Archive for November, 2011

Bye-Bye Justin Mapp

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Today, in the MLS Expansion Draft, the Montreal Impact selected Union midfielder Justin Mapp with 1 of their 10 selections from MLS rosters. Analyzing the list of players Union left unprotected, the most likely people to be selected were Mapp or Kyle Nakazawa. Naka and his ukelele get to stay rocking Manayunk for the time being, but we bid adieu to the most one-footed player Union have ever employed.

The statistics for Mapp are available on websites elsewhere, so I won’t bother you with them in this space. My take on Justin is that his drifting into the center of the pitch from the wing created congestion and not much else. He wore out a path in that direction that will only be equalled by the Villanova-Delaware football game to be played @ PPL Park. He will be easily replaced, and has been relegated to “butt-end of the joke” status. Peace out, Baldy.

Categories: General Soccer, HA HA HA

2011 Season Eulogy

November 18, 2011 1 comment

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)

A Legend in the Making

November 16, 2011 1 comment

Even though we’re still waiting on Nick’s follow up and season review write up (seriously Nick, get off your ass) things feel good surrounding the end of the season and looking back on it.  What a long strange trip it’s been.

A 2nd year team finishing top 3 in a conference (no matter how dumb the conference system is set up), with players we enjoy.  Yes we didn’t play our best at the end, but that was the basic summary of the season – why is Nowak playing players this way, why can’t we find goal, why is Carlos Ruiz on the field… oh, sorry, that problem was already solved.  But once the smoke cleared from our final doop, this season was an enjoyable one.

This year I became a first time Season Ticket Holder of any sport, and got to get a lot of different friends to come to a game and thoroughly enjoy it (thank you Sons of Ben for the atmosphere doing that).  Me and Nick were able to keep the blog going to very few people stumbling across it (created Aug-2010), which in turn now comes to about a hundred or so checking in thanks to linkage from Brotherly Game and Philly Soccer Page.  We started the blog because we didn’t see any fan blogs, and we talked enough about the games that took up work time so we just transposed it to the interwebs – we don’t care about fan base, we just care about having fun and doing our own thing.  BG and PSP seemed more like news outlets than a blog, so that’s one of the prime reasons why we started ours.  But thanks to all of that, and eventually making a twitter, we then started talking to others who created blogs, specifically Murph over at The Union Dues who then got the idea of a podcast (YSA Report) going.  I personally was not a part of many podcasts this year, but being one of the first contacts he made to contribute, and being at the first session, it feels great being able to be a part of creating something.

And that’s a lot of what the Philadelphia Union fan base is about – we’re tied together by the city, by the blood, by the beautiful game.  It’s early in the life span of our great team, but because of that, we are a part of something young, something great, something that is bound to become legendary (maybe in our own minds).  Even if you are not a part of the SoB’s, or a random fan blog, or contribute to alcohol abuse (Punchy the Bear, I’m looking at you) we all look at eachother with the feeling “This is my team, I am a part of it”.  We belong.

This is one large family I am proud to be a part of.  I’ve met so many new people (that I wasn’t expecting to) this year that it’s hard to keep track of, but I feel like I’m better for having met them, and all of those to come.

So until there’s something new to talk about this off-season (will have very sporadic posts), enjoy the holidays, be safe, and –

Jungite aut Perite.

Categories: Uncategorized

Just an Observation

November 8, 2011 3 comments

I will get to my eulogy of the Union’s 2011 season some time this week.  It may wait until after I participate in the season-ending YSA Report podcast (shameless plug).

I was trolling through the US Soccer site to see the full roster for the Men’s U-23 team that is going through Olympic qualifying.  The news came out that Union players Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, and Sheanon Williams were joining the squad following Union’s loss to Houston Dynamo.  I was curious to see who the Union trio’s peers would be.  The page is a standard roster listing, with information such as height, weight, date of birth, and club team affiliation.  It’s that category that got my attention when I got to the bottom of the page and observed that Sheanon is listed as “unattached.”  That doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Union need to fix that immediately, if not sooner.  He needs to be a staple of this team, up until the point that a bigger club recognizes his abilities and snatches him.  Get it done, Union, get it done.

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

Match Preview: Union vs Houston Dynamo: Conference Semi-Final Leg 2

November 3, 2011 2 comments

Tonight, 8:30 pm from Robertson Stadium in Houston, TX or on ESPN2 for those of us who aren’t flying to the match.

There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about this.  The teams have played 3 times this season.  They know how each other is going to play.  It comes down to execution.  In the first match, we were wary of Brad Davis’ free kick ability, and that produced the match’s first goal.  They knew that Sebastien Le Toux was a constant threat purely by his work ethic, and that produced the second goal.  We know playing Stefani Miglioranzi is a tactic that confuses even his own defensive teammates, and that confusion produced the  third and final goal of the match.  Union figure to deploy a lineup that more closely resembles the team that finished the match Sunday.  The only possible addition to the lineup I can see is if Veljko Paunovic is fully healthy, then Nowak will go with him.  Either way, I expect an ambush from the opening whistle.  I really feel like Nowak’s message to the team will be to tie the aggregate up in the first half and end the half that way, and worry about the 2nd goal in the 2nd half so they don’t burn themselves out and concede a goal after working hard to tie it.

Fans of the team would like to see Union play this first half the same way that they played the 2nd half in their 2nd match against New England (3 goals scored).  I figure I’m going to be a nervous wreck watching Union fight and scratch and claw their way through this match, but I’m fairly certain this will be a fantastic match to watch for neutral observers.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

First One Leg, Then the Other

November 2, 2011 1 comment

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