Tag Archives: Jim Curtin

What’s Next for Union? How the Zolos can plan for the future

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox @LocriaOnSports

Let’s face it: this season has been dismal for Philadelphia Union fans.

After a disastrous finish to the 2016 season in which they did not win a game after August 27, fans hoped 2017 would be better as sporting director Earnie Stewart and new DP Alejandro Bedoya would have full offseasons to prepare.

Instead, the Union started 0-4-4, and despite following that with a four-game win streak, never really recovered. As things stand, Philadelphia is ninth in the East, six points behind sixth-place Atlanta United with a strong end-of-season schedule. Oh, and the Five Stripes have two games in hand.

So after a horrid season, what should the Union do? Here’s my optimal-scenario for the rest of the season heading into the winter.

Sack Jim CurtinI have nothing against Curtin as a person; he seems like a really good guy and the players like him. However, the problem with him is that he is not very tactically sound, and that’s a huge issue in an Eastern Conference that has seen teams hire managers such as Patrick Vieira, Tata Martino, and Veljko Paunović.

He’s very stubborn, refusing to even slightly tweak formations, only really rotating if there’s injuries (or it’s a cup match), and his tactics are subpar. I get trying to do a 4-2-3-1 (a very flexible formation) counterattack, but that requires off-ball movement, something the Union does not really do; just look at when Haris Medunjanin picks out a perfect pass, only to see that the guy who he was looking for started his run so late that he never gets to it.

Let’s also not forget to mention how overly harsh he is towards younger players. Keegan Rosenberry has a couple bad games early in the season and gets frozen out of the team. Yet Ray Gaddis strings together a bunch of apperances where he provides nothing in attack and mediocre defense and remains in the lineup? You want to know what happens when you do this? You become the Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids, who were oozing with talent and potential in 2013 with a young group that included Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown, and Shane O’Neill. Only one of those players is still in Colorado, and it’s safe to say Serna is not the player most hoped he’d be by now. A new coach would help avoid that situation in Philadelphia.

I don’t quite think Brendan Burke (Bethlehem Steel manager) is ready for the top level just yet (and I honestly think he prefers to be a developmental coach), nor do I think assistant Mike Sorber is the answer; I would go outside the organization for an experienced guy.

Play the kidsThe Union know who they have in their first-team players. Now it’s time to see what they have in terms of the young players. Give Derrick Jones and Marcus Epps, who have impressed in limited duty, first team runs. Get Keegan Rosenberry out of his slump; the fact that he’s been benched so long is baffling (I get benching him during the 4 game win streak because it was working, but Ray Gaddis is a nonfactor offensively and his defense has regressed). Allow Auston Trusty, who shined at the U20 World Cup, to get first-team experience. See if Adam Najem can take over the #10 role for next season. If the Union intend on building through the academy and young players as they often repeat, it is imperative that they give those guys playing time at the MLS level.

Clear up cap space in the winterI mentioned how bad the Union cap situation was in my last piece, but to refresh, the Union are using about $5 million against the cap of $3.85 million. With this year’s TAM value at about $1.2 million and the Union using it on multiple players (buying down Ilsinho‘s salary, as well as the salary and transfer fees of Haris Medunjanin and Jay Simpson), it is safe to assume the Union have very little remaining.  Combine that with the fact that the Union are well over the salary cap and there’s very little financial flexibility right now.

They can fix this in the offseason. Ilsinho ($470k), Maurice Edu ($480k – paid $750k this season and occupies a DP slot), and Roland Alberg ($346k and an international slot) are all pricey contracts that are likely gone. I could also see the departures of Chris Pontius ($400k), Fabinho ($160k), Charlie Davies ($109k), Ray Gaddis ($160k), Warren Creavalle ($125k), and Brian Carroll ($132k).

The departures would total around $2 million of new cap space, in addition to the increase in TAM coming next year (reported at $2 million), in addition to the freeing up of two international slots and a DP slot. In a perfect world the Union can also find a take for Simpson ($465k), but that’s highly unlikely due to his wage. Maybe you bring some of these guys back with pay cuts, but I don’t see that happening. The only players I’d say are currently untouchable (unless they get a godfather offer) are CJ Sapong, Medunjanin, Bedoya, Fafà Picault, Jack Elliott, and the homegrowns.

Sort out the goalkeeping scenarioAndre Blake is almost certainly headed to Europe at this point, especially after his dominant Gold Cup. So the Union now have to sort out an issue. I’d sign another goalkeeper regardless of if you think McCarthy is going to be the #1 (and I believe he deserves a chance). Either they back up McCarthy and Jake McGuire goes to Bethlehem, they start over McCarthy with McGuire in Bethlehem, or McCarthy starts, McGuire backs up, and the new signing goes to Bethlehem (I don’t want Bethlehem’s success in the hands of a 17-year-old Tomas Romero; as talented as he is, the USL side needs a veteran). Just don’t screw it up the way you did in 2014…

Fill in the remaining holesNow armed with around $1 million in cap space, the reported $2 million in TAM next season, two open DP slots, and two new international slots, the depth chart now looks like this, along with cap hits (we’re assuming Blake leaves as well):

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Epps (53k) Ayuk (65k)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Fontana (HGP)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Elliott (50k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
 Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) A. Jones (50k – INTL)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

NOTE: HGPs and GAs do not count against the cap; DPs only count for a portion of their salary (this year it’s around $480k)

Looking at that roster, the weak spots are easily seen: a number 10, the wings, left back, and maybe goalkeeper. Now, how you fill those spots depends on how you play.  I’d like to think a new manager would be tactically flexible, using the familiar 4-2-3-1 to start but eventually putting their own stamp on the team. If they stick with the 4-2-3-1, based on the removals I made earlier, this is what I’d ideally line up on opening night 2018:

Sapong (300k)
Simpson (465k – INTL)
Picault (115k) Veteran DP #10 (DP) New TAM Winger (~450k)
Epps (53k) Najem (HGP) Herbers (GA)
Ayuk (65k – INTL)
Medunjanin (460k – INTL) Bedoya (DP)
D. Jones (HGP) Strong Depth DM (~150k)
Fontana (HGP)
Attacking Left Back (~150k) Elliott (53k – INTL) Onyewu (65k) Rosenberry (104.5k)
Wijnaldum (65k – INTL) Yaro (GA) Marquez (135k) Veteran Backup (~75k)
Tribbett (65k) Trusty (HGP) A. Jones (53k – INTL)
McCarthy (86.5k)
McGuire (53k)

In terms of a veteran DP, I think the obvious comparison would be what we had with Tranquillo Barnetta – a talented vet on a short deal whose experience will aid the development of the youngsters.

With the TAM winger, I’m looking at someone similar to Daniel Royer from the Red Bulls. Royer right now has ten goals, is solid defensively (which would allow Rosenberry to get forward more frequently), and is a versatile player. Maybe you even add a second new wing and use Picault as a supersub, utilizing his torrid pace to terrorize tired defenses.

I chose to specify an attacking left back because quite frankly Giliano Wijnaldum is a zero on offense. A huge key to fullback and wingback play in the modern era is the ability to get involved and support attacks, combining with wingers and midfielders, and helping get the ball in the box through crosses or passes. This would also mean that, since the U are deep at center back, the team could go to a 3-5-2 if they wanted, because now they’d have a wingback on each side that can get forward.

I also noted that the Union should have a strong #6 on the roster. This would allow for flexibility as well. If the Union were to go 4-4-2 with Bedoya and Medunjanin at center mid, they’d be easily overrun due to the lack of a physical ball-winner, even if you stuck Derrick Jones (who, though he has size, hasn’t quite filled out his 6’3″ frame yet) at central mid and moved Bedoya to the wing. Plus, it helps to add some depth knowing that you will lose Bedoya for a bit ahead of next summer’s World Cup (and possibly Medunjanin as well, if Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifies). And of course, you can bring them on late in a game that you’re winning when you just want to kill the clock.

I’m not thrilled with keeping Simpson, and ideally you’d go out and grab another center-forward that can hold the ball up like Sapong. But Simpson’s awful contract holds that up. If you can somehow dump Simpson’s contract, whether through sale or trade, I’d get another strong target man that can push Sapong. (If you go to a two-striker setup, Fabian Herbers and Picault can both play that second-striker role; Herbers was prolific there in college.) If he has to stay, however, if the Union utilize a two-striker setup, he may be able to salvage something from his MLS career (he’s never been very good as a lone striker), but I’m not optimistic.

As for goalkeeper, I would give McCarthy a try as the starter, as he’s shown fairly well in Blake’s absence and in cup matches. But if him as a starter doesn’t work, it’s not too difficult to find a good keeper in this league. (In this hypothetical, the U sign a third keeper who gets sent to Bethlehem.)

The cap hit for this side would be $3.92 million. But wait, there’s more! Roster spots 21-30 don’t count against the cap! Slots 21-24 are reserved for GA players and Senior Minimum Salary ($65k) players, so you can subtract around $130k from that cap hit. Slots 25-28 are reserved for Reserve Minimum Salary ($53k) players, so you can take away another $159k (Elliott, A. Jones, and Epps). So you’d be looking at a team below the cap even BEFORE the cap increase (which happens every year) and without using any TAM or general allocation money.

As for international slots, you would pick up slots from the departures of Alberg and Ilsinho, as well as, the return of a slot that was recently traded to Columbus. If you loan out Aaron Jones or Eric Ayuk for the season, that opens another one (two, if you loan out both ). So that allows Philadelphia to be flexible looking for reinforcements.


With a new manager, the shedding of bad contracts, and reinforcements, the Union would be set up for a successful 2018. They would have the flexibility to make multiple formations and tactics work, the quality to compete in a strong East, and the ability to use their homegrown and young players as depth instead of burning money against the cap to the Brian Carrolls and Charlie Davieses of the world who barely, if ever, play.

The Union have a lot of work to do this winter after another season of disappointment. It’s been 6 years since a playoff game was played in Chester. Let’s hope they can fix it before it becomes 7.

Featured image courtesy: ESPNFC

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“The good, the bad, and the ugly”

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Thursday, July 6: 1-1 Draw

A point on the road is as valuable as a win, at this juncture of the season. Philadelphia Union’s record away from home has been pretty lackluster with the last win being against DC United in May. This was going to be a tough match from the start for the Union, missing key players like Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake on the roster. Another player they will be missing due to the call ups is Chris Pontius who will fly out after this game to join the Gold Cup squad.

Sporting Kansas City was by all means and stats, supposed to be the victor of the midweek battle but even though Diego Rubio scored an absolute rocket of a goal that the Union’s backup keeper John McCarthy had no chance of saving, the game ended in a heated draw.

The penalty awarded to Philadelphia brought a skirmish on between the team, especially with the home side dominating possession and being in the lead. CJ Sapong in the box. SKC did not agree with the call which ended with Feilhaber and Haris Medunjanin getting yellow cards. An incident that didn’t get carded was Ilie Sanchez’ hand on Oguchi Onyewu’s throat, but it was definitely caught.

Roland Alberg was the man who equalized the game for the Union in the 69th minute, beating out the ex-SKC man Sapong for the honor. It isn’t all that surprising, between the game against New England last week and this one, Alberg looks determined to show Jim Curtin that he is the man to start over Ilsinho. I’m not sure I agree, even with that fantastic first-touch goal he launched past Revolution’s keeper Cody Cropper.

After all, the Union aren’t playing their regular game with Bedoya in the midfield, and while Derrick Jones has flashes of brilliance, it’s not the same. Perhaps staying on the bench will enable the Union to use Alberg as a cache in the arsenal (not unlike the one expected out of Jay Simpson) especially in this stretch of games coming up after the break.

The man of the match was definitely McCarthy who took a tumble and still had the mobility to go the distance with saves against Daniel Salloi and Latif Blessing. His six saves over the course of the game were crucial to keep it level. Especially with our defense only rallying after being down a goal and our offense not creating much traction at all. 

The next game on the road for Philadelphia Union is against Montreal Impact who are directly below them on the Eastern Conference table. It’s a whole week of regeneration for the players not called up for international duty that should be taken advantage of, if the Union wants a hope at climbing the table. After Montreal, it’s back to back games with Columbus Crew which might bring the tides of change, if positive results are yielded.  

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Taking the Bad with the Good

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, May 27: 1-0 Loss

It wasn’t a surprise that the Philadelphia Union’s winning streak was snapped in Rio Tinto Stadium. The odds were against the Philly team. If they had been able to produce a result against RSL, it would’ve been the first in the Union’s favor over the ten games they’ve played against Real Salt Lake. This game will be the only meeting between the two sides for this season.

Joao Plata got the only goal of the game after breaking away with the ball thirty-six minutes into the first half. Andre Blake had to make more saves in total than the amount of attempts the Philadelphia Union players made on Real Salt Lake’s net. Whether it was the altitude or the trip from Pennsylvania to Utah, the Union looked tired and disjointed. The only notable performance was Blake’s seven clearances, the highest of the season for him.

The first forty-five minutes was a single-minded attack by Plata that got the best of the defense after his fourth attempt. The Union had been caught off-guard before–and though Fafa Picault had a great attempt on goal that was first saved by Nick Rimando and ultimately cleared off the line by Aaron Maund–they did not rectify it like in previous instances of conceding a first half goal. Philadelphia attempted to find the weak spot of RSL’s defense with set piece plays with an early Jack Elliott header that hit the crossbar and a miss by Picault from a Haris Medunjanin cross to no avail.  

The first sub of the match for the Union was Jay Simpson for Picault to give a boost to the attack and give CJ Sapong a shift of pace on the left side of the field. Roland Alberg having been sidelined with an injury got subbed on for Chris Pontius on the wing. It was a painfully uninspired second half with RSL driving the ball where they wanted it for a majority of the time. The last thirty minutes saw little to no activity on the attacking side from Philadelphia with only a shot from distance by a desperate Medunjanin and a blocked kick by Fabinho. The Union debuted Marcus Epps in the dying minutes of the half in hopes of making a difference in the midfield where Ilsinho had been having trouble.  

Frankly, you could’ve skipped the entirety of the match to only see the first thirty minutes and known how the game was going to unfold. By the thirty minute mark, Rimando had made two saves and Blake three. It was down to the keepers and their defensemen in this game and the Union didn’t make the cut this weekend.  

The team boasted about a depth in squad earlier in the week and hinted that was the reason for their winning streak, and while I agree the subbing and implementation of players in different roles i.e. Ilsinho as a number 10, Pontius switching to the right wing, Alejandro Bedoya finding his role in the midfield worked for us, it doesn’t account for human error.

I mentioned before how Jim Curtin might have a problem with the word ‘rotation’ but he’ll have to keep it in mind in the following weeks. Medunjanin and Bedoya have been called up by their respective national teams for the world cup qualifiers during the break. We still have injured players (most recently Fabian Herbers) so Curtin will be put to the test following the international break.

Not to mention the next game Philadelphia has on the road against NYCFC will be no picnic. The team will be slipping down the table. There is no doubt about that, but what matters now is finding the spirit to keep fighting for a good position come September. June comes with the first game of the Open Cup for the Union along with two of the three consecutive home games and they cannot afford to repeat the March homestand.

Memories of the recent past aside, this could’ve just been a bad game and I’m hoping to see more of the Philly of weeks past than the team with the winless streak going forward. In this sport, you have to take the good with the bad. You never know what will happen in MLS.

My prediction for the next game: a Sapong goal, and depending how gracious NYCFC is feeling, a win.

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“Colorado Ugly”

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, May 20: 2-1 Win

As a Philadelphia Union fan, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop and I expected it to be in the mid-week match against Houston Dynamo who was looking strong in the West. Instead, we extended out shutout streak in a solid 2-0 game with some strong defending to keep our early lead. My anxiety naturally turned to Colorado Rapids who was last on the table even though on paper, it should’ve been easy. If I’ve learned anything about the MLS, it is nothing will ever go the way you expect.

Jim Curtin doesn’t believe in rotation as far as we know but the lineup against Colorado brought two changes to the starting eleven. Fabian Herbers replaced Chris Pontius on the wing and Giliano Wijnaldum got his first MLS start as a left back.

Colorado started on the offensive and found a lax defense on the Union side fifteen minutes in with a goal by Caleb Calvert. The next thirty minutes were painstakingly slow as the Colorado Rapids tried everything in the book to keep their lead. Fabian Herbers had to be subbed off for injury early after making a good play with Ilsinho. Tim Howard should have been booked for time wasting but the referee mysteriously left his cards in his pocket to the ire of the home fans.

Pontius managed to get his head on a cross by Wijnaldum, but tilted it over the bar at the 35th minute for one of the only looks on goal for the Union. The dying minutes of the second half saw the first booking for Colorado’s Mohamed Saeid and CJ Sapong heading in a ball only to get it caught by Howard’s gloves.

It wasn’t a surprise that once Colorado saw the opportunity to build something like momentum, they would defend it with everything they had, including some overlooked fouls (mostly against Sapong.) The Rapids only had one win in the last five games. They were clearly desperate for points and not afraid of getting dirty.

A team effort between Pontius, Ilsinho, Fafa Picault to Sapong’s head saw the ball get bounced off a Colorado defender unluckily as soon as the second half started. The Union substituted Picault for Jay Simpson who gave Sapong more space on the wing while Simpson focused on the central attack. Colorado didn’t give up though, as they got a free kick just outside the box in the 63rd minute from Alejandro Bedoya’s foul or a very convincing dive from Kevin Doyle. Three minutes later, there was a golden opportunity for Philadelphia in the form of a handball by Kortne Ford.

 Sapong went up for the penalty and, needless to say, sent Tim Howard the other way. With that goal, the Union equalized and the tide seemed to be turning. They couldn’t stop there, not if Philadelphia wanted to show they weren’t going to be stopped by a shaky start. The last few weeks, if anything, had unleashed the threat Union could pose as a team that was no longer disjointed and disheartened. This team wasn’t the same one as the one in March. They had the confidence to stage a comeback…

And they did.

Before that, the game took a bizarre turn that was possibly influenced by a certain Justin Timberlake song. Both Colorado’s assistant Conor Casey and the first goal scorer Caleb Calvert were sent off in the 69th minute marker. Calvert was booked for time-wasting with a flop and then coming back on the field before the ref’s signal in around thirty seconds.

Casey was escorted away for arguing with the official. This episode didn’t stop Joshua Gatt from trying his luck with a tackle on Bedoya just as he shot the ball into the distance. The referee saw reason and issued a yellow, and the free kick that would lead to Philadelphia’s second goal. A left-footed beauty that curled just right by Haris Medunjanin from 20 yards out gave Union the victory.

With this result, Philadelphia Union set a new club record of four consecutive wins. Next week, they face Real Salt Lake after some rest. My prediction is a win as we creep closer to the competition for a spot in the playoffs.

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A Lead Lost, A Rough Draw

Mercy - Philadelphia

By Mercy Payba @mercpay

Saturday, April 22: 3-3 Draw

“A tale of two halves,” is an apt summary by manager Jim Curtin of the disappointing draw in Chester today. Philadelphia Union started on the right foot with an early goal by Roland Alberg and kept up the pace through the first 45 until Montreal Impact struck right before the halftime whistle. It was disheartening to regress back to the same failing tactics in the second half of the match instead of pushing forward on a 3-1 advantage.

Even gaining the fast and fresh legs of Picault in the 66th minute for Ilsinho didn’t help as much as it should have in opposition. He had some good runs into the box and a shot or two that was blocked by Bush but in the end Jackson-Hamel proved too able and our defense too clumsy to stop Montreal’s comeback. It didn’t help that the ref missed some chances to pull out his cards from his pocket.

The first Montreal goal by Piatti was a disaster. He outran half our men, including Bedoya, Medunjanin, Pontius and Marquez to get it past Blake. We all knew Piatti would be a dangerous player, the one to watch out for coming back from injury and hungry for goals. Montreal wasn’t going to take a deficit lying down. Both teams had to prove themselves out on the field, but Philadelphia came out on the losing end as they rescued a point in their three-game homestand.

I don’t think we can point fingers at a single player to blame. The flaw doesn’t lie in management either. We cannot say Curtin hasn’t tried to adapt and change over the past two games as the pressure of a winless streak has been on the Union to produce results.

In last week’s game we saw Alberg and Elliott start and this week we saw why they got to start yet again. Elliott didn’t play a perfect game but he certainly showed up to play. His long ball started the play that would lead to the Sapong header 23 minutes in. He also got the penalty for Alberg after Dominic Oduro fouled him.

The Bedoya-Alberg-Medunjanin midfield is reaping results slowly and hopefully will continue to build as more games pass. Bedoya is more promising in his role as a number 8 and had a relatively good game today. He stepped in where he was needed and even dropped back further to help put bodies in defense at times. There is no doubt that Bedoya is fully committed to his leadership role and feels the weight of performing better into his second year with the Union. His post-game words belied the frustration he felt after losing the 3-0 lead, saying “this team deserves a lot better, the fans deserve a lot better.”

We have been hearing the same lines over and over again in the last couple of weeks. Jim Curtin insists the players are working hard, Earnie Stewart says the board fully supports Curtin in his decisions and tactics, but the fans are still waiting for results. The message was clear as the stadium had plenty of empty seats this rainy afternoon.

If we deserve better, where can we find a better Union?

Our aggressive attack in the first half was a step above last week because we converted enough of those chances with Sapong and Alberg. The switch on the wings with Chris Pontius and Ilsinho worked to set up stronger flanks with Fabinho and Elliott. Our possession wasn’t very high but when we did have the ball, we utilized it smartly (in the first half.) We lost our cool once we conceded, but if we want to find a better Union, it’s already there, just stubbornly buried. Perhaps we will see it emerge in the next couple of weeks. It’s still early enough in the season to bring it back and leave the sting of this draw behind.

Next week: Union goes on the road to face LA Galaxy. My prediction: Not great, but at least they won’t have to hear the disappointment of the home fans.

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