Tag Archives: Philadelphia Union

I hit my breaking point

Most of you that have followed me on Twitter, Big Soccer, or Reddit know that I have advised time and patience with the ownership. I repeatedly stated that I was convinced that Hackworth was the issue. With a competent manager, I was convinced this team would finally find its footing.

I was wrong.

This season has been the worst to date. I understand the injuries and suspensions have piled up. We are scrapping the very bottom of this team just to name an 18 for match day. However, this is part of the problem. Why are we paying a keeper $500k instead of investing in-depth?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have had enough. I am officially on the bandwagon calling for this team to be sold.

Nick Sakiewicz

Nick is a popular target for the frustrations of ZOLO fans. I used to defend him, but I just can’t anymore.  His snarky, holier-than-thou comments have done nothing to endear him to the fans.

Look, I will openly admit I defended the Rais signing and was a major apologist of his for month. I thought it was unfair to judge a guy based off one high-profile mistake and that his international form warranted time here. However, the move has not panned out, and Nick needs to take the blame for this. With the money we have invested in Rais, we could have signed a left back, a defensive midfielder, AND a winger. We could have actual depth who could be stepping in right now.

Instead of addressing areas of need, Nick Sak has signed two keepers (Oka Nikolov and Rais MBolhi) in two successive years. Despite this, Nick will never admit he was wrong. Why does he refuse to acknowledge that he made these deals and other deals? Where is his humility and willingness to acknowledge his mistakes?

It’s bigger than Nick

Like I said, Nick is the target of our frustrations and rightfully so. However, these issues go far beyond him. If the owners buy out Nick’s stake tomorrow and let him walk, we still have deep structural issues. Where is the investment and backing the Union needs?

Hell, where is the coaching staff? I pointed out in the off-season that Curtin needed support if they wanted him to succeed. They brought in a goalkeeping coach that was already with the team and members of the youth academy. We are still one of the most understaffed teams in the league. Is it any wonder Curtin is floundering when you fail to provide him the support he needs to flourish?

More importantly, where is the plan for this team? For years now, the team has signed players willy-nilly without a plan of how they will fit into the team. Nogueira was signed as a 10, Maidana as a winger, and Edu as a box-to-box midfielder. None of them play those positions anymore. Vitoria was signed without the foresight that a backline of himself and White would be unable to cope with the speed of this league. It’s mind-boggling how this team never has a plan for how a player will fit into this side.

With that in min, why is there still no general manager for this team? Nick Sak clearly was not doing a good job. Instead, they replace him with Rene Meulensteen as a consultant and Albright in a dual-role as GM and coach. If this team is struggling both on and off the field, why are we not signing someone who can bring a clear plan of action to this team?

Even if Nick leaves tomorrow, we still have a pool of shit to wade through before this team even begins to resemble a decently run club. The owners seem to be happy to settle for cheap investments that turn a profit based off fans who will continue to attend matches whether this team wins or not.

What now?

For those of you who may not know, I have a bit of a background as a political organizer, and I aspire to be a full-time community organizer. I hate sitting and whining, and I always seek a pragmatic reaction to a problem. What can we do then?

Newcastle fans just created a new website – AshleyOut.Com – to promote a sell the team movement. The fans provide facts and quotes with sources to legitimize their complaints and to publicize their movement.

Why not do the same with the Union? There are legitimate concerns with the Union. The team once bailed on paying their taxes. The development plan that was attached to the public funding for the stadium has been all but abandoned. The on the field product has been shit for years despite the fact that this league is becoming more profitable and that this team used to lead the league in merchandise sales. A website of our own would go a long way towards legitimizing our concerns and promoting it to fans on the fence and the soccer media within this country. I know I would open my wallet for it.

Beyond that, several more ideas come to mind. We can always rent a billboard by the stadium or fly a plane banner during a match. We can cause a shit storm on social media to the point where any time the Union is mentioned, we make our discontent known. We can begin chants of “Sell the Team,” organize tifos demanding the ownership sell the team, and stage walkouts. There really is no limit to what we can do so long as people decide to take action.

We need a change. Sitting here and complaining won’t change anything. Taking action will.

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So what now?

Via Sarcasmo on Flickr
Via Sarcasmo on Flickr

Before, I begin this article, I want to apologize for the lack of articles this week. I have had some stressful matters to attend to.

Anyhow, Union players are dropping like flies. Here is a current list of players missing due to injury, personal matters, or red cards:

* Chaco Maidana (injury)

* CJ Sapong  (injury)

* Connor Casey (injury)

* Eric Bird (injury)

* Andre Blake (injury)

* Sheanon Williams (injury)

* Zach Pfeffer (red card)

* Fred (personal issues)

Three games in and this team is already decimated. Perhaps most importantly, we have absolutely no one who plays CAM. So what do we do now?

4-2-3-1/4-5-1

Well, we can stick with the 4-2-3-1/4-5-1. As a note, I would play Fabinho as a LB regardless of the formation until Sheanon is healthy, since we don’t have much in the way of options.

4-2-3-1

With the lineup we have now, I would put Vincent Nogueira in the 10 role and Michael Lahoud as the defensive midfield presence. This would put Mo Edu in the box-to-box role he prefers and allow him to bomb forward.

This isn’t pretty though. Vincent Nogueira has proved over and over again he isn’t a 10 and that he prefers to not play as a 10. As for Lahoud, he is the type of player who can play in a pinch but not someone you want to dwell on. He can certainly fill in well against a team like Chicago, but he is a mistake waiting to happen against better teams.

Further, this does nothing to address the fact that Nando has played on an island for most of the year. No one other than Chaco has provided him much in the way of support. Without further changes, we are just sitting and praying that one of the wingers finds their form.

Pros: Solid defensive shape, Puts Mo in a more comfortable role, Provides some tactical consistency for a team in turmoil

Cons: Nogueira isn’t a 10 and could be in for a rough game, Neither of our wingers have provided support for Nando up top, Lahoud is a mistake waiting to happen

4-4-2

I know this formation isn’t popular. I am not a fan of it myself. However, all the missing players may have forced our hands. So what would this look like?

4-4-2

I’d start by pushing Sebastian Le Toux up top to play off of Nando. At his best, Sebastian likes to find space to run onto the ball. Nando would be the target man Seba has never had. Plus, we take him away from the winger role in which he has been terrible this year.

Out wide, we can replace him with Jimmy McLaughlin or Eric Ayuk Mbi. I wrote an article last week about why I love Jimmy’s game. The coaching staff doesn’t seem to agree with me and played Ayuk last week.  Either way, one of the two youngsters may offer the spark that we have needed on the wings all year. We may have speed and technical ability out wide for once.

Pros: Sebastian is moved to his best spot, No more Sebastian on the wing!, Gives the youngsters a chance

Cons: Too attacking of a formation to play against top teams, Leaves us undermanned in the center of midfield, Lacks creativity and possession in midfield

5-3-2

This is my outside the box idea. We certainly won’t see it, but it is worth considering.

5-3-2

Through this formation, I would start a back three of Vitoria, Marquez, and White. Fabinho and Ray would be the two fullbacks. In midfield, we would have Lahoud, Mo, and Nogueira. Up top, I’d play Sebastian and Nando.

Again, this is just an outside the box idea. It could offer some interesting possibilities:

  • Fabinho’s main weakness is his defensive skills while he is talented at going forward. A three-man back line behind him would cover for his defensive weaknesses and allow him to focus more on getting forward and putting in dangerous crosses.
  • The three-man back line would offer extra cover to stabilize what has been an inconsistent defensive showing.
  • Our wingers have been terrible anyway. Why not just get rid of them on the field?
  • It puts Sebastian back in the position where he found the most success.

Now, a lot can go wrong with this. We saw under Piotr Nowak in the playoffs the danger of switching to such an unfamiliar formation without proper preparation. If players don’t know their roles, mistakes will happen.

Also, the formation historically fell out of fashion as teams began switching to lone forwards. While successful against two strikers, a single striker is capable of dragging the three-man back line out of position. This creates pockets of space that can easily be exploited. A complete unknown like Ritchie Marquez could easily fall victim to one of these mistakes.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Pros: Best fits the players we have available, Provides a more sturdy defensive shape, Adds another goalscorer up top

Cons: Too foreign of a formation for this team, Would force an unknown defender to play, Sacrifices width for defense


So what do we do? Personally, I’d prefer to play a 4-4-2 against a weak and questionable Chicago side. If we can notch a goal or two, we can then switch to a more defensive formation and grind out a result. It wouldn’t be pretty, but a win is a win at this stage. Once Fred comes back, I’d work into the 10 role in a five man midfield.

What do I think that Jim Curtin will do? I expect him to go with the 4-2-3-1 with Lahoud joining Nogueira and Edu in midfield. This team will play very defensively, grind out a result, and provide 90 minutes of terrible nationally televised soccer. Though is that much different from what we are used to seeing?

 

What say you readers? What starting XI would you pick, and how would you line them up?

Where will this season go right?

In my last post, I looked at where the Union could go wrong in 2015. Now, let’s be a little more positive. I think this is the most talented Philadelphia Union team we have ever seen. Where could this season go right for the Union?

1. Nando is the forward we have never had

Up until now, the aging Connor Casey has likely been the best forward in this team’s history (unless you count Seba as a forward). Nando has the potential to seize that title this season. He already has two goals to his name this year.

Let’s take a look at Nando the player. He is big, strong, a hard-worker, and a good finisher who so far seems cunning enough to put himself in good spaces. He is like Jack McInerney that is big and actually puts in effort. His first goal against Colorado is a testament to this work ethic. Jack would have quit on the play far sooner and would not have been in the position to tap in  that rebound.

Last year, one of our biggest issues was that an aging Connor Casey was our only goalscorer on the team. Now, we have a young player who will be a real threat to score. Goals shouldn’t be an issue this year.

2. Chaco has a full year with this team

At his best last year, Chaco was among the league leaders in assists. He brought a level of creativity that we have only ever seen from Roger Torres and Kleberson. In his two games this season, Chaco has been the clear engine of this team that has driven the attack forward.

Importantly, he has a full year with this team and a fresh off-season under his belt. He had fitness concerns last, but it is worth noting that he came to Philly in the middle of the Argentinian season. He didn’t have a true off-season break last year.

If Chaco stays healthy and Curtin starts him, expect big things from the Argentinian #10.

3. Jim Curtin is the manager we need

Piotr Nowak understood tactics, but he was too flexible. His only consistency was his lack of consistency. New players started every week in a different tactical set up.

On the flip side, John Hackworth was as rigid and stubborn as they come. Hack refused to change his formation when it didn’t work, and he persisted in using the same players until it was clear to everyone that it wasn’t working. I still can’t get out of my mind the horror of watching both Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel attempt to play the #10 role.

Further, Hack constantly outsmarted himself and attempted to play people out of position. Amobi was not a center back. Keon and Michael were not 10’s. Wheeler certainly was not a center back. Wenger was not a forward. The constant experiments caused needless problems for this team.

Jim Curtin looks like he will be the happy mix of the two. He has a formation he prefers in a 4-2-3-1. However, he has worked in the 4-4-2 and shows a willingness to adapt if his plans aren’t working. Instead of persisting with the ineffectual 4-4-2 against Colorado, he replaced the injured Sapong with Chaco and switched to a five man midfield.

Plus, much of Curtin’s early success consisted of putting players in their natural positions where they could succeed. Maurice Edu was the lone exception, but you can make the case he would make a better center back than defensive midfielder. Regardless, the point is moot as Mo is back in the midfield.

If Curtin continues to bring the best of Nowak and Hackworth, he should have success this year.

4. We have depth!

Two major issues sunk this team last year: the lack of a goal scorer and the lack of depth. This was most evident in the Open Cup Final last year when Seattle was able to bring players like Obafemi Martins off the bench while we brought on Pedro Ribeiro.

The new signings have pushed some players to the bench while new acquisitions have given us some new bench options. Instead of bringing on Pedro Ribeiro or Brian Brown off the bench to put up top when we need a goal, we will be bringing Connor Casey, CJ Sapong, and Dzenan Catic.

Part of this will hinge upon how well we bring along our youth. Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin would be fantastic sparks off the bench. One provides a like for like sub for Chaco, and the other brings us a natural winger who runs at defenders and plays with aggression and tenacity. Both provide roles we did not have last year.

If we use our depth appropriately, we should not have the same level of burn out and the same ineffectiveness when chasing a game that we saw last year.

5. There are more playoff spots

This is slightly cheap on my part, but one extra playoff spot clearly improves our chances of finally returning to the playoffs.


What say you Union fans? Did I miss anything? What else will go right with this team?

Where will this season go wrong?

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With the season still young, I thought it might be worth predicting how the Union will fare this year. This is the first part of a two-part article where I predict what could go wrong for this team and what could go right. If we crash and burn this season, I listed a few factors that may play a big role in our demise.

1. The dreaded 4-4-2

Jim Curtin toyed with the formation during the preseason, and he ended up employing it during Week One. Frankly speaking, we are not set up to play a 4-4-2.

Who goes in the central midfield? Vincent and Mo? Alright then, but where is your creativity? Vince isn’t a #10 as the Rapids game proved. Do you go with Chaco and Mo? Where does Vince play then? Chaco and Vince? Who is supposed to do the defensive duties then? The 5’7″ and 134 pound Vince?

Where does Chaco fit in this formation? Playing him centrally forces out either Vincent or Mo. He doesn’t have the speed to play wide nor the disciple to stay wide and not drift centrally. You have to choose to either sit one of your best players or give up having a true defensive midfielder and risk being overrun in midfield.

Speaking of being overrun in midfield, the 4-4-2 fell out of fashion for a reason. It simply can’t compete with a 5 man midfield found in formations like a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1/4-3-3. Many MLS teams have made the switch to the 5 man midfield, the Union included. Returning to a 4-4-2 would see us give up even more of the possession in favor of praying for a counter goal. Honestly, it’s just too risky of a formation, and we don’t have the personnel for it.

2. Jim Curtin doesn’t develop quickly enough as a manager

It’s no secret that Jim is the youngest and least experienced manager in the league. How badly will this lack of experience affect the team? What’s been worrying two weeks into the season is his hesitancy to use subs. Why did it take him so long to bring players on against Colorado? I personally hate only giving a player 10-15 minutes to make an impact in the game. It gives them very little time to fit themselves into the tempo of the match.

Another issue will be squad rotation. Last year, he ran this team into the ground by the end of the season by relying on a small group of players. It’s too early to truly assess his squad rotation skills, but I am still worried. Why hasn’t someone like Jimmy McLaughlin made the bench over someone like Fred? We can’t rely on playing two wingers all year. We need to use what depth we have while giving the youngsters crucial minutes to develop.

3. Age catches up to Le Toux

While Seba may no longer be the star of this team, he is still a very important player. He has notched at least seven assists in each of his Union seasons and at least 11 goals in three of his four seasons here. He is still expected to be a big contributor for this team.

Now, what if age catches up to Seba? Who will pick up the slack and generate those assists and goals? Outside of Wenger, we only have Danny Cruz, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Eric Ayuk Mbi out wide. We all know Cruz is a hustle player who won’t set the world on fire. As for Jimmy, I am a big fan of his, but the coaching staff has done a poor job working him into the team. He is very unlikely to make an immediate impact. Finally, we have Eric. I doubt that we can expect a young player coming from Thailand to be an instant impact player. Harrisburg seems more likely for him.

So if Seba can’t replicate his form, who do we replace him with?

4. The Defense

It’s no secret that the defense ships away goals in the dying minutes of games. We have seen many collapses over the past few years, with the Columbus game at the end of last year being the best example. Can the defense turn this around?

What could be a worry is that we have a new member of the back line which requires us to once again develop chemistry.  However, Vitoria may not be the only issue. Ethan White is still an unknown quantity. I do like him, but there is still a risk that he may not be the starter we need.

The fullbacks raise issues as well. Ray is still not a left back. Playing him on the left continues to stunt his game. On the opposite side, Sheanon has truly regressed from the form of his first two seasons that had some of us mentioning national team potential. For me, the biggest issue is a poor work ethic. He often gets caught out of position and lightly jogs back. This puts unnecessary pressure on Ethan to cover for Sheanon’s lapses. This leaves us with a player who doesn’t put in the defensive effort and who can’t cross well consistently. All that leaves him with is a long throw-in which never works anyway. Plus, the way he slowly saunters to the ball slows down any counter opportunities.

Until we get a left back and the center back proven definitely proves itself, the defense will continue to be one big question mark for this team.


Here we have it Union fans. If we crash and burn again this season, here are what I consider to be the likely reasons. Did I miss anything? What do you think could be an issue this season?

2014: What could have been

This season has been a disappointment for the Zolos and their fans. Rather than focus too much on the negatives, I want to look at what could have been for this team.

What if the Union had fired Hackworth at the end of last season and started this season strong?

March 2014

The early months of 2014 are disappointing for Philadelphia sports. The Eagles are in off-season and had just cut star player DeSean Jackson while the tanking Sixers talk of a multi-year rebuild. Throughout this, the Phillies are still the Phillies.

Come March, MLS begins and the Philadelphia Union are off to a hot start under their new manager, winning their first three games. Captain Amobi Okugo leads the way from midfield while Aaron Wheeler is only seen coming off the bench as a striker. The hilariously named Berry White backline isn’t perfect, but the two young players show flashes of potential.

A month or two in, the Union are in playoff contention thanks to the striker pairing of Jack Mac and Casey. The manager’s patience with the Berry White pairing is starting to show signs of chemistry. The competitive Zolos catch the eyes of casual Philly sports fans desperate for a winner.

The World Cup

Due to his superb form on an overachieving Philadelphia, Maurice Edu makes the final 23 man squad of the United States. Casual fans are intrigued by having a Philadelphia player for the United States, making sure to tune into U.S. matches.

On the back of the World Cup hype, more casual fans start paying attention to this team.  While the Zolos certainly cannot match the play of Germany, fans are rewarded with exciting, competitive play. Berry White have finally developed chemistry while Jack and Casey are a dynamic partnership up top. Maidana and Nogueira lead the way for this entertaining side. Some of these newcomers and fence-sitters decide to buy season tickets as PPL Park begins to get back to consistent sell-outs.

End of July 2014

Let’s compare where we are now to where we could be. Now, we are searching for a new manager while chasing the playoffs and an Open Cup title. Things are looking up since Hackworth’s dismissal, but we are still digging ourselves out of Hack’s hole. Fans are finally beginning to see entertaining soccer on the field, but is it too late to catch the World Cup hype?

We could already be in playoff contention. We could have had a manager who plays people in their natural spots and who plays to their strengths. We could have been able to score goals and defend from the season’s beginning. Unfortunately, a team of talented players underachieved under poor managing. In a year in which soccer has finally gone mainstream in America, we can only look at what could have been for the Philadelphia Union.