Tag Archives: The Union

Where does Sacha Kljestan fit?

 

Recently, US Mens National Team player and World Cup veteran Sacha Kljestan has been linked to the Philadelphia Union. I am late to the party here, but I thought I would weigh in with my thoughts.

Overall, I am really confused by this interest, and I would prefer to see us pursue other targets. To understand that, we need to look at our midfield.

The Five Man Midfield

Over the past few years, the five man midfield has taken the soccer world by storm. Very few teams dare to play the classic 4-4-2. The Union are among the teams that have shifted to a five man midfield, playing a 4-2-3-1 (more or less) under Jim Curtin.

Now, looking at this formation, the roles of the three central midfielders are critical. In a basic five man midfield, the center of the pitch has a destroyer, a shuttler, and a creator. The destroyer is your typical defensive midfielder. The shuttler is the player who keeps the ball moving. The creator is typically your #10 who links the ball from the midfield to the attack. The names may vary depending on who you talk to, but they are the same general roles.

So let’s look at the Union’s midfield. We have one of the best shuttlers in MLS in Vincent Nogueira. In the creator role, Cristian Maidana had a very successful year when he was healthy. With Amobi gone, we now have a big hole at the destroyer spot.

This is why I am critical of signing Sacha Kljestan. He simply doesn’t fit in our midfield.

Where does Sacha fit?

What we need is a destroyer. Sacha is not a destroyer. While he is at times listed as a defensive midfielder, Sacha has played primarily for Anderlecht and the USMNT as a deep-lying playmaker. In other words, he is a shuttler. Sacha stays deep and recycles the ball and passes it to his creators. We already have Vincent Nogueira in that role.

Now, we could play Sacha out of position. Jurgen Klinsmann certainly does (though he isn’t exactly a good model for tactics). We could play him as a #10 and push Maidana out to the wing. However, Sacha doesn’t have the natural tendencies and flair of a #10. Also, it negates Maidana’s effectiveness. Chaco didn’t truly flourish until Hackworth was fired and Curtin moved him from the wing to the center of the pitch. Playing Sacha as a #10 would negate the skill sets of two players.

We could play him next to Nogueira. Arsenal employs a similar set up. The Gunners have two creative midfielders that switch off between going forward and tracking ball. In theory it works. In reality, it’s the reason Arsenal fans have demanded a defensive mid for years.

Playing Sacha as a destroyer or switching him on and off with Nogueira really weakens and complicates our midfield. Neither player is a true ball-winning midfielder. I, also, doubt that they could cope with the physicality of MLS. Teams like Sporting Kansas City, Houston, and Chicago would bully our midfield around and leave us at a distinct advantage.

Also, this idea goes against Jim Curtin’s mantra. When he took over, a big part of Jim’s philosophy consisted of keeping things simple for the players. They played their roles, and they were not expected to perform any overly complicated tasks. If Sacha plays next to Vincent, it takes a lot of trust and understanding to know who is going forward and who stays back. Our midfield will likely be a disorganized mess in defense in the beginning of the season as they learn each others’ tendencies. I can’t see that sitting well with a manager who wants to build the team from the back.

Stepping Back

While Sacha Kljestan is a nice name to pursue, do we really need him? It continues a worrying trend of the Union throwing names against a wall and seeing what sticks. Hackworth clearly had no idea how to fit Cristian Maidana, Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Brian Carroll into the same midfield last year. This inability to solve that conundrum is partially what got him fired. Sacha seems like a return to this trend: signing a big name without a clear plan as to where he fits.

Honestly, we have far bigger needs than Sacha right now. With the money he would be demanding, we could buy ourselves a true defensive midfielder or a big name striker. Heck, we could even use the resources it would cost to move up the allocation ranking to bring in an MLS player at one of those spots.

Is Sacha Kljestan a good player? Yes. Is he a player that would make the Union significantly better? Probably not.

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Post-Match Thoughts: Union @ Sporting KC

Highlights available at MLSSoccer.com.

The Union kept their undefeated streak at KC alive as Brian “Rambo” Brown opened his MLS account. A big point against the defending MLS champs solidified Philly’s status as Kansas City’s kryptonite.

Rambo: First Blood

In the 71st minute, Brown delivered a pass to Ray Gaddis and then charged forward into the box. A pinpoint cross by Ray found Brown, who contorted his head to put the ball in the back of the net. Rambo’s equalizer clinched an unexpected point for Philadelphia. Brown seems full of confidence, and he looks to be fighting for Wenger’s role as the spot starter who is the first sub off the bench. Hopefully, this is the first of many goals to come.

While Rambo scored, it is important to remember he is still very raw. After his goal, Brown got on the end of several counters, but he lost the ball in the box each time. I think he has the potential to be a big player for the union, but he is a work in progress. Remember, Wenger scored in his Union debut.

MacMath

After the signing of Rais M’Bolhi, all eyes were on Zac MacMath. In the face of adversity, Zac had a solid game. He made a handful of saves, few of which were truly challenging. Of note, a poor clearance by Zac in the first half led to a Sporting counter. Zac’s punching save didn’t clear the ball properly, and Zac was forced off his line to clear the ball away hectically. Rais was signed to limit these nervy moments.

I can’t blame Zac for KC’s lone goal as his defensive line left him out to dry there.

The Starting XI

With Chaco injured and Lahoud on international duty, Curtin opted for a defensive lineup. The two players were replaced with Carroll in midfield and White in the back. Okugo was meant to play as a box to box midfielder who could contribute in the attack.

This lineup was unable to truly challenge a patchwork Kansas City backline featuring only one of their normal starters. Curtin’s plan from the beginning seemed to be to jam the KC attack while hoping to nick a goal on the counter.

Defense

All in all, the defense had a solid game. The lone goal came off a very poor header from Ray. Both central defenders seemed to lose track of Graham Zusi who received a pass in the box that he calmly slotted into the back of the net.

Aside from this goal, the defense looked more organized and improved compared to the Hackworth era. Edu and White made some big stops, while Williams put in one of his best shifts of the season. Ray got beat several times on the left, but he had one of his best games going forward all year.

While Ray assisted on the Union goal, his best run forward led to a perfect ground cross at the end of the first half that Williams completely missed.

In the end, Philly gave up only a single goal to the MLS champs and blanketed Dwyer, KC’s most dangerous attacker.

Midfield

The midfield really missed Maidana tonight. As expected, the three defensive midfielder lineup of Nogueira, Okugo, and Carroll lacked the creativity to string the attack together. While Okugo was meant to go push higher up, Carroll was the player who looked the most dangerous of the three in the final third. The center of the pitch seemed to cry out for a player like Fred or Pedro all game long.

On the outside, the game was a tale of two wingers. Le Toux is the embodiment of inconsistency. Several times, Le Toux either got on the end of a long ball or kept a play alive only to flub the final result. Tonight was very disappointing for Mr. Philadelphia Union.

Cruz played very well. He has long been a whipping boy for fans. Admittedly, I hated him in 2012 and the first half of 2013. Tonight, he played his role well. Cruz offered some good direct width while pestering KC all night long. Early in the second half, Cruz found a way to dribble past three KC players and deliver a fine ball to Carroll whose shot was saved. Cruz is really starting to find good form with this team.

Striker

Poor Connor Casey. Much like in the Hack era, Casey found himself on an island most of the night. Connor did well to battle Aurelien Collin, but his midfield struggled to serve him the ball. In the first half, Connor delivered a perfect cross that found Le Toux outside the box, but the Frenchman couldn’t put his shot on target. A healthy Chaco should help Connor find support in the attack.

The Substitutes

I don’t understand how Wenger is still the first sub off the bench. He has very little to offer this team other than size and athleticism. Wenger will never provide a goal when we are chasing a game. I am very disappointed that Curtin has been sticking so closely with him.

Rambo was the complete opposite of Wenger. He simply looks confident. Brown did well to get his head on Ray’s cross and flick it on target. After the goal, Brown used his speed and size to get on the end of Union long balls. I would have liked to have seen more composure to hold the ball and wait for teammates to arrive in support, but I love that Rambo is confident enough to take a defender on.

Fred didn’t have much time to make an impact. Most importantly in this short appearance, he kept the ball flowing when the Union had possession. Grandpa likely should have come on at the time Wenger did as the game was crying out for a creative midfielder.

Coaching

Jim Curtin kept the team organized while frustrating KC. Sporting had several chances in the first half but most were from outside the box and few looked dangerous.

I would have liked to see Curtin attack a young, inexperienced backline more. Igor, Palmer-Brown, and Peterson were two very young players and a midfielder playing out of position. We rarely punished them for their inexperience.

Ratings

MacMath: 6

Williams: 5

White: 6

Edu: 6

Gaddis: 5

Okugo: 4

Carroll: 4

Nogueira: 5

Le Toux: 3

Cruz: 6

Casey: 6

 

Wenger: 3

Brown: 7

Fred: Incomplete

 

Curtin: 5

 

Zolo of the Match:

Brian “Rambo” Brown has to get the nod here. In a night when few Union players truly stood out, Rambo scored the all important equalizing goal.

Ray certainly looked dangerous in the attack, but his poor clearance lead directly to KC’s goal.

 

What did you think of the Union tonight? Who was your Zolo of the Match?

Where do the Union go from here?

In my post from earlier today, I discussed how 2014 has been a lost year for this team. How do the Union salvage this mess and take the necessary steps to end five years of underachieving? I have broken listed some of the steps this team needs to take in the immediate future, this off-season, and going further forward.

Immediate Future

The Union have a series of steps that need to be taken before this season ends. The Union coaching staff and front office needs serious work to get past the Hackworth era. Our main focuses in the present need to be:

1. Management: We need a manager before the season is out. The new boss needs real game time to evaluate this roster to see who is in his plans going forward and who needs to be replaced.

2. GM: The Union need to finally sign a full-time general manager. Currently, the transfers are handled by the manager and Sakiewicz. Real Salt Lake should be a model here. Gareth Lagerway has been enormous for the club in his general manager position. Like Lagerway, the Union need someone who can  focus full-time on unearthing  talent for this team while getting the best bang for his buck.

3. Coaching staff: As of now, Jim Curtin, Mike Sorber, and Chris Albright are the only coaches on the Union’s payroll. Academy coaches have filled the void in the absence of Hackworth and Vartughian. How can we expect any of the players to develop with only three coaches? The new boss needs to be allowed to bring in several staff members to this team. Fresh ideas should help this team’s recent stagnation.

 

This Off-Season

Some areas require planning and coordination and should wait until the off-season. The major focuses of this off-season should be:

1. Filling our areas of need: This team still has several holes. Center back and left back may be the most glaring positions, but we need a true starter on the left wing, another striker, and general defensive depth. We need to make some serious moves if we want to compete next year. These players don’t need to be big name or money DP talent. I just want the players that fit the new manager’s plan going forward.

2. That damn training facility: The lack of a training facility has been a running joke for a while now. Sakiewicz promised the team would break ground this past spring, but there are no signs of progress. With Kansas City building a $75 million plus training facility, the Union need to get serious. Now, I’m not expecting anything as big and grand as Sporting’s plan, but the Union need to get out of Chester Park and into their own training facility.

3. Philadelphia II USL team: I explained a few days ago why a USL team would be beneficial to the Union. Creating their own lower division league would allow them to control the training of young talents while preventing players like Ribeiro from being played out of position. Further, it keeps the players local and allows the Zolos to do a better job rotating young talent into the first team.

Going Forward From There

The following are far less pressing issues that still need to be planned for nonetheless.  To really move this team forward in the next few years, the Union will need to:

1. Pave the Lots: At this point, the parking lots just look minor league. Once the on the field team is stabilized, the team needs to get these parking lots paved. Hopefully Union fans will no longer have to talk about PPL dust storms.

2. Think about expansion: I think we are still a bit off from seriously needing a plan for expanding the stadium. However, it’s not too hard to fill PPL Park when the team is playing competitively and the on the field product is entertaining. Once this team gets back to selling out every week, we need to think about expanding PPL Park and taking advantage of soccer’s increased popularity in this country. More asses in seats means more revenue for the team.

3. Hire more scouts: As of now, mystery man Ricardo Ansaldi is the only scout for the Union. If we want to compete with the new big boys in the East, the Zolos need more scouts to unearth affordable talent. Ideally, we should have full-time scouts in North America, South America, and Europe. Scouts in Africa and Asia would be wise considering the talent level of several of those continent’s leagues. We can’t outspend anyone, so we need to out-scout other teams and find the best bang for our buck.

4. Find a feeder team: The Union would really benefit from partnering with a team in Central America or the Caribbean. In 2012, the Union partnered with Sarprissa, but that partnership seems to have faded alongside Josue Martinez. A partnership would give us easy access to both first team players and hot prospects from the partnering team. While not a necessity, it would be a smart move going forward.

 

What else do you think the Union need to focus on moving forward?