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The Dead Cat Bounce

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In big MLS news, Toronto’s manager Ryan Nelsen was fired a few days ago. He has been the second man sacked this year behind our own John Hackworth. Unfortunately for the Union, we play Toronto in our next two games. Why unfortunately? The dead cat bounce effect is another added challenge in a critical stretch for this team.

The Dead Cat Bounce

It goes by several names – The Honeymoon Period, the New Manager Effect, etc. Personally, I like calling it the Dead Cat Bounce for poetic effect. What is it exactly? When a manager is fired and replaced, his team tends to perform above their usual level. Think of it like a dead cat dropped off a ledge. It bounces when it hits the ground. If you want a more detailed analysis, I recommend this article.

Reports out of Toronto have been suggesting he was very unpopular with the players. Considering the talent available to him, Toronto has certainly underperformed this year. A new boss is a new start. Players tend to overachieve immediately after a new hiring. Toronto is likely to see a short-term uptick in form.

Look at the Union. With virtually the same team as Hackworth, Curtin’s side has vastly outplayed his predecessor. Curtin lit a fire in this team simply by moving some players’ spots, giving a few fringe players a shot, and providing a different type of leadership.

Why then do I refer to it as a bounce? The new manager effect is much more short-term than long-term. If you average out form over half a season or so, the change in form is pretty much negligible as the team returns to their mean. So while a team with a new manager in the Premier League averages around 2.5 points a game, the results start to fade after the first 12 or so games. The cat returns to the ground.

In other words, look back at when Hackworth was hired. His first few games were splendid, including a thrashing of Sporting at KC. As the season continued, the team returned to their mean, producing dire results as the year ended. Hackworth never returned to the same level of success from when he was first hired.

What does this mean for the Union?

A Nelsen-led Toronto was a much easier opponent. With a new man at the helm, the Union will have a much more difficult opponent. This is a critical stretch for the Union playoff push. A newly enthused Toronto throws a wrench into this push. I’ll break it down further:

  1. New tactics: None of us know how Greg Vanney is going to line his team up. Unfortunately, we are his very first opponents. When you have no tape on your opponent, it is very difficult to gameplan around them. With two back-to-back games, we have little time to assess the first game before the second game.
  2. Fired up players: For fringe or squad players, this firing means an audition to convince the new guy that they deserve to be part of his plans going forward. Several players will be fighting for their spot over the next few games. Hungry wolves are far more dangerous than those who know their place.
  3. Fired up fans: Many people forget this, but Toronto ushered in the massive MLS fan culture years before Seattle entered the league. Years of mediocrity and down right piss poor play have tempered their enthusiasm. A new look Toronto side could be enough to ignite the crowd, giving Toronto a more dangerous home field advantage.

If you spoke to me last week, I would have said we could won both games. Now, I will be happy for 4 points, but I wouldn’t be surprised by 3. As a Philly sports fan, cautious optimism is the name of the game.

How do you think the dead cat bounce will affect us against Toronto?

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A Union Labor Day

Happy Labor Day everyone.

Considering our team is named “The Union,” I find it important today to recognize the accomplishments of the labor movement. Today is far more than just a single day off work.

Labor Day is a celebration of America’s labor movements throughout history. The victories of labor include a 40 hour work week, the right to join a union, social security, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation if injured, and minimum wage.

What’s astonishing is the labor movement faced violence and military repression from the governments in attempts to break up worker demonstrations. Look no further than why we celebrate Labor Day today to see the challenges the workers faced.

Labor Day, itself, was passed by Grover Cleveland to appease angry workers on strike in 1894. Most of the world celebrates a form of Labor Day on May 1st – May Day/International Workers’ Day. Cleveland chose September 1st,  because May Day is associated heavily with the Haymarket Massacre.

On May 4th, 1886, a peaceful labor rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square demonstrated for an 8 hour work and against the police murder of several workers the day before (some things never change). Out of nowhere, an unknown assailant threw a bomb at a crowd of police, killing 7 officers and 4 civilians.

There was no evidence for who threw the bomb. Despite this, eight anarchists were arrested and charged with the evidence it was possible one of them may have built the bomb. The prosecution admitted none were the bomber.

In a gross mockery of the judicial system, the eight were convicted of conspiracy and all but one received the death penalty. Of this seven, two had their charges commuted by the governor, and one committed suicide before he could be executed.

It’s widely accepted these eight figures had nothing to do with the bomb blast. Looking back at history, Chicago used the incident to tackle major anarchist leaders in the labor movement. The bomber has never been identified, but the whole affair is a reminder of the violence the labor movement faced in order to better the life of the average worker.

So on this Labor Day while reading a blog about a team named “The Union,” remember that the most basic rights we enjoy as workers were achieved by workers just like us who struggled in the face of violence and repression.
Oh you don’t get me I’m part of the union
You don’t get me I’m part of the union
You don’t get me I’m part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die.

 

If interested in labor history, I recommend checking out Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Post-Match Thoughts: San Jose @ Philly

Wow. What a win. The Union haven’t scored four goals since a 4-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City on June 23, 2012. We even saw a Le Toux yellow! Without wasting any time, I’ll look at some things that stood out and then go through my ratings.

Rais MBolhi

The new Union man finally made his much awaited debut. It’s too early to judge him. A stagnant San Jose attack very rarely tested Rais. In the Quakes’ few dangerous attacks, MBolhi was confident coming off his line. His punch in the second half is the best punch I have seen from a Union keeper in recent memory. His combination of athleticism and confidence shows how is he an upgrade from MacMath.

Now let’s look at the two San Jose goals. There was nothing Rais could do on Cronin’s rocket into the corner. No goalkeeper would save that. If the blame falls anywhere, our defenders should have stepped up and pressured Cronin.

On the second goal, Rais could have reacted better, but Ray should have either marked Wondo better or cleared the ball with his head (something he is terrible at). I chalk the goal up to poor defending rather than bad goalkeeping.

As far as concerns, MBolhi’s positioning looked off. I’m willing to chalk it up to rustiness from having not played from June, unfamiliarity with his teammates, and practicing for only three days. It should improve as he builds chemistry with the team. Regardless, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Andrew Wenger

Wow. Anyone who reads my posts on BigSoccer knows I am one of his most vocal critics. Wenger shut me up and made me eat my words last night. Andrew looked confident for the first time in a while. His first goal was absolutely brilliant. That angle was incredibly tight and he stuffed his shot in the back corner.

Andrew’s confidence really showed in the second goal. A less confident Wenger would have passed the ball and killed the counter. Andrew did well to keep rushing forward and assertively bury the ball in the back of the net. This composure is something he has been lacking all year.

I said earlier in the year that Wenger might see more success as a wide target man. Kei Kamara at Sporting Kansas City is the best example of a big target man wreaking havoc on the wings. Wenger seems to fit that mold well. If we works on his decision-making, composure, and ability to run at defenders, Andrew might be the long-awaited answer to the left wing problem that has plagued the Union since Year Zolo.

All this being said, I would say people need to temper their expectations. Don’t forget that Danny Cruz scored a brace against Seattle last year. Did a broken clock strike twice, or can Wenger finally put all his athletic tools together? The next few weeks will be a good proving ground to see if Wenger is for real.

Vincent Nogueira

Jim Curtin needs to have Noggy spend all of practicing working on his finishing. Noggy wasted a few chances either by rushing his shot or forgoing a pass for a shot. He is not someone who has had historic success when it comes to goalscoring. He needs to be more disciplined and make better decisions when he is in the final third. If he wants to shoot, Curtin needs to make sure he is putting in the time in practice to make sure his shots go on frame. Bad finishing throughout the team almost cost us three points.

Has anyone else noticed he has cooled down from the beginning of the season? In the first half of the year, he was clearly our best player. I would be hesitant to say that in recent months. Does he just miss Maidana? Is it because the whole team is no longer so bad that it makes him look exceptional? Noggy played the CAM role better than he has in the past, but I still miss how effectively he bossed the midfield earlier in the year.

The Midfield

Props go out to Okugo and Edu who held down the midfield well. When we have played two defensive-minded midfielders this year, both players have seemed to not understand their role. Both players seemed to communicate well as they did a good job of locking down the center of the pitch. This was one of Edu’s best games all season as he provided some good support in the attack while winning some vital tackles.

Ratings

MBolhi: 5

Williams: 6

Valdes: 5.5

White: 5.5

Gaddis: 5

Okugo: 6

Edu: 6.5

Nogueira: 6.5

Le Toux: 9

Wenger: 8.5

Casey: 7

Brown: 5.5

Lahoud: N/A

Cruz: N/A

Curtin: 9

Man of the Match: Sebastian Le Toux. I know, I know. Wenger was great last night. However, Sebastian had a hand in three goals last night with a goal and two assists. Seba is back in 2010-2011 form and tied for 5th in MLS in goals. Plus, my fantasy team is incredibly thankful for his performance.

Say Beembo – B-I-M-B-O

 

The Union have just announced that sponsor Bimbo Bakeries will be signing on for another five years. Bimbo Bakeries is the American branch of the Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo, the largest bakery in Mexico and the United States. While you may not be familiar with their brand, Bimbo owns Arnold, Entenmann’s, Sara Lee, Stroehmann’s, and Thomas’s among several other brands. Yes, a Mexican company makes English muffins for American consumers.

Let’s break down the deal and the controversy surrounding Bimbo.

The Bimbo Family
The great Jonathon Tannenwald revealed the sponsorship extension in a writeup on Philly.com. The new 5 year, $11 million deal looks to be a decrease from the 4 year, $12 million deal signed in 2011 on the surface. However, Tannenwald explains that the previous deal was split between the Union and MLS. In reality, the Union will be making more money each year through this deal.

The Zolos are one of eight teams sponsored by Bimbo. In their home country, the company sponsors the two most successful Mexican teams – Chivas Guadalajara and Club America – as well as Monterrey. Latin American clubs Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), San Francisco (Panama), and Saprissa (Costa Rica) are also part of the family. Here in the States, the USL club Rochester Rhinos is also sponsored by the bakery.

What’s in a name?
Here’s the real meat of this article. The team has taken flak for the sponsorship ever since Bimbo signed on in 2011. As you have likely thought by this point in the article, “bimbo” is also a derogatory slur used to refer to dumb but attractive women. This heteronym (fancy grammar word of the day) has met with hostile disdain from a minority of Union fans. Some accuse the team of promoting a sexist term while others state that they do not want to wear a shirt with a slur pasted on it. Bimbo explains that the name derives either from the Italian word bambino (little boy) or a fusion of the words bingo and Bambi. Either way, the company’s name is an interesting example of the diversity of language.
Personally, I think the sexist claims are a load of shit. First of all, promoting the company Bimbo would allow a shift in the word’s meaning. As Bimbo grows in visibility in this country, people will soon begin to associate the word “bimbo” with bread instead of women. The Union play a big part in this linguistic shift by displaying the company’s name on their shirt.
Second, several people often cite Wawa, TastyKake, or Yuengling as companies they want on the shirt instead. None of those companies would be able to come close to offering a deal comparable to Bimbo’s sponsorship. In particular, Flower Foods – the owners of TastyKakes – have failed to meet financial expectations this year and have far bigger concerns than sponsoring a sports team. Quite frankly, it is unrealistic to expect regional brands to be able to sponsor a top-flight professional sports team. While a Wawa jersey would look awesome, I would have the extra million or two available from Bimbo to buy players or continue to invest in the club’s infrastructure.
Finally, people need to remember Bimbo is a name. We are sponsored by a bakery that makes bread and delicious snacks. Let’s look at the rest of the league.

LA, Dallas, and Salt Lake City are sponsored by pyramid schemes (Herbalife, Advocare, and LifeVantage respectively).

Houston’s sponsor BHP Billiton is a major mining and petroleum company whose product releases greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change. Further, BHP has lobbied against carbon pricing in Australia.
D.C. United used to be sponsored by a company literally formed by Hitler (V.W.). Their current sponsor, Leidos, is a defense contractor. The company has been in bed with the NSA (National Security Agency) since 2002 when -under the name SAIC– Leidos was one of the companies working on the Trailblazer Project – an early program meant to analyze communication data such as cell phone and email records. In other words, Leidos’s work contributed to the spying system Edward Snowden revealed.

This is a very brief glance at MLS team sponsors. Several other sponsors like New England’s United Healthcare and SKC’s Ivy Funds have been sued or investigated for sketchy business practices. Looking at these teams, is Bimbo really that bad of a sponsor?

Zolo Talk is back!

 

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I apologize for the few weeks of inactivity. Between moving and starting a new job, I have had little time to write new material. I have been glued to a seat for training recently. These are the pitfalls of being a one man blog.

With everything settled back down, I am able to start writing again. I will have a new article posted tonight once I figure out some technical quirks. I apologize again and thank you for your patience.

 

Off to Boston

Zolo Talk will be back next week!

This week I will be in Boston for work training and then moving to Mercer County, New Jersey. Turn to Twitter this week for my thoughts on Carlos Valdes returning and any other Union developments. I’ll try to squeak a few articles in here and there if I can.

I apologize, but I will back next week with some new content. Thank you to everyone for your patience.

Progress Report: Jim Curtin

The Zolos are now several games into Jim Curtin’s interim reign. This is his first managing gig, and time was needed to examine his management ability. With a few games under his belt, how do we rate Curtin?

Honesty

Jim Curtin’s honesty and directness is refreshing for the Union.  He does not pull any punches and admits when the team does not play well. I enjoy hearing him talk as frankly and openly as he can. Can anyone imagine how Piotr Nowak would have handled the team’s public discussion about the Carlos Valdes situation?

On the topic of the original manager, Nowak was infamous for running the organization like the KGB. Information rarely, if ever, was leaked. The offseason ended up as one big game of spot and name the trialist in lieu of any information. Preseason games were blacked out. The cold, quiet months of the MLS offseason under Nowak were a terrible time for Union fans craving any information about this team.

Initially, Hack attempted to loosen this iron grip of secrecy. He wrote emails to the fans expressing his views on recent events and his explanations for his decisions. As time progressed and this team slumped, John noticeably departed from this transparency. Blaming the referee as well as spinning negative results into positives became running jokes amongst the fans. At the same time, hyped up signings were nearly immediately cut (hello, Damani Richards). Hack’s press conferences simply became a farce.

I really do hope the next manager is as transparent as Jim has been. Philly fans want straight answers, not propaganda or pussyfooting.

Starting Lineups

Initially, I was disappointed in Jim’s first few games. Curtin seemed to just keep playing some of the dead weight like Wenger and Hoppenot. I have really come around recently.

1. He just puts people in their position: Hack was a system guy. Rather than adjust his system to the players, the players were expected to adjust to the system. Curtin has made a real effort to put players in their natural spots. Strikers are strikers. Centerbacks are centerbacks. Injuries and suspensions have forced Edu and Williams to play out of position, but that looks to be the exception rather than the norm. At the very least, Amobi is back in midfield!

2. Chaco the #10: Maidana has all the potential to live up to that #10 on his shirt. Under Hack, Maidana was played mostly on the wing when not benched for being a bad parent. With average at best pace, the wide position was a waste of Chaco’s creativity and ability to deliver a pinpoint ball. Curtin moving Chaco to the center of the pitch has really brought the best out of his game. I am drooling at the thought of him and Nogueira in the center of the pitch together delivering balls to Casey and Seba.

Get well soon Chaco.

3. Brian Carroll: Brian has become one of the major whipping boys among Union fans this season. Hack stuck true to starting Brian game in and out. Often, this meant playing three defensive mids with unclear duties. Carroll became the focus of fans’ frustrations with #Hacktics and poor results. Personally, I think he still has a role to play with this team.

Curtin has handled the situation well. Lahoud seemed to start early in his tenure as a way to show Curtin is not Hack. However, Curtin has found appropriate times to play Carroll. Carroll is not a week in, week out starter anymore, but there are certain games where you need his ability to destroy the other team’s attack. At this point in his career, Carroll is just a role-player for this team.

Organization

A change of manager can really make a world of difference. The Union are still a far shout from the most organized and disciplined teams in the league, but there has certainly been improvement.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Union have slowed the leaking of goals. Aside from the Colorado game, the Union have made few of the boneheaded mistakes that had plagued the team at the beginning of the year.  I no longer find myself sick with nerves anytime the team gives up a set piece. Curtin has done well to organize them. More than anything, the backline needs consistency and chemistry. We need to pick our four best defenders and play them week in and week out.

Under Curtin, our attack has really started to find itself. After taking over, Curtin abandoned Hack’s attempts at sideways passes and possession for the sake of possession (staples of #Hacktics). Now, we work the ball forward to Maidana who pushes it out to the wings for Cruz and Seba to run onto. We are not a possession team. We need to hit on the counter and let our attackers run onto the ball. We are at our best when we stretch teams out like we did in New England.

Most of this attacking resurgence is due to Curtin being able to get the best out of Casey. All too often under Hack, the lone striker would find himself up top on an island. If he won the ball, he likely had no one to play it to. Now, Casey is dropping deeper in order to link up the attack. His goal against the Red Bulls came from a smart pass to Ray from outside the 18 who played it right back to him.

All told, we finally seem to have a more organized idea of what we want to do as a team. The Union have abandoned most of the principles of #Hacktics in favor of a more pragmatic approach. The build up from the back to the front finally looks smoother and more fluid. There is certainly more work to do, but we are finally starting to see this team’s potential.

Substitutes

Here is where I am really disappointed with Curtin. I am a self-proclaimed youth guy. I think young players need to see as many minutes as possible. Curtin has mostly used the usual Hack guys as subs. We all know Wenger has very little to offer this team off the bench. Why not try Jimmy McLaughlin out wide off the bench instead? Fred has played well recently, but he is in the twilight of his career. Why not just save him for a Chris Albright role and give Zach Pfeffer his minutes? For a team who claims to emphasize youth development, we do a really shitty job bringing our players into the first team. (I plan on writing an article focusing on this topic soon.)

That being said, I am very happy that Wheeler has taken Hoppenot’s role as a striker off the bench. I have been very disappointed with Hoppenot for a while now. He is a one trick pony that only wants to run on to balls and dive. He hasn’t seemed mentally equipped to keep up with our newly revamped midfield and has just looked out of his depth all year.

In contrast, Wheeler is a guy who has something to offer. Unfortunately for him, fans have soured on Wheeler after Hackworth decided to try  his ridiculous experiment. Still, he is a big, hardworking body at top with some defensive skills. I like having him come off the bench to battle defenders when we need to close a game out.

Where does Jim Curtin stand?

I have been pleasantly surprised by Jim Curtin since he took over. He hasn’t been an immediate revelation that has solved all our problems, but who was expecting that? His ability to simplify the game and roles for his players has really helped this team turn the corner.

Should Jim Curtin be the manager? I am not yet on that boat. I still want to see how this team’s Open Cup run develops. A strong showing will help his case, while crashing out in a poor manner will certainly doom his chances.

I really think more game time is necessary to evaluate Jim. Most teams have a bounce in form after firing their manager. Hack was never able to adapt to other managers once they figured him out. Let’s give Jim a chance to see how he adapts now that teams are becoming more prepared for him. If he truly wants this gig, now is the time for Jim to sink or swim.