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Archive for October, 2011

It Would Help If We Knew Who the Starters Were…

October 27, 2011 2 comments

…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)

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Where Will the Goals Come From?

October 26, 2011 1 comment

If that seems like a redundant question about Union, it’s because it is.  Sebastien Le Toux has been in stellar form the last third of the season.  However, he is the only Union player in attack that can make that claim.  The addition of Freddy Adu has done little to make this a more dangerous team.  So, if Houston only has Le Toux to worry about, and focus their defense on him, how the hell are Union going to score? (insert @FakePeterNowak witticism here)

Veljko Paunovic has been the most frequently-used second striker, until his hamstring issues forced him out of the lineup.  He looks to be back in good health, so I’d expect him to be there.  However, he tallied just three goals on the season.  Danny Mwanga has also recovered from an injury, his being to his right hip.  Injuries, and Nowak’s insistence on playing Carlos Ruiz, limited Danny to just 5 goals in his sophomore season.  He is a talented and dangerous player when he’s on his game, but I’m unsure that he’ll find his match fitness before the weekend.  Jack McInerney netted his only goal of the season early in Union’s 2nd match against Houston.

The point is, while Union’s striker corps is getting healthy, they haven’t shown much, other than Le Toux almost notching a second season of a double-double.  They have received contributions from the midfield, but those goals are also scattered among them all, and we never know for certain who is going to start in the midfield (we’ll talk about them tomorrow).  For Union to advance out of this round of playoffs, they’re going to have to find the combination that will produce up top.  Kinda like Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant surgery.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union (@UnholyUnionNDY)

More Playoff Stuff

October 25, 2011 1 comment

The biggest threat Houston Dynamo poses to Union is Brad Davis.  He is the league leader in assists, with 16.  He is a left-footed left wing midfielder, which means the responsibility of locking him down will fall primarily on Sheanon Williams.  This will be the one matchup that I will be completely intrigued with for the duration of the match, both legs of it.  Davis is a player who has not been able to prove himself on the international level, and Sheanon is someone we have been campaigning for to get a shot with the USMNT (if Michael Orozco Fiscal got a shot, why the hell not?!?!?).  My prediction is that a stellar defensive showing, coupled with intelligent play going forward, will earn “The Sheanomenon” enough credibility to get him a look.  The playoffs will bring more intensity than Union have played with all season, or in their history, for that matter.  The hightened stage will provide a better indicator to the people who run USA Soccer as to whether or not Sheanon deserves consideration.  It also helps his cause that Timmy Chandler was moved from right back to left back and seems slated to stay there in the future (wiiiiiiiiiide open door for ya, Sheanon).  Davis provides the perfect foil because of the quantity AND quality of his service (for MLS purposes only).  He will be prominently featured in Houston’s offense, and his crosses into the center of the pitch are usually threatening.  He is the “head of the snake,” so to speak.  Cut off the head, and the body will follow.  Hopefully, Sheanon is sharp enough to make the cut (ending with terrible pun, athankya).

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union  (@UnholyUnionNDY)

The 2nd Season

October 24, 2011 1 comment

The title of this post is a bit of a double meaning.  Yes, this is the 2nd season in the existence of the Philadelphia Union.  But the point is to begin analyzing Union’s matchup in the MLS playoffs, which is the “2nd season.”  Houston Dynamo is the opponent, as they finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference when LA Galaxy laid down and handed them 3 points.  That sham of a result pushed Union down to 3rd, because Chicago beat Columbus Saturday.  It doesn’t matter how Union reached the matchup that they have, the important part is that they are in the MLS Playoffs in just their 2nd year as a franchise.

The playoffs are an interesting season unto themselves.  There are four rounds, and three of them are  single-game matches hosted by the higher-seeded team.  The lone round that is two-leg aggregate is the second round, which Union get a bye into by virtue of finishing in their conference’s top 3 spots.  This system works out well for Union, being that they are a young team, and even their veteran players are new to this league.  Even though I referred to the Galaxy’s last match as a “play dead” kind of effort, the bright side is that Union get to now play their first playoff game at the comfort of PPL Park.

This is important for two reasons:  1) There are inevitably going to be nerves for a lot of the players playing in their first playoff game, as it promises to be their most intense yet, and 2) Nowak doesn’t deploy the offensively-challenged two-central-defensive-midfielder formation that he does on the road.  I’m sure that the player’s apprehensions will be allayed when they hear their home crowd singing and cheering for them.  My hope is that that feeling will allow the team to play more loosely and confidently in attack.  Houston, also, is a team that Union have, historically, had success against.  The details of the matchup will be broken down in a later post, but there are ways that Union have found to take advantage of Dynamo.  This, also, should help build confidence.  Nowak’s tactics, as logic-defying as they can be, usually include starting a more offensive lineup in home matches.  Since there is no “away goal” tie-breaker in MLS, Union would do well to win their home half of this series by more than 1 goal.  That will force Houston to play under more pressure in the 2nd leg, which is the better position to be in.

It’s great for Union to be in this position, and we’ll spend the rest of the week posting break-downs of several key matchups and aspects of this mini-series as we approach Sunday.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union.  (follow me on Twitter, @UnholyUnionNDY)

Well Then,…..That Was…..Yeah…..Not Good…

October 21, 2011 1 comment

Last night’s match against New Jersey Pink Cows was an exercise in….I’m not exactly sure what.  It was frustrating, that’s for sure.  I’ll be interested to see Philly Soccer Page’s stat wrap on this match for the passing percentage.  I’m going to guess it was in the range of “pathetic” and “putrid,” hovering just above “vomitrocious.”  The Man of the Match, unequivocally, is Faryd Mondragon.  This was also possibly his best match as a member of Union.  Without his spectacular play, this match would have ended at LEAST 3-0 (Disclaimer:  Luke Rodgers blows.  If you run your mouth, don’t kick a field goal from 5 yards away from the goal line, dumbass.  That one, Mondragon had nothing to do with.)

As expected, Nowak deployed two central defending midfielders, Brian Carroll and Amobi Okugo.  Also as expected, Nowak deployed someone we did NOT expect to see in the game AT ALL, let alone in the starting XI, Zach Pfeffer.  NJPC wanted the win more, and it was evident.  They fought harder for the ball in the midfield, they were more threatening going forward, and their goal came from an attack down the right flank.  All of those were expected.  The unexpected aspect of this match was the piss-poor passing (say that 5 times fast), flaccid attack, and visible confusion.  I got the impression that if I tried to explain the concept of the “overlapping run” to the team, half of them would have gotten a concussion, and/or had smoke coming out of their ears.  Their play would have been dismissable in game #4, but it is completely inexcusable in game #34.  They didn’t trot out an entire reserve team, therefore this was an embarassment.

I understand that Union made the playoffs already and this match meant infinitely more to NJPC (*cough*and MLS*cough*), but not having to play in the wild card round was DEFINITELY worth playing hard for.  And they failed the estimated 1,200 supporters who made the trek to North Jersey.  My take on this game was that Union should have played more loosely offensively from the outset.  They had nothing to lose in this match, so getting stretched defensively and conceding a goal wasn’t a big deal.  My problem with this match wasn’t the result, so much as how it came to be.  Far too often, when attacking the final third, whatever player was on the ball would pick his head up to look for a place to go with his pass.  What he saw was players standing stationary, and others moving either towards a defender, or already being tightly marked.  This lead to giveaways, overly-ambitious passes (aka Torres-balls), or the player dribbling too much and losing possession because no one seemed to be on the same page.  Players looked at each other the way a quarterback and wide receiver do when the receiver runs an out and the quarterback throws the ball expecting a go-route.  Except in soccer, while they’re bitching at each other trying to figure out who is wrong, their opponents are advancing the ball and attacking The Dragon.

My biggest fear coming out of this match is that they have now put themselves in the very real position of having to play their first playoff game on the road, in the wild-card round.  It’s is easily conceivable that this doesn’t happen, but they could have eliminated the possibility last night and they didn’t.  Anyway, what I fear is that they trot out the same type of offensively-castrated lineup that match as they did last night.  If that is the case, I’d expect the result of that match to be the same as last night.  Therefore, I hope the results of this weekend’s matches fall in Union’s favor and they end up in 2nd place in the conference so that we can see them, in at least one playoff game, play a lineup capable of winning the match.

-Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

Match Preview: Union vs Toronto FC

October 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Saturday, October 15, 4pm from PPL Park in Chester, PA, televised on Comcast SportsNet

Well, lookey what we have here:  A chance to cement a spot in the 2011 MLS Playoffs.  What a long, strange trip this has been.  Union host Toronto FC, whom they thoroughly embarassed during their romp through Canada back in May.  Not that I expect TFC to concede 6 goals, but I hope there will be a similar amount of DOOP-ing done on home field, with what’s at stake by taking 3 points.  Toronto is an improved side.  They brought in two very highly accomplished and formidable players in Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings.  Koevermans has 7 goals in just 9 games (yikes!!!) and Frings is a midfield presence with loads of top club level and international level experience that makes this a very different opponent than the one Union netting a 6-pack against.

That being said, this is the final home game of the regular season for Union, and we here at Unholy Union will both be among those who get to go to pitch level before the match.  This means that we expect nothing less than an all-out effort to repeat the result they last had against TFC.  Union are 5th in the league in goals scored, Toronto is dead last.  Doing the simple math there means this should be a routine win.  I would like it to be in the 2-0 or 3-0 range.  Koevermans seems as if he is the Dutch Master, as he shreads MLS defenses to basically score a goal per game.  I think it would be a credit to this back line to keep him off of the score sheet, and a worthy test heading into the post-season.  Bear in mind, I also considered New England a vastly inferior and impotent opponent……. until they scored 4 first-half goals against us.  The differences here are that Zac MacMath is more seasoned than he was against the Revs.  That match was his first start.  He’s gone on to show that he can shut a team out completely, though his ankle injury may prove to be costly, as it almost was against Seattle.  It makes it difficult to jump and parry crosses when he can’t stably jump off of that leg.

The defense has been, for a lion’s share of the season, reliable and stout.  The offense has been, we’ll say, inconsistent.  If I wanted to be less nice, I would say it’s been downright frustrating.  It took Brian Carroll, yes the defensive midfielder Brian Carroll, to realize that when the ball is being advanced down the field by an attacker, it benefits him to have other people running with him.  Too often, Union have been left needing one player to make the incisive run into the open space in the best available shooting position, yet that player is nowhere to be found.  They have seemingly solved the midfield jumbling issue they had through the first half of the season, and the scoring is more consistent.  I watched the second half of that New England game, and I have the confidence that this Union side is capable of 3-goal halves.  That is not my expectation here, but I would like to see the play-making that creates that play evident in this match.  There is not more time for Peter Nowak to fiddle with his lineup, with just 2 matches remaining.  The team he puts out there for this match is likely to be the same we will see against NJPC in the finale, and in their first playoff game.  Therefore, I need to see that XI in good form.  That means solid defense and the offense to make the defensive work pay off with wins, not scoreless draws.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

Since everyone else has already done it….

October 13, 2011 1 comment

The “Playoff Picture” as it were…  Hey, we were busy the past two weeks.  Sue me.

The Union stand first in the east with 47 points, and have yet to clinch a playoff spot-  why is this ?  Well, a few teams are straggling on saying “We’re still gonna make it” when in reality…they’re not.

I’m just going to point out the math and basics for each possibility that would take us OUT of a WILDCARD spot.  Meaning we would miss a playoff berth if these things happen – this is completely disregarding ANY games to be played, and just the math of it.

First – we would have to lose EVERY game – which is only 2, against TFC at home, and Red Bull away.  If we don’t get even a tie i won’t understand it.  But the likelihood of us being pushed out so late is very slim at best. 

Without looking at any games to be played – everyone else would have to win at least once – and to note, DC and Portland have a game in hand (3 games to be played).

KC – 1 win
Columbus – 1 win 1 tie
Colorado – 1 win
RBNY – 2 wins
Houston – 2 wins
Portland – 2 wins and tie or 3 wins
DC – we win the tiebreaker, can’t overtake us.
Chicago – can’t overtake us.

So we can easily coast the rest of the way and clinch a spot based on the happenings of Portland (who plays Houston).  If they lose, we’re in – in some position.  DC and Chicago play eachother, so that is a make or break situation for Chicago.

And just so you know – 49 points is the cutoff for a clinch, and the most any wildcard team can get to – so that means if we get to 49 (even 48) we are in the guaranteed playoff spots for the East.

Edit – I just did the research of the games – Our clinch isn’t official yet because the games haven’t been played and the points are still on the table – but because Houston (last wild card) plays Portland – this means the either team will lose points, and guarantee us a playoff berth.  So once the game is played, then it’s a done deal.  There’s a .000000001% chance that the team will all fall ill and the franchise disentegrates within the next two weeks…that’s one of the only things i can think of that we wouldn’t make playoffs. 

But I’m dead sure these coming games should be very exciting for those still in contention in the lower end of the structure.

Now you can go on and on about how we want to finish strategically – 2nd to face the 3rd team, etc etc… but listen – to take the Eastern Conference in the regular season, in our 2nd year is an accomplishment.  And let’s face it, stop beating eachother around the bush with this strategic talk – we will have to go through the West in the playoffs no matter what (unless by some offchance miracle one of the eastern wildcards can win – it can happen).  Take the East, take the western game first (as we will be rested – could help us, could hurt us) – especially since this is the 2 game aggregate series –  and we’ll see what goes from there.  It’s all speculation at this point, but I want to be number one, and so do you.

In Zolo we trust.  This year has been a beautiful thing.

Wildcard Race Schedule
This weekend:
Portland hosts Houston
KC hosts New York
Colorado hosts RSL
DC host Chicago (no one cares)
NE hosts Columbus

Wednesday the 19th
DC hosts Portland

Saturday the 22nd
Vancouver hosts Colorado
DC hosts SKC
Chicago host Columbus
RSL hosts Portland

Sunday the 23rd
Houston hosts LA

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