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A Philadelphia Union Blog

The beINSport Debacle

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If you’ve been looking for La Liga or Serie A programming on GolTV or Fox Soccer Channel, you’ve been out of luck. Upstart Al Jazeera owned network beINSport has obtained the U.S. broadcast rights for both.

The problem is beINSport is only available in the U.S.on DirecTV and Dish Network. Needless to say this has provoked much consternation among U.S. soccer viewers, especially with respect to the popular La Liga matches. To add insult to injury, U.S. World Cup qualifying away matches will also be broadcast on beINSport.

There are reports that beINSport has reached a carriage agreement with Comcast and Time Warner cable. Comcast may add the channel by September 7.  I am a Verizon Fios subscriber. There is no news on that front at all. When I switched to Verizon Fios, I carefully checked their channel lineup to make sure I would have access to all the soccer channels that I watch. Now this. The European soccer season is off to a very depressing start for me, with Tottenham having started poorly and no AS Roma games available for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, the leagues involved are trying to maximize revenue ahead of visibility. This decision is already being questioned by some of the affected teams who face steep drops in visibility in the U.S. in exchange for some extra short term cash. The decision to go with beINSport seems strange in light of the recent push that Spanish and Italian clubs have been making in marketing in the U.S. Did you ever think you would be able to see Real Madrid twice in two years in Philadelphia?

It’s been clear for the past couple of years that the Qataris are trying to buy their way into the sports business. If their goal is to build up an American following for their sports programming and other broadcast products, effectively cutting off a significant portion of soccer programming for millions of viewers isn’t the way the create goodwill. Al Jazeera and beINSport are already facing an uphill battle for public opinion in the United States following the 2022 World Cup bidding process. The U.S. market is still not strong enough to support a large number of soccer broadcasters. The Qataris decision to enter the U.S. market may jeopardize the availability of the less glamorous programming that was available on GolTV, if GolTV doesn’t make it. Qatar needs to beOUT of the sports business.

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And Thats All They Wrote, Folks

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The Philadelphia Union fell to the Columbus Crew Wednesday night 2-1. The loss effectively marks the end of the Union’s playoff hopes for this season even though they may still be mathematically alive. It is unlikely this situation will turn around given the personnel available. I will spare you the gruesome details; suffice to say that the Union managed to lose a “six point” game at home against another mediocre Eastern conference team fighting for a playoff spot while being up a man.

The Union’s problems this season have been well-documented here and on the Union blogs and media. Although I feel like a broken record, let’s recap:

1. They can’t score. Or finish. Against the Crew many chances were simply missed or were off target. The forwards and attacking midfielders can’t hit the broad side of a barn. There is no coordination in midfield. After an initial increase in scoring with John Hackworth in charge, the scoring drought has returned. Fortunately, the Union have center backs that can score.

2. They can not compete for balls in the air. I have been complaining about this for the past two and half seasons. The problem is more acute now that the team is even shorter and younger than before.

3. They are ineffective on corners and other dead ball situations. This is partly an extension of the ineffectiveness in the air. However, the taking of corners and free kicks has been truly terrible. Rarely do you see a ball even remotely on target where another Union player can do anything with it. The balls are either short or go careening way off to the side or over the top of where they should be.

4. You can complain all you want about Hackworth’s lineups or substitution choices. The fact is there really isn’t much on the bench that he can do anything with. The players might be hard working, but they lack sufficient skill to be effective. I think the Union will give Hackworth a chance at a full season as it will save the expense of another coaching change. He will have to find a way to revamp the squad with the time he has.

5.  The Union spend money on players. They just need to find a way to spend it more effectively. Too much money has been going to players who have had little or no impact. In particular, Freddy Adu needs to start producing or he needs to be moved on.

There are maybe six players that are clearly worth retaining – Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath, Sheannon Williams, and Raymon Gaddis. The rest are questionable. Of course, this off season there will be no expansion draft to take dead weight off our hands. Prior to this season, I was hoping for minimal changes and felt that the team could benefit from continuity. That did not happen. Now it appears major changes are in order.

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Union and Perlaza Go Separate Ways

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The Philadelphia Union have announced that they have agreed to a mutual contract termination with forward Jorge Perlaza. Perlaza joined the Union this season in a trade which sent MLS Superdraft first overall pick Danny Mwanga to Portland.  This move should come as a surprise to no one. Perlaza had not played or been available as a sub for the last ten Union games.

Perlaza had been sought by the Union prior to the 2011 season but signed with Portland. Perlaza, a Colombian forward, played regularly while at Portland. However, he failed to excel in the primary role of a forward in MLS, that of scoring, having scored only six goals in more than a season and half. His departure leaves the Union even thinner in what has been their problem position this season.

The Union appear stuck in a process of trying to undo the damage of the end of Peter Nowak’s term as coach and Diego Gutierrez’s term as sporting director. This termination follows the trade of forward Lionard Pajoy to D.C. United for midfielder Canny Cruz. With questionable contributions from Porfirio Lopez, Josue Martinez, and Gabriel Gomez, it would not be surprising if the remainder of the pair’s recent significant acquisitions depart the Union in the off season. This would free a substantial amount of salary cap room. Bakary Soumare, while he arrived at the Union shortly after Nowak left, still has to be considered a Nowak acquisition. He has played little for the Union since being acquired in June, leaving one to wonder if he came to the team with lingering injury or fitness problems.

The Union are currently 15 points out of fifth place and a playoff spot with eleven games yet to play. The good news is that they have games in hand on the teams above them in the standings. The bad news is that making up this point spread in the time remaining would seem unlikely given the team’s current offensive struggles. The Union will need some well though out acquisitions in the summer to turn this situation around.

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What a Difference a Game Makes

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Many of us are still recovering from the excitement of the Union’s 4-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Some of the hoped for positive developments of the Hackworth era were on display Saturday night at PPL Park- first and foremost, a win.

The Union continued with the4-3-3 formation trotted out in the game against D.C. United. The team looked more confident going forward, and the forwards appeared to have freer reign to play their own style of soccer. The two goals scored by Jack McInerney epitomize his opportunistic, scrappy style of play. His place in the starting lineup should be secure for a while longer.

The Union continued their good defensive showing this season by keeping a clean sheet against a strong Kansas City team. As of Saturday’s games, the Union were tied for the second best record for goals against for the season with fifteen. The emergence of Amobi Okugo as a viable center back option is a great positive for the team. It should allow him to get more playing time while plugging a hole along the back line. A good deal of credit goes to Carlos Valdes and Brian Carroll for maintaining a strong central spine for the team and preventing the results in the first half of the season from being even worse than they were.

Goalkeeping also continues to be a positive for the Union. Although not mistake free, few goals have been given up that can be attributed to the keepers. This is remarkable given the relative lack of MLS experience of the Union keepers.

There are obviously a lot of positives here that can be built on for the future. The Union just have to keep scoring. They should be able to take away some increased confidence from this game to continue to do so.

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Is Change Good? Union Fall to D.C. United

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The Philadelphia Union lost 1-0 to D.C. United at home Saturday night. The loss came after a protracted break and the resignation of Union manager Peter Nowak. Under new manager and former coach, John Hackworth, the Union dominated much of the play but ultimately fell on a free kick by Branko Boscovic that was tapped in for a goal  by Chris Pontius.

The game saw some changes by the Union. They started a 4-3-3 formation with Jack McInerney making a rare start at forward. Amobi Okugo started at center back, a position he has played with U-23 national team. The Union dominated the stats by leading in shots, corner kicks, duels won, open play crosses, passes and possession. They were ultimately undone by a lack of finishing. However, the increased offensive pressure and shots were a positive sign. New forward Jorge Perlaza got some playing time as a second half substitute.

Luck, or just questionable officiating, played a factor in the D.C. United goal. The free kick was the result of a arguably clean challenge by Union defender Carlos Valdes on Pontius that was called a foul. Valdes was also shown a yellow card. Valdes did get part of the ball, and Pontius simply tripped over the top of him. However unlucky, the Union need to get more from their own corner kicks and other set pieces.

Despite concerns about attendance in the wake of Nowak’s dismissal and team’s poor record, the game was sold out, with few visible empty seats. This should not been much of a surprise, as D.C. games usually sell fairly well. The Screaming Eagles were out in force and gave the Sons of Ben a run for their money in the noise generated department. Hopefully, the Union will take the fan support and other positives from this game forward into their game with Sporting Kansas City next weekend.

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Nowak Out as Manager

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In a move that should have surprised no one and may have answered the fervent prayers of some Union fans, the team announced today that Peter Nowak has stepped down as manager. Coach John Hackworth will take over as interim team manager.

After a leading the Union to the playoffs in their second season in 2011, everything seemed to unravel quickly for Nowak in 2012. With poor results and a series of unpopular player transfers, many fans were hoping that Nowak would go.  The failings of the Nowak era have been well documented here. The Union suffer from a lack of offensive production and neither personnel changes, coaching, nor line up changes seem to have made much difference. After a relatively successful season in 2011, the Union went on again to make major personnel changes prior to the start of the season, rather then leave the core of last year’s playoff team alone.  Coupled with constant lineup and formation changes, it has been very difficult for players to adapt and play together as a cohesive unit. Although Nowak talked a lot about developing young players, these players got very few minutes of actual playing time.

Nowak has been linked in the Scottish media with the manger’s job at Hearts. Although he may not be the front runner, he was rumored to have applied. Speculation will now run rampant as to who the new manager might be. I would not rule Hackworth out of the permanent job, if he can produce improved results in the second half of the season.

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The Union Off Loads Mwanga

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It goes to show that if you are off Twitter for a few days, all hell breaks loose. The Union are good at lulling you into a fall sense of security that nothing is happening, then executing a sneak attack.

The Union traded under-performing forward Danny Mwanga for under-performing forward Jorge Perlaza of the Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As you may recall, the Union were linked with a move for Perlaza prior to the 2011 season in the foreign media. My post on some of the strange goings on with Perlaza’s contract can be found here.

The upside for the Union comes in salary. Mwanga has a $250,000 base salary with $356,250 guaranteed. Perlaza has a $100,000 base salary with $115,000 guaranteed. Perlaza will take up an international roster spot. As I expressed in a recent post, Mwanga was a player that was not providing the Union will good value for money. He hasn’t scored a goal in over a year and has been injury plagued. Mwanga, a former number one overall draft pick, was in his third season in MLS. I think a fair period of time has passed for the Union to evaluate what he was going to do with the team. It was time for the Union to cut their losses here. With a change of scenery, both Mwanga and Perlaza may make a change for the better.

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Poll Feedback – The Union Backline

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I realized that I may have goofed in writing the poll. I failed to include Amobi Okugo as an option at center back. I notice some poll respondents have indicated “other” for the backline configuration they would like to see for the Union. If you have other ideas for a defensive configuration, please leave them in the comments of this post.

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Rock Bottom

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The Philadelphia Union fell 1-0 to lowly, winless Toronto FC. Even salvaging a tie in this game would have been an embarrassment.

The Union’s inability to score continues, with no end in sight. The offensive statistics make for pretty grim reading. The Union are at the bottom of the table in shots and shots on goal.  Second from the bottom in offsides. Fourth from the bottom in corner kicks – not that they can score from a corner kick anyhow. The offsides and corner kick stats indicate that the they are not creating any offensive pressure. Not only do the Union not take enough shots, they either can’t or won’t get forward to be able to get shots.

The Goalkeeper blog posted a very detailed piece on the Union’s 2012 salaries. Given the current state of affairs, fans should be taking a hard look at these numbers. Although  I wouldn’t argue professional soccer players are overpaid, salaries do have to be examined in terms of value for dollar as they relate to MLS’s low salary cap and overall team revenue.

The Union ranks number eight in overall team payroll. Once you get past New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto at the top of this list, there is a little over a million dollars difference between number 4 and number 19. The Union are not under-spending on salary but have not been getting good value for their dollar. Particularly when you consider Sporting KC sit at number 17 in total salary but third in the Eastern Conference standings. Could the Union put up another half a million in salary and would it make a difference? It would probably have to go to a designated player to get it to work under the salary cap.

Two areas of concern jump out at me when looking at specific salary figures. Firstly, the Union is spending a lot of money on offensive players who aren’t producing, particularly Freddy Adu, Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Lionard Pajoy and Gabriel Gomez. Adu was the only Union player to get a salary cut going into this season, but he’s still the 17th highest paid player in the league and overpaid. Secondly, the money spent on some the Latin American additions (Pajoy, Gomez, Lopez) in the offseason hasn’t paid off. It’s questionable if the Union needed to off load Sebastien LeToux and Danny Califf when you look at the money they are spending on these guys. They are a bigger salary cap hit, take up international roster spots, and the money saved may have also made up for most of the allocation money received.

The Union also claims that they are concentrating on the development of younger players and building a team for the future. I just don’t see this group of younger players getting much better. I am not hopeful that the Unions’s 2010 first round draft picks are going to have a big impact in MLS. At the end of this season, it will have been three years and you have to question if this is going to happen. Most MLS fans know that if younger players actually have potential, they aren’t in MLS and that by age 20-23 many players are already playing at the highest level.

The Union is now facing a “must win” game against the Rochester Rhinos. Now would be a good time for them to win their first U.S. Open Cup game. Maybe the Union haven’t hit rock bottom, but losing to the Rhinos surely would be it.

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The Three Ringed Circus – Manager, Ownership, Sporting Director

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In the wake of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the Danny Califf trade, it is clear that the Unionare a team in crisis. I was previously willing to make excuses for a slow start that could be turned around in the latter half of the season. Given the lack of transparency with both the MLS and the Union, it’s unclear where the source of the problems lies. Like many things in life, it is probably a combination of factors.

Most fans seem to be focused on Peter Nowak. The manager is usually the go-to scapegoat when a team fails to perform. Certainly on-field decisions concerning lineups and substitutions can be traced back to him. The steady stream of departures would indicate that there are fundamental problems in the relationship between Nowak and his players. When multiple players who seem to be good, upstanding individuals leave suddenly under suspicious circumstances, obliquely accusing the manager of lying, and vowing never to play for the man again, there is a problem. Nowak’s confrontational and controlling communication style doesn’t help matters either.

The Union went through another set of wholesale personnel changes before the start of the season. I was expecting that the playoff team of last season would receive tweaks rather than a major overhaul. Not only Nowak, but also Sporting Director Diego Gutierrez, and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, presumably have input into personnel decisions. Many of theUnion’s on field problems ultimately seem to track back to players who are unfamiliar with each other and have difficulty communicating with each other. This may resolve itself with time, but the team may be running out of time this season.

Although some moves may be justified on financial grounds, there is limit on how much turnover a team can withstand without it being destabilizing, especially when you’re unsure of the players brought in to plug the holes. Management certainly deserves some criticism for the negative perception of how player transfers have been handled and perhaps for misplaced financial pressure on personnel decisions. Gutierrez bears some responsibility for bad judgment with respect for the additions to the roster this season that have been less than stellar and also some of the player relations issues. While this circus runs its course, fans are left wondering if allocation money can win championships.

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