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)
Friday, July 29, 7:30pm, PPL Park, Chester, PA (Fox Soccer Channel)
Now that all of this “Let’s put together a collection of MLS players to be massacred by Manchester United” nonsense is over with, let’s move on to the unofficial 2nd half of the season. Union host defending league champ Colorado Rapids in the unusual Friday match. Being that this match happens just 2 days after the “All-Star Game” (It’s a shame that the people who vote for the players don’t actually watch the games, apparently. How the right side of the Union defense was not there is beyond….everyone), I wonder how in-form Faryd Mondragon will be. Granted, he only played in the first half of the match, and it was only in northern New Jersey, but Dragon usually poses with half of the other team to take pictures with his kids, and then gives the media comprehensive interviews, et cetera. There’s a chance that after the photo opportunities and jersey-trading, he didn’t leave Pink Cow Arena until 5am this morning.
For Colorado, Omar Cummings is the one attacking player I fear. I refer to him as “scary-good” for a reason. He played in the “All-Star Game” so I hope he is tuckered out from it. Unless he spent the match standing around studying Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant. In any event, I hope Omar is a bit off of his game. Especially since Rapids are already down Connor Casey who blew out his achilles’ tendon and is done for the year. We here at Unholy Union Blog wish him well and a complete recovery, so that Union can be responsible for kicking his ass next year. Speaking of injuries, the assailant in the gruesome Steve Zakuani leg-breaking is back. Brian Mullan has returned from suspension, having played 85 minutes against New England. If poetic justice truly existed, Casey’s injury would have happened to Mullan instead, but I digress. The other player to look for is Sanna Nyassi, who scored a hat trick against NY (and we thank him for that) 2 matches back. It’s likely that he’ll be up top with Cummings again, in an effort to score against a Union defense that’s better than what Manchester United saw Wednesday night (again HOW IN THE HELL COULD YOU CALL THAT GROUP “ALL-STARS”?????????).
Union are coming off of 2 impressive performances in friendlies against Everton and Real Madrid. There are plenty of positives to be taken out of those matches, as well as some things that need to be ignored. The win against Everton was good, however it must be tempered by the fact that Everton didn’t really care to win that game anyway. They would have been just fine with spending that evening at Harrah’s instead of putting on a good show for our fans. Roger Torres was the star of the game…. where noone attempted to put hard tackles in on him. He played great, in both games, but they’re meaningless friendlies, so no hard tackles to be adminstered means he left his jittery feet at home. They (and by they I mean Carlos Valdes) also learned that sometimes the simple play is the correct play. He whiffed twice on Saturday against Real and it lead to 2 goals. The first was him trying to trap the ball with his raised leg and missing it, the other was opting not to simply play the ball over the touchline but rather faking his opponent out to keep the ball in play. It serves as a reminder to all: make the simple play. Union are not Real Madrid, they are not fancy and electric on the ball. They are a workman-like team that is based on defensive strength.
The lineup I expect will have at least 1 Farfan in it. Ok, that’s a very simple statement to make, since one, Gabe, is the de facto left fullback, but his brother, Mike, acquitted himself nicely against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Traveling Circus, and may be in line for more minutes. At the expense of whom, you might ask? Kyle Nakazawa. Alzheimer’s patients look less lost than Naka did against Real Madrid. It’s no shame to get outplayed by a team I consider to be top-5 in the world. But his obvious lack of ability to find the game in any way was very disappointing. And in twisted Peter Nowak logic, that means Naka will probably start, because, Nowak fills out the lineup card and I don’t. We will see Carlos Ruiz, Danny Mwanga, and Sebastien Le Toux. We’ll also see Brian Carroll, and our normal back 5. Justin Mapp will go back to left wing, ho hum.
What I also expect to see is a 2-1 win for Union. This is the time of the season when 3 points are needed from home matches. This team has gelled well over the course of the season, and I believe these international friendlies have forced them to play more cohesively than any league match has. I’d like for Union to earn a clean sheet, but I fear Colorado’s attack too much to assume a shutout.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
A scoreless draw on the road against a team that hadn’t scored a goal in 3 of its previous 4 matches. That is what Union left San Jose with Saturday night. While Chris Wondolowski was in the lineup (though you wouldn’t have known it based on his high complaint-to-actually playing the ball ratio), they were missing Bobby Convey and Steven Lenhart. The latter two have given Union many problems, so their absense made this a match that should have more closely resembled the thrashing in Toronto. Union dominated possession and chances, yet scored the same number of goals as the ‘Quakes, and yours truly: zero.
As we are now past the halfway point of the season, I can now rip the team for the way that they’re playing, per my promise given during the first YSA Report podcast. My head is still spinning trying to grasp the logic of the Jordan Harvey trade, then we get news that Carlos Ruiz, Veljko Paunovic, and Carlos Valdes were all going to be absent. I understand that the lineup was going to be drastically different than what it should have been. All of the players in the starting XI have played this season. It’s not as if they asked ANOTHER 30-something to come out of retirement to play. I just don’t get how a team that “allegedly” practices together can look so disjointed. Case-in-point: Roger Torres’ header attempt. He was completely unaware that Jack McInerney was in the same zone and in far better position to leverage that head strike likely into the back of the net. THESE FRIGGIN TIES AGAINST INFERIOR TEAMS HAVE TO F*CKIN STOP!!!!!!! It’s great that DC United helped the Union’s cause by beating the NJ Pink Cows, but the team can’t rely on the rest of the league beating each other up so Union stay atop by default. Playtime is over, kids. Get three points when they’re there to be had.
The last place I want to see Stefani Miglioranzi is on the field, trust me. If someone had told me that Migs was going to play all 90 in this match and somehow NOT make an error that directly resulted in a goal, I would have done a “bearfight” in celebration. I’d prefer that he find the seat next to Juan Diego Gonzalez (that is, if anyone can actually find him). He played a solid game in emergency duty, the credit for which will rightly be given to Faryd Mondragon. I’d also like to thank the San Jose organization for having to use UC-Santa Barbara’s facility for their games. It was quiet enough that Migs could hear the directions from Dragon so well that even he couldn’t screw this game up.
I don’t want to see the possession statistics on this match. It will make me want to throw up, and then punch somebody. Or maybe punch somebody and then throw up on them. Either way, I’m going to be in a bad mood when the statistical analysis proves that Union should have won this match by a field goal. Union’s next match is against New England Revolution, the last place team in the Eastern Conference. This match has now become a must-win. If Union really want to prove that they are the top team in the East, then they need to be able to beat the worst teams in the league, regardless of the venue. That’s what happens in leagues everywhere else in the world; the big guys beat up the little guys (I don’t want to hear Manny Pacquiao references). KC was a bad team: scoreless draw, DC just changed their team up mid-week: another draw, playing a short-handed sh*tty team in San Jose: scoreless draw. Road draws build character for bad teams. Union are in first place, but that will not be true much longer if they can’t figure out a way to beat the teams that they should beat.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
They say draws are like kissing your sister, and I guess that saying is to mean that getting to kiss a girl is good, but that it’s your sister makes it disgusting. Well, this match was kind of like that, if your sister is a transexual.
ALL SEASON WE WANT THEM TO SHOOT MORE AND THEY GET 26 ATTEMPTS ON GOAL WITH NO FRIGGIN GOALS!!! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Ok, I feel a little better now.
Then again, that was the last place team in the Eastern Conference they were facing… I’m going to punch something…
Thus is the maddening back-and-forth we’re left to deal with in this aftermath. They played very well in possession and creating chances. But much of their play was a bit too slow and deliberate which allowed SKC to adjust and defend accordingly. Le Toux and Ruiz worked together better than they had at any point of this season. They combined for many chances on goal, which is great to see. But most of those shots went wide (all of Le Toux’s) and only 1 forced a quality save (Fat Chooch’s free kick). Paunovic started (I should have seen this match ending this way just because of him) and played comfortably in the central attacking midfielder (CAM) role, and didn’t kill the team. But he’s still too old and doesn’t know the team well enough to play at the speed that we need to take advantage of a team that knows it’s inferior and played the entire match hoping for a draw. The defense played solidly and didn’t allow 40-year-old non-virgin Mondragon to be threatened more than once or twice. But that’s because KC played the entire match as if they were more than happy to leave with a point from a scoreless draw. Sheesh.
This should have been the soccer version of the scene in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone meets his end, or at least a re-run of the match vs Toronto FC, but instead we’re left with back-to-back matches against last-place teams yielding just a single point in the standings. And, unlike the aforementioned TFC match, the Union are back to not finding the net. They have no goals this week, with another patsie opponent, Chivas USA, awaiting them Saturday. Granted, leading scorer Danny Mwanga was unavailable due to a knee injury, but with an attack-minded lineup in from the start, I feel the result of this match should have been a foregone conclusion.
I’m on the record, through the YSA Report podcast, as saying that the first 17 matches can be about building the team, and gelling, and all of that hokey pokey nonsense that coaches talk about, but the final 17 are purely about results. Therefore, I won’t rip them for using the experimental lineup that they did, as this was just the 15th match of the season. However, home matches against bottom-feeders shouldn’t result in anything other than wins.
Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
As I’m sitting at home watching the USA vs Jamaica match, I figured I might as well put up a post of the travesty that was last night.
Philadelphia Union lost to Vancouver Whitecraps… i mean Riot… i mean.. whatever. 1 nothing. Vancouver’s goal, albeit nicely struck (easily a goal of the week candidate) was sour in every sense of the word, like sour gummi worms.
At first, I thought we were in for a good game. I liked the referee prior to this game (Alex Prus), he was decent in the game at PPL so I figured it would be a well officiated game. Union have been making decent lineups from the get go, so before the game I had a great feeling.
Then I saw Miglioranzi in the lineup. Paunovic, our newly acquired 2 1/2 year retired, 33 year old serbian.
Being an away game i was on twitter with all the fellow union fans on their computers or smart phones. I myself was at a computer… needing a new beer I came back to this tweet which my response started a craze:
Philly Soccer Page
Anyone have a good reason Mwanga shouldn’t start? Or anything official?
@phillysoccerpg old serbian and old migz
Apparently my response of the fact we have an old serbian began a hashtag joke frenzy you can see here at brotherly game. Again thanks for the credit.
This was a welcome distraction, as well as Andrew from The Union Dues coming up with #rememberthetimemigs comments that were painfully funny only because they were heartbreakingly true (“Remember the time when migs was taken off and mystified me as to why? i don’t” ). Needless to say, a game where the majority of comments are heckling your own players doesn’t bode well for game reviews…
In between me yelling at Hassli to go back to Green Street and making jokes about anyone and everything, the refereeing was atrocious. Plenty of hard tackles,scissor tackles from behind, and inconsistent calls that are consistent with the MLS officiating. But sadly, we can’t blame this game on officiating alone. So who can we blame it on? Our defense? Offense? The other team?
Well, our defense was good. Our offense had their own pressing moments, but hardly any shots on goal… and any shots on goal were by Carroll, so they are in the list of blame. Vancouver played terribly, in every sense of the word – nothing pretty about their play, and they weren’t at all good. So what could possibly be the problem?
Unless of course he’s on a coke binge and it’s his 5th day awake, what in god’s name makes you think the lineup last night is any good at all. We have Paunovic who is new being paired up with Le Toux. Okay, experienced striker who is 2 1/2 years rusty, with someone who is on a dry streak this year. Experience may overcome the odds, if he played his position and not deep in the middle of midfielders… so we had Le Toux who runs all over, and Paunovic who is receeded, we clearly have no one to feed any counterattacks to. Atrocious.
Not only that, we threw Miglioranzi back into the mix i suppose to say “Yes, you’re still on the team”. He is as wanted in the lineup from fans as a colonoscopy.
So with a lineup that was destined for a come from behind game, the surprise appearance of a professional referee being an MLS referee, and members of Vancouver playing like they are prepping for a UFC match, it was an ugly game for everyone. Very few chances created by the Union, we were set to fail from the beginning with another lineup scratching our heads, and a worse performance than we did in FC Dallas.
Only a few plays are worthy of comment:
Vancouver’s goal -
It’s hard to say, but our defense lapsed in thinking allowing Rochart to make a strike from outside the box into the far side out of Mondragon’s reach. Someone on twitter asked if he was 5 years younger would he have made that save. The answer is no – mostly because it was a good challenging strke and the only thing that could have allowed Mondragon to save it would have been his postioning on the angle, which was maybe only a step too far to the wrong side.
Mondragon on defense -
Twice this man ran out into the run of play on a ball, and twice left the net open scarily giving us all agita. Luckily enough vancouver is that bad – once losing the ball before any threatening play, and the second time our defense collapsed into the box and proved their worth by blocking the shot out of bounds before it could get near the goal.
Most everything else could be summed up from other analyses – Migs gives up the ball too many times, bad passes. No offense, no shooting. What is Nowak thinking. ETC, ETC. The only thing we can take away from this game is a bitter taste in our mouth, a feeling of being cheated, and wondering why we lost a 3 points that should have been a given.
Saturday, June 4 @ 9pm @ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
Union are coming off their most impressive display of the season, that 6-2 thrashing of Toronto FC that we all enjoyed watching so much (save for the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half). Union largely avoid being effected by the Gold Cup, as only Carlos Ruiz is away serving national team duty. Should Union continue to score in droves sans Ruiz, then I will be rooting for Guatemala to make a long run in the tournament.
Colorado, on the other hand, loses 2 players to playing in the Gold Cup. Omar Cummings, the scary-good forward, and Tyrone Marshall will both be playing for Jamaica, which is good for Union. What isn’t so good is that Colorado earned a draw at RBNY without those 2 in the lineup. One of their goals was allegedly somewhat of a gift, a penalty given for a foul that appeared to be outside of the area. Still, both of those goals were scored by Chestnut Hill Academy product Jeff Larentowicz. He will be in this match, so Rapids are still dangerous. They also have only lost 1 match thus far at home. But they’ve only won 4 matches overall.
Union will look to continue their offensive growth, as well as further their consecutive wins. The 6-pack they put up on TFC was likely an abberation, but their confidence and competency is not. The recipe seems to be take Union, remove Ruiz, add a Farfan, the POOF! instant offensive success! Or something like that. It also helps when Justin Mapp actually plays the way he’s supposed to (read: using both feet) and they get width from both the outside midfielders and their fullbacks. Jordan Harvey’s cross to set up the first goal, while far from perfect, worked because he was wide enough that he had the space to pass. The part he could control, putting the ball into a good attacking area, was accomplished. That doesn’t happen as often when any number of midfielders who drift toward the center of the pitch as if magnetically drawn attempt through balls from those compromised positions. Tactics and instinct aside, the most encouraging part is that they are showing the confidence with their shooting (except for some French guy who led this team in every statistical category that mattered last year).
Riding this momentum will result in a nice road result against a mildly short-handed side. I see this match going to Union 2-1. I’m a bit concerned with the way Mondragon plays when pressed into action. I hope the backline feels the need to step up after last week’s performance (not that they were bad, just bad for them. They’ve set a higher standard). No clean sheet, but 3 points on the road is never a bad thing. And 6 more goals would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath.
I was going to make the title “Making Canada our bitch” but it’s a bit too long of a title. So generic title you get.
Result – Union 6!!!!! TFC – 2
Where has this team been? That’s all I have to ask. Where in God’s name has this team been? Everything went right, except for Le Toux’s touch. There’s so much elation I don’t know where to begin…
The 300 pound gorilla in the room …
Carlos Ruiz was benched and sat for this game. I know plenty of people are rejoicing on this, and are making a statement that because he was not there, this opened up the center channel for our attack. I would have to reiterate that until recently, with or without Ruiz, we HAD no attack. And if we did, it wasn’t a very good one anyway.
Clearly with Ruiz going to be gone due to national duties during the Gold Cup, Nowak wanted the team to have confidence to play without him. What better of a team to do that with than the beaten stepchild of TFC – bottom of the table, most shots against on goal, just…terrible. And they are canadians. The one way to work on this is clearly to change the strategy of the bucket defense, and create an attacking soccer mentality in a 4-1-3-2 formation with Carroll being the only defensive midfielder. This clearly worked as our midfielders were the ones scoring (not even our strikers!). Why can’t they do that even if Ruiz was there?
I’ve been asking all season, before and after his injury – where is Justin Mapp. He answered with a flash of genius in Dallas, then proved that he is actually awake when playing Chicago, and suddenly he breaks out saying “Shut up bitch” by getting 2 amazing goals from distance. Key word – from distance. Most everything about his, and the team’s play was brilliant.
Not only that, someone else who has taken a liking of not shooting when he needs to also scored from distance, Naka-naka-nakazawa. He started to shoot a bit last week, I’m sure it was in spite of the YSA podcast saying ‘he has a deer in headlights mentality to an open lane shot’ (a collaborative “your welcome” on behalf of Union Dues) and this week he puts a beauty in on goal. About time is all I have to say.
The Wonder Twins
No real critique, I just wanted to say the wonder twins. A week after M gets a goal, G comes up with his own in the first 2 minutes of play. That’s right, 2 minutes. For those that missed the first few minutes due to grilling or getting a beer, you have poor timing.
Strikers – lack there of
I don’t know about you, but when a team is able to decimate a team (worthy of decimating) by playing attacking soccer, and the first 4 goals scored in open play are with midfielders and not strikers, that’s saying something. Le Toux, the 400 pound gorilla (bigger than Ruiz) is still loved, and dare I critique him, be it either the pressure of not scoring, the pressure of defense (that I don’t see at all), or just a fluke of a year with the club (work rate aside) he should probably have also sat this game, or at least be subbed out. With a chance to exclamate our route over TFC he cleared the ball point blank over the post in the final seconds of the 1st half.
On points brought up – there seems as though there is a lot of pressure for him to score. About last year being a fluke, 11 games in and his only goal is a PK, he can’t (nor hardly ever) get a set piece on frame. His personal pressure must be so tough that he’s rushing an open sided net goal that he should have just tapped in and makes it soar.
Is he a defensive mark for other teams – well, considering last year he should be. Considering his first touch this year, he should be more so as represented by the terrible giveaway that lead to TFC’s 2nd goal in the 2nd half. His workrate and freedom to move around the field the main defense against him as he runs all the way to the backline, and when on an offensive counter has to double time to get up to a playable position for the ball, which by that time in most other games, gets dribbled into a failed attempt, or goes out for a goal kick. He did however have a brilliant start for the play that lead to the Kyle Nakazawa goal, but all in all he is just amounting himself to be the favorite son of Philly, and that’s that in my view. All in all, I have no problems with Mwanga not “sharing” a practical open net goal to Le Toux, I have a feeling he would have aired it over the net.
I got nothing. TFC is a terrible team, and anytime there isn’t a primary focus and ’decent’ analysis by me on the defense the better, which means we controlled the game for the most part. 2 main breaks – beginning of the 2nd half:
What was Mondragon doing? That was the worst decision he’s made. Yes he may have been beat if he stayed in goal since the team seemed to feel great about the lead and let that ball get through, but when a goalie goes out that far outside the box, he has to make damn sure he gets the ball. He really hung himself out to dry there in the end.
2nd goal – giveaway by Le Toux – you really can’t blame the defense on this one. Le toux just gave it up and that caused everyone to become flatfooted with no time to recover to make a good attempt at their impersonation of the iron curtain.
What to take away from this game
We can score.
We’re a good enough team to know that the games we should win, against the lower rankings, we can with force.
We can play attacking soccer.
We can score. Oh lordy we can score.
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
I’ve not been writing as frequently as I had been during last season. The reason is that for the first month of the season, we don’t necessarily know what this season’s edition of the Union is. Last season’s group was creative, if not flawed, in attack, and unstable and fatally flawed in defense. Dan K. and I started this blog part-way through the season, so when we started writing, we already had an idea of what that team was and was not. I’m wondering if now, 5 games into the season, is that enough of a sample to form my idea of the identity of the 2011 Philadelphia Union?
I’ll operate on the assumption that it is a large enough sample, first. The side has gone from offensively creative, but impatient and jittery, to altogether sluggish and disjointed. The key to goal scoring has been opportunism, rather than through the merits of their talent. Introducing new personnel into the starting eleven has caused more headscratching than a bad case of dandruff, yet the new editions have been pivotal to the team’s success to date. In that category, either Carlos Valdes or Faryd Mondragon would be 2011 MVP. Brian Carroll’s contributions are less noticeable than Carlos Ruiz’ goal-scoring (though we’d like to see way more of it from him) and Valdes’ play-breaking tackles and clearances. Largely, we have seen Union as a side that is difficult to score on. No team has tallied more than once against them in League play. Defense being the key to a championship, as the popular credo goes, Union have certainly done well to put themselves in that position.
This year’s team seems content to generate their offensive salvos only after thwarting those of their opposition. Their back line and defensive midfield, in tandem, do great work to frustrate opponents. Their sure tackling and cohesive organization allow for smooth transitions into the attack. Except for one small problem: This team appears to not have the foggiest friggin’ clue of how to organize a decent attack! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) They don’t possess terribly well, and the midfielders don’t seem to link up with their strikers particularly well, either. It looks as if those groups practice separately and catch up with each other on match days. And, to further exacerbate the problems, the strikers don’t seem to have any idea what Ruiz is going to do, so they look out-of-sorts, as well. The game plan seems to be to take time assessing what their opponent is bringing that day, then make sure they keep the game scoreless until Coach Nowak can tactically substitute in more attacking players to steal the game with just a single goal. That may be the best rationalization I’ve come up with for why Danny Mwanga rides the substitute’s bench.
However, the converse is that maybe this is still an evolving team. Every team evolves from the beginning of a season to its end. A team is who they are, fundamentally, from the beginning, and the season serves as time to be the best version of themselves through season’s end. This unexpected off-week in the schedule may have served as a blessing in disguise for this team. The offensive struggles, which have been noted, could be worked out in this time. It’s conceivable that Nowak has had his team reviewing game films and is getting everyone on the same page. Maybe, after further review, Ruiz will learn how he can spring Sebastien Le Toux, and how he can get himself open for Le Toux’s low crosses (just no more free kicks from him. Please!) Maybe Nowak will realize he screwed up and he’ll just start Mwanga with Le Toux again (but probably not).
This was an expansion side last season whose team was begun from scratch. This season’s team has had quite a bit of turnover on top of that. It could be that this team needs a few more matches to truly find its identity. 2010′s early performances were eratic. They got shut out in their first match, but came back to score three the next week. It took the better part of two months before we had a solid grasp on what that team was. Maybe the 2011 version deserves that same patience.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
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