Philadelphia’s recent visit to Kansas City has ended, once again, in a 1-1 tie. This wasn’t a weak tie like earlier in the year, as KC was a real formidable attacking opponent, and both teams had a decent amount of chances. I for one considered this a must win, because it’s better to win now and tie later in such a tight eastern conference race, but various others considered this game a can’t lose considering how well KC has been playing, and we didn’t lose. Which is a plus.
As I have a friend who works at LiveStrong Park, I took the liberty of asking his opinion of the game, which I will rebut / comment on, etc. (PS- he used to be from PA and got a job out there, so he’s fairly unbiased in some senses)
“I thought it was a rather even game from both teams. If I had to say, Sporting Kansas City probably played a little better overall and in different stretches of the game but the Union were able to get Sporting out of their comfort zone of playing the attacking, offensive game they’re used to. Keeping the ball away from the front three of Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, and Omar Bravo was how the Philadelphia Union were able to get the draw. Sporting had more chances to score but Philadelphia had better chances to score and that sort of evened things out for both. Both teams played much better than the first time they met in June where the Union pretty much went on a shooting rampage and had nothing to show for it due to a lack of finishing and Jimmy Nielsen. This game, the Union were able to get better chances and were better at finishing or getting in that position to finish while the Defense showed up for Sporting
Where the refereeing has been pretty erratic in MLS this season, I thought it was a semi-fairly called game. I know there will be some Sporting fans who will say that there were some calls that didn’t go our way near the end of the game but it was like that for both teams. From my vantage point, we got away with a few also. I noticed there were stretches where everything was getting called and other times where nothing was getting called. Personally, I like to see them play on as much as possible and see things be physical from both sides but that sort of inconsistency can’t be good for the players trying to guess what kind of mood the ref is in. Definitely thought it was one of the more cleaner games of the season which was good because it was a very physical game. “
Interjection – As he says the officiating was fairly decent, as the ref let the players play on for the most part and tried not to influence the game too much with calling fouls, but there are quite a few moments that Kei Kamara had lost his temper and could have been booked for dissent to the officials (he wasn’t saying “Golly” or “Fargle” if you know what I’m saying) and kicked the ball away in pure disgust clear after the whistle had blown, which is counted as dissent AND time wasting and would count for another booking. Guy needs some anger management. Back to the KC analysis
“Sebastien Le Toux definitely was the star of the game and probably the season for the Union. I haven’t been able to see many Union games this season and I have mainly heard of his play but seeing Le Toux play last night, he definitely is that sort of Striker that you can depend on getting a goal and lifting a team on his shoulders when it’s needed. I also want to commend the Sons of Ben and the Union fans who were at the stadium. I was sitting underneath their section at the tunnel but they were definitely the most vocal and loudest visiting group who has come to Livestrong Sporting Park and we only have two more MLS regular season home games versus Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls. There were definitely more Seattle Sounders and L.A. Galaxy fans at those games when they were here but they were really only vocal after they scored. The Sons of Ben kept it up the entire game and at times, it was hard to hear the Cauldron on the other side of the stadium. I honestly think the Cauldron and the Sons of Ben are two of the best supporters groups in MLS and the Sporting KC and Union fans some of the best fans in MLS. It’s easy to be a Galaxy or Sounders fan when they’re always the top of the standings, are always on national TV, and have guys named Beckham and Donovan on their team. It’s much harder to be a Sporting KC fan when we were last in the East earlier this season and harder to be a Union fan when they were battling their scoring drought and were underachieving earlier this season.
All in all, the result definitely hurt Sporting Kansas City more than the Philadelphia Union. The draw puts Sporting in a tie for 1st with Columbus and Philadelphia in 3rd a point behind both with a game up. That extra game is the key for the Union and gives them a major advantage when it comes to obtaining 1st Place in the Eastern Conference especially when Sporting plays Columbus Wednesday night. I can imagine just with the body language around the team, Columbus is a must win if Sporting wants to think about 1st place in the East and be more comfortable in the top three. To those Union fans who visited LIVESTRONG Sporting Park for the game, I hope you had a good time. I know you’ll probably want to say PPL Park is a better stadium but this place is definitely one of the best places to see a Soccer game.”
Much of what my friend said was true. Late in the game KC finally got an attacking situation going, and was able to start getting Kamara into the game on the wings, which is probably much of why he was getting so frustrated, not at the refs but at our defense. Califf and Valdes must have really been giving him the business. Valdes was authoritative, and does what he often does to confuse fans since he’s a defender, but he was acting more like a counterattacking midfielder with how far up the field he was playing the ball.
Torres is classic Torres and has a keen ability with crossing the ball forward at the right pace for everyone. With how well he’s been playing, it’s frustrating that he wasn’t put in as a starter earlier in the year.
Paunovic was almost non-existent. With his breakout games when he first started, gotta wonder what happened with him. Still love the guy, but he took on Le Toux’s bad touch it seems.
Le Toux has his touch back, and all is right with the world. He had a few chances at sharp angles that a world class striker would have made, but the issue is not his shooting (and how many shots he does take) but it used to be his first touch. Michael Farfan made a beautiful save of Torres’ cross to prevent a goal kick, tapped it to Le Toux who taps it in. Earlier in the year, I don’t think Le2 would have made that goal.
Gabe Farfan is not a defender and let Bravo through on Kamara’s beautiful cross. There was almost no way for MacMath to save that. But, Gabe is still a better option than Nakazawa at back, who was getting burnt every time the ball was near him. Within 5 minutes the positioning was switched, Gabe fell back and Naka went forward, which is a much better option, as Naka was then close to non existent.
Carroll is a beauty still, and Okugo needs to show more of a presence than he has been.
With our flaws, it was a well skilled match from both sides, and either team could have taken the lead at any given moment.
Now, the ill-fated – STANDINGS
As it stands now (as of 6:56 pm on Saturday) Houston Dynamo has beaten FC Dallas and have taken claim of the number 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. Columbus and KC are now tied for 2nd place at 41 points, and we are now in 4th place in the East, holding the 3rd wildcard spot with 40 points, Portland is 37 and holds the 4th spot.
Situational Next upcoming games:
DC plays RSL. They are currently close to contention, but with a win can be competitive.
Columbus plays LA and can reclaim the top position before playing KC this coming Wednesday. A win both game will probably put them as the number 1 spot for the end of the season.
NY plays Portland. NY is at 36 points and Portland is at 37. This currently is for the 4th wildcard spot, but Portland can come up and tie the Union with points if they win this game.
Colorado holds the 2nd playoff spot at 41 points, and is playing San Jose. Probably a win there, but it’s good to know that we aren’t far off from some security.
So, sadly enough, we are rooting for RSL, LA, and a draw in Jersey. I may or may not update after tonight’s results.
|Sporting Kansas City||41||30||6|
|Wild Card Race||PTS||GP||GD|
|New York Red Bulls||36||29||3|
When: Saturday, 12:30 PM
Where: Toronto (hide your fruit)
Why: Cause it’s not a real country anyway
A little afternoon delight for Union fans with the 12:30pm start, as our boys in blue (and gold stripe) head north of the border to take on a Toronto squad that has lost only once at BMO Field. About BMO Field, the match between TFC and Vancouver Whitecaps had to be postponed Wednesday night because the pitch became unplayable due to rain. The weather in Toronto is supposed to be rather pleasant for match time on Saturday, but how will the field recover in time? If nothing else, this gives rise to rampant singing of South Park’s “Blame Canada,” but I digress…
Union are coming off of a relative offensive explosion. 2 goals. That’s explosive for this team. I know, it’s sad. The bigger view is that they went ahead against Chicago, conceded a goal that equalized the match, and recovered to score the game-winner. They earned 3 points where 1 seemed imminent, based on the shoddy offensive output of the season at that point. They will try to improve on their road mark, which has seen them only gain 3 points from 4 matches. Look for Carlos Ruiz (I’ll use his real name instead of a derogatory nickname for this week, he earned it) to play a little harder, as he will soon depart for Gold Cup duty for his native Guatemala. I’d like to think 2 things about Sebastien Le Toux’s effort from the Chicago match: 1) It’s going to become the norm after his early season slumber, and 2) It will hopefully yield a goal from the run of play.
The injury to Amobi Okugo’s ankle is unfortunate, and will keep him out for 3 weeks, so expect Kyle Nakazawa to start with Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp, and a Farfan brother. The backline will be the same as it has been except for when Jordan Harvey was a victim of refereeing stupidity. Toronto appears to be made up of a bunch of guys who are only good enough to make the final of a tournament that only consists of Canadian club teams (wait… you mean that really DID happen?!? Oh…) All of this means I expect Toronto to get shut out at home. Union will reinforce their offense in the 2nd half, and get the winner after the 60th minute, returning to their most-of-the-season trend of binary soccer, and win 1-0.
Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
When: Friday, May 6, @ 10:30pm EST. Where: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, OR
First off, I had to wikipedia why the stadium has such a strange name. The naming rights were sold to the Jeld-Wen Corporation, a manufactuer of building supplies. The team has built quite a reputation in a short time in Major League Soccer (like what I did there?). They were undefeated at their oddly-named home stadium prior to this week, and are probably looking to rebound after losing to San Jose, the team that Union beat last week playing down a man for 50 minutes (that’s right, you suck, San Jose).
Portland features 3 players with mulitple goals on the season: Kenny Cooper, Jack Jewsbury, and Jorge Perlaza. So, those are the 3 guys that will get shut down by Union’s back line Friday night, even though they will be without the services of Jordan Harvey. I expect Michael Farfan to get the start at left back, and he should do a fine job. Cooper is somewhat of a concern because of his height. At 6’3″, he’ll have to have the full attention of Union’s D when around the box. Kalif Alhassan seems to be their most threatening playmaker, with 4 assists on the season. He plays left wing midfield, which means Sheanon Williams will shut him down, then awe him with the distance he gets on his throw-ins.
Now, for the stuff we care about. Union will be without Jordan Harvey, as they will not appeal the suspension for his red card, undeserved as it was. Michael Farfan linked so well with Keon Daniel on the left side of the field that I don’t foresee any trouble with having Farfan get this spot-start. That may be the most exciting part of the lineup, though. I fully expect there to be 2 defensive midfielders in the lineup to start, some combination of Brian Carroll, Stefani Miglioranzi, and Amobi Okugo. I’m not exactly sure what failed experiment Nowak’s going to try at right wing this week. Roger Torres is not a winger, so he’s out. The heck with it, just keep Le Toux there, and play Mwanga and Ruiz up top to start.
The concerning part for Union is that Danny Califf is not guaranteed to play due to illness. We may find out whether or not Juan Diego Gonzalez is, in fact, still with Union. Either way, though, Daniel can probably play it because he seems to just be that good, and Okugo played centerback for the Generation Addidas team. That situation bears some monitoring. We all should continue to have faith in Faryd Mondragon to keep whoever is in front of him coordinated and playing the right way. The games are the same night, but I think the Flyers could really use The Dragon in goal. There is no way he would have let Chris Versteeg be skating around in la-la land while Zdeno Chara winds up a wide-open slap shot for a goal. What would have happened is that Mondragon would have made the save, held the puck for a faceoff, then spent the next 20 seconds bitching Versteeg out for being defensively irresponsible. From watching him, he seems like a very intimidating guy, so he probably would have made Versteeg cry. And at that point, Mike Richards would have just skated over, ripped the “C” off of his sweater, and handed it over to Mondragon. I don’t think, even in my side tangent fantasy land, that it’s a stretch to say that Faryd is the best captain in Philadelphia sports. He will be the reason Union earn a point on this trip, and I predict a draw, 1-1. Union score in the first half on a counter attack, and will concede in the last 15 minutes after a bad call by the ref gives Portland a free kick from a dangerous area, and we will spend the rest of the weekend hating MLS officials, again.
Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
First things first: The straight-red to Jordan Harvey was easily the most egregious mistake a referee has made this season. There was an atmosphere that the match was getting chippy, with several yellow cards given, and even in that climate, what Harvey did should only have been a free kick. It didn’t even merit a yellow, let alone a red. I’ve said my piece.
The match itself was confusing on several fronts. Why was it that Union played more fluidly and posessed more confidently with one fewer man on the field than their opponent? And, why can they not notch a goal with a decidedly more offensive lineup on the pitch? Union are winning a lot of games with him, but is Carlos Ruiz a good thing for this club?
The second half was textbook soccer. The ball was moved interchangeably between the fullbacks and the wide midfielders, and the forwards did well to keep the team’s progressive possession going forward. They really deserved a goal from the run of play, but given the personnel deficit, the three points was deserved no matter how earned. Michael Farfan had a great debut for the first team, working seemlessly with Keon Daniel along the left flank, both playing with speed and confidence. Stefani Miglioranzi did good defensive work in tandem with Amobi Okugo to keep San Jose’s attack looking severely disjointed. The other side of Union’s possession’s merits is that they were also able to keep their opponents from establishing any rythym.
I was elated to see on Facebook that Roger Torres was in the starting midfield with Okugo, Daniel, and Sebastien Le Toux. I had a moment like Adam Sandler in Airheads (this is a soggy dream come true!). That was about as impressive as the formation got; it struggled to create any threatening offense. I think Okugo led the team in shots, which would be fine if he wasn’t a defensive midfielder. I know Danny Mwanga is very talented, but even Okugo mentioned in his post-match interview that he was being told by friends and family that “you can’t score if you don’t shoot.” We need to put Okugo’s friends and family in touch with Mr. Mwanga. And Seba. And Choochito (I want that to mean Little Chooch, like he’s not good enough to have a big boy nickname yet).
That Little Fish guy is a somewhat fascinating case. Many have already cast him off as slow and lazy. I think he still has no clue how to play with this group of players. I think more time is needed to bring the rest of the starters up to speed on the way Fishy thinks, and what he believes he does best to make this team better. The play that stands out to me was where Mwanga was in a shooting position so Fishy positioned himself on the offsides line to anticipate pouncing on a potential rebound. Instead, Mwanga passed it to Ruiz, who made himself covered by aligning himself with the defender instead of shielding him off. See above: you can’t score if you don’t shoot. Get it straightened out, fellas.
San Jose has struggled this season. Much of the pregame talk centered around their manager changing nearly half of his starters for this match, in an effort to spur his team to better form. As we saw, that didn’t happen. This leads me to my last question: Are teams just not playing well early in the season, or does Union’s defense MAKE them play that poorly? The match against RBNY was similar in that they looked disjointed here, yet they went to DC not long after and looked like the best team in the league. Many conclude that Union’s record is a product of their weak early schedule, but I’m beginning to think the credit may lie more with the Union’s defense not allowing teams to become offensively comfortable.
Where: Robertson Stadium, Houston, TX When: Saturday, March 19 Time: 8:30 EST
Welcome to the 2011 MLS season, finally. I know that there was a game on Tuesday, but Union weren’t involved, so it doesn’t count. Union begin their 2011 odyssey against a club they have not lost to, having earned a win and a draw last season. The road side will look to continue this modicum of success with their retooled roster against an opponent in a similar position. Dynamo have also turned over several of their starters, including their keeper (Pat Onstad retired, the 2 guys Union had last year, um, yeah….). It promises to be an entertaining affair, as the strength of both teams is in offensive play and both lack quality and depth in their respective back lines. A baseball-esque scoreline, anyone?
Offense: Returning goal scorers Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga will be joined by former MLS MVP and golden boot winner Carlos Ruiz (Choooooooooooooooooch!!!). Nothing has become official as of this posting, but it’s a safe bet that Ruiz is up top with Mwanga in Coach Nowak’s 4-4-2. Le Toux will get to settle into his “midfielder who covers half the stadium” roaming roll, free to attack wherever he pleases. The addition of an accomplished striker is something that will only benefit a Union side who stands to concede many goals. I fear that they may need to score 3 goals most games to win, as I do not foresee many clean sheets. Justin Mapp will also be in his first full season with the club, and his deft ball controll and passing will be critical in keeping teams from defensively keying on Le Toux, as well. The central midfielders, well, I could analyze them if I actually had any idea who Nowak is going to put there. Brian Carroll will be one of them, but the other? Not a clue. I’d prefer to see Roger Torres for his offensive spark, or Amobi Okugo for his defensive tenacity. That means that Stefani Miglioranzi is the likely starter, because, …. I don’t know.
Defense: Dan K.’s favorite player (and I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible), Jordan Harvey, will feature in a slightly re-tooled back four. Also returning will be Danny “Cap’n Ink” Califf, and Sheanon Williams. The newcomer at center back is Carlos Valdes, the Colombian also signed at the same time as veteran goal keeper Faryd Mondragon, in what seemed to be a Colombian buy-in-bulk deal. The rule of thumb in sports is that your defense must be strong up the middle, and Union have a new ‘keeper, center back, and defensive holding midfielder. The Union faithful hope Nowak is right with his choices. I’m a bit skeptical, so I don’t expect many clean sheets, but hopefully more than the Flyers have this year (yikes!).
Reserves: Jack McInerney and Chris Agorsor played well in the preseason and seem to be the go-to guys Nowak will deploy when needing a goal late in the game. This blog unabashedly loves Jack Mac, and would prefer to see him starting at left midfield, but we can rant about that later. Agorsor, also new to the squad this season, hopes to impress and earn starts along the course of the season to spell one of the strikers. Union still have a glut of central midfielders, so many in fact that some of them have taken shifts playing defense as well. Union just signed Gabriel Farfan, midfielder and twin brother of 2011 2nd-round pick Michael Farfan, as depth at left back. Amobi Okugo has spent time as a central defender in his Generation Adidas and U.S. U-20 time, so he has continued that work with his club side. Maybe Nowak loves midfielders so much he wants to put 11 of them on the field at the same time. Who knows?
The opponent and outcome: Houston, as previously mentioned, has also undergone significant turnover. Their keeper retired, they’ve got 2 new starting defenders, and their best-known player, Brian Ching, is out with a chronic hamstring pull. Unfortunately, this does not leave them shorthanded. They play an aggressive style under Dom Kinnear, pressing for goals every minute. Last season, this was an inter-conference match, but Houston was realligned to the East for 2011. The benefit for Daynamo is that the West has five of the league’s six best teams, so their chances at one of the three Eastern Conference playoff spots are much greater. The players to watch are brand new to the league. Draft picks Will Bruin, forward, and Kofie Sarkodie, defender, have played themselves into the starting XI during the preseason.
My prediction is that this match will end in a 2-2 draw. A hard-fought road point for Union would be an excellent way to begin a run towards the MLS playoffs.
-Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
Well, now. I figured we’d have a different starting keeper, but I didn’t think that ALL of the keepers on the squad would be new. Enter the Dragon (Faryd Mondragon) and Zack Mac (and we already have Jack Mac, just need Little Mac from Mike Tyson’s Punchout to complete the set) and hopefully many clean sheets are in our future. The other great news is that Roger Torres is in training camp. I understand the big offseason moves involved the defense, but Union will need a stronger offense because I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Sebastien Le Toux to score 14 goals and get 11 assists again. The shape of the midfield is going to be critical to offensive success of this team, maybe even moreso than the cohesion of the back line.
What we know is that Justin Mapp will be on the left wing, to start. I know he switches sides to change things up, but he’s the left wing. The other three spots, I’m not sure. Brian Carroll will be in the starting central midfield, but who joins him? Stefani Miglioranzi is a solid, unspectacular player, who understands his defensive responsibilities and makes few mistakes. Blah. Amobi Okugo is a dynamite defensive stalwart who lacks experience and refinement, but makes up for it with ability. Roger Torres is the raw, creative attacker. We’ll likely see all of them in some combination as we progress through the season, but my vote is for Roger to start. Right wing? I’m not really sure that we have one on the team. The team seems to like Andrew Jacobson and Nick Zimmerman, but would Kyle Nakazawa be the best choice? He strikes the ball primarily with his right and serves great crosses. With Seba covering half of Chester, and Sheannon Williams using speed on loan from jet engines, Nakazawa’s relative lack of pace wouldn’t seem to hurt them. He gets my vote there. Then again, that’s what training camp and Peter Nowak are for.
The striker depth chart hasn’t changed. It’s still Danny Mwanga and Le Toux, with McInerney in reserve. The speculation still exists that Union have targeted yet another Colombian (unfortunately it’s not Shakira) to add here. Jorge Perlaza has been mentioned in rumors to be brought in. That would change my midfield predictions, should that occur, as Le Toux would move back to right wing (then covering 2/3 of Chester) and Perlaza would join Mwanga.
In summation, here’s what we know: There will be 11 players in the lineup for games, our keeper was not on Union last year, and Seba is the man. There is much more to fill in the blanks. The good thing about this is that it’s a product of having competition at all positions. More will come as it develops.
Nick-the other .5 of Unholy Union
This first post-season off-season for Union was also a particularly chaotic one. Union were going to be in the process of evaluating their players after their first season together, while building towards the lofty expectations of coach Peter Nowak, the front office, and the fanbase. The additional complications came from that there were 2 expansion teams in a draft, as well as the league-first re-entry draft. The aftermath was the Union losing 4 players, the most that a team could lose through that process.
The lost players: Union lost Alejandro Moreno and Shea Salinas in the expansion draft, while Chris Seitz and Fred were taken in the re-entry draft. I’m fine with losing Moreno, Seitz, and Fred, and the evidence can be found in my match day running diaries. Alejandro Moreno, while a good professional, seemed to fit better in theory than in practice. The initial opinions of the Union side was that they were positioned to be a stalwart defensive team, who would bunker down defensively and counter-attack to score. A holding attacker is a good thing to have in such a system. The reality is that Union played a very open end-to-end style, where Moreno was more of an impement than he was an attacker. The plethora of holding central midfielders on this roster only furthers his obsolescence. In shorter words; no big loss. Fred is very much in the same boat as Ale. He is also a true professional, evidenced by the stories of his work in the lockerroom in building unity. He is obsolete on this team because he is one of the surplus central middies. He played out of position a lot in the right midfield position, which truly limited his effectiveness. He will still have a lot of success wherever he plays, if played in the right position. No big loss for Union in the end, however. And then there’s Mr. Seitz. He’s gone now. And that’s good enough for me. The truth is he will likely end up being an accomplished professional goal keeper. Another truth is that he is not at, nor is he remotely near, that level now. Rumors have Union bringing in Faryd Mondragon, a 39-year-old Colombian playing in Germany, which would push Seitz to 3rd keeper, which would stunt his development even further. No tears will be shed over the departure of young Christopher.
However, there might not have been a need to leave Shea Salinas unprotected. I know there are requirements for a certain number of foreign players being protected, but there’s no reason that Salinas should not be in the starting XI for Union in the 2011 season. Nowak and John Hackworth really had better know what they’re doing. The only other reason I can think that he wasn’t protected is that they know something we don’t about his injuries, and how frequently they may occur down the road. Maybe they pulled a fast one on Vancouver. Right now, I don’t like how this played out at all.
Still to come: Last I heard, there was no concrete deal in place to keep Roger Torres here. He was on a 1-year loan from his Colombian club team. I like certain things about the midfielders on this team, but none of them has the vision or creativity of Roger Torres. They also have the January 13th MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore to look to in filling roster holes. Union have picks #5, 23, 28, 41, and 59 in the 4-round draft. I don’t follow college soccer, so I have no clue as to the depth of the talent available, but I have confidence that Nowak & Company do. Nowak was also quoted saying that they would be looking into Europe for players not getting minutes for their clubs there whom might benefit from playing time in MLS.
While I don’t like the departure of Shea Salinas, it is the reality that MLS is an inferior league and the young players are developed to be transferred to bigger leagues. The same will soon happen for Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo, and Jack McInerney, so while I enjoy watching them play now, they soon will be playing abroad, so I guess I can’t get that upset. We soldier on, and learn the names of the new guys.
-Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
It certainly is slow for Dan K. and I when the Union aren’t involved in anything. They are wrapping up training this week before taking the rest of the winter off. But there is an item of importance to pass along: Danny Mwanga did NOT graduate out of his “Generation Adidas” status. This is AWESOME, as it means he is exempt from the expansion draft, and Union don’t have to spend one of their 11 protected slots on him. The only carry-over from that status to graduate this season is much-maligned goalkeeper Chris Seitz. Guess who isn’t going to be protected in the expansion draft? So, Union will get to hold on to Mwanga, Jack McInerney, and Amobi Okugo, plus 11 others of their choosing. I’m already looking forward to the 2011 season.