MLS Regular Season
This weekend is a busy one for the MLS with all 20 teams in action. Here is the schedule for this weekend’s games.
Friday May 22nd
Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire 8:00 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo 10:30 p.m.
Saturday May 23rd
Toronto FC vs. Portland Timbers 5:00 p.m.
New England Revolution vs. D.C. United 7:30 p.m.
Montreal Impact vs. FC Dallas 8:00 p.m.
Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps 9:00 p.m.
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City 10:00 p.m.
Real Salt Lake vs. New York City FC 10:00 p.m.
Sunday May 24th
New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union 5:00 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Orlando City SC 7:00 p.m.
Here are some quick notes about each game:
Columbus Crew (4-4-2) vs. Chicago Fire (3-5-1)
In an Eastern Conference match-up, Chicago visits Columbus with both teams coming off losses last week. The Fire have struggled lately but have superstars in the making in Harry Shipp and Sean Johnson. Columbus was on a tear up until they lost their last game against San Jose, with Kei Kamara sharing the league lead for goals, with seven on the season.
LA Galaxy (3-4-5) vs. Houston Dynamo (4-4-4)
The Galaxy were put in a tough sport last week, losing Omar Gonzalez before kickoff, and it showed in a poor outing against Orlando City. Gonzalez is set to return against the Dynamo and star forward Robbie Keane may also be in line to return this weekend. Houston have been playing well the past two weeks, with veteran forward Will Bruin scoring three goals in his past two games.
Toronto FC (3-5-1) vs. Portland Timbers (3-4-4)
Jozy Altidore suffered another setback last week, injuring his right hamstring, putting Toronto in a tough spot. In the long run this could hurt both Toronto and the U.S. Men’s National Team, especially with the Gold Cup happening this summer. Portland, on the other hand, have their stars returning, with Diego Valeri already back from an injury and captain Will Johnson working his way back to the first team sometime in the next week.
New England Revolution (5-3-4) vs. D.C. United (6-2-3)
This is a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, with D.C. United holding a two-point lead in the standings over New England. United have gotten a chance to rest and recover, allowing stars such as Chris Pontius and Sean Franklin time to get ready in order to play a full game. The Revolution had a mid-week game against Sporting KC so they will most likely rest some of their starters, giving some bench players valuable minutes.
Montreal Impact (1-3-2) vs. FC Dallas (6-2-3)
Montreal is a team inform, coming off a good home win against Real Salt Lake. The Impact are seem to finally be fully fit after their long run to the CONCACAF Champions League final. FC Dallas are coming off a hard fought draw against the New York Red Bulls. Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz are the players to watch for this Dallas, with each of them playing a hand in at least five goals for their team.
Colorado Rapids (1-2-7) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (6-4-2)
Colorado is a tough team to play against, despite only having one win. They have a goal differential of zero and have allowed only nine goals in 10 games. The Whitecaps are currently sitting in second in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper David Ousted, who has allowed 11 goals in 12 games, and forwards Darren Mattocks and Octavio Rivero, set the pace for the team.
Seattle Sounders (6-3-1) vs. Sporting Kansas City (4-2-5)
Seattle is playing like they’re the best team in the MLS right now, which they very well might be. The combination of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey dictate the attack for the team, with Dempsey having a goal or an assist in his last 10 regular season starts. Sporting KC is a gritty group of players, held together by forward Dominic Dywer at the front and Matt Besler on defense.
Real Salt Lake (3-3-5) vs. New York City FC (1-6-4)
NYCFC are another team that is better than their record shows, constantly fighting the opposing team for a full 90 minutes. David Villa has been on fire lately, tallying two assists in his last game. Real Salt Lake have been playing well, winning three of their last four games. They hope to have their attacking trio of Javier Morales, Joao Plata, and Sebastian Jaime back for Saturday’s game.
San Jose Earthquakes (5-4-2) vs. Orlando City SC (3-5-3)
San Jose is coming off a solid win against a good Columbus team, getting the shutout while Chris Wondolowski scored his 99th goal for the club. Orlando City is going into the game coming off their first home win of the season, with Brazilian superstar Kaka leading his team with four goals and two assists.
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.
So here we are.
After five weeks and well over 1k in total votes, we have our five finalists in the Philadelphia Union #UnionTop10. Thanks to everyone who voted for the five plays that will now be ranked in order to determine the best play – as voted by you – of the season.
Without further ado, here are the plays in order. Check them out and vote for your favorite. Voting ends this Friday, Dec. 19 where we’ll announce the winner via social media.
So will it be…
Week 1: Andrew Wenger’s first Union goal.
It was the finish from Wenger that we love, but don’t forget the pass from Vincent Nogueira to set the whole thing up.
Week 2 : Zach Pfeffer’s first goal for the Union.
It was a goal five years in the making that came on the final day of the Union season. Perfectly timed run, met a perfectly timed past for the first League goal ever for the Union’s first ever homegrown player.
Week 3: Andrew Wenger’s goal against San Jose
The touch to create space and the rocket past Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch shook up San Jose and made for a wild night and commanding 4-2 result for the Union at PPL Park.
Week 4: Zac MacMath PK saves in U.S. Open Cup semifinals
Arguably MacMath’s most memorable performance in a Union uniform making a pair of monster saves in a penalty kick shootout against FC Dallas to secure the Union’s first trip to a major final.
Week 5: Zac MacMath PK stops on Chicago’s Mike Magee
In back-to-back weeks, you picked a MacMath save and after watching the footage, we can see why. He got his hands on a pair of shots from the former MLS MVP to preserve a precious point on the road.
Which one reigns supreme in 2014? Tell us by casting your vote below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel 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
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 email@example.com