Tag Archives: Union

Union Preview Part 2: Depth Chart

The 2014 Union season is rapidly approaching. In only 6 days, the Boys in Blue will begin their 5th campaign off of the coast of the Pacific in Portland. There are  many reasons for Union fans this season to be more optimistic about their team’s playoff chances this year more than any other Union season. In Part 1 of my preview, I looked at 5 new players who could be huge difference makers as the U look to reach the playoffs for the 2nd time in their short history. In this part, I will take a look at the Union in a more general sense, by looking at the entire roster, and who coach John Hackworth will look to start. Overall, the personnel on hand makes the Union a playoff team; anything short of that would be a disappointment.

Union Depth Chart:

Goalkeeper– 1. Zac MacMath 2. Andre Blake 3. Brian Holt

For the first time in his young career, MacMath will face stern competition from the 1st overall draft pick Blake, who many believe to be the best goalkeeper prospect in the league for many years. MacMath is talented in his own right- he played a splendid last 3 months of last season, showing improvement at collecting balls in the air to his decent shotstopping skills- and he will not give up the #1 shirt without a fight. In order to retain the starting job, MacMath must continue to improve at dealing with balls in the air, and must improve greatly in his distribution. He could also be more aggressive in organizing his defense. In Blake, the U have a GK prospect who has the total package: athletic, mature, good in the air. Blake will certainly push MacMath hard. Holt is the last resort, and will probably get very little game time this season.

Centerback– Starting- Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry; Reserves- Richie Marquez, Ethan White

Okugo and Berry are the clear starters. Okugo is primed for a breakout season, one which could cement him as one of the 5 or 6 best CB’s in the league. Since entering the league in 2012, Berry has won a Rookie of the Year and has played in 62 games, including playing every minute of the Chicago Fire’s 2013 campaign. The most important part of a defensive partnership is continuity and comfort, and with both players very durable and won’t miss many games, expect the pair to develop chemistry early on. They could be one of the 3 or 4 best pairings in the league by the end of the season. Out of the backups, White is more experienced, though I think he has had a disappointing camp, as he has gotten very little playing time with the 1st team. And, if he was playing well in camp, Haackworth would not have needed to acquire Berry to pair with Okugo. Marques is a rookie, but I think he will get some playing time this year, considering he beat out the more heralded fellow rookie Kevin Cope for a centerback spot.

Right back– 1. Sheanon Williams 2. Ray Gaddis 3. Matt Kassel

This is Williams’ spot. Last season he broke the record for most appearances for the Union, and he did so while quietly putting in a campaign that some people rated as the best for a right back in the entire league. He is able to both defend solidly and attack with real results, leading the league in assists for a defender with 8. Gaddis is an excellent backup. With his amazing speed, he is able to overlap on the attack with ease, knowing he can run back to cover on defense when needed. He is far more comfortable on the right side. Kassel is the emergency option, and in limited minutes last season played okay.

Left back– 1. Fabinho 2. Ray Gaddis

It seems that Fabinho narrowly won the starting spot over Gaddis during the preseason. Fabinho provides some things that Gaddis cannot on the left side; as a left footer who has spent some time at left midfield during his career, he is able to attack and send in crosses down the left flank. However, his defensive skills are lacking. Gaddis is far more effective on the right than on the left. On the left, his crossing ability is negated, and he is far less effective as an offensive weapon. However, Hackworth did surprisingly start Gaddis at left back last season, so do not be surprised if he gets the nod again.

Center midfield– Starting- Maurice Edu, Vincent Noguiera, Brian Carroll; Next subs- Pedro Ribeiro, Zach Pfeffer, Michael Lahoud; Last resorts- Corben Bone, Keon Daniel, Leo Fernandes

There are so many center midfielders on the roster that many of them will only make the Union’s gameday roster, much less start, a few times this season. Edu and Noguiera are definite starters. They were both paid a lot of money to come here, and the U’s fans will expect a lot of results. Both players are in the prime of their careers and have a lot of pedigree; Edu is a former national team player, while Noguiera was the captain of a French Ligue 1 side for many years. Expect Edu to do a lot of work in defense while running forward to connect the side, and Noguiera to act as a “faux-creator” in John Hackworth’s system (more on why he is a “faux-creator” as opposed to just a “creator” in my look at the Union’s tactics). Captain Brian Carroll is virtually a lock in the side, occupying the 3rd midfield role. However, there is concern among the fanbase that Carroll may be redundant in the side, and that the U require a more offensive 3rd midfielder. That other option could be rookie Pedro Ribeiro. At 6’4″, he has the physical stature to dominate other teams with his strength, but he also is extremely gifted technically. He could be a real difference maker for the side this season. Pfeffer is a player with a ton of potential. He is Homegrown, having went to Upper Dublin. With all of the midfielders on the roster, he may not get much playing time this season, but he still has a ton of talent. Expect Lahoud to be a defensive option for Hackworth late in games. Bone, Daniel, and Fernandes may not get much time. I can’t see any of them making a major contribution, although Bone was a pickup this offseason, so it is possible that Hackworth plays him, and Daniel is a veteran who has shown flashes of talent in years other than 2013.

Right wing– 1. Sebastian Le Toux 1b. Danny Cruz 3. Jimmy McLaughlin

This battle is close between Le Toux and Cruz. Both are limited technically, but are excellent athletes who use their athleticism in different ways. Le Toux is one of the most fit soccer player I have ever seen. He is capable of running for 90 minutes every week. Last year, he added a new dimension to his game, as he became an accurate crosser, even taking the lead of Union corner kicks. This technical skill is a huge boost to his game, as he is not a great passer. Cruz, on the other hand, expends all of his energy in a 55 minute stint. He is constantly buzzing around the opposition fullbacks, looking to win the ball off them high up the field to start quick attacks. However, he is limited tactically, as he often doesn’t supply enough defensive cover for his fullback. Add that to his seeming lack of all technical skills, and the U have a player who can infuriate the fanbase. But Hackworth likes him a lot, and even though Le Toux is the better player, Cruz will get a ton of time this season. McLaughlin is the last option and may be sent down to the Union’s lower division affiliate, Harrisbug City Islanders.

Left wing– 1. Cristian Maidana 2. Cristhian Hernandez

This is Maidana’s wing to roam. Signed as a Designated Player like Mo Edu (meaning the U went over the individual salary restriction to sign him), Hackworth desperately needs Maidana to provide tangible results in goals and assists, not just improved technical play on the left flank. On all accounts Maidana is a very skilled player, able to dribble at players and create for others. In fact, he has played a lot of his career as the central attacking midfielder, meaning that he could provide an essential creative option for the side. The Homegrown Hernandez could play with the big club this season. He is versatile, able to play multiple positions, but he won’t get much time unless there are injuries.

Forward– Starting- Jack McInerney; Bench- Connor Casey, Antoine Hoppenot, Aaron Wheeler

This is the year for Jack Mac to cement himself as one of the MLS’ best forwards. After leading the league in goals through May, McInerney only added 2 more the rest of the way. A very intellegent player, who makes excellent runs off of the ball to put himself into good positions, he must prove he can add quality in the buildup. But, his most important task will be becoming a consistent goalscorer. The Union probably need 15-20 goals out of him, and he has the ability to do it. Casey is a very good backup who provides a very different look than McInerney, as he is a very physical player who excels in holding up the ball. However, injuries have hampered his preseason, so he may not provide as much of an impact as last season. Hoppenot is Hackworth’s spark plug off of the bench. But, while he certainly provides energy in the last 30 minutes of games, able to dribble directly at opponents and create dangerous offensive opportunities, he must become a more capable goalscorer. Wheeler is a big body while limited technically, and a bad sign for his playing time this season is that Hackworth had him playing a lot of centerback this offseason.

Now that I have went over the entire Union roster, next time I will focus on their tactics: what Hackworth will implement, and what I think they should play.


Philadelphia Union Preview Part 1: New Faces

2013 was a tough year to be a Union fan. The team, while picking up many good results that saw it in the race for playoff spots until the final day of the season, played ugly soccer and seemed to win many games because of luck rather than outplaying their opponents. About midway through the season, the Union had a chance to seize control over the Eastern Conference playoff race, as other top teams like New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City were faltering. However, the Union failed to take advantage of this opportunity, and ended up just short of the playoffs. Every Union fan knew that massive changes were needed in order to improve the quality of the squad, in particular in midfield, where none of the usual starters were quality passers. But past poor performances in the offseason by the Union’s front office did not give the fan base much hope that the U would significantly improve before their first game on March 8th against the vaunted Portland Timbers and their rabid home fans.

Boy, were Union fans wrong.

The Union have had a nothing less than stunning offseason. Not only have the finally spent money on quality midfielders who can do more than run a lot (like, maybe, pass), they have been aggressive in both foreign and domestic markets to improve almost every inefficiency on the team. This effort to improve has most Philadelphians feeling very good about the upcoming season. In a few parts, I will explain why the 2014 season will feature the best Union team to date, and why the Union should certainly make the playoffs this year. Today I will look at the top 5 new players, and how they will impact the squad.

5. Andre Blake- The 1st overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, Blake has a ton of potential. Some MLS analysts have hailed Blake as the best keeper product in the league since Brad Guzan, who now plays for Aston Villa in the English Premier League and is the backup keeper for the United States National Team. Blake is an excellent athlete; however, the thing that really helps him stand out is his maturity and reading of the game. This often does not develop in goal until later in one’s career, and it is an essential skill to have because a goalie must organize his backline well.

4. Cristian Maidana- This tricky Argentine winger has the potential to fill a huge hole for the Union this season- the left wing. Maidana has the technical ability to come back and help the U maintain possession, while also boasting the speed and directness to attack the other side’s goal or isolate the other team’s fullback one on one. Maidana will bring much needed flair to the side.

3. Austin Berry- Berry, the newest player on the squad, was just picked up in a trade with the Chicago Fire. A rugged, 6’2” defender, Berry has played in over 60 consecutive games for the Fire, and played every minute of last season for the squad, while winning Rookie of the Year the year before. The importance of this addition cannot be understated; he is a perfect partner for the smaller, quicker Amobi Okugo (who is poised to have a breakout year). Berry will help the U boast one of the 5 best defenses in the league.

2. Vincent Nogueira- This French midfielder will have a huge impact on making the U play more attractive soccer. He is an excellent passer, mobile, and is able to play both attack and defense. The 26-year old is also a great leader, as he was captain for French side Sochaux for many years. A team can never have enough technical midfielders on its roster, and Nogueira will certainly prove his quality this season as he is asked to play an important central attacking role.

1. Maurice Edu- The biggest splash of the offseason for the Union, Maurice Edu is a former national team player who has not played too much in recent years after signing with Stoke City of England. However, do not think that Edu has nothing to offer; he is an incredibly talented player who can do everything in midfield. The pair of him and Nogueira will rapidly change the side. As great soccer coach Jaunma Lillo once said, “Tell me who your central midfielder is, and I’ll tell you what sort of team you are.” The Union are poised to find out the truth of that statement in a great way. Central midfield is the most important position on the field, and the Union have just increased their talent there exponentially.

NEXT TIME: a look at the broader Union roster, its coaching staff, and strategy.

Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: The Union are Terrible When Playing A Man Up

Although they made it difficult at times, although there style of play is not exactly gorgeous, and although their struggles while possessing a man advantage continued, the Union scored a late goal yesterday to defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0, sending the Pacific Northwest club to their first home defeat of the season. Union supporters will be concerned that the Boys in Blue could only muster 1 goal even though they played up a man after Jun Marques Davidson blatantly headbutted Keon Daniel, earning himself a straight red card from referee Baldomero Toledo.

Red cards for Union opponents are not uncommon. The excellent Philly Soccer Page covered it extensively here, how the Union seem to instigate red cards as easily as Ryan Howard strikes out. But the Union haven’t been able to capitalize on their opponents hot-headedness. In fact, have only mustered 4 wins out of the 9 total games in which their opponents have went down a man.

So, the obvious question becomes, why?

And the answer, sadly, seems just as obvious: the Union do not play well when they are in possession of the ball. That is not to say that there is no one on the team who is capable enough technically to really hold on to the rock. However, those players are either miscast in their roles in the current system (Michael Farfan), only selected as a substitute (Kleberson), or left off of the gameday roster entirely (Roger Torres). In the case of Torres, the most talented passer by a mile on the squad and the only player really capable of operating as the central creative fulcrum week in and week out, the Union should either play him as soon as possible in a meaningful league fixture, or sell him. There is no room in MLS for expensive players who can’t even make the gameday substitutes, either for his lack of skill or his coach’s maladroitness managing his club.

However, even though they are one of the least stylish teams in the league, the Union summoning up their inner Stoke City has generated some decent results. Through 22 games the Union have collected 34 points, positioning themselves as a playoff team after many people (myself included) projected them to finish near the bottom of the conference during the preseason.

So the big question becomes, should the Union sacrifice their brutish, direct style, one that has seen them in the playoff places throughout the season, for a prettier, possession-based game? I think, with a home game against Chicago coming up, the Union should transition to a more attractive game. Even though Chicago have seen an uptick in their fortunes after a dreadful start to the season, they still are significantly behind the upper class of the league in Portland, Salt Lake, Kansas City, and LA (and basically every other team in a playoff spot). The Union should start Torres so that he can find the holes in the Chicago defense. Moving Michael Farfan onto the left wing will enable him to cut onto his stronger right foot while retaining possession and playing long switches to Sebastian Le Toux playing high on the right wing, enabling the U to retain some traces of their direct style. And by playing the left-footed Fabinho at left back instead of the right-footed Raymon Gaddis, someone can exploit the space being created by Farfan when he comes inside. If John Hackworth uses that lineup, he won’t even need an opponent’s red card to barely win 1-0.

Sugested roster next week vs. Chicago:

Macmath; Williams, Okugo, Parke, Fabinho; Le Toux, Carroll, Torres, Farfan; Casey, McInerney