state of flux to what last season was the strength and identity of the squad. Now that that area is a liability, what DO Union hang their proverbial hat on as their identity? They still attack with the orchestration of a team that does not practice together. It’s become demonstrated by players, like Gomez, that the attackers are not getting into the right places to make the final and finishing touches. They have trouble as an all-out attacking team, and they’re no longer a solid defensive side, so what are they? This question could be answered so much more easily if I had been able to see more than 180 minutes (plus added injury time, of course) of the 2012 Philadelphia Union.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)
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!
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.
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)
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)