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
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
Week One of preseason is in the books as the Union wrapped up its first phase of training with the annual open practice on Friday at YSC Sports. After having the bitterly cold weekend off, the team departs for sunny Tampa, Fla. Monday morning so long as the snow holds off.
But what a week it was. Initial thoughts: this team is fit. Credit the dedication of some players who basically adopted YSC as a second home during the offseason. But the same can be said for those who left Philly during the offseason. As Jim Curtin noted in a recent interview with Delaware County Daily Times writer Matthew De George, a shorter offseason helps:
“It used to be when I played you’d be off for almost four months and, I’ll say, you’d have a lot more fun. It’s become much more of a year-round, full-time thing, and I can tell by the way (the players) came in that they’re really dialed in.”
Like everyone else, it was our first look at quite a few players, including second round pick Dzenan Catic. The NAIA Player of the Year has certainly looked the part so far, showing off his prowess in front of the net. Catic has caught the eye of just about everyone including Union beat writers Kevin Kinkead and De George.
Dzenan Catic https://t.co/y6xc71WyJT
— Kevin Kinkead (@KevinKCBS3) January 28, 2015
These are 7-on-7 half-field drills, but Dzenan Catic has scored 5 or 6 times in the 40 minutes I've been watching. He just knows where to be
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) January 30, 2015
Midweek, Catic joined Greg Orlandini and Eli Pearlman-Storch on the KYW Philly Soccer Show. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen here.
Moving on, Wednesday night included a Meet the Team event at Fado’s in Center City. All team members attended the renowned soccer bar, giving the top 150 Union Rewards Program winners a chance to meet their favorite players.
— Union Fan Services (@UnionFanService) January 29, 2015
Thursday was Media Day, allowing all Union players and coaches to meet with local broadcast rights’ holders. It’s also a big day for the Union video department, which shoots pretty much everything that fans see on the big screen during the year. Maurice Edu and Antoine Hoppenot got in on the fun.
The fun ramped up Friday with the annual open practice. A large crowd filled into YSC to catch the Union’s final session up north, and just about every fan in attendance got a hand shake from Curtin. Jim made the rounds after practice, but also gave a few young fans the memory of a lifetime beforehand. Yes, Union twitter, Jim Curtin is the man.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) January 30, 2015
Oh, and Ray Gaddis is too.
— ray gaddis (@raygaddis) January 30, 2015
And, yes today is the Super Bowl. The guys do have the day off and you better believe there’s some rooting interest out there. Diehard San Francisco 49ers fan Richie Marquez is, let’s just say, not rooting for the Seahawks. Boston native Sheanon Williams might just have a rooting interest, too. We made the rounds and got quite a few to go on record with their Super Bowl prediction. Final tally: a tie, 9-9.
|Maurice Edu||Seahawks||By at least 10|
There are a couple of other big games Sunday to note. Another chapter of the Old Firm rivalry was written Sunday morning, with Celtic beating Rangers 2-0. Maurice Edu, the former Rangers player, was on set with Fox Sports 1 to analyze the game. As usual, Mo killed it. Also coming up at 2:30 Eastern, Rais Mbolhi and Algeria take on Ivory Coast in the 2015 African Cup of Nations quarterfinals. The winner will play the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, Feb. 4.
Lastly, there’s just so much this week, but be sure to check out first week reactions from Edu, Catic, C.J. Sapong and Sebastien Le Toux. Also, a look at the first week of preseason Through Ben’s Bifocals.
Contact Philadelphia Union press officer Chris Winkler at email@example.com.
It’s week five of the #UnionTop10, just one more week before you select the Final Five winners.
Last week in Week No. 4, it was this pairing between Zac MacMath’s heroic saves in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal against FC Dallas that was matched up against the atmosphere of the fans in attendance in September’s U.S. Open Cup final.
After the dust settled, it was MacMath and his pair of stops against Blas Perez and Victor Ulloa that moved on with nearly 62 percent of the vote. While many of you commented on Facebook regarding the unforgettable nature of the USOC finals atmosphere at PPL Park, MacMath and his efforts will move on.
Coincidentally enough, it’s a pair of saves that are looking to move in this final week of voting as a pair of memorable stops kept hope alive in both matches for the Philadelphia Union. First up, we offer these back-to-back clearances off the line from Carlos Valdes against D.C. United. If you can’t recall this one, so after saving an attempt from Conor Casey, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid quickly restarts play with a long service to Fabian Espindola.
Espindola gets in clean on goal and looks as if his well-placed shot by Zac MacMath was going in until...
So it’s a pair of beauties from Valdes against another huge MacMath moment when he secured the Union a point in the final moments of the club’s match against Chicago earlier this season. On a windy April day and with time winding down, MacMath came up huge against at the time the reigning MLS MVP in Fire midfielder Mike Magee.
Not once, but twice…
Last pairing before YOU select the “Final Five.” Will it be Valdes coming up clutch against United or MacMath coming up huge against Chicago to preserve a point on the road? Vote below and then for the last time when we place the five finalists in order for you to decide the definitive best play of 2014; as always thanks to those that have voted and tell us why you picked who you did in the comments below. Voting this week is open until next Tuesday, Dec. 16.
Voting window for the Final Five pairings will open Wednesday, Dec. 17 and close with a champion moment crowned on Friday, Dec. 19.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re now three weeks into the #UnionTop10 after Andrew Wenger won for the second time by beating Danny Cruz his no-angle blast with 76 percent of the vote to move into the Final Five.
Wenger now owns two spots in the Final Five, after edging Sebastien Le Toux in Week No. 1 with his first ever goal for the Union. Another first goal won Week No. 2 as Zach Pfeffer joined the party with his first career MLS goal that knocked off veteran Conor Casey.
Moving on to Week No. 4, we have a pair of moments from the team’s breathtaking run during the 2014 U.S. Open Cup. It’s the heroics of Zac MacMath in the semifinals against FC Dallas versus the atmosphere at PPL Park for the final against Seattle Sounders FC.
First up is MacMath. Of course if it wasn’t for his effort in the semifinals, the Union wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play in the championship one month later. MacMath made five saves as the Union forced penalties after 120 hard-fought minutes. But it was his performance there that stole the show. First it was against Blas Perez to give the Union the advantage. Next it was against Victor Ulloa to clinch it.
MacMath's penalty stopping abilities have been well-documented this year, highlighted by stopping each of the first three attempts he saw in MLS this season. By season's end, only Nick Rimando had stopped more penalties. So what makes this so special is the fact MacMath was already in his opponents' head as soon as the game was to be decided by penalties. After getting beat to each side on the first two attempts, MacMath was all over Perez's attempt with a diving stop to his right. His team didn't let him down, scoring on each of their four attempts at it was up Ulloa to score to keep the game going.
And it led to this...
The first finals appearance in team history. With a trophy on the line, the pre-game buzz surrounding the stadium was palpable. Then the players came out of the tunnel for what was arguably the best pre-game atmosphere in PPL Park history. And it never quit, as the Union pushed on deep into extra time. We managed to find video with no voice over so you can really hear the emotion that bellowed from every seat that night. The video is roughly 10 minutes in length, but we don't think you need to watch that much (unless of course you really want to) to get the feeling of just how loud PPL Park was and another reason what soccer is here to stay in the Greater Philadelphia region.
So now it's on you the fans. What did you like more? Was not one, but two penalty saves enough for you?
Or can you believe the scene at PPL Park for the club's first ever appearance in a championship? Vote now and tell us why in the comment section below.
And thanks for all of the votes and keep them coming. We're just two more weeks away from the Final Five.
Contact Union writer Chris Winkler at email@example.com
Week No. 2 of the #UnionTop10 is in the books and it was youth over experience as a matchup between homegrown midfielder Zach Pfeffer and veteran forward Conor Casey found Pfeffer moving on to the "Final Five" with over 75 percent of the vote.
Both plays were awesome but you the fans have spoken and so it’ll be Pfeffer and his first ever goal in Major League Soccer that moves on along with Andrew Wenger's first ever Union goal , a winner in Week No. 1.
Now as we move onto Week No. 3, it's another Wenger special up against a great goal earlier this year from Danny Cruz in a commanding win against New England in Foxborough, Mass.
But first, we examine Wenger’s blast against San Jose, his first of two in a 4-2 win over the Earthquakes in August. What makes this one special is the amount power and sheer lack of an angle Wenger has when he blasts this one past San Jose’s Jon Busch.
What’s great on this play is (well, besides the ball into the box from Sebastien Le Toux) is how it looks as though Wenger’s first touch fails him. Playing the ball away from the onrushing defender it gave the illusion that Wenger killed his angle in front of net, but the turn of the hips and hitting the ball dead on made no mistake that it was headed top shelf.
It’s only right to pair that one with another great goal this season, this one from Danny Cruz against New England. Now with this one, yes the shot was insane in its own right, but watch the run from Cruz which starts at the edge of the Revs’ 18-yard-box.
After taking this one basically coast to coast, the speedy midfielder takes advantage of the ridiculous amount of space given by Revs defenders and launches a “Cruz missile” (see what we did there?) that gave Brad Knighton no chance of getting a hand on it. What’s great about this play is that Cruz smartly took advantage of the spacing between him and defender AJ Soares and use what has always been a trademark power shot to put the Union ahead, 2-0 in the eventual 3-1 win.
Okay, you’re up. Which one moves on? Will it be Wenger’s goal from virtually no angle or Cruz’ fast break and rocket shot? Polls are open now until next Tuesday, Dec. 2 so vote for your favorite and tell us why in the comments below.
Thanks for all who have voted so far. We’ll be back with our Week No. 4 pairings next Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org