After the loss two weeks ago to the Vancouver Whitecaps, fans were calling for Jim Curtin’s head. Now, after the Union's first win at Red Bull Arena, they’re praising him.
Two weeks, two wins against opponents who are thought to be the best that the Eastern Conference has to offer. The Union have now managed to get 12 points from 13 games, five points behind the Red Bulls, who are in third.
As I mentioned in my thoughts at halftime, the Union seemed to be perfectly fine with the Red Bulls dictating the play, waiting for the chance to strike on the counter attack.
The first goal came when Andrew Wenger did a nice bit of dribbling on the left wing to set the ball up for Cristian Maidana, who hit it first time to Vincent Nogueira. Nogueira provided the goal with a nifty finish, hitting it in with the inside of his boot while facing the other direction.
The second goal came from more great wing play on the break, with Fabinho making a great run and an even better pass across the face of the goal to a streaking C.J. Sapong, who knocked it in for the second goal in 10 minutes.
“As a forward you just want to be near the goal, and [Fabinho] played the perfect ball, I really didn’t have much to do,” Sapong said after the game.
The assist marks the second in two games for Fabinho, who was starting at left back for the injured Ray Gaddis.
At the end of the day, the Union played the kind of game that they needed to play to win by not trying to possess the ball against the high press from the Red Bulls. Brian Sylvestre and the rest of the defense came up big, posting another shutout in the second consecutive win.
The team now gets Memorial Day off before they regroup and get ready to face D.C. United away at RFK Stadium next Saturday.
Here are a couple of other stats that may be of some interest:
Possession: New York Red Bulls: 66%, Union 34%
Clearances: NYRB 12, Union 27
Total passes: NYRB 542, Union 285
Total shots: NYRB 15, Union 7
Shots on goal: NYRB 3, Union 3
Crosses: NYRB 33, Union 14
The Union are definitely playing a defensive game, allowing the Red Bulls to dictate the amount of time they have on the ball. This, combined with the high pressure style of the Red Bulls, leaves them open for the counter attack, something that the Union have taken advantage of.
Though the Union only have 35% of the possession, they have more corners than the Red Bulls (2-1) and they have the same amount of shots on goal (1-1).
Going into the second half, the Union have the advantage due to the Red Bulls already using one of their substitutions for an injury to Kemar Lawrence at the 30 minute mark. They have allowed the Red Bulls to play their style and now are in prime position to start to put a bigger influence on the game.
They have to be careful not to get lazy, however, as the Red Bulls have already seen two shots hit off the posts and bounce out.
Philadelphia Union Starting XI against the New York Red Bulls
ST: #6 Conor Casey-MLS Start No. 146, Union Start No. 45
LAM: #11 Andrew Wenger-MLS Start No. 49, Union Start No. 31
CAM: #10 Cristian “Chaco” Maidana-MLS Start No. 30, Union Start No. 30
RAM: #9 Sebastien Le Toux-MLS Start No. 163, Union Start No. 121
LDM: #5 Vincent Nogueira-MLS Start No. 36, Union Start No. 36
RDM: #7 Brian Carroll-MLS Start No. 305, Union Start No. 116
LB: #33 Fabinho-MLS Start No. 33, Union Start No. 33
LCB: #16 Richie Marquez-MLS Start No. 2, Union Start No. 2
RCB: #15 Ethan White-MLS Start No. 54, Union Start No. 20
RB: #25 Sheanon Williams-MLS Start No. 133, Union Start No. 133
GK: #49 Brian Sylvestre-MLS Start No. 3, Union Start No. 3
Williams has two career game-winning assists versus the NYRB…Casey has nine goals and three assists in 11 games against the NYRB…Le Toux played for the Red Bulls in 2012 and had three goals in three games against them last year…The Union have never won in Red Bulls Arena
TRAINING PHOTOS: pic.twitter.com/KwajNyunyH
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) May 21, 2015
Practice wrapped up with shooting drills, with Zach Pfeffer looking especially good, seemingly scoring easily with both his right foot and his left foot. And while shooting practice is supposed to be more for the outfield players, goalkeepers Brian Sylvestre and John McCarthy looked on their games today, making the decision as to who will start on Sunday a tough one.
Since Jim Curtin took over as head coach midway through the 2014 season, the Union have more or less earned a reputation as a counterattacking team. Regardless of how you feel about the stigma, the numbers have supported the argument, with the Union trailing in possession in eight of their 12 contests this season.
And while a lot has been made about their overall possession (or lack thereof) this season, it’s actually relevancy it’s debated – and not just by Curtin. On Sunday night, thanks to one of the club’s better passing days all season, their overall number jumped to 46.75 percent on the season, good for 16th in MLS.
But, the greater possession didn't neccessarily equate to better chances. So how important is possession, really?
Joining the Union in bottom quarter of the league’s possession are three of the top four teams in the Western Conference – FC Dallas (also tied on top of the league's table), Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes. Toronto, the other, is fourth in the league in goals per game. And, all are above the playoff line, although admittedly it is only the middle of May.
Sorted by possession, here's how the league ranks:
|Team||Possession||Games Played||Chances Created||Goals||CC P/G||G P/G||Conversion|
Looking at the teams along the bottom quarter with the Union, possession hardly influences Vancouver's ability to get in goal-scoring situations – only five teams create more chances per game. As for Dallas and Toronto, they've simply been finishing at a very high level. At the end of the day, the only stat that matters is how many you put in the back of the net, but possession isn't the issue for the Union right now.
The bigger issue for the Union lies in the chances created department, which typically does not historically correlate off possession. But the lack of chances for the Union can be correlated to missing Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana for stretches this season, especially Nogueira.
However, that would be misleading if you were to look at overall numbers. Nogueira has created just five chances this year, compared to Maidana's 23 – far away the team leader.
Here's a breakdown of each game, listed in order of chances created. Note the minutes Nogueira and Maidana, respectively played.
|Opponent||Chances||Nogueira mins||Maidana mins||Both||Result|
It's clear that Maidana has been most effective when playing with Nogueira underneath him. Through 12 games this season, the Union have created eight or more chances in six games. In the other six games that they created seven chances or less, the Union were without either Nogueira or Maidana in the starting lineup for every single one of them. And in four of those, Nogueira didn't even play. Yes, the draw at NYCFC hardly featured Nogueira and Maidana together, but the two were both on the field for the decisive, end-of-the-game goal against NYCFC at home. And they were excellent together in games against Salt Lake and Colorado (when Maidana came on at halftime).
You may also notice the team's record in these two sets. In those first six games, the Union are 2-1-3 with the lone loss coming when they were sent to 10 men in the first half against FC Dallas. They're also creating 9.3 chances per game in those contests, slightly above league average. In those other six games, while missing either Nogueira or Maidana (or both), they're 0-6-0. Right now, the equation seems to be Nogueira + Maidana = more chances. More chances, well... the better odds of a result, regardless of possession.
Finally back to Nogueira, and it's pretty simple: the Union are 2-2-3 when he starts; 0-5-0 when he doesn't.
We'll see if this pattern continues Sunday with Nogueira and Maidana both likely healthy for selection.
Press Conference Recap:
This week, Conor Casey took to the podium as the star of the player press conference. Here are some of the best parts of his presser:
On playing a full 90 minutes on Sunday:
It was great, you know, first and foremost just to get the win. And to play it was definitely a grueling 90. A little bit sore but definitely excited to play, excited to win, and looking forward to this weekend.
I mean practices has been good, they’ve been sharp a couple months now. So I think the fitness, if you can get that good base fitness in practice then in the game, its kind of a different animal. Getting those minutes on the field will definitely help to push the fitness.
On playing the New York Red Bulls and their high pressure style this weekend:
It doesn’t effect my playing style as a forward that much. I think that we understand that they’re playing quite a bit different then they did last year, in terms of their pressing. It will be something that we’ll certainly have to deal with, especially since we’re playing there, but you know I think my job individually remains the same in terms of just trying to work hard, hold the ball up, and score.
After Casey spoke, head coach Jim Curtin held his weekly presser. Here are some highlights:
On playing the Red Bulls on Sunday:
It doesn’t get any easier for us having to go to New York, a rival game. New York will certainly be a tough task, a team that’s in very good form, a tam that high presses all over the field. I think the team that has the best midfield in the league going right now between Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, and Felipe. A team that, if I’m being honest, gave us a lot of issues in the preseason even though the scoreline in that game was very much in our favor They created a ton and were very good against us. A team we respect, a team we know is going to be good, a coach I know in Jesse Marsch. Anytime you go on the road in this league its difficult to get wins but that’s going to have to be our task.
On preparing for the Red Bulls:
Yesterday was more of a regeneration day. We pushed the group that didn’t get a lot of time. Today we focused on dealing with, because their three midfielders are so comfortable on the ball and versatile, they have a way of really getting forward and creating a numbers advantage in the midfield. Lloyd Sam is another underrated player that is having a great year, that can come inside, can beat you one on one outside. They a tendency to outnumber you in midfield. That’s something that we worked on today, dealing with the extra number, its not so much man to man, its more about guys looking around, cutting off passing lanes, and doing their job, sometimes dealing with two guys and doing that in a smart way. With their high press they put their defenders on islands and they ask them to make tough one on one plays and they’ve a very good job. Their backline has done a great job of making those individual efforts because they do press so high and put a lot into making you turn the ball
Right knee menisectomy recovery
Left hamstring strain
Right quad strain
Left hamstring strain
Left ankle sprain
The Union used a lot of their time today to do various versions of 6-on-6 drills, with every team working on getting the ball into attacking positions. The feel of practice was noticeably lose today with the team still feeling the after effects of their win on Sunday. This time last week the players were walking off the field dejected and hanging their heads. Today, the players were laughing and joking around with each other, even if it was at the expense of Jimmy McLaughlin’s future children.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) May 20, 2015
Eventually the team moved over to a more scrimmage like 7-on-7 drill with goalkeepers Brian Sylvestre and John McCarthy both fully participating. The squad broke into three separate teams, each playing five games that lasted two minuts each. In the end, the gray team of Sylvestre, McLaughlin, Maurice Edu, Sebastien Le Toux, Sheanon Willims, Vincent Nogueira, and Eric Ayuk won.
At the end of practice, Mo and Fabinho competed against Ethan White and Richie Marquez in a passing game where they tried to complete as many eighteen yard passes as possible in 20 seconds. Surprise surprise, the midfield duo beat the pair of centerbacks six out of seven times.
PLAYER(S) OF THE MONTH:
- Names: Ellis & Elias Geathers
- Age: 8 years old
- Favorite Food: Pizza (Ellis), Sushi (Elias)
- Favorite Healthy Food: Apples (both)
- Favorite Game at Soccer: Passing games (Ellis), Handball (Elias)
- Hometown: Chester
- Role Models: Philadelphia Eagles (Ellis), Lebron James (Elias)
- Favorite Hobby: Playing minecraft together (both)