The conditions at practice today were perfect. Not too hot, not too humid and a gentle breeze blowing over the field that helped keep the temperatures down.
The weather conditions seemed to have a direct impact on the player’s mood, with the players joking around, smiling and just having a generally good time.
After the players warmed up a bit, they were split up into three teams. The teams are as followed:
The teams competed in a juggling drills where they all had to link arms in a circle and juggle the ball between them from one end of the field to the other before knocking into the top corners of the goal.
They then switched to a game of transition possession, having to complete ten passes without the opposing team getting a touch and knocking over to the other side of the field. Depending on who you ask, either the pink team or the grey team won (it was a hot topic of discussion).
Practice then shifted over to a full-sided scrimmage with two teams playing against each other. As they played, Curtin was coaching them on what they should expect from Portland and how they can counter it.
The day ended with shooting practice, first with a shot coming from near the top of the box which was then followed by crosses being played in from the wings.
Of particular note, both Chaco and Nogueira looked very good today, finishing almost all of their shots very clinically.
South-American playmakers have always been a valuable commodity in MLS, and this year is no different. Big name players such as Federico Higuain, Kaka, and Pedro Morales have driven their respective offenses with a devastating array of passes in the attacking third. Amongst all of these playmakers lies Cristian “Chaco” Maidana, Philadelphia’s Argentinian midfielder and undisputed No. 10. While atop Philadelphia’s midfield, Chaco has led the Union with 46 chances created (key passes plus assists) and it isn’t even close. The next man up is Sebastien Le Toux, who has 23 chances created. Through the Union’s latest MLS fixture against Montreal, Maidana has joined an elite company of MLS’s playmakers, as he trails only Javier Morales and Shaun Maloney in key passes per game. Oddly enough, Maidana is one of three Argentinians in the top five, joining fellow countrymen Javier Morales and Matias Perez Garcia.
Surprisingly, Maidana’s teammates have failed to make good on 44 of Maidana’s 46 chances created, with his two direct assists coming off of goals by Vincent Nogueira and Fernando Aristeguieta earlier in the season. However, MLS has done well to track both primary and secondary assists, placing Maidana in a four-way tie for 4th place on the MLS leaderboard. Chaco also failed to receive credit for numerous Union goals that he created, including all three of Philadelphia’s goals in an early season matchup against Real Salt Lake.
The league average conversion rate (goals per shots taken) in the 2015 season has been 0.101, roughly one goal for every 10 shots taken. In comparison Union players have converted 0.04 percent of Maidana’s chances created. This comparison of averages would dictate that Maidana could easily have anywhere between three and seven direct assists had his teammates’ finishing been more clinical. So despite how excellent Chaco’s creative efforts have been thus far, the numbers would indicate that he will be even more effective as the season wears on.
Practice today wasn’t as hot and humid as the past two days have been but conditions still weren’t perfect. Curtin and the rest of the coaching staff had the players take it relatively easy today, working more on preparing for the Portland game than technical drills.
After the players warmed up, they began a two-sided game with five players on each team and two additional players on each wing. Brian Carroll and Vince Nogueira wore green and played for both teams in the center of the pitch. The teams broke down like this:
Orange: Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, and C.J. Sapong (always had to remain on the offensive half), Steven Vitoria, Ethan White (on defense), Ray Gaddis, Sebastien Le Toux, Zach Pfeffer, and Fabinho (playing the ball in off the wings)
Both teams were talking a lot as they moved the ball around and especially when the ball was crossed into the middle, calling other players off, etc.
John McCarthy looked particularly good in goal today, making multiple saves at full stretch and at close range.
Practice then switched over to full field passing drills with Curtin coaching them on what they can expect from Portland and how to pass the ball around against them.
During this drill, the players were asked to finish on goal with Ayuk, Pfeffer, and Wenger all finishing well.
The team wrapped up practice by crossing balls into the box from the wings and having forwards run in and knock the ball into the goal.
While the offensive and wide players were doing that, Edu, Marquez and White did a crossbar challenge which Edu ended up winning.
Practice today was hot and humid with very little wind making tough conditions for the players in just their second day back from their long weekend.
Everyone was in practice today with the exception of Cristian Maidana, Eric Bird and Andre Blake. Maidana will return to the team tomorrow after flying back to Argentina this weekend to get married. Bird, on the other hand, was in Vancouver for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final cheering on his girlfriend Morgan Brian. Blake is away on international duty with Jamaica while they compete in the Gold Cup.
U-18 Academy player Derrick Jones practiced with the team as they needed an extra body on the field in order to run full-sized drills. Everyone participated in the passing drills, including Fernando Aristeguieta, who used the long weekend to continue rehabbing his ankle injury.
Practice then switched over to a full 10-on-10 game where the goal was to work it to a specific area on the wings while under constant pressure from the other team.
This eventually became a regular full-sized scrimmage with John McCarthy and Brian Sylvestre in goal. Fernando was limited in participation for these contact drills but he did get some run in, marking the improvement he has made.
Sebastien Le Toux also looked very good, showing that he is almost back to full health after his injury against the Rochester Rhinos.
So, here we are. 19 games into the 2015 MLS season, just over halfway done. What do we think?
Wait, don’t answer that. You’re probably not very happy, right? I mean the team is only 5-10-4, not exactly a record that makes you smile and say “I think we have a chance to win the MLS Cup this year”.
So sure, the record might not be great. We’ve let up far too many goals, something that head coach Jim Curtin and many other members of the team have admitted to. Sure, there are times this year when the Union have struggled to score goals, with some of the team's best players going through goal droughts.
But nobody is hiding those facts.
In the first 11 games, the Union went 1-7-3, only scoring 10 goals while conceding 21. That isn’t exactly a recipe for success. However, it’s important to remember injuries have nearly paralyzed the team throughout the first 3-4 months of the season. Take the goalkeeper position, where Brian Sylvestre, a player who started the season essentially as the team's fourth-string goalkeeper, has been forced into action. That doesn’t mean Sylvestre is playing bad, he’s been very good since joining the team on loan from the Carolina RailHawks, but his playing time was the result of a combination of poor form and a series of freak injuries, forcing the team to look elsewhere.
In the nine games that Sylvestre has played, he has only allowed 14 goals, and that includes the blowout losses to Vancouver Whitecaps and Los Angeles Galaxy (eight goals allowed in the two games combined) that weren’t entirely his fault. In fact, he had seven saves against Vancouver, which at the time, was tied for the league-high in a single game this season.
So while Sylvestre has been having himself a good season, he isn’t the only one. The team looked itself in the mirror after the Vancouver loss and decided things needed to change.
Since the game against Vancouver on May 9, the Union have gone 4-3-1 in league play and 2-0 in the US Open Cup for a combined record of 6-3-1. In those 10 games, they have scored 14 goals while only allowing 12, leaving the team with a positive goal differential for that stretch. That includes a 5-1 drubbing to LA Galaxy.
Key offseason acquisition C.J. Sapong has found his form, scoring five of his six goals in that stretch. Sheanon Williams has roared to life, solidifying his spot at right back with a couple of very impressive performances while Fabinho has played out of his skin at left back since coming on for an injured Ray Gaddis on May 17.
The resurgence of Brian Carroll and the technical midfield duo of Cristian Maidana and Vincent Noguiera have helped to lock down the center of the pitch, giving more room to the players on the wings to maneuver around opponents.
While some would try to take away from this Union team, keep trying to look at the positives rather than the negatives. Yes the season started poorly, but since the middle of May, they’ve been playing like one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, something that shows in the fact that the New England Revolution, who sit in second, are only five points ahead of the Union in the standings (and they're even in games played).
So as we prepare to enter the second half of the season, enter it thinking about how this team primed to string together a run of results and how at the end of it. Who knows, they may be driving down the streets of Philadelphia holding not one, but two pieces of hardware.
The Philadelphia Union take on the D.C. United at 7 p.m. tonight at PPL Park. Here is the lineup:
ST: C.J. Sapong
LAM: Andrew Wenger
CAM: Cristian Maidana
RAM: Eric Ayuk
LCDM: Brian Carroll
RCDM: Vincent Nogueira
LB: Sheanon Williams
CB: Richie Marquez
CB: Maurice Edu
RB: Ray Gaddis
GK: John McCarthy
Bench: Andre Blake, Fabinho, Ethan White, Zach Pfeffer, Fred, Antoine Hoppenot, Jimmy McLaughlin
Career Stats vs. DC
C.J. Sapong (9 GP, 4 GS, 1 G, 0 A)
Andrew Wenger (5 GP, 4 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Cristian Maidana (4 GP, 4 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Eric Ayuk (2 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Brian Carroll (16 GP, 16 GS, 1 G, 0 A)
Vincent Nogueira (4 GP, 4 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Sheanon Willams (10 GP, 10 GS, 0 G, 3 A)
Richie Marquez (1 GP, 1 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Maurice Edu (10 GP, 10 GS, 1 G, 1 A)
Ray Gaddis (5 GP, 5 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
John McCarthy (0 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
The weather for today’s practice was perfect, hot and sunny but with a cooling breeze coming off the water.
Everyone was in practice today with the exception of Fernando Aristeguieta who is still trying to come back from an ankle injury.
Practice began with passing drills, working on the long through balls on the ground while utilizing only two touches. This then shifted over to long air though balls, trying to get the balls to drop in past the defenders(training dummies).
Goalies were again working on bouncing ball and reaction saves, working more on saving balls that fall into the box.
Practice then switched over to a game of transition possession, with three separate teams trying to complete 10 passes while under duress from an opposing teams. Michael Lahoud and Sebastien Le Toux did not participate in this but instead worked on rehabbing and doing other strength and conditioning exercises.
The three teams broke down like this:
This then turned into small-sided games on a shortened field. Orange won the first two games, green won the next two, and then grey won the final game. Antoine and Sheanon looked particularly good, both scoring for their respective teams.
The Philadelphia Union take on the Montreal Impact at 7 p.m. tonight at PPL Park. Here is the lineup:
ST: C.J. Sapong, MLS start No. 76, Union start No. 7
LAM: Zach Pfeffer, MLS start No. 11, Union start No. 11
CAM: Cristian Maidana, MLS start No. 36, Union start No. 36
RAM: Eric Ayuk, MLS start No. 5, Union start No. 5
LDM: Brian Carroll, MLS start No. 310, Union start No. 122
RDM: Vincent Nogueira, MLS start No. 42, Union start No. 42
LB: Fabinho, MLS start No. 45, Union start No. 38
CB: Richie Marquez, MLS start No. 8, Union start No. 8
CB: Maurice Edu, MLS start No. 86, Union start No. 48
RB: Ray Gaddis, MLS start No. 96, Union start No. 96
GK: Brian Sylvestre, MLS start No. 9, Union start No. 9
Bench: Andre Blake, Sheanon Williams, Ethan White, Andrew Wenger, Fred, Antoine Hoppenot and Dzenan Catic.
Career Stats vs. Montreal:
C.J. Sapong (7 GP, 4 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Zach Pfeffer (0 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Cristian Maidana (2 GP, 1 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Eric Ayuk (0 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Brian Carroll (8 GP, 8 GS, 0 G, 1 A)
Vincent Nogueira (3 GP, 3 GS, 1 G, 0 A)
Fabinho (4 GP, 4 GS, 1 G, 0 A)
Richie Marquez (0 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Maurice Edu (3 GP, 3 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Ray Gaddis (6 GP, 6 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
Brian Sylvestre (0 GP, 0 GS, 0 G, 0 A)
The Philadelphia Union U-18s were in action again today for the final day of group play in the US Soccer Development Academy playoffs. The U-18s took on LA Galaxy’s U-18s in the final game for U-18 Group E.
The U-18’s game was first, playing against the LA Galaxy at 9 a.m.. The Union U-18s are unable to advance beyond the group stage, making this the final game for some members of the team.
Today’s lineup featured a bit of a shake-up, running a 4-1-4-1 formation with Yosef Samuel up top. This was Samuel’s first game action in the USSDA playoffs.
The game started fast for the Union with Samuel getting off some good looks early and actually putting on into the goal in the 8th minute off of a long distance strike. After the goal, the game opened up more for both sides as both were playing for pride after being mathematically eliminated.
The Union continued to high press, even after the halftime break, causing some mayhem for the Galaxy. They took their foot off the gas a little bit but managed to keep it close. Towards the end, coach Peter Fuller started to put more on the seniors in, giving them the chance to play in their final game. They managed to hold the game as it was and when the final whistle blew, the Union had won 1-0.
Today was a good day for practice, with the weather being cool but humid, allowing the players to recover more and prepare for the game tomorrow.
Practice opened up with triangle passing, working on the one touch pass and controlling the ball when if comes to their feet. Curtin stalked around the team as they did this, calling out mistakes and praising those who deserved it.
After the triangle passing, the team moved over to transition possession, where they had to complete at least ten passes before attempting to play it down to where the other team was waiting.
While this was going on, all three goalkeepers worked on their reflexes, especially pouncing on balls that bounce in the box.
Practice wrapped up with 10v9, where the team with 10 played without a keeper. The teams broke down like this:
After practice was over, the team voluntarily decided to work on shooting. Curtin told them the focus was getting it on goal rather than scoring a spectacular goal, something that should increase the number of rebounds in the box.