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Leading Into the “Week to Define a Season”

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Saturday, September 3rd, Wednesday, September 7th, and Saturday, September 10th.  Those three dates collectively represent a pivotal point in this, the second year of Union’s existence.  Be it the unscheduled bye-week, or the ton of rain we got due to Pain-in-the-Ass-Storm Irene, but the slate feels wiped clean.  But only temporarily.

This Saturday, Union travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake.  This is the match that was rescheduled because RSL was trying to secure domination over the region, and they lost in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament.  They’ve cleaned their faces of tears since then and are back to their normal top-of-MLS form, so this match is very important.  This is the statement where I become a broken record:  A draw in this match, normally, would be acceptable, but Union’s amassing of draws makes this a must-win.  Now that I got that out of the way, let’s boil this one down.  RSL are missing a handful of players to international duty and injury.  Union are missing the suddenly error-prone Carlos Valdes to mandatory 1-game red card suspension.  RSL still has that nasty-haired Kyle Beckerman because Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t plan to use him on 9/2 friendly against Costa Rica.  More detail tomorrow in a match preview, this REALLY is a must-win.

The trap game is the also-rescheduled match versus New England Revolution.  A number of fans will be annoyed that this match was rescheduled from a weekend to mid-week.  I’ll be annoyed if Union win by fewer than 2 goals.  The biggest impediment to Union in this fixture is complacency.  They are not in a position to take a sorry-ass team like the Revs for granted.  There will likely be some different faces in the lineup because some of the guys will need to be rested after the RSL match.  The key will be those players playing like they want to earn a more playing time.

The last of this trifecta is a home date with the Portland Timbers.  The hope here is that Union have built some momentum from solid, inspired play from the rest of the week, and they overwhelm Portland with high-quality play.  Worst-case scenario:  We’re looking at this match as one we hope to salvage at least a point from so that the week isn’t a complete disaster.

The team will be missing Keon Daniel to international duty, which sucks for us because that means more Justin Mapp (boooooo).  It may, also, mean more time for Michael Farfan (yaaaaaaaay).  This is also the time that Freddy Adu needs to accelerate his learning curve and orchestrate Union’s offense the way we all optimistically think he can.  The offense has been stagnant for a large majority of the season and Freddy certainly has some playmaking ability.  He needs to prove his worth to the team in the run of play, and make sure that Sebastien Le Toux doesn’t take any more corner kicks.  It’s also time for Danny Mwanga to score some goals.  Especially, if I’m claiming that this week defines the entire season.  It would be nice if Carlos Ruiz doesn’t end the season as the team’s leading scorer.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

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Finally dry Touch Lines

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Seattle has invented everything just recently, and are looking to add to their invention of pissing off the rest of the US soccer world if they can get past FC Dallas in the USOC semis for their third straight USOC championship game (and title).  Let’s all hope that Sigi doesn’t pull his scarf too tight around his neck and pop his head off.  That wouldn’t be a pretty site.  The other MLS team in it still is Chicago, unfourtanately for them, the other team looks like they will show up to the game.

In Union news, not much Union news.  It’s hard enough to get new news bits from a team with closed lips, it’s even worse when we don’t have a game for 2 weeks.  I don’t even know what day it is now.

Arsenal.

Speaking of blowouts, Columbus Crew did the Union a huge favor at Seattle by not showing up and losing 6-2.  That’s representing the Eastern conference for you.

Congrats to the Crew’s Jeff Cunningham on surpassing Jaime Moreno for the most career MLS goals.  Now back to obscurity with you.

In around the world news – Diego Maradona is coaching over in Dubai for  Al Wasl FC.  He has an annual salary of 3.5 million, and a private jet at his disposal for 2 seasons.  Someone is #winning all over the place right now.

Yes I just made a 5 month old Charlie Sheen joke.  But seriously, what else are you going to do on a private jet than hookers and blow.  We’re also talking about the “Hand of God” here, so of course he’s doing that.  Don’t expect him to be using that jet for something like aiding earthquake survivors.

Weatherwise, it’s been a rough week.  Starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, then airplanes.  Well, Lenny Bruce was not afraid.  Then a eye of a hurricane, can you hear yourself churn?  In all serious, REM aside, we at UU hope everyone is alright and that your power’s back.

Match Preview: Union vs. New England Revolution

August 25, 2011 2 comments

Sunday, August 28 @ 7pm, PPL Park in Chester, PA

Match prediction:  This match won’t get played.

Hurricane Irene is going to rip the East Coast a new one, engulfing us in perilous amounts of rain and wind.  On second thought, maybe the wind will help Sebastien Le Toux’s corner kicks actually bend……  but I digress.  I think the weather is going to render the pitch unplayable.  Which may or may not be a good thing, based on their recent performances.  I think they need more practice time to get used to the Ruiz-less lineup that they still haven’t adjusted to yet.  And there’s that Freddy Adu guy that still needs to be worked in to the mix.  Maybe they can also use the rainy day and watch a movie called “Union vs Toronto FC from May 28, 2011.”  I know that’s one of MY favorites.

The other aspect to consider are the faithful supporters who will brave the elements to attend this match.  I think the match should be postponed in advance of this weather event to save the supporters from themselves.  The match against Seattle showed that not all ticket-holding fans will show up during a rainy game, but a significant number of fans did.  And this storm Sunday is not a run-of-the-Seattle-mill rain storm.  There’s nothing I would rather have to round off my weekend than a Union shellacking of the Rev’s, but in the interest of public safety, this match should be played another day.  We’ll have fun watching New England lose regardless of what date it’s actually played, so we can stow this game away for a rainy day.  Oh, wait, nevermind.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

Match Preview: Union vs Columbus Crew

August 19, 2011 2 comments

Saturday, August 20, 7:30pm, from Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH, televised on The Comcast Network

Briefly stated, this is the game of the season-to-date.

If Union have any designs on proving to be more contender than pretender, they must get a result in a matchup of the MLS Eastern Conference’s top two teams.  Union have stumbled through an ever-changing lineup into an abyss of draws.  Some of those were acceptable, like last week’s draw to the 2nd best team in the league, FC Dallas.  Far too many of them have been the despicable, punch-a-stranger-in-the-face frustrating variety.  Columbus, however, has ascended to the top spot in the East, though they have 1 more game played than Union do.  They have won 3 of their last 4 matches.  I hope they do not make it 4 out of 5.  I don’t know how the hell they’re doing it, they’ve scored fewer goals on the season than Union have.  And I complain about Union’s offense CONSTANTLY. 

What to (A)du?:  The Union’s midfield composition confounding.  But here’s what I think will happen:  Carroll as the CDM, Adu as the CAM, Mapp on the left wing (I was grinding my teeth typing that last part), and Le Toux on the right.  And up top will be Mwanga and Paunovic, because…. this team seems to have a quota for older guys being on the field.  Be that as it may, Keon Daniel should start on the left, and Michael Farfan should start on the right, with Mwanga and Le Toux as strikers.  I’m starting to believe that Peter Nowak is a reader and makes his lineups in a manner to irritate me.  Justin Mapp can win me back, however, if next time Seba thinks he’s taking a free kick or a corner kick, Mapp punches him in the face and says “no.”

This match will come down to how well Freddie Adu plays (and same can be said about the rest of the season, really).  Union have seemingly hitched their wagons to Adu, and will only ride as far as he takes them.  If he is the dynamic playmaker everyone thinks he is/can be, then Union will begin winning games with the same regularity that they have been drawing them over the past month or so.  This match will be tough for Freddie to prove my point, as Crew have only lost once at home in 12 matches this season.  But, as Danny Califf noted in an interview this week, this match is a “6-pointer,” meaning a non-draw result would mean they’ll be tied atop the conference, or Union will be 6 points behind.  This is precisely why I foresee a conservative lineup from Nowak.  He plays conservatively on the road, and this is a match where a draw would leave them 3 points in arrears with a game in hand.  As much as I would love for Union to attack from the opening whistle and earn 3 points with inspired play, I think this one ends in a draw, and I’ll predict 1-1.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

(Too) Much Adu (and it earned us) About Nothing

August 16, 2011 2 comments

The Freddie Adu Experiment is underway.  It’s a two-fold experiment:  One side is Freddie proving that his positive performances with the U.S. National Team are a product of his overall maturation, and the other side is adding player into the Union side with less than half of the season left to play.

Adu’s path back to Major League Soccer has been circuitous, to say the least.  He was signed by a Portugese team, and was loaned to teams in Greece, Turkey, and probably some recreation league teams and we just didn’t know about it.  The point is, his passport has more ink than Lizardman’s body.  The fact that he never locked down a spot with a top team was not all that surprising considering the modest success he enjoyed in MLS prior to that.  Yes, he had youth on his side, but if one is to believe that he was the savior of soccer, shouldn’t he have been near the league’s best player?  He re-emerged, however, as a surprise addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup roster, and acquitted himself quite nicely.  It could be said that in the last 2 matches of that tournament that he was the best American (damn that Giovani Dos Santos!).  The propaganda that we’re being sold, er, the explanation is that he is still just 22 years old, and world football is tough.  Freddie has been forged in the fires of superior training and higher-level strategy, and he is a new-and-improved version of the petulant, entitled brat, who used to mouth off to Coach Nowak (how he lived to tell about it, we’ll never know.  He must have some scandalous photos).

His developement is all well and good.  A team can never be at a loss for quality players, regardless of the sport.  There is this simple matter of timing to be considered, however.  Freddie was added to this team with roughly 1/3 of the team’s matches left to play.  That doesn’t leave much time for him to find his fitness, and then figure out how the hell he’s going to fit with this team.  I fully expected Adu to be in the starting XI this past Saturday vs. FC Dallas.  The jerseys were already on sale (and if you think that doesn’t matter, you’re just clueless), and there was just so much hype and buzz about the signing.  I don’t disagree with him getting minutes right away, but there were certain things he should have been aware of before coming on to the field, and observing from the bench would have taught him the following:

Justin Mapp only has one functional leg, Sebastien Le Toux couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat (unless the ball is stationary 12 yards from goal with only a keeper in front of him), there are 2 Farfans and they both play out of position (Gabe at left back, Mike at bench), Brian Carroll is zero part of the offense, Keon Daniel should be logging the lion’s share of the minutes at left midfield, Danny Mwanga is really talented but confused by his lack of minutes, and Jack McInerney is in the same boat.

My feeling is that for the rest of this month, Adu’s inclusion is going to be seen as a distraction and a disruption.  This period of adjustment will only yield more draws, as the team will once again have to find an identity.  I applaud the front office for trying something to get the team out of its rut of drawing matches, so that it can make the playoffs.  Chemistry is vital in team sports, and Union do not have it.  Players do not seem to know where to be, nor do they know what one another are thinking.  There is seemingly no system in place to govern how players move without the ball.  They don’t play enough minutes with the same team to inately understand where the passes are going.  The addition of Adu, while good for the long-term, will continue this discombobulated trend.  There is a saying in sports that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.  If Union can’t get this figured out soon, there finish will come after the 34th game of their season.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

The Week (and a half) In Review

August 9, 2011 1 comment

So, there have been a lot of things happening this past week… losses…ties…ties..bearfights.  So, without further ado, a break down of the Pros and Cons of what has happened with the Philadelphia Union.

CON – Fan Favorites

I’ll come out and say it, after the game on Saturday versus Houston, there is no way Le Toux is not cursed.  Prior to this game, I wanted him benched for at least a half and make him take notes and write an essay about what he should do, where he should go, and what is going on with the movement on the ball.  Saturday, being his best game of the season in my view, was undeniably unlucky in a World Series of Dice fashion.  But where he is unlucky, he is leaving goals and subsequent points in the standings off the board. 

OOOOOH – Shoot the damn ball-all (to tune of seven nation army).  Danny, I cannot say any more, louder, with more veins popping out of my neck, Shoot the damn ball!  I’ve made plenty of comments on twitter, on forums, on the street, in my bed, in my head… everywhere.  You are young, you can screw up, you can miss the goal for all I freaking care, but if you expect yourself to get picked up in Europe, in every situation you were in that had me yelling at you, they will not take you if you don’t shoot the frigging ball at goal when points are on the line – yet alone with half empty nets.  You may be a fan favorite, for a long time, but let me tell you this – you CAN do wrong, especially when you’re doing nothing.

PROS – Starvin’ Marvins

Roger Torres, Vjelko “Old Serb” Paunovic, and Union Jack McInerney.  2 you would expect, and another you didn’t see coming, starving for the goals that have been absent (and relatively are for most of the season).  Torres almost lead the team into a rally to tie the game against the defending MLS champs in the Rapids.  Paunovic got the fire started with a nice shot from distance to take the lead in the first half verse Chicago.  It’s what you gotta do when you have no box play – and trust me, this team has none.  Unfourtanately that dwindled into a tie situation, one that could have easily changed if a certain someone had shot the ball instead of thinking about it.  And then McInerney gets his start in the final game in 9 days versus Houston.  What happens?  A nice LEAD feed into the box by Le Toux, and without thinking even with it out of reach and a defender on him, Jack gets a lucky touch on the ball before the goalie to send it wobbling behind the keeper.  I cheered, I cried, I kissed babies.  It was a beautiful moment.  Even more beautiful was the second goal, if it had happened.  Differing reports say that he was clearly onsides, others say his foot crossed the path a split second early, and I say onsides.  So, it was onsides and should have gone in ( 😛 ) but oh well.  He gave us a lead, that we once again squandered.

CON – Something Smells Fishy (7/29/11)

As there are a multitude of fans who dislike him, plenty who started turning over a new leaf, and a good loyal few who supported the guy the second he got here, it was a shock to hear that the Union had sold Carlos Ruiz… Well, he wasn’t in the game, so we knew something was up.  Although he was not a long term solution, he was still vital to a lot of chances we wouldn’t have if he wasn’t there (presence).  I’m still chalking this up as a con even though plenty won’t agree.  But, upon saying he was no longer Union’s property at that press conference, he still was.  Tricky Nowak, he is.  And it took another week before things settled into –

PRO – What’s Your’s is Mine

It started as “Ruiz is no longer with us.” Into “He is still property of the Union” and then “It is a complicated, multi-team deal.”  Speculation would lead you, the unwitting soccer fan, into the idea that we are replacing Ruiz with someone, or trading him through a team to another team for money for another player…  You basically need a John Madden teleprompter to think these things out.  But we got sidetracked into a bittersweet solution that most of us forget about – loans.

Valdes is no longer loaned out to us.  Instead, we own his ass.  It was nice to hear, considering what happened with our previous loanee Orozco Fiscal (who will be with the USMNT tomorrow).  It was very bittersweet because, we’ve gotten rid of two starters recently, and various reserves, and have yet to replace anyone.  So to find out our first acquisition during the trade window is to own the rights of a player that wasn’t in question for another 6 months, was kind of a heart drop.

CON – Weight of the world

If anything damaging salary cap wise is the fact that we still have Juan Diego Gonzalez.  I’m not knocking him as a player, or a person… I’m knocking the team for not ever using him during league play, and that it’s just a complete waste.  If you’re not going to bother with him, get rid of him.  Pick someone else up.

PRO – Soon enough

Rumor has it that someone’s contract was signed, for a year, on August 6/7 2010.  Of course, it is likely we won’t hear any word on Gonzalez because of the Union policy of “We do not talk about players who are not under contract with the Union”.  So for what it’s worth, we will probably not know he is off the team until some media guy (read: local aspiring journalist) asks the question and gets that response a month from now.

CON – Ejection in a bottle

During the Rapids game, some fan (read: moron) threw a bottle from the River End which resulted in a brawl.  To the man who threw the bottle and subsequently did not like being pointed out for doing so, how old are you? 10?  That’s the last time I had gotten into a fight for name calling and pointing.  How much of a mental midget do you have to be to start a fight because you broke the rules and didn’t like being told on?  This is besides throwing the bottle… I have anger issues myself, but I never throw things (in stadiums).  Hope spending overinflated money on StubHub, the 20 dollar parking fee, and 3 $8-$10 beers you had was worth the night in jail.  I’m sure Bubba gave you my regards.

Pro – All for one

Corner creeps get mad respect.  As do all those around who either pointed the asshole out, or was able to (eventually) break up the fight and / or vindicate those who were only defending themselves.  This is the only pro to this situation cause it only makes us all, as soccer fans, look bad.

CON – Why do they call them “Tie Fighters”?

I’m sick of leaving points on the field.  Don’t you?  Colorado was a travesty that there was no way in salvaging sans an extra time effort.  But both Chicago and Houston feel dirty, and feel like a loss because we were up early and had to settle for a tie.

Pro – What do you mean pro!?

Yea, there’s really nothing positive about that.  At least we didn’t completely lose it.

That was our week (and a half) in review.  Tune back next time when 3 games happen within 8 days again while I have a shit ton of actual work to do.

-Dan K

Match Preview: Union vs Houston Dynamo

August 5, 2011 2 comments

8pm Saturday, PPL Park in Chester, PA, on 6ABC

First off, it can’t be said enough how STUPID it is to have your team named “Dynamo.”

Now, Union are coming off yet another disappointing result, albeit a draw where they at least collected a point.  This is in contrast to the VERY disappointing home loss to Colorado, which collected them zero points.  That being said, the result against Chicago wasn’t unexpected, given that they reverted to the maddening lineup decision to start with two central defensive midfielders.  Given the lineup used Wednesday, I haven’t the foggiest friggin clue who will complete the XI Saturday.  One thing is for sure, Sheanon Williams will return to right fullback. 

And that’s a good thing because he will have his hands full with Houston left wing Brad Davis.  The MLS “All-Star” (I put quotes around it because that team was a farce, but Davis is legitimately good) is what fuels Houston’s offense with his deft crosses.  He’ll try to find Will Bruin and Brian Ching in the 18-yard box, and they’ll presumably try to score goals.  I hope, of course, they don’t.  It will be a reunion of sorts for Faryd Mondragon and Houston ‘keeper Tally Hall, who last saw each other taking turns betting beaten by Manchester United players during the “All-Star” game.

About our netminder, if it wasn’t for his positioning for a couple of saves, Union would have lost to Chicago by multiple goals.  He came up huge in that match moreso than any match this season, and is the reason they were able to earn a point from last match.  And that display happened with an additional defensive midfielder.  So, the offense sucked, and the defense sucked.  To me, that equals “don’t use that lineup anymore.”  But this is a Peter Nowak team, so he’ll probably trot out the same lineup, but with Williams in it, just to piss me off.

Justin Mapp needs to sit.  Sebastien Le Toux needs to stop taking free or corner kicks.  Roger Torres needs to explain to his teammates what he’s looking for when he has the ball at his feet.  The other attacking midfielders need to be more like Torres and not pass the ball backwards on one touch all the time.  Carlos Valdes needs to remember how he played the first half of the season.  My faith in this team isn’t waning, but they’re not playing well right now.  Expect a 1-1 draw, and the need to drink sweet tea to get the bitter taste out of your mouth afterwards.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union