Friday, March 30, 2012

Saturday: Can They do it?

  First of all, let me say that I am jealous of all of you readers who get to go to the game on Saturday. The Union are desperate for a win. Le Toux is desperate for revenge against Nowak. Nowak is desperate to show that his system can work. And I'm desperate to go the game. But alas, I have work, and so I'll be following the game from the MLS app on my phone, and twitter feeds.

 So Saturday is the day. The day that the Union have to have to turn around their season. A 3 match losing streak is bad, no doubt about it. But a convincing win at home can change a team's fortunes, and change their momentum. And beating the West leading 'Caps would definitely be a momentum shifter. And the Union are finally going to be back at full strength. A defensive backline that has experience together and can protect the young goalie behind them. Olympic team players back from their failed attempts to qualify bring depth back to the midfield.

  So Saturday looms. A date with destiny might be a little strong. But the season hinges on this day. And Peter Nowak's system hinges on this day. Starting a season 0-4 after contending for the top spot in the East all season last year would be devastating to Nowak's system. His young players philosophy already appears to be unraveling. And 0-4 would be the final nail in the coffin. Can this team beat a team like Sporting KC or Vancouver right now? No, probably not.

  I'm worried about being able to contend with the Revs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guess Who's Back?

This guy.

That's right, dear readers. Sebastian Le Toux is back again. This time in a Vancouver White Caps kit. And this game has more ramifications than Le Toux has scored goals for the Union.  Was the Le Toux trade worth it? Can Adu step it up and lead this team? Is Califf really on the outs with Nowak? Can Nowak system of young players work? Can the backline hold against a potent scoring threat?  Can MacMath keep soft goals out of his net?(Writing all the questions down actually makes you sit back and think, WOW)

Although all these questions are important, some we can discount right away. Get rid of any questions about Le Toux. It doesn't matter if it was the right move or not, it's done. He's gone. It's time to move on and plan how to stop him. And that brings us to the most important questions. The questions about the defense and goalie.  And whether or not one of the leagues stingiest defenses last season can be anywhere close to last year's form.

If there is one positive to this game, it is a return to defensive stability. Williams is back from sitting on the national team bench. Califf's mystery injury should be healed by now. This allows to defensive stalwarts for the Union back on the field. And this should help solve the other pressing defensive problem. The problem in goal.

I think MacMath has the potential to be a great keeper. And yes, he has let in soft goals. And yes, that needs to stop. Right now. But with a better and more cohesive defensive line in front of him, MacMath should have an easier time in net. Yes, he will still have to stop shots. But with a better, veteran defensive front, that hwill not be out of position as often, the demands on MacMath should be less. And a raucous PPL Park crowd will be behind him.

Which brings us to the game. Can the U finally notch a tally in win column? Against a returning hero? Unfortunately, again, I will have to say no. a West leading Vancouver comes in undefeated, and Le Toux has a chip on his shoulder. As much as he loved Philadelphia(past tense) he despises Nowak(present tense). And he will be on the warpath. i think there will be a lot of defensive fireworks at PPL Park on Saturday, but they will all be from Vancouver. Another new formation, combined with an attack that can't finish will lead to defeat.

Vancouver 4 - 0 Philadelphia

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Philadelphia union vs. Chicago Fire Recap

  Another game, another loss for the Philadelphia Union. And it was a disappointing loss too. Yet another game where attacks weren't finished, men weren't marked, defensive breakdowns were rampant. And the Union allowed the first goal again. And they counter-attacked down on the scoreboard, had quality chances, and couldn't close.

  So what can we take from this game? Let's look at the positives fist. Gomez has a rifle of a leg, and if someone can get on the end of his free kicks, we will have a potent offensive weapon on our hands. Twice late, Gomez whipped a free kick on target, and no could head it on target. But they were signs of good things to come, and if the Union can harness the power of a Gomez free kick, it could be a deadly force to score.

  The Union attack as a whole had good moments. Everything about the attacks leading up to the final shot had a good look to it. The Union moved the ball around the field, and had decent passes. The problem was when it came time to close the deal. Much as last year, the Union are plagued with finishing problems.  Whatever spark the Union need, they need to find a way to finish, they need to find it now. They've lost 55% of their offensive production when they lost Le Toux. But he's gone now. As much as we all miss him he is gone. And now we need to move on, and we need someone to score. Pajoy looks sure with ball, but can't finish. Mwanga needs to find his form from rookie year. But the offensive woes are nothing compared to the defensive woes.

  The defense again played without captain Danny Califf. And Sheannon Williams was called up by the U.S. national team for Olympic qualifying. And we were left with a trio of defenders who have no chemistry, and a goalie who can't control them. They were porous, the only goal they allowed was a cross free of defensive pressure to an open man. And they let a dangerous ball through with time running out that was misplayed by the Fire. If the ball had been placed a little better, it would have been a 2-0 result for the Union.

  So the Union are in much the same place they were before this game. Hungry for their first win. Showing flashes of offensive creativity and power, but not being able to finish. And goaltending and defensive play that makes offensive finishing a necessity. When will they find this finishing ability? Or defensive cohesion? And will MacMath be able to improve his play? With Vancouver coming to town next weekend, the time is now. Because if Le Toux returns with the White Caps, scores, and beats us at home, Nowak will have a lot of angry fans to answer to.

And I'll be one of them.

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

3rd match of the a young season. The Philadelphia Union are traveling to face the Chicago Fire. The Fire are 0-0-1, while the Union stand at 0-2-0. Both clubs will be hungry for a win, and Chicago will want to put on a good show for their fans. The opening home game is always one you want to win.

And unfortunately, I think the Fire will win.  I think they'll win comfortably. The Fire have a competent and speedy attack in Oduro and Nyarko. And normally, I would say the Union have a backline that could stop such an attack. But not this week. With Sheannon Williams away on national team duty, and captain Danny Califf not making the trip due to his knee injury, the Union backline is depleted. The Union will most likely play 3 at the back again, with Valdes in the middle, while Lopez and Albright play the flanks. And we all saw how well this worked against the Rapids last week.

So the real question is, can the Union strikers finish? I want to see Mwanga and Pajoy up front together again. There but for a few posts hit, and a few close opportunities, the Union could have scored 4 or 5 goals last week. Mwanga and Pajoy can not afford to miss those opportunities this week. There are a million reasons they need to win but here are a few.
   1. The Union will fall to 0-3-0
   2. Peter Nowak's experiment will fail
   3. They need a stinking win

So I'm hoping against hope that the attack will have gelled together in the past week, and that the goals will come thick and fast. But with Williams and Califf out, the team on the road, and controversy popping up at every turn, i would say the odd of a win are small.

My Prediction: Fire 3- 1 Union

Friday, March 23, 2012

Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu. And the Olympic team. It seems to be a match made in heaven. Adu is the captain of the U.S. Olympic effort, and last night he looked spectacular. Passes were crisp. Through balls were on target. And that goal! What a shot! A rifle from right outside the box. Even if the Cuban goalie had been able to get in front of it, I doubt that he would have been able to stop it.

But more importantly, he looked in control of the game. He knew where he wanted his passes to go, and who was to receive them. And it was a sight to behold. The U.S. dominated Cuba, and picked up 3 points in Conacaf qualifying for the Olympics.

The only question i have, as a Union fan, is where has this Freddy Adu been?!?!? The buzz around him when he signed got my blood flowing. Then he played. And I thought, its midseason, the team has already gelled, and Adu just needs a chance to adjust. Then the offseason came, and he made his comments in Spain. But then he had a preseason with the Union. O.K. I thought, now Adu will be ready for the MLS. And Portland showed that it may not be the case.

But then I saw last night. And Adu looked like the Adu everyone has wanted to see. The Adu that I want to see. My question is, can it carry over? Why did Adu look so good? Was it his natural skill(my hope), or the players around him(my fear)? Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, these are quality players. But the Union have quality players too. Pajoy looks to be a force up front, and Mwanga looked solid in the attacking role for the U.

So can Adu take this form and transfer it to the MLS? He better.

U.S.A. vs. Cuba

So Olympic qualifying started yesterday. And in case you haven't heard, the U.S. is off to a flying start. It took only 11 minutes for the U.S. to strike first. And they didn't let up after the first goal. The final tally ended up 6-0. Joe Corona scored 3 for the U.S., our own Freddy Adu scored on a rifle shot, and Juan Agudelo notched the final U.S. scored goal. Cuba also scored an own goal.

So will the U.S. just waltz through Conacaf qualifying? Well, it certainly helped that Cuba was down to 10 men last night. But the offensive firepower that the U.S. displayed was certainly impressive to behold. And it can only grow from here. Cuba was on their heels last night, and it wasn't only due to being down a man. The U.S. looked strong in attack and possession. Passes were crisp and on target, crosses looked beautiful. The U.S. had attacking balls going into the box from all over the pitch.

So where does the U.S. go from here? Clearly the Olympics are a must. If the U.S. does not qualify for the Olympics, especially after the offensive display of last night, than this year is a bust for U.S. international soccer. The real question is not will they make the Olympics, it is what will the U.S. do once they get there? I think the future looks good for international soccer.

Will they win a medal in these Olympics? That has to be the question. After last night's display, the U.S. has to be the favorite coming out of the Conacaf. And how will they fare against Europe? Only time will tell. But if the U.S. can play with the same offensive cohesion and firepower, they have the potential to go far in the Olympic tournament. Even medal. The European powers will of course be very tough to beat. But they shouldn't sleep on the U.S., especially with the firepower of MLS stars like Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Freddy Adu.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Look at the Defense

I've watched the game between the Union and the Rapids. And many things jumped out at me. The flashes of offensive brilliance to set up shots in the first half. The inability to finish those chances, reminiscent of last season. But the biggest thing I noticed was the back line. And who was on it. And how fluid it was. Is this due to the lack of  Mondragon commanding the defense? Is it the lack of captain Danny Califf?

All I know is with the exception of Pajoy and Mwanga up front, players were everywhere. Sheannon Williams running up on attack, Gomez dropping back and defendeing the side. 3 backs on the line. Another new formation from Nowak, and another where players looked uncomfortable in their positions. Tactically, it appeared to work in the first half. The Union were attacking with speed, and they got the better of the chances. They controlled the ball, and they controlled play.

Then the second half started. And Colorado controlled play for about ten minutes. And in that 10 minutes they scored two goals. And the back line made mistakes. Lopez and Valdes had miscommunications. Albright,who should not have been playing, fell over instead of clearing the ball to MacMath. And MacMath let in 2 goals that he should have stopped. For 10 minutes, confusion on the back line cost the Union a match.

Could Danny Califf have changed this result? Certainly he could have. Even with only 3 men on the backline, Califf and Valdes have played together for one season. The mistakes between Lopez and Valdes would have been slightly more acceptable, since Califf could have been back to help out. And Califf would have been able to handle the clearance that led to Colorado's 2nd goal. Last season, our backline was the 2nd stingiest in the league. And one of the reasons that was true was because of the cohesion we had. The back four of 2011 knew how to play together.

And this back 4(or 3) do not. And not starting the captain, a cornerstone of the Union defensive back line, only adds to the mistakes. Will these new formations that Nowak is rolling out work? Maybe. But Nowak needs to put away his pride and start his best players. That means Califf and Valdes on the backline together, not one playing and one on the bench. Play with the attacking players all you want. Put one striker up or two. Start 5 midfielders. But defense thrives when they play well together. And the only way for that to happen is to consistently start the same back 4.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Peter Nowak?

Through 2 seasons and 2 games, the Union are down to two constants. Manager Peter Nowak, and stalwart defender Danny Califf. Last season, both were fan favorites. Califf was an integral part of the leagues second stingiest defense. And if Philly fans like one thing, it's a gritty player. And Nowak was a coach taking a second year team to the playoffs. After a so-so opening season, it was awesome to see the Union fighting for a spot atop the Eastern conference.

But then, the off season happened. First we lost Mondragon, the team goalie and captain. A veteran presence in net, and a fan favorite, no one wanted to see Mondragon go. But he wanted to end his career in his native Colombia, so fan uproar wasn't too extreme. And besides, we had Zack MacMath, an up and coming young goalie who was undefeated in 7 starts last season.

The came the Le Toux trade. Mondragon was popular, and the fans loved him. But Le Toux was something else all together. Le Toux was a founding member of the Union. He played every minute of every game. He scored. He had assists. An MVP candidate in both of his seasons with the Union. And a player who seemed to truly enjoy and thrive in the Philadelphia sports atmosphere. And then he was gone. Traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money.

Now fans, and myself included, started scratching our heads.. The mid season trade of Jordan Harvey for allocation money seemed a little odd. The expensive addition of career underachiever Freddy Adu seemed off. And letting the two leaders of our team, Le Toux and Mondragon go seemed almost crazy. In one off season, the Union went from a playoff bound team, to a team in shambles.

A poorly planned off season, new acquisitions, ever changing formations, these are all part of the standard Union playbook under Nowak. But now he has benched Danny Califf. And Califf's replacement, Chris Albright, let a defender waltz by him to score the game winning goal. Would Califf have let that happen? Obviously, we'll never know. But we can question. And the benching of Califf raises questions as well. Peter Nowak said he was benched due to injury, and Califf claims he is fine. So what really happened?

And now, the rumors have started circulating. Will Nowak trade Califf? Considering how he has operated in the past? Who knows. But a Califf trade would be devastating for this team. They need some steady veteran leadership, and Califf provides that. And Nowak needs to settle down, and let his team get used to one formation. Will Nowak settle down? Will he play his best players? People are saying to give the team a chance to gel. But after a stellar second season, and an off season from hell, I want results now.

We all do.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Philadelphia Union Recap/ MLS Live Complaint

Normally I would write a recap of the match here. I would complain about all sorts of things. Shots that Pajoy missed that Le Toux would have hit. Who in the hell is Allbright? And why in the hell was he on the field? And where was Danny Califf? And why do we keep switching formations? Or a million other things.

But I can't. Because I bought MLS Live. Which means I can't watch the game until 48 hours after the game was originally broadcasted. Even though I paid for it.

What a horrible service.

Anyway, it was another poor match for the Union. The offense misfired on numerous occasions. Both goals allowed were defensive lapses, and MacMath should have stopped them. MacMath had a great 7 game stretch last season when he knew Mondragon was coming back. Now that he is the main man for the Union could the pressure be getting to him?

Or could it be instead that the defense in front of him isn't playing as well? Danny Califf, a defensive stalwart for the Union, sat on the bench, while Chris Allbright let the Rapids steal away an easy goal when they were down a man.

Even these two goals could have been excused had the Union connected on a few more of their 20 attempts on goal, 5 of which were on target.

But the biggest question is Nowak. And what in the hell he is doing. Nowak may say he has a master plan. And I think I finally figured it out. Change the formation weekly. Trade away good players and fan favorites so we can start career underachievers and untested young players. And get mad at the fans and press when they question you. Seems about right to me.

What do you think?