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
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
The Philadelphia Union facebook page posted the statistic that the Union back line has a .50 GAA over the last six matches in all competitions. In other words, they’ve had 3 goals scored against them the last six matches. That’s what good teams in soccer do, but we, as Union supporters, have not become accustomed to with our side. There are three factors that have transformed this group from weak and flawed to solid and reliable.
The Goalie Switch: Chris Seitz was a victim of poor marking in front of him, but his panicked decision-making made him an easy whipping boy. Supporters lashed out at him for misplaying crosses, leaving rebounds, poor positioning, the slumping economy, etc, etc. It wasn’t entirely his fault, but he made enough mistakes that the switch became possible. Enter Brad Knighton, who played against non-MLS teams and played well, but I roasted him for tackling Brek Shea, earning a red card, and putting his team down a goal in his 23rd minute of Union league play. His subsequent performances have been exactly what the team has needed this whole season; communication and decisiveness. The most poignant play came early in this past match, where a Chivas player had a cross played onside well behind the Union back line. Knighton opted to try to beat him to the ball, and did so narrowly, only after a foot-first slide. That is a shot on goal, and likely a goal, if Knighton either decides that he can’t get the ball and stays in the net, or if he leaves a split-second later. I’m not able to ascertain if his communication with the defenders is better, but it seems clear that he is part of the solution, moreso than part of the problem
Square Peg No Longer: Michael Orozco Fiscal has been a consistent performer all season. He’s even scored a goal off of a corner kick. He’s played wherever Nowak has asked him to play. However, he has played too much of this season out of position. MOF’s athleticism gave birth to the experiment at right back, instead of the center back position he is used to. He seemed so out-of-sorts there at times that he was seen as completely replaceable by many, including yours truly. The injury to Juan Diego Gonzales allowed for MOF to return to his true position, and the results have, statistically, been spoken for. Again, communication could be a factor, or that MOF is the right player to be alongside Cap’n Califf. Those two got Chivas flagged for offsides with well-timed and coordinated steps forward. It’s a partnership that should remain even after Gonzales is healthy.
The New Kid on the Block: Sheanon Williams has been a breath of fresh air at right back. He possesses great speed and defensive instincts, and this changes things for Union on multiple levels. First, he’s not MOF playing out of position. Outside backs need to be able to compliment the offense while still being able to retreat to their defensive position. MOF had trouble finding times to come forward, and Jordan Harvey has trouble getting back once he is forward (more on Harvey in a moment). Williams has effectively blended both disciplines in a manner that makes me wonder why someone else hadn’t picked up on this guy. His speed allows him to get in behind defenders to get to through-balls, where he has shown decent ability in serving crosses. The side effect of his going forward means that Jordan Harvey can be less needed in offensive support and he can focus on locking down his side of the field. He has done great work in that department during this back line transition. This also bodes well for Shea Salinas getting a chance, at some point, to play midfield instead of defense (unless they remove Harvey from the lineup in Salinas’ favor).
So, that’s 3 good things that come from Sheanon. And he can throw the ball really far for throw-ins. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday night’s match in Colorado to see the further melding of what hopefully will be the Union’s backline for a little while.