Tag Archives: Philadelphia Union

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

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

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No Move is the Best Move for Union

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

The Philadelphia Union‘s decision to not make any major moves during the summer transfer window is the right one.

A lot of Union fans are going to disagree with my opinion, and I get that. But hear me out.

Right now, the Union are stuck in a bad salary cap situation. The MLS salary cap this season is $3.845 million. Right now, the Union have over $5 million against the cap according to the numbers provided by the MLS Players’ Union. That number, of course, does not include the team’s Generation Adidas players (Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro), Homegrown Players (Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones), the loaned-out Eric Ayuk, or the extra salary over the DP threshold on Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu.

To stay cap-compliant, the Union used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down the cap hits of Ilsinho, Haris Medunjanin, and Jay Simpson, in addition to the transfer fees of the latter two from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Leyton Orient respectively.

Oh, and along with using TAM to buy down three players, they also traded away TAM to pick up Bedoya (via the allocation order) and Charlie Davies (via trade with New England) last year. So the Union are in a bad cap situation. They’re also out of roster spots with 30 players.

How did they get thrust into this bad cap situation? Bad contracts. Simple. Four in particular stand out right now.

First there’s DP midfielder Maurice Edu ($480,625 cap hit). As of this writing, Edu’s last game with the Union was September 30, 2015, when the Union fell to Sporting KC in the US Open Cup final. He’s taking up a huge chunk of salary to not play for two years. Even if he comes back healthy, where do you play him? I would not want to break up the central midfield pairing of Medunjanin and Bedoya, and even if you did that you’d also be cutting off Derrick Jones’s opportunities at first team football, which goes against the team’s best interest (and Earnie Stewart‘s plan which relies on the talent in the Union Academy developing into first-team footballers).

Then there’s Jay Simpson ($465k salary + TAM buydown) – The justification for splashing TAM on Simpson was that the Union were hoping he would be Bradley Wright-Phillips 2.0. That completely ignored that BWP didn’t get his hefty contract until after a season where he potted 27 goals and EARNED a huge pay hike. Simpson just sorta got big money coming out of League Two despite not being all that prolific at that level.

Ilsinho ($465k) is a weird case. On his day, he is very effective – just ask FC Dallas who he brutalized on August 5 for a goal and assist – and can be a treat to watch with his bag of tricks. But other days, he’s just invisible.

And finally we come to Roland Alberg ($345k salary). Alberg’s attitude has been a huge problem for the Zolos this year. After the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta, Alberg basically had the #10 spot handed to him on a platter. Cue him showing up to camp way out of shape, and when he gets on the pitch, he’s not been good enough to win anyone over. He’s twice fought with CJ Sapong over who would take spot kicks, and doesn’t have the final ball the Union needs from a #10.

“But wait, Locria,” you may be asking. “What about that glaring hole at the #10 spot? Don’t you want that filled?”

Of course I do. The Union need to clear up space and allocation money first, though. If you let these guys go at the end of the season, you find a team that now has cap space (especially if a few other players, such as Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll, also leave or take a pay cut), a couple open DP slots, and three international slots (the one recently traded to Columbus will be coming back in 2018). That’s when you take DP money, throw it at a veteran that can help teach young midfielders Adam Najem and Anthony Fontana how to play at a high level. Don’t lose your patience, make a horrible move now, and leave yourself screwed over come the winter.

Making a panic move now would probably not save this season. But staying patient and not making a short-sighted move can set the Union up to be better in 2018.

Featured image courtesy: philadelphiaunion.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

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Penalty Fights, Red Cards, and First Goals – Oh My!

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

Saturday, July 22: 1-0 Loss

Wednesday, July 26: 3-0 Win

For as dull as Saturday’s snoozer at MAPFRE between the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew was, Wednesday’s midweek clash was much more interesting, both in terms of “there’s actual chances being created” and on-field drama.

On Saturday, about the only interesting thing was the U’s starting eleven. With Fafa Picault, CJ Sapong, and Fabian Herbers injured, Chris Pontius at the Gold Cup, and Roland Alberg suspended, the Union attacking four was Marcus Epps, Adam Najem, Ilsinho, and Jay Simpson. That resulted in three shots total for Philadelphia as the Union failed to break down the Crew’s back three of Alex Crognale, Jonathan Mensah, and Lalas Abubakar. Zero on target. The only goal was a Justin Meram shot that went in off of Josh Yaro, which basically summed that game up to a T.

Wednesday, however, saw the Union respond by nearly breaking the team record for shots (28 – they finished with 27). Alberg returned to the eleven, replacing Najem, and Sapong also returned after missing Saturday’s game with an ankle knock.

It was Sapong’s acrobatic assist that helped open the scoring, as an overhead kick set up a bomb of a shot by Ilsinho.

Then came the drama. In the 35th minute, Sapong won a penalty, and Mensah was sent off for denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

If you’ll remember, Alberg and Sapong fought over who would take a penalty a couple weeks ago in Kansas City, with Sapong deferring to Alberg hoping a goal would get the Dutchman going. They went at it again, as Sapong protested to the bench while captain Alejandro Bedoya tried to mediate, and it was Alberg who took it…and subsequently had it denied by ex-Union Academy keeper Zack Steffen.

Perhaps a combination of “ball don’t lie” (the foul did appear to be outside the box and thus not a penalty) and/or karmic punishment for Alberg. Bedoya did say postgame that Alberg was higher in the PK pecking order, and Curtin said that any tension was sorted at halftime…but still, many fans saw Alberg’s actions as juvenile. He’d go on to channel his inner Kobe Bryant during the second half trying to get a goal to make up for it, but never actually scored and received a smattering of boos when he was subbed off.

Sapong did eventually get a goal in the 66th minute. Giliano Wijnaldum put in an excellent cross, Sapong’s first header hit the bar, but he buried the rebound for his career-high tenth.

Ten-man Columbus became nine-man Columbus about ten minutes later as Lalas Abubakar was sent off for hitting Ilsinho in the face. I think it was harsh, and Ilsinho sold the contact…but you don’t put your hands on someone’s face when you’re already on a yellow!

And then five minutes later Epps puts the bow on a good performance with his first MLS goal, beating a defender to the ball and beating Steffen.

Now the Union head on the road to battle New England Revolution with the return of Pontius from Gold Cup duty. It would also be the return of Blake if he didn’t currently have stitches in his hand. FC Dallas plays in Philly early next month, and I think Philly fans will have Kellyn Acosta marked as public enemy #1. Luckily for the Zolos, John McCarthy has been money in Blake’s absence.

Featured image courtesy: Philadelphia Union facebook

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Sports Are My Life

Locria Nyla - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Philadelphia Union Key Contributor

By Locria Nyla Fox // @LocriaOnSports

Hello everyone!

I’m Locria, the new Philadelphia Union Key Contributor. I’m really bad at intros, so I’m going to keep this short…I’m a 21 year old trans woman.

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, the only MLS soccer within two hours was a New York team (the MetroStars/later Red Bulls). As someone whose first sports love was the Boston Red Sox, rooting for a New York team was a big no-no, so as a soccer fan I mostly stayed away until the World Cup.

The Union came in 2010, but during most of my adolescence I didn’t really care for soccer. At the time I was all about the NHL, and with that came the sports elitism that is particularly associated with hockey fans. That kinda wore off over time, and by the time the 2014 Olympics rolled around I really didn’t care for the NHL (though I do remain a hockey fan, just mostly sticking to college, international, and women’s hockey).

That falling-out coincided with the start of the 2014 MLS season. Knowing that I wanted to get into the sport ahead of that year’s World Cup, I started watching some Premier League, but it was really MLS that got me all the way into the door. Even though my first full-watch of a Union game saw them bottle it at the death in Portland (little did I know that that was a sign of things to come), I’ve become a fan of the team and the sport long-term.

Outside of the Union (and USL affiliate Bethlehem) in the sport, I also support Southampton, Schalke, Chicago Red Stars, and various clubs whose left-wing politics I associate with, such as Livorno and Celtic. And it goes without saying that I also support my college’s teams (Go Catamounts!).

Outside of soccer, I’m the assistant sports editor for the Vermont Cynic, the student newspaper at my university. I blog about my university’s sports teams and also write about women’s hockey at The Ice Garden with a focus on my school, as well as, the Russian national team and domestic league.

What I’m saying is, sports are basically my life.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @LocriaOnSports

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Double Header Against Philadelphia

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, July 22: 1-0 win

Wednesday, July 26: 3-0 loss

Essentially, Columbus Crew SC just played the equivalent to a baseball double header playing the Philadelphia Union on Saturday and then again Wednesday.

In both games, Crew SC rolled out a 3-4-2-1 line-up utilizing 3 center backs in the backline—Jonathan Mensah, Alex Crognale, and Lalas Abubakar. The only change in the starting line-up between the two games was at right back—Harrison Afful played in the first game and Hector Jimenez in the second.

The first time this strategy yielded a 1-0 Crew SC victory. The defense held, but without Federico Higuain, the offense didn’t quite have the same movement that it could have had. Ola Kamara had a nice volley, but it was saved by Philadelphia’s keeper. The lone goal was scored on a deflection off a defender from a Justin Meram shot.

This formation does not allow for pretty soccer, but if our typical line up isn’t firing on all cylinders, then it isn’t attractive either. It also does not allow for a lot of possession. It was about 50/50 during the first game. It is a formation that allows us to grind out a result and that is what we did.

However, that all came to a halt in the second game of the double header. I’m not going to lie. I was really thankful that this was an away game, and I didn’t have to watch this one in person. Everything that Crew SC has struggled with was present in this game in a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-0 loss.

The defense fell apart. There were bad clearances, men unmarked at the top of the box, and men unmarked on the back post. Now, granted, Philadelphia’s first goal contained a pretty bicycle kick assist, but if there hadn’t been a bad clearance the assist wouldn’t have been possible.

Jonathan Mensah committed a red card foul in the 35’ that left the Crew SC a player down. Our DP has struggled all season to adjust to the MLS and Crew SC, and it is becoming evident that he may not be able to adjust at all.   Then, Lalas Abubakar received a red card in the 76’ leaving Crew SC with 9 players on the field.

Finally, we didn’t have that many opportunities, and we couldn’t finish the opportunities we did have. We only had 2 shots on target. Kamara had one he could have tapped in but hit the post.

If you ask any Crew SC fan what our issues are on the field, I’m sure these things would be mentioned. In this game, they were all blatantly present.

A lot of fans are frustrated, and I understand it.   I feel for the guys on the field. They want to win, they care. So, I’ll keep cheering them on from the stands and from my couch when they are playing away from home.

Hopefully, they come out firing on all cylinders against Real Salt Lake this Saturday.

Featured image courtesy: Bill Streicher/ USA Today

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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.  

Featured image courtesy: Philadelphia Union facebook

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Red, White and a Blue Win

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, June 24: 1-0 Win

The weekend victory was punctuated by fireworks over Talen Energy as Philadelphia Union broke their three-match losing streak and missed being the bottom of table by a hair. The line-up changes for the Union brought back Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield and started Giliano Wijnaldum as a left back for the third time in the season (counting the Open Cup game last week.)

It was a slow start to the Metro Rivalry game between Philadelphia and DC United with the first twenty minutes not heralding an advantage to either team. Ian Harkes was given an opportunity to score by ex-Union player Sebastien Le Toux after a corner, but his header was too high. The turnaround in the game came in the 31rst minute by Fafa Picault from a stupendous cross from Bedoya. The play started from the back as Ray Gaddis rescued the ball from becoming a throw in and Bedoya ran ahead to open space on the right.

Alejandro Bedoya in the post-game conference said it was a deliberate cross to the far post as CJ Sapong and Fafa Picault were in position to strike. Picault commented on the volley as something he’s practiced and it certainly paid off as Bill Hamid couldn’t lay a hand on it.

The captain wasn’t the only midfielder in the limelight for Saturday’s headlines as an incident involving Haris Medunjanin and Luciano Acosta got hairy as Sorin Stoica issued Acosta a red card and then rescinded it after Haris spoke against the call.

It would’ve been the second red card against the Union for Acosta, as the last time Philadelphia visited DC, he had garnered the first for a foul on Ilsinho. Medunjanin explained after the game, that he did not feel a kick and told Stoica as much, “I think you need to be honest and I didn’t feel a kick or something, it was just a push.”

Andre Blake was the man of the match as the game’s outcome could’ve looked drastically different in the second half. A penalty kick was given to DC United after Oguchi Onyewu blocked Taylor Kemp’s right-footed shot with his arm. There’s some controversy over the call as there were no other DC men around the ball and Onyewu’s arm was in a natural position, but Blake’s PK save silenced the issue before it could become the Achilles’ heel of the game for the Union.

Another save that rocked the home fans and kept the Union on the winning side came in stoppage time as a header from Lamar Neagle was kept out by Blake’s fingertips. With this game, Andre Blake has tied his career-high shutout matches in a season. It was a bizarre match with questionable decisions from the referee but in the end, rivalry week gave the Union what they needed, which was three points.

For me, personally, I would’ve liked to see more of Marcus Epps, who was subbed in and hasn’t started since the Open Cup game against Harrisburg. He could be a dropped in for Chris Pontius who has yet to find a goal for himself in the season and didn’t have much of an impact on the field this game whether coming from the left or the right wing. CJ Sapong is another attacking player having trouble recently. He scored in the Open Cup game but hasn’t managed to find the net in an MLS game since May against Colorado Rapids.

The players that stood out this match were Andre Blake and Alejandro Bedoya and it’s no surprise that they’ve been called up for the Gold Cup roster as well. Bedoya may not score as often as Philadelphia wanted when they signed him, but he’s been a force on the team. Being captain of the team is no easy feat when you’re losing points left and right, but Bedoya certainly made a difference and led the team to a win with his assist on Picault’s wonder goal.

Blake has been having a couple of tough games previous to this one but we can’t blame the goalkeeper for all of the goals conceded as there is a whole team to get through before the last man standing in the net. Blake has certainly kept his consistency through this last run of matches. The losing games could’ve had a larger margin if not for Andre Blake and the work he does. It isn’t always pretty or a showstopper like the ones from this match, but there’s a reason he was the All Star pick last year and up for ESPY best MLS player this year.

The last of the three-game home stand for Philadelphia Union will be against New England Revolution on July 2nd, but before that, they have another clash with the Red Bulls in NY for the Open Cup on Wednesday. The Red Bulls soundly defeated Philadelphia at home the last time they met. Let’s hope the Union is better prepared and get some payback this time.

Fafa’s goal and Blake’s save are up for goal/save of the week! Go vote for them before it’s too late.

Featured image courtesy: Philadelphia Union facebook

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Don’t Play the Blame Game

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

 By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Sunday, June 18: 0-2 Loss

Late goals are the demise of Philadelphia Union. Out of the nineteen goals the Union has conceded in the regular season, twelve of them have been in the second half. Bradley Wright-Phillips capitalized on the red card given to Derrick Jones in the 53rd minute of the game to tidy up the match with two goals. Was it straight red card worthy? I would disagree, but that’s not exactly the problem to focus on. If anything, the red card gave us the lens to focus on the real issue.

Is it creating chances? Is it defending our goal? Is it our persistent gap in the midfield? These questions have been percolating in the fan base for a long while. No one has a concrete solution and no one can settle on one answer (because there are multiple.) Management tells fans to be patient because change is a-coming and the team is building. At this point, all we’re building is sandcastles. It’s understandable to invest in the academy, in home-grown players that could be the future of the team, but the fact of the matter is we’ve been sitting for seven years on the promise of the future.

  • One more year of waiting isn’t going to make a difference, if the Union can’t see where the problem lies.
  • Yes, the back line isn’t perfect; our CBs need to figure out fluidity, and the combinations currently being used aren’t foolproof.
  • Yes, the midfield is lacking a playmaker, an attacking mid that can not only help pass but create more chances, give vision to more offensive plays. 

If the Union wants to build a bridge to the future, there’s got to be traffic on that bridge for it to be useful. In this case, traffic is getting the money to spend on players for these ‘interim’ seasons. Philadelphia is a small team playing in a league that’s outpacing them every year they stick to building up.

Don’t get me wrong, the Union have done some great things with what they have. There have been ups and downs but in the past five years, Philadelphia seems to sputter and stop in the middle of the pack. The middling status isn’t going to be sufficient enough as the league grows, as talent is fielded from international waters, and the Union has nothing to offer. I’m not an advocate of buying superstars for the sake of it, but I am an advocate of commitment. There’s a certain commitment to being in Philadelphia, to watching games like these and wondering if it’ll ever change.  

There is great talent in the rookies we have playing (Jack Elliott, Marcus Epps, and Derrick Jones) and the B team in Bethlehem Steel. The problem with always looking to the future is neglecting the now. Philadelphia Union has to pick a direction and once they do, commit to it.

Next week: another rivalry game against DC United who are at the bottom of the table. For the sake of the home fans, Philadelphia will try to snap this three game losing streak. Will they succeed? I hope so. The last time the Union faced DC was at RFK with a lot of firsts on the scoreboard ending in a four-goal win.

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“A Safe Win”

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Wednesday, June 14: 3-1 Win

As I mentioned in my getting to know me post, my first match watching the Philadelphia Union was an Open Cup match, so I get inordinately excited to watch the boys in blue in this tournament. Wednesday’s match against the Harrisburg City Islanders was an expected win with ample minutes for some fresh faces.

Andre Blake was still on duty with the Jamaican national team, so the starting goalie for the night was John McCarthy, who would be very familiar with the City Islanders through his time with the Union’s USL side: Bethlehem Steel. Haris Medunjanin continued to wear the captain’s armband through the absence of Alejandro Bedoya (recovering from a tweak during international play with the U.S.) Up top, Jay Simpson, CJ Sapong and Marcus Epps took care of the offense. It was Epps’ first start for the Union and he did an excellent job to connect with Derrick Jones up the right side of the field.

Keegan Rosenberry got a start as Ray Gaddis was resting on the bench and Josh Yaro got his first start of the season for the Union after a long injury setback. Giliano Wijnaldum took over as leftback for Fabinho and Roland Alberg was back in the midfield to help Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones deliver the ball.

The Union goals came early with a distance shot from Derrick Jones that was unable to be stopped by Harrisburg’s Sean Lewis. Simpson recorded his first assist with Jones’ goal and his second by cutting across the box and finding Sapong, who had no problem getting the ball into the back of the net.

Harrisburg wasn’t sitting on their hands though, as Johnny Mendoza helped the USL team get one back in the 37th minute of play. The defensive breakdown from a counter isn’t exactly a surprising move by the Union, but something tells me the switch of Jack Elliott to work with Wijnaldum on the left contributed to the mistak

While the Union’s defense still needs some experimenting, the attack prospered with the new combination of Simpson, Sapong, and rookie Marcus Epps. Epps got the third goal for Philadelphia just minutes into the second half with a cheeky toe-in past Lewis for his career first. Simpson had some good looks on goal without any luck, but I think his awareness of the space in the final third along with helping with giving the other’s team defense someone else to worry about will be key for the rest of Philadelphia’s season.

Another stand out player in this game for me was Derrick Jones working with Haris Medunjanin in the midfield. It was a different role for Jones, more fluidity in his responsibilities unlike what we’ve seen from him previously. I would argue we saw more of what Jones could bring to the table beyond defensive capabilities. With Bedoya still off the roster, Medunjanin and Jones had to juggle around the number 8 position and their usual duties. Jones had a high passing accuracy along with a couple of clearances that helped keep the game in the Union’s favor.

John McCarthy also pulled off some great saves to keep the scoreline 3-1 when Mendoza’s cross landed at Pedro Ribeiro’s feet in the box. Philadelphia also had a bit of luck when a rebounded header from Josh Grosh hit the crossbar. McCarthy had six saves in the game and most of those came in the second half as Harrisburg wasn’t willing to leave Talen without a fight.

The Union suffered a 2-1 loss in New York before the international break at the hands of NYCFC and this weekend, the New York Red Bulls come to Talen fresh off of their USOC win against NYC. This will be the second game against the NYRB in the season. Their last meet-up was in May, when CJ Sapong got a hattrick and the Union broke their winless streak. Philadelphia will also meet the Red Bulls for the next round of the Open Cup on June 28th.

My prediction: We’ll really make that rivalry label stick and get the win at home.

Featured image of Jones and Epps courtesy: @PhilaUnion

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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.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

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