This guy I know through a friend and some other people used to work AT Livestrong Park for SKC. Every now and then I like asking for some input for the blog when we play together. He’s even coming to the game – so if you see him with me, please don’t give him our “friendly welcome” …
Eh, what am I saying, GO FOR IT! And onto the 2 sided preview
SPORTING Perspective (Who cares…)
We can piece together Sporting Kansas City’s gameplan for Saturday’s Union game based on their gameplan from last Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Sounders. Sporting benched starters Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, Graham Zusi, Julio Cesar and Seth Sinovic (Matt Besler is out for a few weeks due to appendicitis) in favor of Jacob Peterson, Soony Saad, Peterson Joseph, Michael Thomas and Michael Harrington along with Lawrence Olum starting in place of Besler. The game was much more important than the final score for a couple reasons.
This was a test for Sporting to determine what kind of depth they have. With games in hand against their top opponents in the Eastern Conference, Coach Peter Vermes used this opportunity to use their final non-conference game of the season to see how his bench can play in a hostile environment of over 40,000 people after traveling to the West Coast. For the most part, the team performed wonderfully and drew the Sounders 1-1 with a primarily backup squad. If anything, the starters were the ones who were making mistakes and having bad games. Aurelien Collin played his usual aggressive style but took lots of risks after getting a yellow card in the 16th minute. It was a miracle that he didn’t pick up his 2nd yellow because he didn’t let up his play. Until Graham Zusi came on in the 50th minute, Roger Espinoza seemed lost and somewhat unprepared commanding the midfield. After Patrick Ianni’s beautiful goal, the usually calm and reserved Jimmy Nielsen was shown screaming at Espinoza which I felt was undeserved as there was nothing anyone on Sporting could really do. It was a nice set piece and nicer goal by Seattle. Backups Jacob Peterson and 19 year old Soony Saad had exceptional games early on as Peterson scored a terrific goal and Saad was on target with most of his shots and was much more physical than ever (which has been a weakness of his). Knowing that the bench players can perform when called upon is better to know now than finding out late in the season and it gives Vermes a great dilemma and start thinking about giving these players more starts and more playing time.
The other aspect learned from the Seattle game was that it showed how important Sporting views future games on the schedule. Sporting will play five games in thirteen days so the players will have to have a breather at some point especially since they have to endure 2 cross country trips within a week. The Seattle game became the sacrificial lamb of the stretch and they got away with a point on a night that had New York also drawing and Real Salt Lake blowing a two goal lead and losing to the LA Galaxy. It would be safe to assume that barring some sort of injury or exhaustion from players, Vermes will play the Starting XI (except Besler and possibly Bobby Convey) against Philadelphia and somewhat close to the Starting XI for their US Open Cup game against the Dayton Dutch Lions with possibly a couple changes to the lineup. As far as what Philadelphia should do, they should keep in mind that one more yellow card means that Aurelien Collin will receive a one game suspension for too many yellows. If he’s suspended and Besler doesn’t come back, the two Center Backs will most likely consist of Konrad Warzycha and Lawrence Olum, both primarily Midfielders converted to Center Back, which have a combined total of nine MLS appearances and two starts. Julio Cesar can take a spot if necessary but that would sacrifice some strength in the Midfield. In other words, Sporting can’t afford Collin to get another yellow so I would target him and the inexperience of Olum and go through the middle if I’m the Union. I predict a 2-1 Sporting win with goals from Collin (off a Zusi corner) and Sapong.
UNION ASPECT ( The one that matters)
Now, let’s not get started on the whole “Our season is blown” and “Why bother” comments. There is rejuvenation, there is hope, there is a chance – that something might happen.
Hey, I’m in the “Throw all the reserves out there against SKC and focus on the USOC on Tuesday” camp, but that’s just me, especially considering not that many people in the stadium probably know (or care) about the USOC match and how there actually is some figment of a chance. It’s something salvageable, right?
Rejuvenation- We have a new coach. He put a lineup in that made sense against DC. Hell, they played like a damn team. I can’t say much more than that (especially cause of the copious amounts of beer prior, and firewater, and some licourish vodka). He put McInerney in, who was likely mere moments away from handing in his 2 week notice (I know, he can’t, just saying). Hackworth even stated “Sheanon is a left back, he’s going back into that position”. Does this mean no more strikers as defenders and goalies as midfielders? No more darts at a roster chart? Consistency? Hope – see everything I just stated. Chance – This game should be a matter of pride. Again, we shouldn’t go balls to the wall, but this is SKC, this is the 2nd best team (with 2 games in hand) in the Eastern conference. This is the team that I feel deep down, we all want our team to be.
What better way to have pride than to come away with at least a point? Kansas City is already established this season. They have their standing position to protect, and even improve. As of now we almost have nothing, going forward – unless there is a huge shift in the standings – we’re going to be the spoiler team, at least that’s going to have to be our mindset – get into the game and ruin the teams above us. Also, if memory serves correctly, SKC was in the same boat we were at this time of the year last year, were they not?
Our game last week put our team into perspective – we have a lot of work to accomplish until we become an actual team, but they are slowly starting to get together. DC didn’t put up their best game against us, and we put up an aggressive – yet haphazard one – at best. It’s new beginnings, and it’s the silver lining. This game Saturday IS the proving ground for us and Hackworth. Yes, a week and a half is a short time for a coach to get things together – but I feel this is the turnaround.
Prediction – 1-1 draw where our defense excels greatly. Lahoud will get a yellow card. McInerney will get a goal. Adu will do his little 5 foot shuffle. The only downside – and this is because of having Nowak as a coach it is what we expect as our gameplan – is if we play their game and focus only on defense… But I feel that if we come out like we did against DC last week, and avoid the counterattack, it will be a great game.
I’m convinced that Arjen Robben bares more resemblance to former U.S. MNT coach and current Egypt MNT coach Bob Bradley than Bradley’s actual son, Michael. And, I can’t be the only one that thinks this.
Manchester City won the Manchester Derby to go even on points with United, ahead on season’s goal differential. Wonderful. This just gives Mario Balotelli another opportunity to completely f*ck City’s season up.
Real Madrid captured their league title this week. Congratulations! How’d your Champions League season go? Anyway, here’s a team with a manager who is very set in his ways, some of his players don’t like him and disagree with his tactics. Yet, they go through with the game plan like professionals. And their leading goal-scorer is a midfielder. Is THIS where Nowak gets his ideas from? Because I totally buy the parallel that Freddy Adu = Mesut Ozil and Michael Farfan = Cristiano Ronaldo. Yeah. Sure.
I don’t even know why I just made that Union-Real Madrid comparison
Union play a 1pm PST match in a stadium full of people who tailgate with lattes. And they’re owned by Drew Carey. All they do is purchase the right to host the US Open Cup final every year to give them the advantage in winning a tournament that most of MLS doesn’t care about. I’m still pissed about the Flyers being down 2-1 to the Devils. I need a Union win tomorrow.
-Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
Saturday, April 14th, 3:30 pm from PPL Park in Chester, PA.
While the weather tomorrow is supposed to warm up, I see no proof that our beloved soccer team will follow suit. It’s been said that this matchup pits two similar teams against each other. The only similarities I see that matter are that both Union and Columbus have played four matches, and both have allowed six goals. Union have achieved just a single draw along with three losses, whereas Crew have managed to win two and lose two. That means a five-point differential between the two sides. That sort of differential suggests this season has NOT been very similar for these two teams.
Positives: I won’t be completely negative in this post. The positives are that Union posted a clean sheet defensively last match, and Freddy Adu is back and ready to take a spot leading his club team, hopefully in the same impactful way that he lead the US U-23 Team. Much controversy was aswirl about the decision to not include captain Danny Califf in the lineup. Defenses thrive on consistency, and this was as inconsistent a move as any that Peter Nowak has made during his stewardship over the Union. Califf was reinserted in the starting XI for last match, against Vancouver, and Union did not concede a goal. The bye-week in the match schedule should ensure that the same back four is set to go against Columbus, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe Freddy will be the voice needed to get this team’s offense to put shots on goal. Union need some players with the killer-spirit to out-work the defender and find a way to get the shots within the frame of the goal. Roger Torres being hurt doesn’t help, since he’s one of the guys who’s actually created a goal this season (sad as that is to type). Adu possesses a similar skill set, so with a little help from his striker friends, Freddy may be just what this team needs to right the ship.
I just don’t see that happening. Freddy Adu does have the creative flair to initiate offensive chances. However, he always appears to be on a different page than his forwards, so his passes find no teammate. Unless they’ve actually been practicing a ton in the two weeks since that Vancouver match, I just don’t see them hitting all cylanders on offense yet. I predicted a 1-1 draw, which would still be a step in the right direction. I think they’ll score first, and concede a late goal based on some good work from Columbus, not the result of a defensive error.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)
Thankfully, for Union fans, this round is 2-legged. My overall feeling about Sunday’s first leg against Houston Dynamo is that they were doomed from the announcement of their starting lineup, yet put up a great effort, worthy of leaving PPL Park with a zero goal deficit. The inclusion of Stefani Miglioranzi in the starting XI was borderline criminal, and responsible for their minus-one differential. He is an injury or suspension fill-in, at best. There are no logical tactics that should include him in a starting role. He’s not a 90-minute player, he’s not fast, and he’s not even above-average for an MLS player. Inevitably, Nowak would have to sub for him, which isn’t a tactical sub because it’s necessary. I would rather see Juan Diego Gonzalez in Thursday’s match than Miglioranzi, and JDG hasn’t played a single minute in MLS play this season. The difference is I KNOW Miglioranzi hurts this team (Adam Hainault agrees with me).
The positive outlook is that Union were able to threaten Houston’s defense, which had conceded just 3 goals in their previous 5 matches. There was luck involved in Sebastien Le Toux’s goal, as the pass deflected off of the back of the head of a helpless Houston defender. But there was also luck involved in Houston’s first goal (well, their luck was that Nowak started Migs. Oh wait, I’m supposed to be positive in this paragraph). The substitutions were all positive. They created several opportunities for goals, but their inexperience showed. Jack McInerney, for all of his willingness to get forward on well-timed runs, needs to realize that sometimes he needs to be on the ball-side of his defender because he’s not going to win headers too often. Roger Torres, for all of his willingness to play the nicely-weighted through-ball to a surging teammate, needs to realize that his teammates don’t always see the game the way he does (although they friggin should). Freddy Adu, for all of his experience internationally, needs to realize that he is still the new guy on the team and he has much to learn about how his teammates play. McInerney was certainly hurt by his lack of playing time (damn you, Fat Chooch!), and it showed in the waning moments of the match. A little more sophistication in his game probably finds him in a better position to attack the ball and put more threatening shots on goal. Roger finally learned to drop deeper in the midfield to be the conduit from defense to offense. Playing in that manner with Adu also on the field should lead to a more consistent and potent offense (all in due time. I hope this happens Thursday night, but I’m not counting on it).
The best thing to come out of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat is that we have learned Michael Farfan and Seba can step up to the big moment and perform in the playoffs. Their play combining for the response in the 7th minute shows that Seba is not a fluke, and Marfan has cemented himself in the starting XI for the foreseeable future. Speaking of Farfans and positives, Union are very lucky that Gabe was not issued a red card for his wreckless challenge on Danny Cruz. I think the yellow card was the correct decision, especially given that it’s a playoff game and the teams get more levity to play and compete hard. I have no refereeing experience, but if Garfan had been issued a straight red card, I would not have argued it. I would have been really upset at Garfan for the challenge, instead. It was an aerial cross to a stationary winger. Cruz was not making a run behind Garfan, therefore there was no urgent need to win THAT particular pass. If anything, by playing proper body position, Garfan could have easily dispossessed Cruz after Cruz’ first touch on that pass. Worst-case, Houston has the ball on the wing at the foot of someone not named Brad Davis, therefore, it’s not Houston’s most-threatening position. All of that being said, Garfan also did well to compete hard and not pick up a second yellow, so Union’s comeback attempts did not have to come a man down. And he is eligible for Thursday’s match. Which is a positive because….
….it’s one less possibility that Stefani Miglioranzi starts… you knew I was coming back to that, didn’t you.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union
…Which is the obvious lead-in to the analysis of the midfield matchup. From my previous posts, and ANY playoff preview you may have read over the past few days, you’ve seen the name Brad Davis. He is the left wing midfielder for Houston Dynamo. He lead the league this season in assists. He’s pretty damn good. The rest of the Houston midfielders, meh, I think they’re just on the pitch to transition the ball from defense-to-Davis.
The Union midfield, I think, will be Justin Mapp, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, and……. I don’t know. Should be Roger Torres. Could be Freddy Adu. I still think Nowak wants to suit up. However, I will hate Coach if he starts a second defensive midfielder. The home game, I’m hoping, will be the game Nowak sees as his better opportunity to score goals and come out with a more attack-minded lineup. If they win this first game by 2 or more goals, only then will I not hate Nowak for going with a defensive lineup in the second leg. I know it’s great to have defensively responsible players on the pitch, but the best way to keep the ball out of your net is to keep it nearer to your opponent’s net. Besides, Roger Torres has become much better at winning the ball back in the midfield after turnovers. His skilled feet and field vision will be tremendous assets with Marfan and Mapp on the wings. From this blog to Nowak’s ears….
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)
I’ve made note of this before, some banners in the River End have been missing since July, one in which was Charlie Sheen… Now, I’m not saying it’s primarily because of the banners, but there is an awful lot of coincidence in the Charlie Sheen banner hanging proudly in The River End, and our first win in two months. If you have finally recovered from celebrating (or dredding the Sunday night loss of the Eagles, both should result in hangovers) you already know we beat Columbus 1-nothing.
With a starting eleven that rotates more than a 5 year old on a computer chair, this was the most haphazard chemistry experiment Nowak has implemented this year. We started with the normal GK with MacMath, Valdes, Califf, Williams, and an interchangable Farfan in left back (Gabe this time). In the midfield was our solid CMD in Carroll, and our new favorite combination of Adu Torres. The change here, as Justin Mapp was listed on the injury report, was our youngest acquisition – Pfeffer. The 17 year old had his first start and played well – but I will get to that later. So, with the midfield with a little twist, you would expect to see Mwanga and LeToux up top. Well, half right. The interchangeable Farfan’s strike again with being able to fill a striker position with Michael. My eyes went crosseyed when I saw this line up. Nowak was either a mad genius, or has gone mad. Both are the case, but I’ll just go with genius. That or he reads all the bloggers’ predictions before hand just to mess with our heads so that we are always wrong.
What went right-
Most everything. We didn’t have drifting midfielders. We didn’t look like a midfield blob the entire game. No overplaying the ball defensively and having to chase. It was one of our better form games this year, and it showed.
It seemed from my end that it was mostly a midfield battle, as Columbus would come in and literally possess the ball with handling and passing, which they are fairly good at. For the Union however, from the beginning, it seemed our strategy was grab and dash. We weren’t really trying to keep the ball possession, rather, get the ball, and get it to goal as fast as possible. Many breaks would end up with the ball stolen and Columbus back to pure possession, so the first half Columbus generally maintained the ball. But like most strategies for a counterattack game, if you do it long enough there will be a breakthrough and it came with Torres to Le Toux.
Now, there were a few breaks before that could have resulted in goals or attempts, but this one was just perfect. Torres on the right wing on the defensive side of midfield looks up to see Le Toux in between two Columbus defenders, pointing at goal. I don’t know why this has never been done before, but Torres actually sent the ball in… Not only did he send it in, it was perfectly spaced and weighted putting the ball in front of Le Toux, inside the 18. Le Toux with a step on the defender coming in at full speed, you would think that he would end up hitting the ball high or wide, but something has happened to the Frenchmen in the past 2 months – he got his touch back. He calmly struck to ball low and to the right of Columbus keeper Hessmer, and officially made him his bitch.
Pfeffer in the closing minutes of the 1st half had a shot on goal as well, initiated from a Torres cross to Le Toux into the box once again, which he then outplayed a defender along the goal line and got it to Pfeffer who was in the middle right side of the 18 box, with his back to goal, pivots and strikes the ball nicely for such a shot. Unfortunately it was directly at the keeper. Not bad for a 17 year old.
These were the only 2 shots on goal out of 8. 5 others went wide, and another was stopped before it reached net. Columbus had an equal amount of chances, but only required MacMath to make one save, giving him the clean sheet and first MLS career win. They also had 4 shots off target, and 3 were blocked.
What you would have thought-
Thinking about this, I don’t know why Columbus did not try to go on our left flank more than they did. Granted, we have a 17 year old first time starter as left midfielder, and Gabe Farfan, the better defender of the two Farfans, but not a natural defender – so thinking strategically you would pressure that one side. Luckily enough, they’re Columbus and screwed up. I’m not complaining, but it makes you wonder about the strategies teams try to implement – and remind us that even though it seems we don’t have one cut in stone, some other teams are that much more worse off.
What to improve -
To be honest, I can’t think of anything to improve on with this game. Adu did very little, but was available for distribution. Torres made some fantastic service similar to that which we saw and loved last year. And we looked like a team that knows how to get in first place for the conference, and has the making to finish the season strong.
I guess the only thing I would ask for would be some insurance goals. Sitting on one goal leads is never pretty, but it wasn’t like we weren’t trying. Just get it on target boys.
Also, in case you didn’t know – during half time Rotary International was showcased, a volunteer organization that provides “communitees at home and abroad to support education and job training, provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, and eradicate polio.” That was taken from the main international site. You can go to Rotary.org, philarotary.org or the Philadelphia Club facebook. They used this game to raise funds to be donated to Rotary for polio education.