MLS Playoffs

11 September 4:56 pm

Thursday started off pretty hilarious.

Not on the field but off as Sebastien Le Toux and Amobi Okugo going in as Union representatives on WMMR’s (93.3-FM) “Preston and Steve Show” to discuss Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final against the Seattle Sounders at PPL Park (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).

The two did a great job describing what the Open Cup is and why Tuesday’s match is such a massive deal, but it was Le Toux’ thick French accent that stole the show as the show’s cast asked him to say everyday words in his accent.

Coincidentally one of them being the word: “Thursday.”

It was a great segment, one that you can listen to here. Later that morning, the show’s cast gave the Union some love on social media:

Union manager Jim Curtin had his weekly press conference this afternoon which you can watch LIVE here:  

In it, the Union interim manager discussed Saturday’s massive rivalry match against New York at PPL Park (3 p.m., purchase tickets), Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup clash and that fact that we are all forgetting that in three days after the USOC final another tough team in Houston heads to the Chester waterfront to take on the Union on Saturday, Sept. 20 (7 p.m., purchase tickets).

We liked this one sound bite from Curtin in particular:

“New York and Philadelphia across all sports is a bitter rivalry. We just don’t like each other too much. It’d be big to take both games from them on our field. It matters a great deal to me to protect this building and to give the fans what they deserve. We started to establish that now and want to keep it going…its tricky, but we’ll put two teams on the field that can get three points. Our depth will be challenged. Although you never look ahead, we have a full week with Houston [next Saturday] – everyone forgets that one, too. Every Eastern Conference game is huge right now.”

Couple quick tidbits…

Sheanon Williams will be at the Delaware County Library in Marple Newtown this Friday at 4 p.m. Williams will be reading pages the ever popular Bill Martin, Jr. classic “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.”

Lastly, 6abc weather man and Union aficionado David Murphy’s latest blog is a preview of this Saturday’s game. Read this and realize why David Murphy is the man.

There is tons more we could tell you, but we rather save it for a big finale tomorrow.

So until then…

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

10 September 6:03 pm

The first team was off, so philadelphiaunion.com spent the day with the kids at YSC Academy.

With classes officially underway in addition to all three divisions preparing for the 2014-15 season, it was pretty good to see the YSC complex and state of the art school alive again with student athlete and (fingers crossed) future first team players.

Sad when a 14-year-old (this one being U-14 player Max Owens) can juggle better than you, isn't it?

In addition to our presence, the school had another special visitor today as New York based Bloomberg Sports sent a photojournalist to profile the school and the rise of soccer-specific academies in the United States. The reporter said that the story will be out towards the end of the month, so we’ll be on the lookout here and be sure to share once it’s up and running.

Also soon to be up and running are the rosters, schedules and the return of the monthly academy notebook. Check for all three on Monday next week.

Moving on…

Big news today as the club released that Union defender Ray Gaddis inked a multi-year contract extension that will keep “Gaddis Island” afloat through the 2016 season. In cementing this deal, interim manager Jim Curtin, called it a decision that makes him the “happiest [he’s been] during his short tenure as manager.”

"I get a smile on my face because this is one of the things I’m most happy about in my short tenure as the coach to get him rewarded for all his hard work,” said Curtin following Tuesday’s training session. “Off the field, this is a tribute to his parents. They’ve raised a kid who has as good of character as I’ve ever seen in a human being.”

Curtin also believes that if he stays on the path he’s on, Gaddis could receive a phone call from U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann very soon.

“He’ll be a guy that if he stays on this pathway, he’ll be a U.S. Men’s National type player. He’ll be a January camp guy and I think he can break into that – he’s that good. One-on-one with the ball, Ray Gaddis is the best defender in our league right now. I will go out and say that – and I believe it.”

Does Gaddis’ newfound fortune mean he’s picking up the tab at the next team meal? His fellow teammates certainly think so...

So the pot was apparently stirred after word broke of Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz’ European trip this week. Sakiewicz, overseas attending a soccer symposium in addition to a variety of meetings was also rumored to be conducting a coaching search as well.

Sakiewicz quickly debunked the rumor with this statement released to media this afternoon:

"The coaching search has been suspended for several weeks," said Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz.  "No decisions have been made.  Our focus is on preparing the team to play the New York Red Bulls on Saturday and competing for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Championship against the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night.  The search will resume at a later date."

Some stuff you should read:

The guys at Philly Soccer Page continue to kill it looking at vintage Open Cup championship teams, their latest a look at the then Philly based Ukranian Nationals team  that captured the Open Cup in 1960. Written by historian Roger Allaway, it gives awesome insight into just how dominant these guys were… MLSSoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com writer Dave Zeitlin penned this piece chronicling the rise of Union soccer spearheaded by the truest form of a Philadelphian, Jim Curtin.

Both are good fireside reads if you have the time tonight.

Until tomorrow…

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

09 September 4:59 pm

It’s a good Tuesday here at Philadelphia Union.

The club trained this morning at Chester Park in preparation for Saturday’s match against rival New York Red Bulls (3 p.m., purchase tickets). Training ran close to two hours today, given interim manager Jim Curtin gave the guys Wednesday off this week to break up what is shaping up to be a demanding next few days. The Union will embark on yet another three-game, eight-day odyssey highlighted by next Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup championship at PPL Park against the mighty Seattle Sounders (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).

Speaking of the Open Cup, philadelphiaunion.com caught up with midfielder Sebastien Le Toux to pick his brain about the upcoming match in addition to what winning it all in Philly would mean to him personally. You can check that feature out here.

One quote from our conversation with Le Toux which we thought was pretty cool was:

“It feels good to be doing so well at this point in the season. I feel good physically. But it’s not just me. You can see on the field that some guys are finding their stride too, like Andrew [Wenger] and Conor [Casey]. We know we can count on each other for one of us to score every game. Right now it’s working well. If it’s not me, I just hope it’s a team win. Usually it’s one of the three of us scoring a goal. So it’s great for the team and we’re confident we can score goals now.”

Just seven days until that match, you know, in case you were wondering…

Moving on…

The trophy tour continued today as the Cup made a lunch time stop at the Independence Blue Cross building in Center City. Employees took candids with the Cup and even purchased their seats for next Tuesday’s match right there on the spot. According to a ticket representative on site, about 30 tickets were purchased during the two-hour trophy stop, an impressive number as the momentum of Tuesday night’s match continues to increase.

IBX is known for preaching "healthy choices," so staying on that same topic, Union strength coach Kevin Miller posted his latest blog which touches on the right foods to fuel your body the way top professional athletes do. As always, it’s a great read…

This is pretty cool…

We are putting the finishing touches on it, but are working with MLSSoccer.com to have midfielder-defender Maurice Edu take over their SnapChat account beginning Sunday night into Tuesday morning in advance of the Cup. Are you on SnapChat? If so, best to advise you to follow both Edu and the League – it’s always entertaining.

Speaking of entertainment, pop star Ed Sheeran gave us some love before his show at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night showing off the jersey we presented him with at a recent practice. We never knew it, but Sheeran is another huge fan of the U.

Hoping you can make it out soon to bang the drum in the River End, Ed. 

We’ll return Wednesday with a progress update on the Union’s practice fields, off-day news and notes and more trophy tour stops. Finally, be sure to check philadelphiaunion.com tomorrow morning as we announce first some breaking player news.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

05 September 4:24 pm

Good week, GREAT Saturday.

Short week for all of you, but an extended work week awaited the Union in what will be the second of two matches against Toronto FC on Saturday.

Before taking off, the team assembled for a light training session at PPL Park that involved some intricate passing drills and a hard short-sided scrimmage.

Then it was off to the airport, where the team flight was delayed…momentarily.

But none of that phased a team that took it to Toronto and celebrated a 2-0 at the end of 90 minutes. This coming off the heels of a 1-0 win over TFC Wednesday, which now gives Union interim boss Jim Curtin his 10th win of the season in all competitions (10-2-4). 

Oh and something our resident stats man figured out: with a goal Saturday, the Union would have scored its 200th in MLS play. Thanks to this header from Conor Casey coupled with this textbook header from Andrew Wenger Philadelphia scored not only its 200th, but 201st in League play.

Pretty cool stat and all the more reason to watch. 

While the Union chased back-to-back wins against Toronto in Toronto, the Union front office avenged a loss in the annual River Cup charity match. The fourth edition of a match that pits members of the front office against members of the club’s raucous supporters group, the Sons of Ben was won Saturday by the Union FO in a PK shootout! Kudos to both teams, which helped raise funds for the Philadelphia Union Foundation, which directly benefits many programs within the city of Chester. But a special shoutout to Union captain Mark Evans (who is the club's director of fan services, by day) for leading the Union squad in a huge win on what was a sultry September afternoon. 

The festivities were in conjunction with the Delaware River Craft BrewFest presented by Radio (104.5 FM), which was also a great success. Thanks to all that came out for the Brewfest and stayed to watch a great event at PPL Park.

Moving on...

The U.S. Open Cup trophy arrived in Philadelphia last Friday and has embarked on a tour around the Greater Philadelphia region for fans to sneak a peek and get informed about the upcoming final on Sept. 16 between the Union and Seattle Sounders FC. It’s latest stop was the home of cheesesteak czars Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia. The trophy has been to a variety of places, like Comcast SportsNet, the Art Museum steps, it also visited the coaching staff at Temple University, is scheduled to hit Friday’s college matchup between Drexel and Penn and earlier this week made a stop at La Salle University. The Explorers’ McCarthy Stadium was the site of the 1961 U.S. Open Cup final won by the Ukranian Nationals, one of their four Cup championships in the 1960s. It also made an appearance on the set of Saturday's Union-Toronto FC telecast alongside play-by-play announce JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas.

Posted Friday, was two pieces of fresh content from our video department, the first featuring Union defender Ethan White "mic’d up" during the club’s win over San Jose:

In addition, yours truly recently did a sit down with soccer historian Dan Morrison to discuss the rich history of the Bethlehem Steel, who captured five U.S. Open Cup titles from 1913-1930.

Found out something interesting from Morrison too: the original Steel jerseys of the past were not black and white, but actually red and blue.

Now given the era, there are no images to support Morrison’s claim, but he did have vintage game day brochures and old magazines that accurately describe the colors of the Steel jersey. Not being biased, but definitely check this video out. I learned way more than I ever thought I would about a team considered at that time the “New York Yankees of professional soccer.”

That video will surface later this week on the Philadelphia Union You Tube page. If you haven't yet, subscribe. There's some great content on there.

Lastly, here’s Saturday's Match Recap, an informative Q&A our resident writer Andy Jasner did with interim manager Jim Curtin and since we want to keep the upcoming U.S. Open Cup fresh in your mind (ahem, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m. at PPL Park, purchase tickets),  the guys over at Philly Soccer Page penned this fantastic historic write-up of the dominance the Philadelphia German Americans displayed during its Open Cup winning campaign (1936). PSP editor in chief Ed Farnsworth has the story that’s definitely worth a read.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

21 August 10:12 am

For the second day in a row, major Union news was made public.

On Tuesday, it was the confirmation that a minor car accident in France had less of an impact of goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi returning to the States and rejoining his Philadelphia Union teammates more over the current State Department glitch that is affecting the thousands that are trying to obtain passports and work visas.

However, Union manager Jim Curtin shed light that Mbolhi’s flight was schedule to arrive Wednesday and that he is slated to return to training on Friday. The club is off Thursday, but will train Friday and Saturday before Sunday night’s match against San Jose at PPL Park (8 p.m., purchase tickets).

“As soon as we get him, we’ll be happy,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “He has passport in hand, he’s is on flight and officially ready to go. He’ll do something on his own (Thursday) we have something set up for him to work with our goalkeeping coach B.J. Callaghan, but with the quick turnaround he’s a guy that said he needs to be 100 percent before he debuts and debuts are special…he wants to be 100 percent sharp and I totally get that.”

But the big news of Wednesday was the announcement of a multi-year contract renewal with baking giant Bimbo Bakeries USA. News of the deal was first reported by Philadelphia Business Journal writer John George Wednesday morning with the Union confirming the report later in that day on philadelphiaunion.com.

“Bimbo Bakeries USA has had a tremendous four year relationship with the Philadelphia Union,” said Vince Melchiorre, senior vice president of marketing at Bimbo Bakeries USA.  “Everyone at the Union – from Nick Sakiewicz, to the front office, to the coaches and players--support our efforts and value our partnership.  That high level of support and trust made it an easy decision for us to continue our jersey sponsorship with the Union. During the coming years, the Union will work with us to strengthen the connection for consumers between Bimbo and several of our great brands.” 

The beauty of this revamped deal with Bimbo is that the proceeds of this longer term deal directly benefits the Union as best explained via this interview from Philly.com soccer writer Jonathan Tannenwald that featured both comments from Union and Bimbo officials.

Back to the team side…

If he is feeling any effects of a hamstring injury you wouldn’t know it as Union midfielder Cristian Maidana had a really strong training session Wednesday morning. The crafty playmaker even ended practice on the final drill. In a short-sided, short field drill, Maidana took a pass, used a great move to elude his defender and hit a ball as he was falling down that curled around the goalkeeper and into the far post.

It was world class…in practice.

“He looked great today,” said Curtin. “He looked like the Chaco Maidana we all know. We need to get him back if this team wants to make the playoffs, not just the playoffs but to go far in the playoffs. He is a guy that is a big piece, whether it is centrally or wide left. He sees the game differently and guys like that are few and far between in our league and in the world right now.”

Odds and endlines…

Join Union defender Ray Gaddis for a one hour chat this Friday at noon as he does an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. For our fans on Reddit, you can click here to chat with Gaddis or follow along on http://www.reddit.com/r/mls

If you haven’t seen it yet, our video team sat down for this feature with Union midfielder Danny Cruz, who coaches a youth club in his spare time.

Again, the team is off Thursday, so all is quiet, but be sure to visit philadelphiaunion.com Friday as we get you ready for Sunday’s showdown with San Jose with match previews, scouting reports and of course another edition of the Daily #DOOP.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

19 August 3:58 pm

Rest assured…all is well with new Union net minder Rais Mbolhi.

Following practice Tuesday, Union interim manager Jim Curtin confirmed rumors that Mbolhi, 28, the club’s latest signing was involved in a minor car accident during a return trip to France to button up personal affairs.

The accident, was minor in nature and found Mbolhi suffering no injuries.

The two-time FIFA World Cup veteran is scheduled to board a flight to return to Philadelphia, where he will train for the first time alongside his Union teammates later this week. According the Curtin, there are no issues remaining with any of Mbolhi’s paperwork that includes a work visa and international transfer certificate (ITC).

“Seems like everything is okay with him and he’ll be in, we expect, by tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Union interim manager Jim Curtin.  He’s on a flight now; [his initial flight] got rescheduled and missed because of a car accident.  It's the kind of the news we got at 4:30 in the morning [from our team coordinator]. Unfortunate for [Rais], obviously safety is first and we’ll get him back as soon as he gets in. But he’s okay and there was no injury or anything like that.”

It’s unknown whether Mbolhi will get his Major League Soccer debut this Sunday when the Union return to PPL Park to take on the San Jose Earthquakes (8 p.m., purchase tickets) as Curtin mentioned that they want to be both cautious and methodically calculated with his first MLS start.

“We’ll see where Rais is at and we’ll talk with him – have a good honest talk,” said Curtin. “ If I had to guess from the last time when he came back and trained for four days, he was coming off of a pretty long layoff and he still kind of has been, He wants to be 100 percent before he goes out there and I as a coach can appreciate that. I will not speculate, but I’ll tell you that we’re preparing now as if Zac [MacMath] is going to start.”

Right now, both Union goalkeepers in camp are riding high with MacMath helping the Union capture its first trip ever to the U.S. Open Cup final while rookie goalkeeper Andre Blake is an MLS Save of the Week candidate following this acrobatic save to deny Houston's Will Bruin during the club’s primetime matchup last Friday.

Cristian Maidana: Feeling better

It’s a “wait and see” on midfielder Cristian Maidana, who again aggravated a hamstring injury and was forced to fly home following the team’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory. But after a minor procedure, Maidana has returned to training with his teammates and participated in full training Tuesday.

“The medical staff determined that he was not up to where they wanted him to be physically [following the Open Cup semifinal], so they sent him home,” said Curtin.  He had a [platelet rich plasma] injection in the hamstring and that’s settled down now.  He feels very good today. We have to be cautious with him because we know what it took to get him fully going and acclimated and fit and we don’t want to have any more setbacks.”

Curtin his hopeful that he’ll have Maidana back soon, which is a plus considering he is currently among the League leaders in assists with eight.

PPL “Park-ing” updates and practice stuff

Located on the Union website is a detailed rundown of the rearranged parking lot structure  given construction for the club’s brand new practice facility is currently underway. Keep an eye on philadelphiaunion.com in the coming days ahead for a detailed feature on the practice facility complete with images and renderings of the finished product. If you have yet to read it, a good informational piece regarding the facility was featured on Philly Soccer Page last week.

Each week, we’ll send out a video of how construction is moving along as this project is scheduled to be completed in October. Here's the first:

The possibilities of the finished product are endless.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com    

04 October 4:36 pm

In this edition of my blog, I am going to look back on the regular season and the best highlights of my team -- and some of my own.

I am going to talk also of the playoffs push for our last for games of the regular season.

It has been a long season and we are now in the last two months of it and it is all very close in the standings.

But let’s start from the beginning. First home opener at PPL Park and my comeback in this beautiful stadium playing in my favorite jersey. I could not have dreamed of a better scenario than scoring the opening goal in my first game. This moment will be always in my memory because it was a beautiful feeling that I missed the previous year.

We started the season with a loss at home but got back on track right away with our first win in Colorado. Nobody was betting on us to have a great season and make the playoffs this year after losing our home opener against Sporting Kansas City but I think after winning this away game, lots of people were probably surprised and it gave us lots of positve energy to continue playing this way. In my experience, the way your team kicks off the new season always points to how well you do during the course of it, and after three games we had two wins and just one loss.

During the whole season , we always stayed in the top five of MLS' Eastern Conference standings, which as you know are the spots for the playoffs. And what helped us doing this was to be consistent. We had our best result of the year in the month of June. We were undefeated; in four matches we amassed two wins and two ties. One of those wins was against our big rival the New York Red Bulls.

It was a long time since the Union had beaten New York. It was a great game and we beat them, 3-0. I was very happy after this game, of course because of the win but also because I provided the assist on the last goal by Antoine Hoppenot. Antoine sits next to me in the locker room and is a personal friend of mine.  

To see him score his first home goal and be able to give him the assist was fantastic.

This season did not always go the way we wanted, and between the middle of August to the middle of September our results were not the best and we didn't get lots of points. For the first time we lost two games in a row, first in San Jose and the following weekend at home against Houston. Those unfortunate results put us in a bad position and out of the playoffs position.

After the Houston game, the team had a weekend off to recharge our batteries and start the push to finish strong in these last games of the regular season.

And the first of those five games was away in Kansas City. Since our last two bad performances, nobody pictured us winning this game. But all of us in the team knew that we were capable of beating Kansas City on their home field. If we wanted to be a part of the playoffs we needed a positive result here. And that's what we did. We won 1-0. This result put us in the playoff but it is not over yet. There is still a long way to go.

This next home game against Toronto is huge. And after that we are going to D.C. United and Montreal and then the rubber match as it's called at PPL Park on Oct. 26 against Kansas City -- again.

We are going all your support for this final sprint to the playoffs. I know I want to make it and say I helped the Philadelphia Union qualify for the second time.

Talk to you all soon...hopefully at playoff time.

Merci Beaucoup

Sebastien Le Toux, No. 11

24 September 9:19 am

Coming off a home win against D.C. United, we traveled to New York. It is our last meeting with the Red Bulls in the regular season and we needed a great performance against a direct opponent for the playoffs. I thought we had one of our best collective performances on defense against one of the best teams in the league. The final score was 0-0. I had a good opportunity in the second half. I received a loose ball in the air, took a good first touch on top of the box and shot from distance. The ball smashed the crossbar but didn't go in. It was our best chance but unfortunately we share the points at the end.

The next weekend we were again on the road. This time we played in New England. We played a very poor first half and New England was in leading, 1-0. We attacked much stronger the second half and quickly tied the game with a goal from Danny Cruz. This goal gave us more energy to continue to attack and after a shot from Sheanon Williams who hit the post, the ball came back right at my shin and I scored. Unfortunately, I was called offside by a foot. After my goal was called back, Conor Casey scored another one. He got to a loose ball in the box after the goalkeeper and their defender collided and found the net. Surprisingly the referee whistled for a foul on the goalkeeper and didn't allow the goal, which in my opinion was totally a good goal.

This wrong call was the turning point of this game and New England took advantage of our team frustration to score few goals. Final score 5-1, this was our worst result of the season.

Back home against Montreal. It's our second meeting versus the Impact. We lost the first 5-3 earlier in the season so everybody was hoping for lots of goals. But the opposite happened, and the game ended 0-0. We had some good combinations offensively but didn't find the net. The highlight of this game for me, was when the Montreal defender, Hassoun Camara, elbowed me in the face 10 minutes into the game. It is the first time that this happen to me, and I was close to getting a concussion, but luckily for me just my jaw and teeth were touched. I remained in the game but felt sore for few days.

Next game was our last long road trip to the west coast in San Jose. It's never easy to play far away from home with three hours difference but we needed to get points here. We didn't get off to the best start and the Earthquakes took the lead early, courtesy of former Union player Shea Salinas. We didn't have much opportunity in the first half but came back more offensive in the second half. Shortly after the half, San Jose midfielder Baca received a red card for a hard tackle. This call helped us to get more opportunities to score but the woodwork was not our friend this game. Twice we hit the post, first with an effort by Keon Daniel and after a header from Sheanon Williams. San Jose stayed strong defensively and we could not score and lost this game.

This was a disappointing result and we needed a big response at home against Houston Dynamo.

We played a very good first half, answering the physical plays form Houston who decided to make this game ugly. But in the first half we should have been up, 1-0. Keon Daniel took a fantastic free kick which went straight into the net, but the referee deemed there to have been a foul on the Houston goalkeeper. It's not the first time this season that we had a goal called back and it changed this game again. Houston scored a header in the second half, off of a free kick. We were unable to respond and lost this very important game.

We are not in the best position right now, tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference. Everything is still possible, but we need a big reaction in the final five games of the regular season to make the playoffs.

I hope I will give you some great news in my next blog.

Thanks for following me and supporting the team.

Merci beaucoup !!

Sebastien Le Toux No. 11